This blog is for those who have watched the second episode of series two of The Last Kingdom. Please try and avoid book spoilers in the comments.
Phew. Let no one say that nothing happens on this show. It’s only the second episode and already we’ve had one unsuccessful assassination attempt, a surprising treaty with vicious Viking brothers Erik and Sigefrid, suggestions of problems to come between Guthred and Gisela, a brutal glimpse of Uhtred’s way with interior design features (severed heads on poles are on trend in Northumbria) and the apparent downfall of our hero, who ended the hour having been sold into slavery alongside faithful companion-in-arms Hallig thanks to the devious Abbot Eadred. Most other dramas would find that more than enough plot for one series, let alone one episode.
“You are no longer a warrior – you belong to me now”
Oh dear, Uhtred (or perhaps we should say Osbert). Things rapidly went from bad to worse for our intrepid hero this week as the full extent of both Abbot Eadred’s fanaticism and his dislike of flamboyant long-haired warriors became terribly clear. The Abbot spent much of the episode whispering poison in the malleable Guthred’s ear, even going so far as to enlist the help of Uhtred’s wicked uncle Aelfric in conspiring against our man. Admittedly Uhtred did little to advance his own cause, preferring to build up his popularity in the ranks and ignoring Guthred’s very clear “hands off my sister” warnings. I’ve mentioned before that for all Uhtred’s battle acumen on the field, he does have a tendency to ignore the wider picture off it: a more cautious man wouldn’t have pressed his suit by basically saying: “I’m your equal and you should just let me marry Gisela.” He might well have intended it as a joke, but it also brought home to Guthred the level of threat a popular commander can pose, particularly to a newly crowned and not terribly secure king. There was also a dark irony to the way in which Uhtred’s advice to Guthred – “There are times when you must be ruthless, men must fear you” – rebounded on him so terribly.
“It is not that I wish to abandon him – it is that I do not know how to find him”
Luckily for Uhtred, he does still have friends in high places and, after a little bit of persuading from Odda, Alfred agreed to try and find his errant former commander. The decision to free Ragnar and Brida so that they can search for Uhtred was a pretty smart one on Odda’s behalf, although I do wonder what happens when/if our deadly duo track Uhtred down? Will they simply turn round and trot back to Wessex? It seems unlikely at best. They’ll need to find their man soon though – something tells me that Uhtred is unlikely to adjust well to his new life in chains.
“We are either an army or a church procession – we cannot be both”
One of the most successful things about this show is the way in which it brings home just how immediate Christianity is felt. The slow procession carrying St Cuthbert ahead and the various reactions to parts of his body was wonderfully done, as was Uhtred’s own disdain for religion in all forms (“I’ve been baptised twice – it’s just words and water”). Yet notably Uhtred’s two closest companions – Beocca and Hild – are both God-fearing, and it was particularly interesting that while Hild said goodbye to her nun’s habit this week, winning her new armour in gruesome fashion by sawing the head off a dead Dane, she still tucked her cross under her chainmail. Similarly Beocca can laugh at Uhtred’s constant needling about his faith but he still cleaves to it, pointing out to the younger man that “faith is a great comfort”. Yet that comfort can also curdle into fanaticism, as we learned from Abbot Eadred and Brother Trew: the latter spent his time spying on Gisela in the hope of proving her vanished virginity, while the former revealed that he sees himself as the head of a holy army sent to scour corruption from Northumbria. Given that this army is made up of a number of combustible Danes with their own agenda, some half-trained Saxons who are now lacking their commander, a bunch of fervent monks and an amiable but weak king, I can’t be the only one who thinks disaster is looming.
• Gisela is clearly the brains of her family, and also showing her mettle is Hild, who in addition to being Guthred’s favourite person on this show, is also rapidly becoming mine.
• Hallig might be naive but he’s sharp-eyed – it was a nice spot that Tekil and the others had left the table.
• Talking of Tekil, I’m not sure I think much of his abduction skills. Had it been me I would have grabbed Uhtred, got the hell out of Dodge, and set about with the eye-removal a bit later.
• What will Sihtric do, now the man he pledged his sword to has gone?
• Guthred really isn’t much good at motivational speeches – both the Abbot and Uhtred left him standing.
• I’m not exactly convinced that the canny Aelfric will join in the great army now that Uhtred is a slave rather than dead.
• Hurrah for Odda, still dispensing decent advice even after the untimely death of his evil son.
• Nice to get a brief glimpse of Aethelwold too – he appears cleaner these days.
A very violent week saw Uhtred schooling Clapa in hand-to-hand combat and Steapa showing Aethelflaed how to fight, a would-be assassination attempt on Uhtred, the sawing off of some dead Danes heads by a studious nun, the brief disarming of Hallig and Clapa by Sihtric, the tasteful deployment of severed heads outside Kjarten’s fortress, and the arrest of Uhtred, who continued to fight his would-be enslavers on the beach without much success.
Quote of the week
“Why do you insist on inviting strangers into the household guard?” Uhtred, I feel your bemusement. It’s quite hard to fathom the workings of Guthred’s mind.
So what did you think – can our hero find a way out of his latest predicament? Will Ragnar honour his commitment to Alfred and Odda? And more importantly if there’s this much action two episodes in, what on earth’s going to happen for the rest of the series? As ever all speculation and no spoilers welcome below…
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