This The Last Kingdom review contains spoilers.
The Last Kingdom Season 4 Episode 6
Q. What the difference between the Sickness and a royal husband?
A. The Sickness doesn’t demand a dowry before it kills ya!
Bit of early 10th century stand-up for you there. Not that young Aelfwynn’s laughing, the child’s current options being either death by pestilence, or marriage to a man old enough to be her (grand)father. Episode six closed on the poor waif ailing in the arms of Eadith – now simply a companion and not a future sister-in-law after Eardwulf was sent packing.
Why a band of loyal Mercian soldiers allowed the murderer of their king to gallop away is a puzzler. Surely upon production of that royal seal, Eardwulf should have been turned into a human colander by his guards’ swords, or at the very least dragged back to Aylesbury for punishment? Instead, Eadith shooed him away like a begging dog. All the better for a surprise return later down the line, perhaps.
Betraying her brother to save the royal children completed Eadith’s recent transition from neutral evil to neutral good. Reluctantly joining up with Uhtred and co. on their road trip, she quickly fell into step, enjoying the relative freedom of life outside the labels of court and forming an attachment to Aethelflaed’s fading daughter. Not forgetting, along the way, to also check out the guns on Finan.
Finan proved remarkably unstoic in the face of the mysterious Sickness sweeping the land. (Not based on any specific historical epidemic, apparently, just one of many viruses that regularly cut swathes through pre-vaccination populations.) If being staked through the heart and left to turn into a roadside zombie is the official Anglo-Saxon course of treatment, then who could blame him. A fast death in battle is one thing, becoming an extra in The Walking Dead is another entirely.
The contemporary relevance of the Sickness storyline in a time of Coronavirus lockdown can’t possibly have been foreseen by The Last Kingdom’s creators, but it certainly heightened the viewing experience.
The arguments that played out in the episode – whether to delay ceremonies and close the gates, how to protect one population from another, and whether the virus is spread by touch, or the air, or only takes sinners – are chillingly familiar from today. Nobody mentioned setting fire to 5G masts, but if the government announced a policy of herb-burning to purify the bad air in today’s press conference, it wouldn’t feel entirely beyond reach.
There was a great deal of travelling to get nowhere in particular. After all the episode’s busy-ness, Edward and his mother are still arguing and the Mercian throne remains empty. Eadith turning on her brother didn’t seem reliant on any great change in her from the start of the journey to the end. Had it happened in Aylesbury, say, everybody could have been saved a lot of bother.
That said, without the woodland journey, we’d have been deprived of some real beauty. This may be lockdown talking, but the landscapes in episode six were a real tonic. Uhtred’s band resembled nothing so much as the Fellowship of the Ring, director Andy Hay capturing tiny figures traipsing across sublime natural backdrops.
The unlikely pairing of warriors and children was warm and cheering too. Seeing the future king of all England ride on Finan’s shoulders and sail toy boats with the bloodthirsty fighter was very sweet. Spending a little more time with Young Uhtred and Stiorra the self-taught Dane was also welcome. (Where though, is the youngest brother? The one Gisela died giving birth to? No mention of him.)
The previous hour’s discussion of women’s limited freedom also carried over into this episode, which saw Eadith reflect on her objectification at court and Stiorra raising a smile with her declaration that she’d never become a wife because of the terrible work/reward ratio.
Brida’s enslavement to the cruel Rhodri gave us an extreme version of that servitude. It’s quite something when the ear-slicing Danes start to feel like the good guys. May Brida soon climb out of that pit and take a few ears of her own.