This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Fortune’s a fickle thing in The Last Kingdom. Last week we watched a man go from slave to king; this week we watched our hero go from lord to slave. Gullible parvenu Guthred listened to the devil on his shoulder instead of the long-haired peacock on his other shoulder and packed Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and Halig, son of a gun, off to captivity.
Guthred really should have taken the precaution of a series one iPlayer catch-up before putting the Lord of Bebbanburg in a cage. It didn’t last when Alfred did it and it won’t last now, especially with Ragnar and Brida on the trail. That lot will be sharing a flagon of ale and reminiscing about all the people they’ve beheaded and fields they’ve ploughed in no time.
I’m less confident about Guthred’s chances now he’s made an enemy of Uhtred. Alfred had the nous to let our man out of his cage and make use of his superior skills as a military strategist, but Guthred’s mind is clearly about as brilliant as his tunic is a dazzling white. Not since Maid Marian And Her Merry Men’s Guy of Gisbourne has TV seen such a royal div. It seems Abbot Eadred chose his puppet well.
You’d think the King of Cumberland would have realised he needed all the help he could get after extending a beaming welcome to a band of rogue Danes who had ‘we’ve come to kill you’ written all over them. They’d come to kill him, of course, and to kidnap Uhtred, who fought them off with the help of his ever-growing Scooby Gang.
Said gang was developing nicely before Guthred scattered its members to the four winds. In addition to Halig and Hild, there’s now also Kjartan’s bastard son Sihtric. Like Alfred, Uhtred recognised the power of having someone on board with knowledge of the enemy, so swore to protect Sihtric who’d sworn on Thor’s hammer that he wasn’t loyal to his father. It’s this kind of move that makes Uhtred such a thrilling character to follow. Sihtric could either be an asset or a threat, and in the tension of not knowing is all the fun.
There’s also Clapa, played by former World’s Strongest Man Magnus Samuelsson. An angry bear with Hulk Hogan facial hair who can be spotted in the background of most scenes swinging grown men around by their ankles, Clapa’s my new favourite.
Ack, they’re all my favourites, and so is Lady Gisela who embodies the frustration of being a clever woman in an age when her gender was treated as chattel. Like Aethelflaed down in Winchester, Gisela faces being married off as part of her family’s political bargain, but it’s a fate she’s determined to escape. “My sister shall do her duty” said Guthred. “I will not be his gift” said Gisela. I know who my money’s on.
Gisela gave herself a gift this week by letting Uhtred sleep over in her bell tent. “I will leave if you wish”, he said, emerging from his hiding place. “I do not wish” she told him and proceeded to writhe around on the furs getting sweaty with the Lord of the North. After the act, Uhtred tried to make an honest woman of Gisela by asking her brother for her hand, but we all saw where that got him.
Episode two though, really belonged to Halig and Hild, who were given a satisfying amount of screen time and character development over the course of the hour. Hild’s Carol-from-The-Walking-Dead-ish journey from nun to warrior began in earnest, and Halig had a great deal more to do than fall asleep in his bowl of soup. He was held at swordpoint, for a start, once by Sihtric and once by the slavers to whom he’d been sold. He also helped to defeat Tekil’s crew, about whom he definitely smelt a rat, saving his lord’s life when he noticed the treacherous Danes had mysteriously vacated their place at table while Uhtred was also nowhere to be seen.
Hild earned her armour and some respect this week by hacking through Tekil’s neck muscles with a stubby little knife. Nobody had asked her to, but a nun’s gotta do what a nun’s gotta do. If she was going to become a fighter, Hild reasoned, she needed to get used to the way it feels to saw through a man’s flesh. Gristly, I’d imagine.
The affectionate piss-taking between this show’s characters is as much fun to watch as the animus between Uhtred and his many enemies. Who couldn’t smile at Halig’s petulant “Told you” when his lord promised Sihtric that if he killed Halig, he’d die slowly in return? Or at Hild and Clapa mocking Halig for refusing Sihtric’s plan? Or at Father Beocca’s comment that even Uhtred’s scars are handsome?
Forget smiling, there was almost a tear in my eye when Beocca and Uhtred said their farewells, and there was certainly one in both of theirs.
(I’m sure Alfred will be thrilled with the holiday souvenir Father Beocca is bringing him, by the way. Some two-hundred year old magic teeth may even be more disgusting than that time a woman in my office arrived back from Mallorca bearing an entire leg of dried ham complete with hairy trotter.)
Like last week’s, episode two covered a great deal of ground, and it did so with wit, pace and heart. Other highlights included Uhtred combining two of his favourite tricks by turning up to somebody’s fortress gates with a bunch of their mates’ head in a sack and dressing up as the undead horseman.
A shaky alliance to lay siege to Kjartan has also been drawn between Sigefrid, Erik, Guthred and (making a surprise return having aged terrifically well since the series one opener) Uhtred’s dastardly uncle Aelfric, who insists on calling his nephew Osbert.
Come on, Aelfric, I know you’re evil, but don’t make me learn another name. I can barely spell the ones we already have.
Read Louisa’s review of the last episode here.