This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Episode six may have started out peacefully with our hero and his lady enjoying an early morning skinny dip on their Winchester mini-break, but it ended in terror and violence.
Aethelflaed learned the hard way that not all men were like her father and wound up facing capture by bloodthirsty Danes, doubtless to be used as a bargaining chip in the battle for England. It’s hard to know where she’ll be worse off—as the prisoner of Northmen or in her marriage to a brute.
Before the wedding night, Aethelred seemed like little more than a spoiled pretty boy with tickets on himself. We saw him and his men interrupt Uhtred and Gisela’s idyll like a bunch of prep school bullies, no doubt on their way back from a totes hilar stag do in which the King of Mercia woke up naked and tied to ye olde lamppost. Bosh!
I kid, but it was soon clear that, Shirley Temple hairdo aside, there’s nothing funny about Aethelred. He’s a piece of shit formed in the mould of every arrogant, cowardly, insecure, pathetic, possessive, abusive husband or boyfriend who’s ever built up their fragile ego by causing a woman pain. I hope Aetheflaed gives him the Little Mo treatment and beats him bloody with a steam iron. Or Aethelwold knocks him out with the family bible. Or Thyra sets her dogs on him. Or Hild saws through his neck with a stubby little knife. Whatever punishment he receives, it should end with a woman looking down at him in triumph.
(Yes, I could look up his fate on Wikipedia, but my love for this show is so pure I’m not prepared to sully it with learning. Thank heavens my school history lessons only covered trephining and Anderson Shelters, allowing me to remain blissfully spoiler-free.)
Aethelred wants Uhtred dead? Join the back of the queue, mate. There are at least twenty men with a prior claim. Anyway, as Aethelred’s slimy household guard commander reminded him (sharing Uhtred’s trouble in remembering his name and seeing as he’s usually to be found plotting to kill the king and raise his lord up, we’ll call him Shady Macbeth), Alfred’s their real target. What a snake.
“Aethelflaed is a fortunate woman” said Shady Macbeth in that scene. Never a less true word spoken. Fortune isn’t something Aethelflaed has on her side; strength, however, is. Alfred raised his daughter to think and to fight. Unfortunately for us, he also raised her to do her duty which keeps her frustratingly quiet about the abuse she’s suffering. Still, when she told Beocca, Thyra and Hild (two women who’ve also survived rape) that her husband will not break her, I believed it. Girl’s a fighter.
Painful though Aethelflaed’s silence is to watch, Alfred has enough on his kingly plate worrying about his soul’s potential corruption at the devilish temptation of Uhtred. My, but David Dawson was spectacular in this episode. His performance has always been a highlight of The Last Kingdom, but this week it was something else. Making a twenty-first century sceptic feel the anguished struggle of a ninth-century believer is no small achievement, and Dawson did that and more. Showing Alfred’s religious faith stopping him from trusting Uhtred, whom we know he can trust, and making him align with ‘godly’ Aethelred, the man raping his daughter and plotting his death, is a powerful critique. It’s tragic to watch the character struggle so, and like all the conflict on The Last Kingdom, it makes for damn good telly.
The “unusual priest” we met last week found himself in a more literal conflict down in Lunden, where Sigefrid and Erik had set up shop (somewhere around Shoreditch judging by the look of those beards and tattoos). Being the good sort he generally is, Uhtred negotiated Beocca’s pal the chance to avoid a death sentence, armed with the knowledge that he was a former warrior. Said priest proved his mettle, winning Uhtred another ally in the fight to come.
Before all that, there was the matter of two weddings to see to. One was simple, one was grand, one was attended by only close friends and family, the other was an excuse for a city-wide piss-up. No wonder the unusual priest was sorry to miss it.
There are better honeymoons than sailing up river to parlay with ferocious Danes in the company of a man who held a knife to your throat on your wedding day, but Aethelred doesn’t deserve them. Beocca and Thyra do (hooray for him not putting Aetheflaed through that biblical Jeremy Kyle lie-detector test), but they still didn’t fare much better, marital bliss being cut short by war.
(Incidentally, if anyone would be kind enough to record Thyra screaming “Wake up! Death is coming!” as an MP3, I’d love to make it my ringtone.)
All that, and a baby monk claiming to be Leofric’s nephew wants to join Uhtred’s gang. It seems to be a one-in, one-out kind of deal, so if he does, you have to wonder who he’s been drafted in to replace.
It was another packed episode, stuffed with intrigue and incident and crowned by a thrillingly urgent chase sequence through the under-attack camp. We’ve barely met Aethelflaed, but we’ve been shown enough to care passionately about what happens to her – the mark of good writing and a good performance by Millie Brady.
“Decisions are made and consequences follow, it is the way” Alfred said at the wedding, and he’s right. Thanks to his possessive jealousy, Aethelred made the decision to arbitrarily put his wife in danger, and now she’s going to have to face the consequences. What men these are, that treat women so. Ugh. Should you need me further you’ll find me at the Two Cranes Inn.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.