This blog is for those who have watched the sixth episode of series two of The Last Kingdom. Please try and avoid book spoilers in the comments. Catch up on the episode one, two, three, four and five recaps here.
There are times when I think The Last Kingdom might just be the most underrated drama on television. Certainly this episode was excellent – a tense, carefully plotted hour filled with betrayals, danger and political machinations in which alliances were torn asunder and the true cost of war unveiled. As ever, those who paid the biggest price were those who asked the least: the final scene when Aethelflaed and Thyra ran for cover from Erik and Sigefrid’s men was cleverly shot from poor, traumatised Thrya’s perspective, which rammed home the true chaos of war.
“Uhtred Ragnarson, the future king of Mercia, welcome to Lunden – your new home, should you want it”
Perhaps I should have trusted our hero a little more, as it turns out that he does place his oath above the chance to rule a city, even one as tempting as Lunden. Sadly for Uhtred, all his attempts at patience came to little thanks to the snotty presence of Aethelred, a man so awful he makes me remember Odda the Younger with kindness. Would it have been better for Uhtred to throw in his lot with Erik and Sigefrid? Almost certainly not. While Erik was probably telling the truth last week when he said he respected Uhtred, Sigefrid was also telling the truth when he said he wanted to kill him. Had Uhtred joined forces with them he would almost certainly have found his throat slit one quiet night.
“You say you are sworn yet you behave like a spy … you tell half-truths, keep secrets and you refuse to accept the existence of the one true God”
Uhtred may have made the right decision, but it didn’t come with much reward. Instead the complicated, conflicted Alfred spent most of the episode struggling with his need for this “pagan” warrior – shouting at him, praying over him, banishing him then recalling him before ordering him to rid Lunden of those pestilent Danes. Unfortunately that plan didn’t work out as Uhtred and Aethelred walked into a trap, leaving Aethelflaed to be captured by the Danes.
That she was there at all was largely Athelred’s fault, but I have a feeling Alfred will manage to blame Uhtred for this one as well. If only he’d listen to either Odda, who rightly pointed out that you can only treat a man like dirt for so long before he stops respecting you, or Steapa, who admitted he trusted the Saxon Dane with his life. As it is, Uhtred appears to be reaching his end point with Alfred – “a man who doesn’t trust me after all I’ve given him” – and if the King isn’t careful, the parting won’t be his decision to make.
“As a Mercian what I wish is Aethelred, King of Mercia and then of Wessex – it is Alfred you want dead and for that to happen soon we will require war”
This was also an episode filled with behind-the-scenes scheming. Alfred plotted about Uhtred. Uhtred debated whether to throw his lot in with the Danes. The Danes schemed over how to claim Mercia, defeat Wessex and kill Uhtred. Aethelwold continued to think about how to kill his uncle and claim his throne. The biggest schemer of all, however, was Aethelred (or more accurately his right-hand man Aldhelm, who has never met a double-cross he didn’t enjoy).
The new Lord of Mercia might look like a “pretty bread pudding of a boy” (great description, Aethelwold) but beneath the curls lurks a vicious, violent personality, as Aethelflaed was all too quick to learn. The scenes following their marriage – as the naive princess, taught by her father to speak her mind, struggled to adjust to life with a man who saw her as little more than chattel – were sensitively done. As Aethelflaed’s new husband continued to try and assert his authority in myriad humiliating ways, even trying to force Beocca to carry out a ceremony to assess whether she’d been a virgin before marriage, it became clear that Thrya’s warnings were right. Aethelflaed’s decision to stay despite that was heartbreaking and yet rang true: she is a king’s daughter who has grown up surrounded by politics all her life. She knows the importance of Mercia to her father’s vision and is determined to help him realise it, hideous husband and all. That said, if I were Aethelred I wouldn’t want to meet Aethelflaed’s sometime combat partner Steapa on my own late at night.
• We met a new character in Osferth, Leofric’s nephew, Alfred’s illegitimate son, and a monk who would rather be a warrior: perhaps he can take lessons from Father Pyrlig.
• I was extremely glad Beocca pulled back from making Aethelflaed drink the potion – and also liked the fact it was clear he saw Thrya, remembered how men brutalised her and made his decision.
• I loved Ian Hart’s pause and grin after asking God to strike him down. He and David Dawson are threatening to run away with this show.
• That said, Alexander Dreymon has really grown on me. I don’t doubt at all that Uhtred is a battle-hardened warrior these days.
• I was impressed by Sigefrid’s sword gauntlet – although it seemed like it might be rather heavy to lug around.
• I also can’t help feeling that Erik’s life would be rather easier if his crazy brother wasn’t around.
• He might be about as trustworthy as your average garden snake, but I still have a real soft sport for Aethelwold.
• Poor Odda – his son was a horrible traitor, but filicide is enough to turn any man to drink.
• I admire this show’s dedication to reminding us that Uhtred loves a naked swim in a lake.
One sword held to Aethelred’s throat (to be honest Uhtred might have made it easier for everyone if he’d just killed the Mercian Lord then and there), one crucifixion in the name of furthering Danish/Roman understanding, one duel between a priest and a somewhat chastened warrior, the increasingly unpleasant and violent union between Aethelred and Aethelflaed, one siege of Lunden and the subsequent raid on the Saxon camp leaving Aethelflaed and Thrya fleeing for their lives.
Quote of the week
“The cross kills a man slowly, Lord, over days. It is both torture and execution – unlike Saxons and Danes, the Romans were clever.” Father Pyrlig breaks it down for Sigefrid.
So what did you think? Will Uhtred continue to serve Alfred even with the lack of trust? Can Aethelflaed and Thyra escape? And how much do you wish for Aethelred’s untimely death? As usual, all speculation and no spoilers are welcome…
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