So what happened?
Three years after successfully defeating Kjartan and helping his brother take Dunholm, we find Uhtred, Finan, Sihtric and Clapa making a clandestine trip to Mercia to deal with Danish raiders, who’ve pillaged Saxon villages in the area and taken women and children as prisoners. Killing around 30 of them and hanging 3 of the bodies from trees along the river as a warning, the group free the captives and hold one of the Danes back, telling him to go back to his friends and inform them that beyond London, the Thames belongs to Alfred. Soon arriving back at his Wessex estate at Cookham to be greeted by Gisela, their son and baby daughter, Uhtred finds he has a visitor in the form of an unusually sober Aethelwold. Obviously perturbed, the King’s nephew tells the elderman that he crossed the border into Daneland and apparently saw a corpse, a messenger from the Three Spinners, rise from the dead to tell him that he should be King of Wessex and that Uhtred will be crowned King of Mercia. Naturally, his friend is sceptical of what he’s been told, but tells Gisela he doesn’t necessarily believe that the young man is lying. Wary of what even thinking about pursuing what Aethelwold has told them about, the Lord’s wife tells her husband not to make an enemy of Alfred.
In quick succession, the King himself makes an unexpected visit to Cookham with Odda and Steapa in tow, preoccupying himself with his man’s pagan interior design, and letting slip to Gisela that he’s apprehensive about Aethelflaed being gifted in marriage to Aethelred. The real reason for his visit, however, is to express his displeasure at the fact Uhtred took matters into his own hands in Mercia and hung men without trial. His sworn sword and Finan try to explain that the men were already dead and that they were thieves, but Alfred insists that the letter of the law should be adhered to, otherwise Uhtred can expect to have his privileges as an elderman revoked. He also asks about his nephew’s visit, aware of the fact Aethelwold crossed into Daneland, and enquiring why that might be and what business he had in Cookham. Uhtred is economical with the truth, saying the young man was bleating his usual mantra about being the rightful King of Wessex, and advising Alfred to put him on trial and kill him. If the Devil has been speaking in his ear, the King admits he might be forced to do just that.
As the Lords are talking politics in the hall, Clapa is keeping an eye on the waterways, spotting a trader they deal with transporting 3 warriors along the river, one of them being Erik, who pushes the man to press on into Cookham where he’s due to sell his wares. In the meantime, Uhtred and Alfred have moved their discussion outside, the former using the present chaos in Mercia to excuse his attack on the raiders outside of his jurisdiction, and his need to protect the villagers. His King agrees that the neighbouring Kingdom is disorganised and reveals his intention to divide it into boroughs in the near future. Distracted from their exchange of views, Alfred notices what Uhtred calls a shack and what he terms a church, and goes to pray there as his man heads off to the jetty to meet with the trader. Inside he encounters Hild praying, and asks if she’s found lasting peace. Finding increasingly less solace in her guise as a warrior, she admits that she’s more content there without a sword in her hand. It’s this conversation that later spurs her on to re-don her nun garb, and ask Uhtred if she can build a nunnery on his estate, a request which he happily grants, reaffirming that she’ll always have his protection and once again telling her she’s too good a woman for God alone.
Meanwhile, Uhtred confronts the trader about the warriors Clapa saw on his ship. Fearful that his livelihood will be torched at the Lord’s request, the man tells him that Erik wishes to speak with him alone, leading to a conversation between the two where his adversary starts by saying that he’s not looking for a fight. Instead he’s looking for passage into Daneland so he can meet with Bjorn, the same corpse who Aethelwold saw rise from the dead, and then promises to return to Francia afterwards. In spite of his peaceful arrival, he does warn that his brother, Sigefrid, is getting restless and won’t be staying abroad much longer as they now have a joint fleet of 19 ships, and plan to sail wherever Bjorn directs them. In response, Uhtred openly admits he’s not entirely convinced by what Erik is saying, but the other man seeks to reassure him, saying that he and his brother want him beside them when the time comes, and goes on to remind him he was raised a Dane. Not sure how to react, Uhtred allows him to pass.
Later that evening, Alfred asks our protagonist if Aethelwold had been drinking when he came to visit, and Uhtred admits he was sober, proposing that he could be used to bring order to Mercia as he doesn’t trust Aethelred. Losing his temper, Alfred barks back that it’s not his concern. Uhtred persists though, insisting that Wessex is his concern and telling his King that it’s Guthrum/Aethelstan’s men who are responsible for breaking the peace they brokered after the battle of Ethandun. He also reports that the Danish King’s weak rule is leading to a gathering of around 200 men at Benfleet, who are looking for a Lord to lead them, and urges for them to be dealt with. As Odda admits they could be a massive headache for Wessex should they decide to blockade the river, Alfred remains steadfast in his unwillingness to engage with the problem, dismissing it as an issue for Aethelstan, and turning it around to question Uhtred’s loyalty. Mindful of the rift opening up between her husband and the monarch, after Alfred leaves with his entourage, Gisela suggests that Uhtred ask to be released from his vow so they can return North to Guthred and Ragnar, and not make an enemy of Alfred; a plea which is dismissed as unnecessary.
Back in Winchester, Beocca and his fellow, forthright priest, Pyrlig, are discussing the upcoming wedding celebrations on their way to meet with Alfred, the latter teasing the former about his burgeoning attachment to Thyra. Denying he has feelings for her before they’re welcomed into Alfred’s chambers, Beocca then looks on with some amusement as his colleague is sent to East Anglia to petition Aethelstan to swiftly deal with the trouble-causing Danes at Benfleet, therefore he’ll be missing the festivities. Moments later, the King sees his daughter in her wedding dress and is taken aback, expressing again that Aethelred isn’t worthy of her, a sentiment echoed by her Mother. Aethelflaed seems content enough with her future husband though, asking if Uhtred will be attending the wedding and admitting she sees him as her family’s lucky charm, something which her father derides as nonsense. Around the same time, her betrothed arrives in Wessex to survey the land he’s been gifted as part of the marriage negotiations. In discussion with his adviser, Aldhelm, Aethelred comes realise the potentially pivotal role of Mercia in Alfred’s dream of a united England.
On the way to Winchester for the wedding, Sihtric asks Uhtred if he has made a decision on whether or not he can marry the tavern prostitute he’s fallen for, after having previously asked him to consider it. His Lord agrees to talk to the woman when they get to Winchester, and when they arrive, Gisela coaxes her husband not to belittle her just because of her occupation, comparing her to both Aethelflaed and herself in terms of money and land changing hands before the princess’ wedding, and the way she herself was previously bartered over by Guthred and Aelfric. It’s likely this push that leads him to later tell an ecstatic Sihtric that the marriage can go ahead. Having met up with Beocca in the capital, weddings again become the topic of conversation when the priest admits that his obsession with Thyra is stopping him from functioning properly, and asks Uhtred to either take his sister back with him to Cookham, or send her North to live with Ragnar. Rubbishing the request, the Lord of Bebbanburg urges his friend to marry his sister, something he later works up the courage to bring about. A much more content Thyra happily consents, and pulls the priest into her home.
Having previously been welcomed into Winchester by a once again drunk Aethelwold, who says he has news for him, Uhtred later drags him away from the crowds welcoming Aethelred’s procession after he states the ‘corpse’ told him the Mercian lord will try to crown himself king. Being pressed up against a wall, Alfred’s nephew says he’s only the messenger, and pushes all of Uhtred’s buttons by reminding him that both their ancestors were royalty and yet they’re barely acknowledged as eldermen. As the other man’s resolve weakens, he adds that he can take him to see Bjorn in Daneland, and that they can still be back in time for Aethelflaed’s nuptials. Agreeing to go, they swiftly arrive at the place where the corpse is said to rise, and Uhtred leaves Sihtric as a look out in case someone is trying to play a trick on them. On closer inspection, the Northumbrian-born lord, Aethelwold, Clapa and Finan find that Haeston is in charge, the man that was saved from the Saxons at Eoferwic by Uhtred, and he welcomes them inside before informing them that Erik and Sigefrid have already arrived at Benfleet and hope he will join them in due course. It later becomes clear as the brothers rally their troops and set sail to London to ransack the place, that not only do they have Guthrum in their sights, but that they also have nefarious plans for Uhtred.
Forced to wait until nightfall for the Viking shaman to wake up and conduct the ceremony, Uhtred et al look on as a thief has his throat cut as part of a blood sacrifice over the grave. Watching in mystified horror as, sure enough, the corpse rises from the dead, Bjorn addresses Uhtred and divulges that the brothers have already taken London, prophesying that he’ll be ‘King of Mercia, Saxon and Danes, King of other kings’. Our protagonist buys into what he’s seen, as do the other men who witnessed it alongside him, accepting what Haesten tells him about London being his city as King of Mercia after the brothers have raided it. Things may not be what they seem though, as a petrified Sihtric witnesses Bjorn rise from the dead yet again.
In the interim, tensions are once again rising between Alfred and Aelswith over his previous fondness for serving girls, his wife taking his annoyance out on one young woman for standing too close to the table as they ate. She goes on to advise her husband to put Aethelred in charge of bringing peace to Mercia, and proposes that Alfred invite Mercian lords to their court to bow before him, their future son-in-law especially, who they are both aware may try to become too big for his boots. During their deliberation, Odda interrupts to inform them that Uhtred has left for Mercia with Aethelwold, and the King asks for Gisela to be watched. At that point Beocca bursts through the doors and announces that he’s to be married.
Scene of the Week
Danielle: I loved all of Beocca’s scenes this week. It’s nice that he and Thyra seem to have found some happiness together, especially after everything she’s been through. Pyrlig is a great newcomer as well, making me laugh out loud more than once. We all have that one friend who has absolutely no filter. I think the absolute pinnacle of this episode though, was the scene where Alfred and Uhtred clashed over what was going on at Benfleet. I don’t think there’s ever been a starker light shone on where these two men’s flaws lie. Alfred is content to rest on his laurels and not provoke a war at all costs, whilst Uhtred’s headstrong approach to everything is on the brink of getting him into serious trouble. Someone needs to sit these two down and bang their heads together, because they’re always much stronger when they work together.
Marieke: Was Beocca the star this week or what? Him explaining why the woman in his life has to go to Uthred, who immediately realises Beocca is in love with Thyra, was too cute! And then there was the accidental, but not really, proposal which seemed unromantic, but was so heartfelt… Truly heart warming. Uhtred and Gisela as a couple worked nicely too, she is not afraid to speak her mind to him. Uhtred and Hild together were also lovely, with the compulsory added line of Uhtred to Hild. She can’t just have God as the only man in her life! But as far as the religious characters go… Beocca won this episode.
Quote of the Week
Odda: The purpose of marriage is not to be happy, my dear.
Gisela: Then I am fortunate.
Odda: I pray my own wife might say the same.
Alfred: Oh I imagine she does. She so rarely sees you.
Making his debut as Father Pyrlig here, Cavan Clerkin has had numerous roles in British TV dramas and comedies over the years from Police drama, Babylon, to Pulling.
Last week we wondered how Uhtred would cope with a peaceful existence, and after a time jump of three years, just as we expected, he’s become restless. But then so has almost everybody else. Whilst this leap ahead makes sense, it also complicated a few story lines. Beocca and Thyra were cute together, but it is a shame we didn’t see that bond evolve between them much more organically. From being allowed to sit on her bed (and not be eaten by her dogs), the priest has now gleefully allowed himself to be dragged towards it. In a similar vein, Uhtred’s family life with Gisela and their two children could’ve been fleshed out a little better, although we do get the idea his wife is very much his equal. Hild’s arc has suffered particularly. It seemed like only yesterday that she battled her way through butchering a dead enemy to earn her chain mail. Apparently in these three years she has done her fill of cutting off heads, and her conscience has started to play up, something which has spurred her on to become a full-time nun again. Without actually seeing these things playing on her mind over a protracted period, it’s hard to really buy into her wanting to lay down her sword and build that nunnery. Again, it’s symptomatic of our main beef with the The Last Kingdom: whilst the fast pace of the show has the ability to keep us on the edge of our seats, it makes it exceptionally hard for the writing to bring any real depth, or indeed any nuanced sense of motivation, for the characters.
In a way, this episode feels like a soft reboot for the series. At the start it even felt a little like a different show. Nevertheless, the blueprint is still the same. Once again we have a status quo which is being threatened by a perfect storm consisting of Uhtred’s ego, Alfred’s single-mindedness and a couple of Vikings seeking revenge and wanting to do what Vikings do: take what doesn’t belong to them. As nice as it would be to see Guthrum, Aethelstan, or whatever it is he’s calling himself these days, again, and a proper Viking raid, the set up for this impending conflict has been a tad clunky. We went forward three years. We went back three gears. Regardless, the next episode still holds some promise with likely even more politicking and a wedding. Hopefully the peace will be over though, because that is when the show and Uhtred shine the most.
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the episode? Let us know in the comments…