So what happened?
In the aftermath of being tricked by Sigefrid and Erik, Uhtred, Aethelred and the rest of their group race back to their camp to see what has happened. When they arrive, their worst fears appear to be realised as soldiers and women alike have been massacred by their adversaries. Distraught at the possibility his new wife has been killed, Beocca screams Thyra’s name and eventually she calls back, running from the forest where she hid and embracing her husband. Once prompted she admits she and Aethelflaed were separated whilst trying to escape, and Uhtred surmises that rather than killing her, the brothers will have taken her because of her value as a hostage. He’s right of course as we see the King’s daughter riding on Erik’s horse on their way back to Benfleet, and Sigefrid declaring her their ‘pathway to glory’. When they arrive later, their prisoner is mobbed by the Danish soldiers, who are told of the wealth and glory they’ll attain by means of her ransom. Told that her female companions from the camp were either killed or claimed, Alfred’s daughter is pushed into a cell and informed she’ll be guarded at all times.
On their way back to Winchester, Aldhelm points out to Aethelred that Alfred will blame him for Aethelflaed being present at the camp, imploring him to shift culpability onto her by suggesting she was eager to travel with him to battle. During the journey Uhtred, Sihtric, Clapa and Finan break away from the group, the Lord announcing that he intends to adhere to the King’s wishes and see out his banishment at Cookham. In actual fact, before they arrive back to his estate, he sends Sihtric and Rypere to Benfleet to look for weaknesses in the fortress and to ascertain whether or not Aethelflaed is alright. Arriving back at Alfred’s court, Aethelred tries to sugar the pill in relation to his wife’s abduction, first telling the King that London was retaken, before dropping the bombshell to him and Aelswith that their daughter was likely taken. Quickly processing her proximity to the danger, Alfred is naturally furious with the Mercian lord, who quickly tries to shift the blame onto Aethelflaed and points out that Uhtred has returned to Cookham. Unsure what else to do, the King voices his intention to use his contacts across the land to ask for word and send for it, leaving Odda to sharply criticise Aethelred for his ambition and the consequent risk he’s put the kingdom and the country at large at. After the elderly adviser leaves with Beocca and Steapa in tow for a debriefing, Aethelwold sits on his uncle’s throne and mirthfully regards Aethelred and Aldhelm, gleefully informing them that the only man who can clean up the ‘puddle of shit’ they made is Uhtred.
Back at their estate, Gisela pointedly tells her husband that he’s Aethelflaed only hope, countering his weak protestations that it’s Alfred’s job to save her with assured certainty that he’ll resolve everything anyway. It’s then that she notices Osferth and he stays for dinner, telling them that the King is imploring everyone to pray for his daughter’s safe return, and that his Uncle Leofric always told him that the Lord of Bebbanburg was a good and great man. Uhtred then candidly admits that he only agreed for the young man to be welcomed into his army because he knew it’d embarrass Alfred. Osferth acknowledges that he always knew this was the case, and goes on to tell his new lord that he intends to show his worth to keep his place with him. As Gisela implores Uhtred to go back to Winchester to offer his services to the King, he refuses to leave until he has word from Benfleet.
Mortified that she’s not allowed to bathe properly, Aethelflaed has gone on hunger strike, leading Erik to tell her that his brother would seek to humiliate her and have her wash in a barrel for all to see. On condition that she eats the food they bring her, he promises her the ability to bathe properly, terms which she agrees to. Later he, Haesten and a few other Danes walk her down to the river, allowing Sihtric to confirm that she’s still alive and send Rypere back to Cookham to inform Uhtred. Once the party arrive at the stretch of water, Erik tells the men to turn their backs to give Aethelflaed privacy as she undresses and washes. He doesn’t heed his own advice, however, and sneaks a peek, catching Haesten doing the same and downplaying his own growing interest in the young woman.
In the meantime, Aelswith confronts her husband about allowing Uhtred to go after their daughter, proposing that their bond would help lift her spirits if she was to see him. Unwilling to involve a heathen in his dealings once again, Alfred refuses, placating her by telling her Aethelflaed has her courage. It soon becomes a moot point though when, having received news that their daughter is alive, Uhtred arrives at court during a wittern and asks to be allowed inside. Predictably, Aethelred isn’t keen on him being permitted to speak with the King, but Aethelwold, Odda, Beocca and even Aelswith insist that he be allowed. Once given the floor, the lord informs everyone that one of his men has seen the King’s daughter alive and well, and that the brothers are boasting about the ransom having her will bring. With the Mercian lords expressing their reluctance to pay an exorbitant amount for her return, Uhtred asks that Alfred not be present during negotiations in case that causes them to raise her price even more. With Aethelred already chosen to go to Benfleet, Odda proposes that Uhtred be sent as Wessex’s representative at the talks too, with Beocca’s backing, which Alfred reluctantly agrees to. Just as Uhtred is about to leave, his priestly father figure excuses himself from going with him, opting instead to stay in Winchester with his wife after the traumatic ordeal they’d previously been through.
Aware that his brother has taken a liking to Aethelflaed, Sigefrid urges Erik to ‘hump’ her, an idea that Haestan also plans to follow through with as he goes into her cell and attempts to rape her. The young woman fights back, however, throwing the contents of her bucket over him and hitting him with it, before wrestling his knife from him and nearly stabbing him with it, if not for Erik’s intervention. When Haestan asks him why he stopped the attempted sexual assault, he screams that she’s precious and asks for everybody to leave, before apologising and telling her that it won’t happen again. It’s then that Aethelflaed infers Aethelred has mistreated her, and a clearly shaken Erik urges her to sleep well and safely. Some time later he takes her out into the night air, and looking up into the sky, tells her that he was nearly named after the moon, but his mother didn’t like the idea of him being named after a heavenly body that is constantly chased by two brothers in Norse mythology. Charmed by her beauty, he goes on to admit that he’s never seen a face like her’s before, and she admits that her husband does not see her at all. Gleaning that he’s the one mistreating her, Erik gently kisses her and she happily responds. Well aware that his brother is now having sex with their captive, Sigefrid tells Erik that he wants the ransom for her by the Autumn, and an army by Winter, going on to suggest that his sibling might leave Aethelflaed with a ‘pup in her belly’. Once again trying to downplay his emotional entanglement with her, Erik jokes that Alfred will be getting two for the price of one.
Meanwhile, as his daughter deepens her connection with his enemy, Alfred fields a plea from Odda to consider telling Aethelflaed to take her own life, both for the sake of honour and for the good of the Kingdom, reminding his lord that he’s a King first and a father second. It’s evident that the monarch is not happy with the advice, but he acknowledges the sacrifices that have already been made to preserve Wessex, and asks Odda to leave him. All the while Aethelwold has been listening in, and he later happens upon the now drunken adviser who asks his opinion about the ransom. Unwilling to divulge what he thinks for fear of reproach, when prompted to make the comparison, the young pretender to the throne proudly states that he’s becoming more and more like his father, Alfred’s predecessor, each day. Admitting that the deceased King was a great man and a good friend to him, Odda cryptically informs Aethelwold that he might need him in the future.
As he and Aethelred travel to Benfleet, Uhtred informs everyone that the brothers will mean to humiliate them as part of their negotiating tactics, with the assumption quickly bearing fruit as Haesten intercepts them and forces them to walk the rest of the way. During the journey Aldhelm covertly informs Aethelred that it might be best for Mercian pockets, and the prospects of winning a battle against the Danes, if negotiations should fail and his wife be killed. Once they’re all brought before the brothers, Sigefrid tries to make them kneel, but Uhtred refuses, calling them out on the ‘corpse prophet’ they utilised to try and trick him. Annoyed that he’s not centre of attention, Aethelred interrupts the verbal sparring and an affronted Erik forces him to get down on his knees. Eventually allowed to speak with his wife, he asks Aethelflaed if she’s been touched, which she lies about, and then proceeds to say he won’t pay over the odds for her, otherwise they can keep her. Going on to only offer one hundred pounds weight of silver, Sigefrid establishes that he doesn’t speak for Alfred and gets one of his men to punch him in the face and knock him out.
Sitting down to negotiate with the brothers whilst Pyrlig takes notes for the meeting, Uhtred downplays Aethelflaed’s worth to Alfred and offers them two hundred pounds weight of silver, later upping the offer to three hundred when Sigefrid laughs it off. In spite of their protestations that it was exactly the same amount a French King paid for his daughter, the more volatile brother quickly loses his temper and threatens to have Aethelflaed raped by all of his men and then send her around the kingdom on a cart for more of the same if they don’t meet his demand of ten thousand pound weight of silver and one hundred weight of gold. Unimpressed, Uhtred heads outside to ‘take a piss’. Later that night, Aethelred wakes up naked in a pig sty and is forced to tentatively join everyone else in the banqueting hall amidst laughter, with only Aldhelm attempting to cover him with his cloak, and informing his master that a price has been agreed upon and not a good one for them.
Away from the celebratory feast, Uhtred views the brothers growing fleet and listens to Erik inform him that they intend to use the ransom to expand it even more. Even though he’s fully aware of the implications for a future battle, the Lord of Bebbanburg admits that Alfred will honour his side of the bargain, because the danger his daughter is in is making him suffer. Still though, he broaches the fact that he noted Erik’s strange behaviour towards Aethelflaed’s husband, leading the Dane to admit he has feelings for her and that he can’t let her go, even if that means betraying his brother. Uhtred meets with Alfred’s daughter to tell her he’s arranged her release, and tries to deter her from contemplating that she could have any sort of life with Erik, saying that her life and that of any family they managed to raise together would perpetually be in jeopardy. Instead of her resolve being weakened by his pleas, she asks Uhtred to help them escape, and when he shoots back that he’d be killed for the betrayal just as she would, she appeals to him not to allow her to be the one on whom’s back a huge army for the purpose of war would be raised, emphasising the benefits her removal from the equation would reap for Wessex.
Scene of the Week
Marieke: THYRA LIVES. Now we got that out of the way, Beocca and Uhtred scenes are always wonderful. There seems to be no need to point out their fabulous friendship over and over again, but in a show which can be dark, the lighter moments between them shine like a diamond. Aethelred being put to shame by the Vikings was also a nice watch. He had it coming!
However, as cheesy it was, I think I liked the scene with Erik and Aethelflaed the most. As we all know, Aethelflaed got the rough part of a shitty deal, so obviously the brutish Viking would be kind and gentle to her. He had to be the one against sexual violence, rescuing her after trying to protect her modesty when she was taking a bath in the river. He wooed her by showing the moon. He finds her the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Aethelflaed, yearning for love and tenderness, naturally falls for the romantic Dane. It was to be expected. Nevertheless, it was sweet and I cheered on Aethelflaed. Yes, there will be terrible implications when Sigefrid, Aethelred and Alfred find out, but she needs to put herself first, and deserves some proper, tender love. Go get the sweet Viking, girl!
Danielle: Oh, I did love Aethelred getting punched in the face! It made my night. As did him being stripped of his clothes and dumped in a sty, the perfect place for a pig’s arse! No-one deserves that more than him. Surprisingly though, I think my favourite scene may have been the one where Uhtred admits to Osferth that he only allowed him to join him because he has the capability to humiliate Alfred as his bastard son. I love the fact that the lad stoically confesses he already knew that was the case, but vows to prove his worth in his own right. Something tells me he’ll do exactly that. The back and forth between Uhtred and Gisela there was great too. Their’s really is the most equal marriage currently on the show.
Quote of the Week
Odda: You know what you’ve done? Possibly not, because you are as useless as you are arrogant.
Aethelred: I have done nothing but carry out the King’s orders.
Odda: You have put at risk the entire Kingdom. All Kingdoms! You’re a toad! An idiot with ambition far above your capability, and if I can see this, be sure Alfred can see it.
After last week’s difficult watch, thankfully the penultimate episode once more meets with the high expectations the show created for us in earlier instalments. Here we had warmth, humour, relief and tension, along with scenes which were memorable for the right reasons, something which cannot necessarily be said of episode 6. Amongst them, Beocca and Thyra’s emotional reunion really packed a punch, more than making up for the weak build-up to their relationship. Speaking of punches, Aethelred being on the receiving end of a partial comeuppance was a joy to watch too. We cannot wait until he’s completely out of the picture, but the unconsciousness-inducing jab and ritual humiliation were fine for now. Hopefully Aethelflaed will be afforded some happiness with her Viking lover after everything she’s been through, but we’re not holding our breath on that front. We fear there are far too many people who’d want to see that relationship crash and burn, even if Uhtred can be convinced to allow the couple to escape. Still, even if Erik doesn’t make it out of this alive, there’s still the possibility that talk of him strengthening Alfred’s line with Viking genes might be foreshadowing. The scandal!
Cynical Aelswith, who’s certainly not Uthred’s biggest fan, trying to convince Alfred that he might be the one best placed to help retrieve their daughter was a nice touch and a welcome surprise as well. It’s funny how you realise who your true allies and enemies are in times of desperation, eh? Both the King and his alderman might be out of their depth this time though, as they’re also combating love this time around, and not simply a physical enemy. Regardless, tensions are rising, which we anticipate could indeed lead to all out war. Aethelwold’s growing confidence also promises trouble back in Wessex, particularly as Odda seems to be second-guessing his King. We can’t help but wonder if Alfred’s nephew will throw a spanner into the works, or wait until the next series to show his hand. (Surely there will be another series???)
Sadly, the final episode is upon us. It has been a terrific series so far, with only one real indelible faux-pas we would rather forget if we could. In spite of it’s limited budget, The Last Kingdom can stand tall next to much more expensive productions. Gripping, realistic and brutal, with a side-serving of levity at times, there are characters we care for, ones we hate and others who’ve been swallowed up and spat out by the breakneck pacing. As Series 2 draws to a close, let’s see if love will conquer all, or if naivety and tenderness will be punished in Viking/Saxon times.
Our Fezzy Score:
So what did you think to the penultimate episode of the series? Let us know in the comments…