This The Last Kingdom review contains spoilers.
The Last Kingdom Season 4 Episode 8
All hail Aethelflaed, Queen of Mercia. Finally, a choice that pleases the Ealdormen, the Fyrds, the commonfolk and – to judge by her rave reviews on Wikipedia – modern day historians. Everybody’s happy about Aethelflaed occupying Mercia’s empty throne. Mostly everyone.
To begin with, Edward was narked and pulled the classic younger brother move of seizing the city with his army. Another fight loomed until his mum told him to stop being silly and share with his sister, there was plenty of kingdom for everybody and if he didn’t say sorry and make friends, she was going to unplug his Xbox.
Edward’s accord with Aethelflaed bodes well for both kingdoms. Together, they can continue their father’s dream and start buying up all the Monopoly squares he always planned to collect. First East Anglia, then Danish Northumberland, then they just need the utility companies and the railways and Edward’s son Aethelstan will be able to rule over a complete set.
Aelswith seemed to receive Edward’s implicit agreement this episode that he would be succeeded by his firstborn son, whom she’ll prepare for kingship off-screen. (A training montage of the kid carrying buckets of water up mountainous staircases and holding Witans with his teddy bears would be fun, but it’ll just have to exist in our imaginations.)
What prompted Edward’s change of heart over Aethelstan wasn’t clear. He went from stony-faced denier to smiling father in an instant, the unrelenting pace of this show once again not allowing for much psychological depth. Let’s put it down to a general thawing-out for the king, who’s learned that his family is not his enemy, and that the wisdom of women can be a resource.
Aelswith learned this episode that the wisdom of women isn’t always disregarded while men blithely make foolish decisions. While that may have been her own experience and she counselled Aethelflaed to grin and bear it, her daughter’s coronation proved that change could happen. It just takes men like Uhtred with the good sense to hand power to whoever deserves it regardless of gender. From Brida to Hild to Iseult, Gisela and now Aethelflaed, Uhtred’s always recognised the strength of, and respected the women around him. It makes him a much more palatable hero for our times than perhaps a realistic one for his era.
Brida’s savage behaviour in episode eight shifted her further from our modern sympathies, perhaps edging her into the show’s now-vacant villain spot. (There’s Eardwulf, but he’s essentially a new Aethelwold, a conscienceless Saxon willing to make any alliance that will save his own skin.) Granted, Rhodri deserved it, but the brutal humiliation she put him through before death was too great to feel any satisfaction over. Brida’s always been a fighter, and most of her battles have been on the opposite side to Uhtred’s, but until now, she’s still been easy to admire.
The coronation was a mixed blessing for Aethelflaed and Uhtred. While both knew that the right bum had ended up on the Mercian throne, it meant the end of their love affair. As soon as Uhtred uttered the words “I hope that my love for Aethelflaed will be allowed to flourish” in the ‘previously on’ recap, it was clear they were doomed. Aethelflaed’s vow of chastity wouldn’t stretch to any more dirty weekends at Cookham, and so dissolved their dream of living in peace by each other’s side. So it always goes. Another love interest for Uhtred, another tragic loss.
And yet more loss in the departure of Young Uhtred, whose faith called him home to Winchester just when Brida and Sigtryggr’s army are heading there to take the undefended city. Young Uhtred didn’t stick around to find out if the third time’s a charm for his father’s cleansed soul (at this stage, unlikely, but good to cover all bases afterlife-wise) and now he’s riding alone into danger.
Eadith won’t be riding alone now, having propositioned Finan and bought him a beer. Stiorra too, appears to have become part of her father’s gang. (A ‘girl drinks pint as men look on astonished’ gag, The Last Kingdom? You may be set in the 10th century, but your jokes don’t also have to be historical.)
Eight was another busy episode in what has become a relentlessly paced, wildly entertaining season. No time to rest; as soon as one threat is averted, another rears its head. Season four offers more battle for your buck than any other, as proved by Sigtryggr’s fiendish assault on the returning Welsh.
(Wherefore, incidentally, that old favourite, the shield wall? We’ve seen nary a wall of shields over eight episodes. As battle cries go, “Form a line!” doesn’t quite have the same ring.)
Sigtrygger’s military strategy was worthy of Uhtred himself. Lure your opponent inside a circle of burning death, then have your archers pick them off at their leisure. Think of it as the death sandwich – an old favourite among the Danes on this show – but flame-grilled. Beautiful, nasty stuff.