So what happened?
As Uhtred and Gisela are on their way back from bathing, Aethelred, Aldhelm and a couple of their men stop the husband and wife and quiz him about where he’s been. He’s having none of the Mercian lord’s insolence though and their conversation quickly turns into a full-blown argument where Aethelred insults Gisela, and Uhtred pulls him from his horse and puts a knife to his neck, urging him to test his resolve to slit his throat. Aldhelm and Gisela take it upon themselves to calm the situation, however, and they all go their separate ways. Later though, whilst Aethelred is being dressed in preparation for his wedding, he tells the head of his military that he wants Uhtred dead. Aldhelm urges him to have patience and points out that the Danes are looking for war, suggesting that they could use the chaos of the situation to get rid of both Uhtred and Alfred, so that his master can crown himself King of Mercia and Wessex.
Elsewhere, Uhtred and Hild preside over Beocca and Thyra’s wedding, binding the happy couple together with prayers and a piece of material, as Gisela, Finan and Aethelwold look on. It’s after the short ceremony, when Alfred’s nephew leaves, that we find out Uhtred knows the corpse he saw ‘rise from the dead’ to tell him he should be King of Mercia was a trick set up by Sigefrid and Erik to entrap him. They neglect to tell Aethelwold, however, and have to tell him to shut up about it as they watch Aethelflaed marry Aethelred. Predictably, he’s still harping on about it outside after the ceremony, going on to add that what they’ve just been witness to is treason because he’s the rightful King. This spurs Uhtred to jokingly order Clapa to hit him, as they’re approached by a mysterious, young monk who wishes to speak with him. Finally able to get a word in, he reveals him himself to be Osferth, Leofric’s nephew, and asks that he be allowed to fight for the Lord of Cookham and Bebbanburg. After Aethelwold states that he also happens to be Alfred’s bastard, Uhtred tells the newcomer he’ll welcome him into his army if he gives up his cross and picks up a sword, which he duly agrees to do.
Having sent Steapa to summon to Uhtred to the wedding feast, Alfred questions him about his recent trip to Daneland and why he wasn’t informed about it. His sworn sword tells him that he went on his behalf, and that London has been taken by Sigefrid and Erik, which the King realises will allow them to choke the River Thames and blockade supplies getting through. Uhtred goes on to tell him that the brothers have offered him Mercia, but that he has no interest in taking it, something which nevertheless unnerves Alfred and prompts both Aethelred and Aldhelm to butt into the cross-examination. Aethelflaed also speaks up, asking Uhtred whether they’re open to accepting a ransom for the city, much to her new husband’s dismay. Mulling the new information over, Alfred decides to send Aethelred along with Uhtred to treat with Erik and his brother and see what they want.
Some time later, after they’ve retired to their chambers, Aethelred tells his new bride not to involve herself in political discussion, and when she objects, saying that her father has always encouraged her to take an interest, he slips up and accidentally calls her his Queen. When Aethelflaed mocks him for having ideas above his station, he turns on her by attempting to sexually humiliate her, threatening to shame her by handing her back to Wessex if she won’t do his bidding. When the young woman continues to be resistant, he makes a move to leave and turns back when she asks him to stay, going on to brutally rape her. In the meantime, perturbed by his King’s treatment of one of their allies, Odda urges Alfred not to undervalue Uhtred. He refuses to let go of his suspicions though, questioning his warrior’s loyalties because of his ambition, and suggesting he could be spying on the brothers’ behalf.
Meanwhile, in London, Erik is beginning to suspect that Uhtred hasn’t fallen for their trick, as Sigefrid tries to deal with the constant pain that’s been with him since his hand was amputated by their adversary. Aware of the fact Uhtred may come with Alfred’s army, they’re prepared for all out war and relish the prospect of the situation potentially allowing them to become the ultimate kings of all of all of the kingdoms. Soon enough, their archenemy and a few of his men arrive London, along with Aethelred and Aldhelm. As they walk around the dangerous streets of the city, Uhtred notes the difficulties of defending the place, shortly before they happen upon a crucified priest, – Sigefrid’s handiwork. When they’re greeted by the brothers, they hide their real intentions and welcome Uhtred as a King, going on to mock Aethelred when he asks for a ransom price, asking for flesh instead of gold and saying they’d like to ‘hump’ his new bride. As they move inside to discuss the matters in hand, Uhtred spots that Pyrlig has been taken as their prisoner, and after refusing to say whether he’s made his mind up about bringing Ragnar on board and accepting Mercia as his kingdom, he negotiates a way for the priest to fight for his freedom, remembering that he used to be a warrior from when they were introduced. Up against one of the brother’s finest soldiers, after a rocky start, Pyrlig eventually gets the upper hand, not wanting to kill the other man, but still requesting that he be allowed to leave with Uhtred. His terms are accepted, but not before Sigefrid kills his man himself and asks the priest to fight for him, an offer which is declined.
Arriving back at court, Uhtred warns the King that it’ll be impossible to fight a conventional battle with the brothers because of the nature of the city where it will take place, explaining it can’t be won with sheer numbers and that they should attack from different directions if they wish to be triumphant. He also shoots down Aethelred’s proposal that they attack Ludgate, stating that the river flows too fast there for them to land successfully and that soldiers will simply fall in and drown. Nevertheless, Alfred dismisses his counsel, still preoccupied with the fact the brothers are calling him King of Mercia. When Uhtred insists that he’s loyal, the monarch loses his temper and tells the man he cajoled into serving him that he neither knows nor understands him and he never will. Having sent him away, Alfred listens to Aldhelm’s suggestion that Uhtred be punished, and sends he and Aethelred back to Mercia to raise an army that matches the one thousand men he’s already promised to defeat the brothers. Turning to Odda, who’s once again unhappy with the way the king is treating his alderman, he tells him to inform the Lord of Cookham to return to his estate. Questioning his own judgement, Alfred then asks Steapa if he trusts Uhtred, and hears the reply, “With my life.”
Having taken it upon himself to personally inform Uhtred that he’s being banished to his home, Odda muses about his drinking habits over the cup of ale he’s nursing in the inn they’re drinking at. He also has grave concerns about his legacy, no longer having a son and heir, and expresses his fears for the King, making Uhtred promise that he won’t desert him no matter what. Resolutely responding by saying that he’s not an oathbreaker, he does go on to say, however, that he’s finding it increasingly hard to reconcile himself with a man he finds himself despising and who distrusts him. In a parallel scene with Aelswith in their bed chamber, Alfred divulges how hard it’s becoming to accepts Uhtred’s paganism alongside his role in making the England he envisages a reality, and wonders if the Devil has been influencing his ambition all along. Attempting to allay his concerns, his wife tells him to be free of him if he doesn’t feel he can trust him.
Over the border, in an attempt to paint Mercia as the senior partner in the alliance, Aldhelm rallies his troops in Aylesbury by telling them about the 1000 men Alfred readily agreed to send them when they requested it, and whips them up into a Dane-hating frenzy. Inside, Aethelred notices Aethelflaed is picking at her food, and insists she eats more so that she has the strength to ride part of the way with him to battle. When she takes a couple of non-committal bites, he gets up and goes to touch her face, which makes her instinctively flinch. Unconvinced by his wife’s excuse that she was startled by the sudden move, he loses his temper with her when she states that love should be gentle, accusing her of having been with other men before he married her, pressing her down against the table and telling her she needs to see a priest. He organises a meeting on her behalf with a reluctant Beocca, who nevertheless agrees to determine if she was a virgin when they wed, in accordance with the holy books. This consists of a ceremony he holds later with the young woman, as concerned onlookers, Hild and Thyra, watch. Pouring water and earth into a cup and asking Aethelflaed to drink the ‘bitter waters’, he knocks it out of her reach when she goes to pick it up and drink it, dismissing the whole thing as a farce and asking God to strike him down if she wasn’t an innocent on her wedding day, a request which he survives. Seeing the signs, Thyra asks her if Aethelred has been hitting her, and the young woman admits the relationship is less than loving, leading Hild to press for them to tell her father. Aethelflaed asks that they don’t, determined that he won’t break her and to do her duty for Wessex and Alfred.
Back in the hall, Uhtred reads the letter Alfred has sent him, detailing his instructions to allow Aethelred to lead the attack on London after they’ve travelled down the river and set up camp near the city. He and his men are to attack the North gate as the Mercian lord’s troops attack from the marshes. Alfred has also told Steapa to go with Uhtred, and Aethelwold makes a point of telling everyone he’ll be right behind the burly warrior. Before they leave, they all raise their cups with a toast to ‘allies’. After they arrive at the camp, Haesten alerts the brothers to the fact and they discuss a fire being lit as a signal, before commanding their men to vacate the city. By the time Uhtred and his men arrive at the gates to attack, they find the place completely empty. Wandering through the deserted streets towards the square, they meet in up with Aethelred and his men, who initially thinks Sigefrid and Erik have fled and allows his soldiers to break the formation of their shield wall. As his ‘ally’ is celebrating their victory, Uhtred quickly notices a fire in the tower and that the smoke can be seen from a mile away. It’s only then he realises they’ve been tricked and that the brothers plan to attack the camp where both Thyra and Aethelflaed are staying. Sure enough, Thyra notices the Danes rapidly approaching them on the horizon, and alerts as many people as she can, grabbing Aethelflaed along the way and pushing her towards the forest to get away from the raiders, telling her they should split up. Running as fast as she can away from the Vikings pursuing her, Aethelflaed trips, but manages to get up, continuing to run as her would-be captors draw closer.
Scene of the Week
Marieke: After having discussed wonderful scenes in this segment previously, I will be going off trail this week. To put it bluntly, this episode had a scene in it that should not have been there. Recently there has been a lot of talk about rape in TV shows. Broadchurch, Poldark, Apple Tree Yard and Game of Thrones have all been under scrutiny for their decisions to depict sexual violence. We can now add The Last Kingdom to that list. It was made abundantly clear that Aethelraed is a bad man. The contrast between his and Aethelfled’s wedding and Beocca’s and Thyra’s was overwhelming. We see him use violence against a brave Aethelfled, who tries to stand up for herself. Aethelraed closing the door and a sad Aethefled afterwards would have been enough. We would have gotten the message. But no, a gratuitous rape scene had to be included, which is just as bad to watch as it was to listen to. It was unnecessary, especially as it was obvious that Thyra would pick up on it. Hooded Aethelflaed, when standing next to her not so loving and tender new hubby on the boat, actually echoed Sansa Stark after her ill-conceived marriage to Ramsay Bolton. Had the rape not been shown, the chaotic end scene which felt fitting, and at the same time out of character would have fit the bill. Alas, I could not get past the disappointment. It is definitely a downvote for me as it made this episode a tough and uncomfortable watch. Yes, rape is always tough and uncomfortable, but the suggestion would have definitely been enough.
Danielle: It’s difficult for me to add anything more to what Marieke has said, so I will try to look to the positives. Pyrlig really is a great addition to the show. Nowhere was that more evident than when he was amusingly trying to convince the brothers to give him a quick death, so he wouldn’t be crucified like his priestly colleague. Talk about gallows humour! That was one hell of a stand-off between him and Sigefrid after he’d fought for his freedom too. I get the impression they’re as mad as each other and I can’t wait to see more of him in the future. It sure looks like his sword skills are going to come in handy.
Quote of the Week
Alfred succintly summing up why he and Uhtred don’t get along:
“He is a sword I’d rather wield than face. But he is not godly and never shall be.”
This was the first episode of Series 2 so far where we’ve felt like we’ve been really let down. Aside from the wholly unnecessary rape scene, certain characters became increasingly annoying as the hour went on. Particularly a certain King of Wessex. Is Alfred really so gullible that he readily buys into Sigefrid’s attempts to drive a wedge between him and his sworn sword when they call him the ‘King of Mercia’? Uhtred’s annoyance and frustration is understandable. He has always been entirely loyal, even to his own detriment, and still the man he serves is preoccupied with his paganism. Somebody needs to get their priorities straight. Vying with Alfred in the irritating, self-absorbed t**t stakes is Aethelred, a character set up as a villain so predictably that we’d have drunk ourselves under the table had we decided to play ‘Bad Guy Bingo’. Still, we applauded Beocca when he knocked that cup out of Aethelflaed’s reach so she wouldn’t have to drink the disgusting concoction inside. She is a pure, but naive girl who hoped to marry a prince, and got a lousy excuse for a man instead. Sadly, that seems more than accurate for the era, and depressingly familiar for our own times. Damaged Thyra, having met the far better match in marriage of the two, recognised the signs of an abusive relationship and urged her to tell the truth, for all the good it did. It seems highly likely that there’ll be consequences when Alfred finally finds out that he allowed his daughter to marry a monster, and that others kept him in the dark too.
Thyra being on the ball about Aethelflaed’s treatment as a new bride, her wedding to Beocca and Odda’s drunken comments were definitely amongst the few highlights. As was the immersive camerawork that threw us right into the action during the camp raid, reflecting the terror and confusion of the situation. Some kind of trap was expected on Sigefrid and Erik’s part, although who else was expecting arrows and fire to rain down on Uhtred and Aethelred’s troops when the latter group put down their shields? Hopefully Thyra will live. We really don’t want to see a broken Beocca. The loss would break him and we couldn’t bear to see him depressed. With luck, Uhtred won’t lose another family member as well, and Aethelflaed would deserve a better end than this after what she’s currently going through with Aethelred. It’s to be hoped that they won’t once again resort to ‘fridging’ as a trope to drive the show forward like they did with Iseult at the end of Series 1. Losing one or more of the female characters would be doubly tragic seen as one of our favourites, Hild, seems to be getting sidelined now that she’s returned to her old life as a nun.
Having enjoyed previous episodes a whole lot, we hope that our niggles with this one were a mere bump in the road. Going forward, we can’t wait to see more of Leofric’s nephew, Osferth, and find out whether or not the revelation that he’s Alfred’s bastard will ruffle a few feathers at court. Regardless, it was great to hear Leofric’s name being brought up again. Don’t we all miss him calling Uhtred an ‘arseling’?
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the episode? Let us know in the comments…