So what happened?
After last week’s debacle where Guthred betrayed his commander, we find both Uhtred and Halig as galley slaves somewhere in the middle of the North Sea, barely surviving in terrible conditions enforced by their owner, Sverri. Determining that it’s safer to obscure his identity, Uhtred has taken to being called by his birth name, Osbert, and he and his trusty sidekick have made friends with one of their fellow slaves, Finan, a quick-witted Irish warrior, who helps the lord to bolster Halig’s morale when cabin fever sets in for the young man, who admits he’s desperate for land after months at sea.
Meanwhile, back in Eoferwic, Guthred hosts Aelfric and the 300 men he’s brought with him to help lay siege to Kjartan’s stronghold at Dunholm. Their meeting to discuss terms doesn’t exactly go to plan, however, when the King of Cumbraland admits that he can’t provide Uhtred’s head after his Uncle asks for it, going on to divulge that his nephew was sold into slavery and not executed. Furious that their agreement wasn’t honoured, the current Lord of Bebbanburg refuses to stay and takes his soldiers back with him to Northumberland. With circumstances changed, Danish brothers, Sigefrid and Erik, also decide to cut short their agreed peace with Guthred, and one again command their men to pillage the villages in the kingdom. Furthermore, mindful that Abbott Eadred and her brother will wish to use her as a bargaining chip with one of their potential allies, Gisela flees to a nunnery with Sihtric’s help, and asks him to deliver a note to Hild telling her of her whereabouts so that she can inform Uhtred if/when he returns. He manages to fulfil this request when the warrior nun, Ragnar and Alfred’s man, Steapa, arrive in town to ask Guthred which slave trader he sold Uhtred and Halig to. Once they’re told, they track the man down and Ragnar pays him silver in return for information that Sverri has his brother, but that the only way they’ll find him is to wait for Spring and keep an eye on the beaches when his captor will return to trade.
With Sigefrid and Erik plundering the villages in Cumbraland, forcing survivors to seek refuge in Eoferwic, an increasingly rudderless Guthred implores Eadred to advise him, only to be told that he needs grain to feed the newcomers and therefore he must re-secure the alliance between them and Aelfric by offering Gisela as a bride. Travelling to Bebbanburg, the two men sit down with their would be ally, and it’s only when the Abbot reveals that the King’s sister is fond of Uhtred and that there’s been talk of marriage between the two, that he agrees to the match. He also adds further stipulations that his man, Aidan, will travel back with them to Eoferwic and stay with them over the Winter, as well as stressing that Kjartan should receive word of his nephew’s whereabouts so that he can do their dirty work for them and kill him.
In the meantime, Uhtred, Halig and Finan, along with the other slaves, have been spending a harsh Winter in Iceland, continuing to be worked mercilessly by their owner. When one of their guards has a fight with another they see their chance to escape, killing the two men and taking their weapons. Halig sustains an injury though, slowing him and his friends down as they break away from the rest of the group and head for the beach, allowing their captors to catch up with them and further injure Halig hitting him with an arrow in the leg as they try to push a boat into the sea. With the young man incapacitated, Uhtred refuses to leave him behind and they’re all recaptured. As punishment for their escape attempt, Halig is strapped to the bow of their ship and a distraught Uhtred is urged to pull as his friend slowly drowns to death fighting to breathe against the waves.
When they finally make land in the Spring, Sverri is met by Sven, who’s come to locate our broken protagonist. Severely weakened by everything he’s faced, Uhtred is barely able to hold the sword his old adversary places in his hand, and is about to be executed when Ragnar, Hild and Steapa arrive in the nick of time, scaring off Sven and his men, who manage to get away. After freeing all of the slaves the two brothers have an emotional reunion, and Finan uses his newfound freedom to kill Sverri, aptly telling him to “Pull!” as he sticks a sword through his throat. Later, after pains have been taken to bury Halig with a sword and shield, Ragnar explains to his younger brother that Alfred sent him to save him, and Finan admits that the horrific things they’ve both experienced mean he and Uhtred are now bound together. After sleeping for over a day in a meadow, Hild wakes the traumatised lord up before cleaning his wounds, cutting his hair and returning his sword to him. Realising she was the one who sounded the alarm to Alfred about his enforced slavery, Uhtred tells his friend that she will always have his protection. In return the nun gifts him with a cross to wear, telling him it will offer him the same.
As his strength grows and he begins to eat properly again, Uhtred urges Ragnar to take revenge on Kjartan with him seen as they’re already in the North, but his brother refuses stating that he swore to Alfred he’d return to Winchester after they’d found and freed him. It’s then that Hild informs Uhtred she knows where Gisela is waiting for him, and so they head to the nunnery before heading South. Unfortunately Brother Trew has already discovered where she is, and Eadred captures the young woman, forcing her to marry Aelfric by asking Aidan to stand in as his representative. Just as the sham ceremony has come to a close, Uhtred and the others turn up and insist that Gisela is released into their care. The Abbot eventually relents, but continues to maintain that Guthred’s sister is already married to his uncle, a taunt which riles him up enough to kill the holy man as Hild looks on in horror. Taking Gisela with him, Uhtred tells Aidan to inform his master that if he wants his ‘wife’, she’ll be in his bed.
Whilst all the other drama has been occurring elsewhere, back in Winchester Alfred and Aelswith continue to look for a suitable husband for their daughter, Aethelflaed. In pursuit of that goal, they invite the King of Mercia, Ceolwulf, to Wessex to discuss the possible terms of an alliance. The old, infirm lord is single-minded in the negotiations, demanding that his counterpart send fifty men to the Mercian border with Daneland to stem the tide of Viking raiders, rather than humouring Alfred’s preoccupation with finding a suitor for his daughter. Things take a turn for the worst when Ceolwulf heatedly stresses that his demands be taken seriously, and he unceremoniously dies at the banquet table. In the chaos of the moment, Aelswith takes the letter the newly deceased king was previously brandishing in his hand, which names a suitable ‘buck’ for Aethelflaed to marry, and calls on the man it identifies to reveal himself; a young lord called Aethelred. Months later the young man returns to Winchester to discuss Aethelflaed’s ‘bride price’, offering silver without realising it’s an affront to someone who’s already of substantial means as a King’s daughter. After receiving further counsel from one of his advisers, Aethelred changes the offer to land in Mercia and it’s accepted, paving the way for the marriage.
When Uhtred finally returns to Alfred’s court, he thanks the King for his efforts to save him, but is blindsided when he’s blackmailed into swearing his sword to him once again when the monarch threatens to put Ragnar on trial for allowing his adoptive brother to kill Eadred. Reluctantly, Uhtred kneels and swears fealty to him.
Scene of the Week
Danielle: It has to be Ceowulf’s untimely demise. From start to finish it was comedy gold, including the usually strait-laced Aelswith’s stealth move to retrieve the letter after he’d breathed his last. How good was it to finally see Aethelwold periodically chirp up with his comically acerbic remarks too? Harry McEntire’s character has been sorely missed so far this series. David Dawson was also great playing Alfred as the straightest of straight men as everything around him descended into farce.
Marieke: Whilst Aethelwold’s comment truly had me laughing out loud, for me, the scene of the week was the reunion of the brothers, and Uhtred breaking down seeing Ragnar and then being comforted by him. It showed us a side of Uthred we haven’t seen before. Sure, he has been sad about the death of his pagan queen, and dealt with it in his typical moody, angry Uhtred way, but here he was broken, sad and crying in front of his warrior friends after being brought low by Halig’s death. The cavalry truly showed up at the right time as it had to, but I am sure Uhtred would not have lasted for much longer, Sven or no Sven. Just as beautiful was Hild trying to remind Uhtred who he is and building him back up again. We could also add a ‘Uhtred’s Innapropriate Flirting with Hild of the Week’ category now, because as soon as he declared her too good a woman for just God alone everyone knew Uhtred was back. He fell for Gisela, but he will not stop trying, will he?!
Quote of the Week
Aelswith: A cup of water for Lord Ceowulf!
Aethelwold: I think perhaps a hole in the ground.
Best known for his role in Reign, Toby Regbo made an interesting debut as Aethelred, Aethflaed’s husband-to-be and Lord of Mercia.
The Last Kingdom skipped second gear and went straight to fifth in this third instalment of the series. Not only did things progress mighty quickly in terms of the passage of time and hair growth (poor Halig seemed to find the time for an impromptu perm), but it also set us off on a roller-coaster of emotions. Here we got a glimpse of an Uhtred we’ve never seen before after his friend’s horrific death. His anger turned inwards and his spirit seemed to break until his rescue party arrived. Fortunately, touching reunions with Ragnar and our beloved warrior-nun Hild seemed to bring him back to life, but some permanent damage may have been done as a result of what he’s been through. Judging by his extreme reaction to Eadred goading him over Gisela’s ridiculous proxy wedding and his consequent murderous act, Beocca’s warning never to allow his heart to darken may not have been heeded. I mean if the edgy guy-liner and the shorter haircut isn’t an indication of that, I don’t know what is! Hild’s reaction to what he did was a little concerning too. She may be a warrior now as well as a nun, but her faith is a key part of who she is, and it’s doubtful that she could simply shrug off her friend killing an unarmed holy man in a house of God, regardless of how much of an annoying sh*t he was. The worry is that a permanent rift will develop there. At least Uhtred does seem to have made a new companion in the wake of his experience as a slave. Quick-witted, loyal Finan is a great addition, and we can’t wait to see their bond progresses after Halig’s untimely departure. Props to him for getting revenge on Sverri in such a satisfying way too.
Speaking of our not so dearly departed Abbot, it would seem that Eadred wasn’t the ‘Big Bad’ of the series after all. Not that the show really does ‘End of Level Villains’ anyway, instead favouring moving the story forward goal by goal, baddie by baddie, with the exception of overarching antagonists Kjartan, Sven and Aelfric. Still, David Schofield’s character didn’t last anywhere near as long as we expected him to. After being indirectly responsible for Halig’s death, good riddance! Sweet karma was also delivered to Guthred, who unsurprisingly could not seal the deal initially with Uhtred’s uncle, and did not have a warrior to advise him on their impending stand-off with Kjartan, spurring the ‘Lord of Chaos’ and his brother to return to their Viking ways. We could almost hear the collective ‘I told you so!’ from everyone at home. Surely things are only going to get worse for the useless King with Eadred dead and Uhtred taking Aelfric’s ‘bride’ from him?
Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, Alfred showed Guthred how things are done, somehow managing to keep a straight face during negotiations with the half dead, then completely dead Ceowulf, and securing a husband for his daughter as well as a much needed alliance to advance his ultimate goal of a united England. Also, as much as we hated him blackmailing Uhtred into serving him again and removing his freedom once more so soon after regaining it, you’ve got to admire his sheer resourcefulness at manipulating a situation to his advantage. He’ll never be a great warrior, but he certainly has his wits about him. We just hope for his sake, and Aethelflaed’s, that Aethelred is all that he seems. Looking ahead to the rest of the series, we have no idea if Uhtred is going to reach Bebbanburg. In spite of his setback with Alfred, with the rip-roaring pace so far, finally clashing head on with Aelfric and/or Kjartan is certainly a possibility for our protagonist. This episode sure took our breath away. And Halig’s for that matter…
Our Fezzy Score:
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