Warning: contains The Last Kingdom season 4 spoilers
In the bloody heat of battle, it’s not always easy to follow exactly who stabbed who through the heart/neck/eyeball, and who lived to fight another day. Especially when all the characters’ names have twice as many vowels as is strictly necessary and they all start with ‘Ael’ (apart from the three of them who are called Uhtred.)
If you missed anything, here’s a straightforward explanation of what went down in The Last Kingdom’s season four finale. Spoilers, obviously, ahead.
“In the reign of King Edward peace broke out between Saxon and Dane. Though it was not for the first time, there was a sense the truce would last.”
That truce was made between King Edward of Wessex, his sister Queen Aethelred of Mercia, and Danish warlord Sigtrygrr of Ireland.
Cnut’s cousin Sigtryggr had landed in Wales to avenge the defeat of Cnut’s army by the Welsh at the battle of Tettenhall. From Brida and Eardwulf, he learned that the Wessex capital of Winchester was undefended while King Edward was finding a successor for the Mercian throne, so Sigtryggr took the city, also taking the king’s wife, heirs and mother hostage.
For 30 days, King Edward’s men lay siege to Winchester to no avail, and planned to burn the city to the ground. When Sigtryggr threatened to kill one of Edward’s sons, Uhtred offered himself as hostage in exchange for the boys’ release. Finding Sigtryggr more reasonable than most Viking rulers, Uhtred negotiated with the Dane.
After Uhtred stopped Edward’s assault on the city mid-battle, Edward and Aethelflaed made a bargain with Sigtrygrr. In exchange for Winchester and a vow never to enter Wessex, Mercia or East Anglia, they gave Sigtryggr the Northumbrian city of Eorforwic (York), which Aethelflaed had recently won from the Danes. He also demanded Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra, who had fallen in love with him during the siege and went willingly.
Edward though, still plans to take Northumberland from the Danes and to complete his father’s dream of a united England.
“I have sworn to protect a bastard child whose path I fear is entwined with that of this great land”
Both of Edward’s sons (his eldest Aethelstan – considered a bastard and banished when Edward’s marriage to the wealthy Aelflaed was arranged, but in fact born of a legitimate marriage – and his son with Aelflaed, Aelfweard) were saved when Uhtred took their place as hostages.
After the siege, Edward returned to live in Winchester with Aelflaed and Aelfweard, but knowing that Aelflaed’s father Lord Aethelhelm posed a threat to his firstborn son (because of the challenge he presented to his grandson’s claim on the throne), he knew that Aethelstan wouldn’t be safe with him.
Originally, Edward’s mother Aelswith had arranged to take Aethelstan away and raise him herself, but the treacherous Aethelhelm poisoned Aelswith during the siege by bribing a guard to make a poison from plants growing in the palace courtyard and slipping it into her water jug, to deprive Aethelstan of a powerful ally. Aelswith’s life was left hanging in the balance.
Edward asked Uhtred to take Aethelstan away and teach him how to be a warrior and everything there is to know about Danes. Thus, by the end of the season, Uhtred had lost his own son and daughter (Young Uhtred to his Christian calling and Stiorra to the life she chose with the Dane Sigtryggr), but had gained a new ward – Aethelstan, the future king of all England.
What next for Edward? “In time the King must choose his heir and the bonds of blood may be tested,” says Uhtred.
“I failed in securing my birth right”
Earlier in the season, Uhtred had attempted to take his ancestral lands back from his usurping uncle Aelfric. The Northumbrian fortress of Bebbanburg was regularly besieged by Scottish raiders and Aelfric’s forces were weakened.
Unbeknownst to Uhtred, Aelfric’s estranged son Wihtgar, who was thought drowned at sea, returned to Bebbanburg with two shipfuls of warriors. When Uhtred’s men attacked the fortress, Wihtgar’s men surrounded them. Wihtgar shot his father through the eye with a crossbow and claimed the fortress as his own. He tried to shoot Uhtred’s son, but Father Beocca sacrificed himself for Young Uhtred by leaping in the way of the crossbow bolt, and died.
Wihtgar continues to hold Bebbanburg, and Uhtred has no immediate plans to repeat his failed assault on the fortress, questioning whether the place is really is his destiny after all.
“I have given up the woman I love.”
Aethelflaed was crowned Queen of Mercia following the death of her husband Aethelred on condition that she swear a vow of chastity to ensure that any husband she might take did not automatically become Lord of Mercia, overriding the rules of the Witan. That meant an end to Aethelflaed’s love affair with Uhtred. They sacrificed their love for the good of Mercia, where she returned to rule and raise her daughter Aelfwynn.
“As a new feud is born, revenge is certain to grow stronger.”
Brida swore revenge on her childhood friend and former lover Uhtred because he refused to kill her (and therefore send her to join Ragnar in Valhalla) after the Danish defeat at the Battle of Tettenhall, and allowed her to be captured as a Welsh slave. Horribly abused during her servitude in Wales, she returned to Wessex set on avenging herself against Uhtred.
When Sigtryggar exchanged the king’s sons for Uhtred as a hostage, Brida demanded that he be crucified. Sigtryggr agreed but told her to wait, then betrayed her by striking a bargain with Uhtred and letting him live.
Brida threw Uhtred’s sword over the city wall, making his men think he was dead. She tried to kill him herself, but heavily pregnant, Uhtred disarmed her easily and once again refused to kill her when she begged. She promised him that she would be his undoing, and escaped the city.
Alone, under a tree, Brida gave birth to her child, her first since she lifted the sorcerer’s curse that had stopped her from conceiving with Ragnar. She has vowed to raise her son to hate all Saxons.
Danish sneak Haesten survived the siege and fled Winchester when Edward’s troops attacked. He tried to take his hostage Eadith with him, but she refused, saying her place was with the captives.
Eadith was rescued by Finan in the battle, and the pair have sparked a romantic relationship.
Aelswith (only just), Aethelhelm, Aelflaed, Aethelstan, Aelfweard, Aelfwynn, Aethelflaed, Aldhelm, Brida, Eadith, Edward, Finan, Haesten, Hild, King Hyvel, Osferth, Pyrlig, Sigtryggr, Sihtric, Stiorra, Uhtred, Wihtgar, Young Uhtred.
Died in season four
Aelfric, Aethelred, Father Beocca, Cnut, Eardwulf, Rhodri, Steapa.
Destiny is all!
Read our spoiler-filled season four episode reviews and much more here.