This blog is for those who have watched the third episode of series two of The Last Kingdom. Please try and avoid book spoilers in the comments.
If I continue to have one quibble about this show it’s the speed at which everything moves. This was a thoroughly enjoyable episode in which a great deal of emotional ground was covered, and yet at times I wanted to shout slow down, let us have some quiet moments of character development. It doesn’t have to be crash, bang, wallop all the time – fun though that can be.
“You think you are better than these men … you should let go of your pride – it will be the death of you.”
Uhtred’s time as a galley slave was a suitably miserable experience, filled with starvation, brutality and suffering then culminating in the horrendous death of poor Hallig, who ended his life strapped to the prow of a ship, his mouth slowly filling with salt water as his erstwhile companions were ordered to row him to his doom. Uhtred himself almost lost his spirit if not his life – the scene where he tried to fight Sven was heartbreaking – but was rescued by Ragnar and Hild in the nick of time. There followed one of the best, and quietest, scenes of the episode in which an exhausted Uhtred, finding a brief moment of peace after a year of pain, traced an insect’s flight through the air and spoke to Hild of his suffering: “I am ashamed of what I have become.” She in turn gave him back his pride, though it is perhaps worth noting that that pride and its attendant temper is not always Uhtred’s best quality, as the violent death of Abbot Eadred demonstrated. In truth, the abbot’s death was inevitable from the moment he refused to back down over Gisela yet it further highlighted how little Uhtred plays the game. By acting first and in fury he put himself back in Alfred’s service – it would serve him well to remember that next time he chafes at not being his own man.
“Are you his brother?” “We are bound, I would say.”
Uhtred has always made friends as swiftly as enemies and this week we met a new addition to the gang in the shape of sardonic Irishman Finan (played by Scottish actor Mark Rowley doing a reasonably convincing accent), a man who is excellent at delivering quips in the face of provocation and who keeps his word about promising death to all those who have enslaved him. In an ideal world he, Hild and Uhtred would traverse the country delivering justice and trading quips. Sadly Hild’s devastated expression at the end of the episode suggested that such delights are destined to remain a dream.
“It would cost a great deal of both blood and silver to conquer these lands and even more to hold ground … alliances must be forged and unions made.”
My favourite scenes, however, were set in Wessex, where Alfred continued to give a masterclass in political machinations centuries before Machiavelli dreamed up The Prince. David Dawson is doing a sterling job here; his Alfred is surprisingly easy to root for, even when he’s bending everyone to his will. There’s an entertainingly dark strain of humour to both Bernard Cornwell’s books and this series and that is at its most clear during Alfred’s scenes: both meetings with the Ealdormen of Mercia were filled with pitch-black one-liners. I particularly loved the very one-sided negotiations with Aethelred (Reign’s Toby Regbo) for Aethelflaed’s hand (“A fair price I feel. Excellent”) although the death of Ceolwulf (David Gant having a glorious time chewing the scenery) was probably the night’s stand-out moment if only for Aethelwold’s unrestrained laughter. Oh Aethelwold, may you forever continue your crooked and endlessly amused path through life.
Guthred is proving to be as useless a leader as expected – though Abbot Eadred wasn’t much better. What’s the point of getting rid of all the competition if you can’t then see the scheming through?
I knew Aelfric wouldn’t accept slavery in place of death. I was also amused by his petulant refusal to fight: “All I required was a single lifeless head.”
While I cheered when the abbot died I wasn’t convinced by his intemperance over Gisela. In the opening episodes he seemed calmly conniving. His actions this week were a little too driven by villainy for villainy’s sake.
It was nice to see more of Aelswith and Aethelflaed. The former’s calculation is particularly interesting, though I still miss Brida’s truculence.
“Uhtred I’m bored of this, kill them all,” – sometimes Ragnar is my favourite character on this show.
“A weasel without a sword, a holy weasel,” – and then I remember it’s Alfred.
I liked Sigefrid’s desire to be named Lord of Chaos, and the brothers’ cheerful goodbye to Aelfric (“enjoy your walk back to Bebbanburg”). This was an episode with a lot of great lines – congratulations to writer Ben Vanstone.
Several bloody-toed and whipped slaves, who were reduced to fighting each other for food; one village burnt to the ground by the Viking brothers Eric and Sigefrid; one tense display of knife-throwing, which inadvertently led to a mutiny and unsuccessful break-out; the wounding and death of poor Hallig; several slain slavers including a slave master with a sword through his throat; one abbot losing his temper and slapping a King’s sister, which led to one dead abbot – proving that you never taunt a long-haired Saxon raised as a Dane, particularly not when he’s been chained to a galley on your orders for the last 12 months.
Quote of the week
“Do you think these bastards will bother digging a hole for you? You’re destined to be tossed overboard with the rest of the shite.” The straight-talking Finan explains the facts of life.
So what did you think – could they slow it down or is everything moving at the right pace? Should Uhtred have thought before killing the abbot? And can Hild stand by him? As ever, all speculation and no spoilers welcome below …