So what happened?
Whilst Uhtred and his companions travel back to Winchester after negotiating a ransom for Aethelflaed with Sigefrid and Erik, Pyrlig waxes lyrical about what it is that drives a man to fight and die for his land, and with Osferth’s help, comes to the conclusion that it’s love. Once they arrive at court, the Lord of Bebbanburg explains to Alfred that the brothers expect 3000 pounds weight of silver and 500 pounds weight of gold for the safe return of his daughter, and the first half should be paid by the next full moon. Knowing how the Danes operate, when asked what they’ll do to the princess should their demands not be met, Uhtred explains that they’ll seek to humiliate her by whoring her out at every Viking-held village in Daneland. In spite of Odda vociferously questioning the logic of doing so, backed by Aelswith and Beocca, the King insists that the ransom be paid for the sake of the dignity of Wessex. Before taking his leave, he asks Aethelred to agree to raise the Mercian fyrd if necessary, which he consents to. Once alone, Uhtred and Pyrlig urge Odda not to voice his concerns to Alfred again for his own safety.
Meanwhile, Erik takes some parchment, a quill and some ink to Aethelflaed in her cell, and she proceeds to write to Uhtred to implore him to help with their escape plans. Even though her lover remains unconvinced that he will offer his support, her belief in him remains unwavering. Another fly in the ointment arises elsewhere, however, when Haestan notes Erik’s continued visits to Aethelflaed’s cell, and pointedly remarks to other warriors that he hopes he won’t take the princess for his wife, otherwise their wealth will be lost. At the same time as Erik hands over the letter to Sihtric to take back to Uhtred, Sigefrid arrives back at Benfleet with more female slaves in tow after raids on Saxon held land. Even before Aethelflaed’s letter arrives, Uhtred tells Gisela that he has no choice but to help her and Erik get away from Sigefrid as it would mean no ransom would be paid, and therefore no great army would be raised against Wessex. His wife is naturally concerned how such a betrayal of Alfred would affect them and their children, but he says they’ll leave afterwards and that he’s prepared to make a sacrifice to keep his family safe.
As Alfred seeks to gather a third of the wealth of everybody in his kingdom to cover the ranom, the poor and rich alike, Odda brings a man to him who fought at Ethandun, has just lost his wife and daughters to Sigefrid’s raids, and who’ll still be expected to hand over money and ultimately die for his King when the brothers raise an army against Wessex. After being asked exactly what it is he wants, the elderly adviser says he wants to march and fight against the Danes, even if it means Aethelflaed dies and becomes a martyr. Her loss would not be in vain, and Alfred’s line would still be in tact because of his and Aelswith’s son. The King is incensed at Odda’s audacity to question his decision though, highlighting Odda the Younger’s treachery, something which the old man throws back in his face by reiterating the fact he killed his own child for the good of Wessex: a thing he expects Alfred to do as well. Reaching an impasse, Odda asks permission to go back to his Devonshire estate, and is granted it.
Later, Aethelwold sees all of the treasure accrued for his cousin’s sake, and muses over the fact Wessex’s people have been made to pay for the weapons that will eventually slay them. Alfred catches him looking and tells him his father would have done the same for him, something which he denies, stating that he was too much of a disappointment for that to be the case. Once again the King informs him his failure to impress is precisely why he’s still alive. Finding Odda drinking at a tavern, Aethelwold finally admits he disagrees with a ransom being paid, and says he would raise an army if he had one, but he does not, planting a seed in the older man’s mind. That night, after his companion is long gone, Uhtred, Finan and Osferth come to retrieve a drunken Odda from the same spot as he mumbles about weak ale and swords not remaining in their scabbards. After Uhtred finds him a bed for the night to sleep off the alcohol, Osferth is left in charge of him, and it’s then the alderman admits to Uhtred he’ll raise a fyrd against Alfred’s orders, even if it means death. The next morning he wakes up sandwiched between Clapa and Osferth, and hurriedly makes an exit.
In the meantime, Sihtric has finally arrived back in Winchester with Aethelflaed’s letter, which asks Uhtred to make his way to Benfleet 3 days before the ransom is delivered, kill the guards protecting the ships and allow her and Erik to sail away, a mode of escape which he agrees is the fastest. A little later, as Pyrlig is saddling his horse ready for a trip to Devonshire with Odda, Uhtred realises he’s been sent to spy on the old man and requests that he try to convince him not to do anything stupid. Realising that the man himself is behind him preparing for the same journey, Uhtred asks him about the plan he revealed when he was drunk, but he simply blames it on the alcohol, wishing his fellow lord luck if he never sees him again. Back at court, with his belief wavering in what he’s about to do, Alfred asks Aelswith if he’s selfish for wanting to save their daughter. His wife tells him he was a father before he was a King, but even so, sparing their eldest child is for the good of the kingdom because, “She is Wessex.” Things have taken a turn for the worst for their daughter as well, as Erik discovers she’s been taken from her cell by Sigefrid, and hoisted up in a cage in the hall so that everybody can see her and protect their wealth, a course of action taken to stem the ramifications of his sibling falling for her after Haesten intervenes.
On their way back to Devonshire, Pyrlig spots an army marching and Odda is forced to reveal that the men are the fyrd he raised to go to Benfleet and force a conflict with the Danes. Threatening the priest with a knife, he forces him off of his horse and tells him if he’s not prepared to join him he better walk back to Winchester to tell Alfred of his plans. Luckily, he’s picked up by Aethelred and his men along the way, who are transporting their portion of the ransom over the border into Wessex, and when they arrive Pyrlig tells the King that Odda has raised the Devonshire fyrd with the intention of provoking a battle with the brothers. When questions arise about who could have sent the message to his estate to mobilise the army, Aethelred immediately rushes to accuse Uhtred, but the priest rubbishes the suggestion. Feeling he has no other option, Alfred decides to raise his own army to stop his former adviser, the Mercian lord agreeing to add his own men to its numbers as they march day and night to catch up to him.
There’s trouble for Erik as well as he asks for ten men to come and scrub the ship he intends to escape in, and only three turn up as the majority have lost their trust in him, and are determined to stay in the hall to guard Aethelflaed. Sigefrid has also called for more men to guard the ships, butting heads with his brother who feels he’s been shamed by him. However, he explains to Erik that he’s doing all of this for his own good, and seeking to follow through with his own plan to amass enough gold to buy an army big enough to take control of the whole country. A short time later, the seemingly regretful Dane makes a show of grabbing a slave girl and dragging her into the cell where the princess used to be held. When he’s apparently finished with her and they return to the hall, he loudly proclaims to everyone that she’s now his woman and apologises for allowing his feelings for Aethelflaed to cloud what really matters. After the apology is accepted, Erik goes on to remind everyone that the ransom will be be arriving in three days and that they will have to be vigilant, but for tonight they can drink as if there’s no tomorrow. As her Viking captors greedily down their ale, the slave girl Erik was meant to have claimed as his own whispers to a heartbroken Aethelflaed to have faith, and that the escape is still going ahead as planned.
Staying true to his word, Uhtred is about to board a boat to help enact the escape plan, when Osferth admits he doesn’t know how to wield a sword and that he’s terrified. The lord he’s sworn to tries to allay his fears by telling him, “Courage is finding the will to overcome your fear. Nothing more.” When they eventually arrive at their destination, Uhtred, Finan et al quickly realise that there are more men guarding the ships than Sihtric told them there would be, but still decide to attack after dark, using reeds as snorkels and rising out of the water to surprise their enemies. As everybody else fights bravely, and for the most part successfully, Osferth is paralysed with fear, only managing to kill a man who’s already half dead. Uhtred is unimpressed with the display of cowardice though, and tells the young man that’s not how he ‘wets his sword’, and if he can’t find his courage, he’d better put his cross back on and go back to the monastery. Determining not to wait for the bodies of the guards to be discovered, the Lord of Bebbanburg makes the bold move to take his men right into the fortress. Once inside, Sihtric is instructed to make his presence known to Erik, who’s still drinking with his brother in the hall. Noticing him, Aethelflaed’s lover follows him back to the stables and it’s there he greets Uhtred, before telling him their plan is hopeless as he has no crew for his ship and the princess has to be freed from right under everybody’s nose. Realising a diversion has to be created, they set a fire outside to draw everybody out of the hall, and set about killing the few who remain behind, as well as barring the doors so they won’t be disturbed trying to free Aethelflaed from her cage. The slave girl is also sent away on horseback in the princess’ clothes as a decoy, propelling Haesten and others on a wild goose chase after her. Looking for his brother, Sigefrid soon breaks through the doors back into the hall and realises he’s instrumental in the plan to free their ‘prize’. Uhtred offers to fight him, but Erik insists it has to be him as Clapa continues his efforts to free Alfred’s daughter, and the cage is finally broken open to allow the princess to escape just as she’s able to watch Sigefrid murder the man she wanted to build a life with. Placing his sword in his brother’s hand as his life ebbs away, Sigefrid tells Erik he killed them both.
In the meantime, Alfred has also arrived at Benfleet, still determined to confront Odda and stop him from setting off a chain of events that would lead to his daughter’s death. Just as the two men are about to settle their differences once and for all, Uhtred and his small group ride towards them with Aethelflaed after Clapa sacrifices himself to allow them to get away. Sigefrid races after them though, quickly realising there are two large armies in front of him, as Uhtred advises Alfred to fight the Danes whilst they’re low in numbers and disorganised. Whilst he’s deciding what to do, the King tells Steapa to guard Aethelflaed, who pleads to be able to fight but isn’t allowed to. Knowing that he’s likely to die there, Sigefrid rallies his own troops with a “Glory or Valhalla!” battle cry. Seeing the Danes charge at them, Alfred finally decides to command his men to form a shield wall, making the formation in the nick of time before their Viking enemies clash with them. In the initial charge Uhtred is knocked over and severely winded, finding himself disorientated and coughing up blood as everybody around him is engaged in battle. In contrast, Sigefrid is positively enjoying himself, cutting through Saxon soldiers and threatening to kill Aethelflaed, before starting on Aethelred and nearly besting him before Uhtred’s intervention. Just as he raises his weapon again to fight, the princess sticks a sword through his back, shocking both her husband and the man who came to rescue her.
With the battle won, Aethelflaed meets with Uhtred in the throne room back in Winchester, and thanks him for risking everything to answer her call, going on to suggest that she may be pregnant with Erik’s child. After swearing to help her again should the need arise, the princess plants a kiss on his cheek and leaves him to speak with her father. Alfred tells him he’s made a habit of rescuing Wessex, and that Odda has shouldered the burden of responsibility by implying he passed on the orders to rescue the princess pretending that he was acting with the King’s authority. As a result, Odda will be put on trial and executed for his treachery. When Uhtred defends him by saying he’s a good man, Alfred admits he was his friend too, but also a traitor who must be punished. As his alderman walks away, the King frees him from his oath. Elsewhere at court, Aethelwold takes a dagger to Odda’s cell, and subtly reveals himself to be the one who took the message to Devonshire to raise the fyrd. Once the King’s nephew leaves, the old man puts the knife to his heart and commits suicide.
As the series draws to a close, Alfred is more powerful than he’s ever been, but the Danes, including Haestan who appears to have survived the battle, are sure to return. Aethelflaed is also duty-bound to return to Mercia with Aethelred, just as Uhtred is still bound to both Wessex and her husband’s kingdom because of the oath he swore to her, still effectively a servant of Alfred’s dream to unite England. Nevertheless, he still harbours the wish for his sword to one day belong to Bebbanburg.
Scene of the Week
Marieke: It could not be any other scene than the final battle for me. Cleverly orchestrated to take place at night, it fitted the story and gave it a darker feel, masking any budgetary issues. The battle was raw, ugly and uneven. Sigefrid had nothing to lose, considering himself a dead man fighting, while Alfred had everything to lose. Uhtred was beaten and a little dizzy with blood in his mouth, but he still challenged Sigefrid. Even though plot armour meant he couldn’t die, it still created a tension. Most of all though, the scene showed us a thing or two about the current relationships on the show. Aethelflaed trusts Uhtred and only Uhtred. After her lover died, and probably being pregnant with his child, she does not give any fucks about her old family anymore. Aethelred’s face when she drives the sword through Sigefrid’s body to save Uhtred makes clear his wife is not the woman she was before. Whether it is fear, surprise, bewilderment or something else, the princess cannot be taken for granted any longer now she has killed. It was also clear Odda was still in a sense loyal to Alfred, even though he committed treason. Their troops together, including the full force of Uhtred’s small posse, manage to beat these Vikings once and for all. (Well, for now anyway.) It was the epic final battle we have been waiting for the entire second part of the series, and fortunately it did not disappoint.
Uhtred and co trying to rescue Aethelflaed can claim a comfortable second place too. The fire, the urgency of almost getting trapped and especially the fight between the brothers were done magnificently. It was obvious Erik could not live, but the emotion from him and Sigefrid was truly felt.
Danielle: In stark contrast to Marieke’s action-packed favourites, I really enjoyed all of Aethelwold’s scenes in the finale, but especially his confrontation with Uncle Alfred. Yes, I know he’s a scheming little shit, but his quiet observation that the people of Wessex were being forced to effectively pay for the weapons that would eventually kill them was on the money. That he held his tongue and played down his worth also demonstrates that as his recklessness is being curbed, both the danger he poses to the King and his inherent worth as a politician has risen markedly. Alfred should welcome him into the fold, rather than constantly shunning him, I think. When Aethelwold outed himself as Odda’s Devonshire bound messenger, it was an ‘Oh! Of course’ moment too. Effectively, he, Odda and Uhtred were responsible for saving Wessex and Mercia, whilst Alfred and Aethelred floundered.
Quote of the Week
Uhtred: What binds a man to his land? What power within him allows him to give his life to preserve his land, and the lives of the families who work it? It can only be love.
A good, solid, final episode which wrapped up all the events from the second part of the series. The battles were great, the atmosphere was tense and the intrigues between characters grew satisfactorily. The episode delivered what it should, closing off the second series in a strong fashion. And yet… we are back at square one when it comes to Uhtred. Even though Alfred has accepted that his distrust was misplaced and freed him, having re-affirmed his oath to Aethelflaed to protect her should Aethelred realise the baby isn’t his, he’s still stuck and Bebbanburg is further away than ever. The only real difference is that it seems Aethelwold is gaining confidence and plotting away behind Alfred’s back, having been pulling strings all series, and continuing to get away with it. In our minds at least, this makes him one of the most interesting characters in the show at the minute. We are curious to see how his relationship with Aethelflaed changes now that he knows she’s not afraid to pick up a sword and plunge it into someone’s back as well. Something tells us he’ll think twice about hurting her again.
Loyal readers will know we have been incredibly enthusiastic about this run, apart from episode 6 which contained the princess’ horrific rape. But somehow, looking back once it’s over, it perhaps seems like an altogether more uneven series. The writers had to cram a lot of book material into only 8 episodes, forcing the halfway reset, which at first take worked, but with the benefit of hindsight now makes it feel like the first and second halves of the series appear oddly detached from one another. Guthred seems like a distant memory. The same goes for Uhtred’s time as a slave. As we sat down each week to watch every installment it seemed to work, but as whole series, perhaps not so much.
We also take issue with the way Hild seemed to quietly fade into the background. The progression was too fast and too sudden, another victim of the breakneck pacing that prevented various stories from being fleshed out properly. What was especially grating was the abrupt introduction of Osferth, a monk willing to turn warrior. We accept he is part of the story now, but in a way he is going through the same stages Hild went through, only with less courage. For that he even gets a sporadic bollocking from Uhtred, but being Leofric’s nephew doesn’t exactly do him any favours, and just adds salt to the wound Leofric’s death left. Actually, Finan seems to be the new Leofric and delivers some comedic lines along the way, utilising his quick wit and silver, Irish tongue. We mourn the losses of Clapa and his awesome ‘tache, Odda and his drunken wisdom, and Erik, the romantic Viking who showed Aethelflaed the tenderness that her piece of crap husband seems incapable of. Sadly, Alfred still remains a bit two dimensional, in stark relief to Uhtred who’s evolved nicely. Even the resolutely ‘grey’ Aethelwold is outshining him as he starts to come into his own.
In the end, it was an amusing series yet again. Alexander Dreymon has grown into his role, and more than adequately portrayed a vein of intensity that we haven’t seen in Uhtred before. We definitely want to see a third series. Our protagonist needs to meet his destiny head on.
Our Fezzy Score:
What did you think to the finale? Let us know in the comments…