So what happened?
In the aftermath of the victory at Ethandun, Alfred is turning his attentions to other kingdoms in the hopes of realising his grand plan for a united ‘England’, and asks Odda to help find a suitable husband for his daughter, Aethelflaed. It’s while they’re contemplating this delicate matter that a messenger arrives from the North with news that a priest by the name of Abbot Eadred has seen a vision of St Cuthbert selecting a new King to rule over Cumbraland, a Dane called Guthred, who’s been sold into slavery. Buying into the prophecy, and realising the possibilities it offers to extend his influence beyond Wessex, Alfred agrees to help and sends his trusted spiritual advisor, Beocca, North with Brother Trew.
Meanwhile, Uhtred has turned to drinking and whoring in his grief after Iseult’s death, oblivious to the fact that one prostitute has stolen his silver and his sword as he sleeps during his stay at an inn in Mercia. It’s down to Hild to give him a wake up call by literally pouring a bucket of water on his self pity, reminding him of his mission to save his sister, Thyra, from Kjartan and his son Sven, and to take back Bebbanburg from his Uncle, Aelfric. Telling him that Iseult’s memory is something that should be cherished rather than mourned, she gives him his sword, which she coolly retrieved from the prostitute, and they along with Halig begin their journey North. During their long ride, they stop at York and find the place in the midst of a Saxon rebellion. After brothers, Sigefrid and Erik, left to fight the Scots for wealth and women, Father Hrothweard incited his fellow priests and Saxons to rebel against their Danish overlords with great success. Unable to stomach the man who was left in charge in the brothers’ stead being beaten and used as a source income, Uhtred frees him and encounters an outraged Hrothweard. As soon as the priest realises who he is, and waxes lyrical about how the victory at Ethandun encouraged him to launch his own attack against the Danes, Uhtred and his loyal sidekicks are welcomed with open arms.
Whilst in York, Uhtred also encounters Beocca and Brother Trew, and is convinced to help them with their plans to free Guthred from the slave trader, Gelgill, who also happens to reside on Kjartan’s land, in the hopes that the freed prisoner will be in a position to help him raise an army against their shared enemy. Knowing full well that they’re being followed as they travel, our intrepid hero hatches a plan to have Kjartan’s men fear him with a creative use of an animal skull he discovered whilst perving on Hild as she washed in a stream, and a few horse-riding lepers who were also travelling with them to obscure their purpose. Sending Beocca, Brother Trew and Hild as bait to ‘negotiate’ with Gelgill for Guthred’s release, Uhtred and the lepers bide their time and then ride into the slaver’s camp disguised as a malevolent spirit and his fellow riders. Frightening the men into running away, and making specific threats to Sven and his father, Uhtred goes so far as to pin the former down and almost runs his sword through him before Beocca persuades him not to. In the chaos, Hild kills Gelgill and Guthred is freed, later promising to help his liberator bring Kjartan and Sven to justice and restore him to Bebbanburg if he’s prepared to command his army, which Uhtred agrees to do. Following the Roman Wall to Cumbraland, the duo and their allies are welcomed by Abbot Eadred, who is just as clueless about the identity of the man his vision apparently revealed to him as the villagers who mistakenly herald Uhtred as their King. After the mistake is clarified, Guthred is handed his regal sword and made to kneel before the body of St Cuthbert as he assumes his role as ruler of the kingdom, but not before insisting that his commander stand beside him; a move that leads Eadred to tell Brother Trew that Uhtred needs to be watched. With things starting to look up for the true heir to Bebbanburg, Guthred’s ‘pretty’, feisty sister, Gisela, has also caught his eye.
Elsewhere, after being released into the forest blindfolded and narrowly avoiding becoming a snack for a pack of wolves after running into a tree and knocking himself out, Sven is returned to Kjartan’s camp in Durham. There he’s greeted with incredulity and scorn by his father, who doesn’t believe his tale about a masked rider threatening them from beyond the grave, and sends him to deal with their captive, Thyra, who’s taken to living in her cell with hounds and reciting venomous incantations at her captor/husband. Later, having been sent to find more evidence about this mysterious evil spirit on his father’s behalf, Sven returns with news that Guthred has been crowned King of Cumbraland and that he intends to form a huge army consisting of both Saxons and Danes, headed up by none other than their arch enemy, Uhtred. With this information ringing in his ears, Kjartan tells one of his men to infiltrate the army, kill Guthred and bring him Earl Ragnar’s adoptive son, preferably minus an eye to avenge his son’s partial blinding years before.
Back in Wessex, Alfred releases Ragnar and Brida from their cells to discuss the merits of eschewing the Viking, slash and burn approach to life, and to highlight the advantages of a more peaceful approach that will allow kingdoms to prosper, and Danes and Saxons to happily live side by side, with mixed results.
Scene of the Week
Danielle: It was hard to choose, but I think the scene with Uhtred and Hild where neither of them can sleep and she approaches him to talk, just pipped some of the more humorous candidates to the post. Particularly when she asked him about the piece of amber that’s been worked into the hilt of his sword. Still a dogged believer in fate and destiny, he tells her that it reminds him of who he is, which compels her to point out that what you do shapes who you are, rather than the circumstances into which you were born. Such candidness is representative of the slightly adversarial, easy rapport that’s tinged with sexual undertones which exists between them. Either way, it’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting relationships on the show.
Marieke: My, my Uhtred! Spying on a nun bathing? It’s not your religion, but have some decency, man! Hild really is going to need lots of buckets of ice cold water to cool his ardour. I also liked Beocca and Uhtred’s massive hug. He is definetely going to need his group of friends along the ride. I can’t completely overlook Sven bumping into a tree blindfolded either. It actually had me laughing out loud. Did anyone else also think he was going to be wolf meat there?
Quote of the Week
Uhtred: I would sleep easier laying next to a woman.
Hild: Shall I fetch another bucket, Lord?
Renowned for his villainous roles in various shows, character actor, David Schofield, made his debut as super shifty Abbot Eadred here. In recent years he’s acted in Da Vinci’s Demons, Doctor Who and daytime drama, Land Girls.
Scandi-noir fans may have noticed that Guthred looked familiar too. He is played by Thure Lindhardt, who more famously was Saga Norén’s new Danish cop sidekick in The Bridge III.
We had to wait a long time to see The Last Kingdom back on our screens, but finally the series is back. Praise the Viking Gods! Unable to compete financially with it’s big budget HBO cousin in terms of large scale battles, the show continues to defy it’s limitations and put the human drama ahead of shock and awe, still peppering it’s special brand of tongue-in-cheek humour throughout in a way that almost thumbs it’s nose at Game of Thrones’ grandiose scale. Because of that, the awaited series opener did not disappoint. It had everything really. From a semi naked Uhtred losing his cool with Hild when she drenched him with a couple of buckets of water, to our wily protagonist running rings round his enemies by playing dress up and co-opting a clique of lepers. What more could a duo of reviewers want?! The camaraderie between Uhtred and his new sidekicks really is something too. After Leofric’s death at the end of Series 1, there was a worry that Uhtred wouldn’t have people to bounce off in the same way, but his back and forth with Hild is already stealing the show. That’s not to do Gerard Kearns a disservice as Halig either. There were moments there when his comedy pedigree really did show through. Likewise, Ian Hart continues to shine as Uhtred’s father figure/favourite priest, Beocca, who’s never afraid to give him a verbal kick up the backside when he needs it. The gorgeous vistas also still dazzle as these characters traipse around the countryside.
Not everything was rosy, however. Can too many new faces spoil the broth? We can’t be the only ones who spent half the episode trying to figure out who was who, particularly as so many of the Danish and Saxon names are so similar. Hopefully this will resolve itself as the series rumbles on. There were a couple of anomalies in terms of the time span since Series 1 as well. Suddenly Alfred and Aelswith’s baby daughter, Aethelflaed, is now a young woman, who’s ready to be be married off to an adequate suitor for political gain, and either Hild has stopped off somewhere for hair extensions, or her basin cut has grown out dramatically quickly. What is going on?! Perhaps there’s something in the water.
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the Series 2 opener? Did it hit all the right notes, or fall flat? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…