Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands episode 4 review

Beowulf channels Western vibes this week, but it still needs to make its protagonist more interesting...

This review contains spoilers.

Beowulf takes a Western turn this week, as our heroes find themselves under siege while transporting goods across wild land because they have disturbed a local tribe’s burial ground – the twist in this case being that the tribe are not human, but ‘mud-born,’ thoroughly wrapped up like chilly mummies, exposing only mouths that appear to drip black oil.

There are a couple of problems with the main plot of this episode. One is that the whole thing is brought about by Vishka’s spectacular stupidity. She whines constantly about not being able to fight, which is already becoming extremely grating, then she follows the group without permission, loses them a horse, wanders around a sacred site and steals something, whines about needing her injuries – which were her own fault – treated, gets two people killed, then whines when told she has to return the item she stole. All of this does rather make the audience root for her to be axed to death by the Mere leader. However, her realisation of her own stupidity does seem to be largely the point of the episode, so we can hope that she will learn from this experience and it will be used to develop her character in future episodes.

The other problem is that the solution is rather anti-climactic – Beowulf just sets fire to the burial ground (which would surely make the situation worse) and they ride away, apparently without being chased. It would perhaps have been more interesting if Breca had taken this role, as his particular brand of step-parenting is rather fun to watch as well as eminently practical, but Beowulf is the lead, so he has to do it, just as he must become Reeve of Herot earlier in the episode. The series really needs to do something about the fact that just about every other character is more interesting than the lead. Even Elvina, whose job here is largely to stand around and make eyes at Beowulf, plus a bit of doctoring, still has the mystery of her parentage to hold the interest – we learn here that her parents were ‘of the Mere’, which, considering we know the Mere were attacked by ‘mud-born’ some time ago, hints once again that she may be half ‘mud-born’ herself.

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Meanwhile, the politicking among the Thanes continues. Rheda’s attempts to be ruthless come off, once again, as rather hasty and reckless – someone should tell her that financial and military strength count for more than honour when it comes to political power. Seeing her practicing her speech at the episode’s opening is rather fun, though this storyline also suffers from something of an anti-climax, as she vows to take on a challenge if necessary, but is saved from having to do so by the agreement with the Mere. Her rashness comes out once again when she finishes the episode by immediately trying to rush through sweeping changes that no one else likes, when surely it would be wiser to cement her position rather more firmly before rocking the boat that way.

Slean’s objections to his arranged marriage garner a little more audience sympathy than such objections to reality usually do, since presumably he had expected to be Thane himself and have more control over these things rather than having to do what his mother tells him. However, his whining without offering an alternative is not helping to endear him to anyone, especially since he is clearly still contemplating betraying his mother to his uncle in a plot that is starting to drag.

As we move towards next week’s episode, the Isle of Dunes looks suitably impressive and the cliff-hanger promises Tremors-style sand-worms, so that has potential. It does highlight, however, one of the show’s on-going problems: that so much of it reminds viewers forcefully of something else. There are hints, in the development of the ‘mud-born’, that this series is capable of being its own thing – hopefully it will continue to develop those in the coming weeks.

Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode here.