Warning: contains major spoilers for The Last Kingdom season 4.
Adapted from Bernard Cornwell’s novels The Pagan Lord and The Empty Throne, season four of The Last Kingdom introduced a raft of new characters. We met Uhtred’s grown-up children Young Uhtred and Stiorra – respectively a Christian cleric and a passionate Dane. There was Dane warrior Sigtryggr, the dastardly Eardwulf (now dead) and his much more sympathetic sister Eadith, who saved the life of Aethelflaed’s daughter when she caught the sickness. And there were Edward’s two sons, half-brothers Aethelstan and Aelfweard, both potential future Kings with different parties scheming to put each on the throne. Ahead of season five’s arrival, here’s the rest of the main action to remember, from enmities forged to deaths and battles.
Brida vs Uhtred
One of season four’s major upshots was Brida’s growing hatred of Uhtred. The childhood friends and former lovers ended the season as sworn enemies, thanks to Brida’s unswerving dedication to Danish supremacy and what she saw as her gods-given mission to defeat Saxon foes. Brida’s anger and belief in the righteous path of Dane might distanced her from Uhtred, whom she saw as her enemy after they fought on opposite sides at the Battle of Tettenhall.
It was at Tettenhall that Brida killed her partner Cnut, after learning that he had colluded in the murder of her true love Ragnar. Pregnant by Cnut (she and Uhtred had lifted her infertility curse in season three) Brida was left alone in the world. When the Dane army was defeated at Tettenhall, Brida begged Uhtred to kill her before she could be dishonoured by being taken prisoner. Unable to bring himself to do it, Brida was imprisoned, abused and humiliated by the Welsh. Such treatment only deepened her prejudices. After young Danish warrior Sigtryggr released her from captivity, she joined him and his army in violent raiding parties on Saxon and Welsh villages.
After being tipped off that Winchester was undefended while King Edward was in Aylesbury settling the matter of Mercian succession, Sigtryggr’s army and Brida stormed the city. They took Edward’s family and Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra hostage. Brida tried to behead Stiorra, but Sigtryggr stopped her and instead fell in love with the girl – who is Danish on her mother Gisela’s side and worships the Pagan gods – over the course of the 30-day siege. At the end of the season, Stiorra went willingly with Sigtryggr to be his companion in Eoforwic/York.
With his men camped outside the city but unable to breach the walls, King Edward floundered. Sigtryggr tried to force him to choose which of his two sons to save, but Edward could not. Uhtred offered himself in the boys’ place, and Sigtryggr agreed to the swap. Brida wanted to kill Uhtred, and was disgusted when Sigtryggr stopped her and negotiated a truce. She was last seen heavily pregnant, alone, and vowing to be Uhtred’s ultimate undoing.
Aethelflaed and the Mercian Succession
Aethelred, lord of Mercia was already dying of a fatal wound inflicted at the battle of Tettenhall when his death was hastened by new character Eardwulf. The head of Aethelred’s household guard, Eardwulf was an ambitious schemer seeking to marry Aethelred and Aethelflaed’s daughter Aelfwynn and to take over the Mercian throne. Aethelred wouldn’t sanction the match and so Eardwulf murdered him, an act secretly witnessed by his sister Eadith, Aethelred’s mistress. Eardwulf was eventually forced to flee Mercia, and joined up with Danes Brida and Sigtryggr who eventually killed him after learning of his treachery.
Aethelred’s death left the Ealdormen of Mercia in a quandary over his successor. They objected to his wife Aethelflaed taking the Mercian throne, as they supposed that whomever she married next would become their unelected leader. Eventually, they installed Uhtred as Mercian leader against his will, citing his Mercian mother and military experience. Uhtred reluctantly agreed to be re-Christened and to take the position, but his first act as leader was to immediately resign and nominate the Lady Aethelflaed to rule until her daughter Aelfwyn marries. To assuage the Ealdormen’s fears about any future husband, Aethelflaed took a vow of chastity and sacrificed her love for Uhtred in favour of her love for Mercia. She ruled Mercia and its army well, and retook Eoforwic/York for the Saxons as part of her father’s dream of uniting the kingdoms under one England.
King Edward’s Folly, Lord Aethelhelm, Aelswith’s Redemption & Aethelstan
King Edward, initially proved a less wise ruler than his older sister. He listened to the bad and self-serving advice of his scheming father-in-law Lord Aethelhelm, whose only interest was in furthering his family’s route to power via Edward’s successor. At one point, Edward imprisoned his sister, mother and Uhtred, who was tortured at Lord Aethelhelm’s behest. Aethelhelm wanted Uhtred to give up the location of Aethelflaed’s daughter Aelfwynn, who was being hidden with his own daughter Stiorra, but Uhtred stayed firm. Edward was late to bring troops to the decisive Battle of Tettenhall, forcing Father Pyrlig and Aethelflead to sneak out of Wessex to raise the Welsh army and the Saxon fyrds. He eventually saw right and joined the battle to defeat the Danes.
Lady Aelswith saw Lord Aethelhelm’s true nature and decided to right a wrong from her past. She had schemed to separate Edward from his first wife, a commoner, and first-born son Aethelstan, preferring a more financially advantageous match. Aelswith sought out the young Aethelstan and brought him under her protection, which made her an enemy of Aethelhelm who wanted his own grandson to succeed Edward. During the siege of Winchester, Aethelhelm poisoned Lady Aelswith, and in the season’s final moments, she lay gravely unwell.
Meanwhile, Edward had followed in his father’s footsteps by ignoring Uhtred’s sage advice, not appreciating his loyaly, refusing to grant him troops to retake his ancestral home of Bebbanburg, and ultimately, giving him a job he didn’t ask for. By the end of the season, Edward had realised Uhtred’s importance, and entrusted his first-born son Aethelstan to Uhtred’s protection, to raise and train to be a future king.
Bebbanburg, Whitgar and Father Beocca (RIP)
Father Beocca was the season’s greatest loss. The priest had been by Uhtred’s side since his childhood in Bebbanburg, and it was there that Beocca was killed. Denied troops by King Edward, Uhtred had taken a small raiding party north to regain his rightful land from his usurping uncle Aelfric. During their assault, Aelfric was surprised by the appearance of his son Whitgar, who’d been missing for years and was thought to have drowned at sea. Whitgar shot his father with a crossbow, and then aimed an arrow at Uhtred’s son (a Christian who resented his father’s Pagan beliefs). Father Beocca sacrificed his life to save Uhtred’s son by jumping in front of Whitgar’s arrow. That left Uhtred with a new enemy in his cousin, and a new murder to avenge.
The major losses were: Father Beocca at Bebbanburg. Uhtred’s usurping uncle Aelfric at Bebbanburg. Cnut, killed by Brida at the Battle of Tettanhall. Steapa, a long-time ally of Alfred’s family, killed by Danes at Tettanhall. Lord Aethelred of Mercia, who was murdered after being fatally injured at the Battle of Tettenhall. And Eardwulf, killed by Danes for being a treacherous Kingslayer.
The major characters: Uhtred, Finan, Sihtric, Osferth, Father Pyrlig, Sigtryggr, Stiorra, Young Uhtred, Brida, Haesten and Whitgar. Plus King Edward, Queen Aelflaed, their children, Lady Aelswith, Aethelflaed, Aelfwyn, Lord Aldhelm, Aethelstan and Eadith.
As well as several skirmishes, there were two big fights: the Battle of Tettenhall and the Siege of Winchester. The first began when Cnut and Haesten tricked Aethelred into thinking they’d taken their men from East Anglia to Ireland so that he would invade East Anglia and leave Mercia undefended. The Danes attacked Mercia, eventually leading to a clash at Tettenhall between the Danes and the allied Saxon and Welsh armies of King Edward, Lady Aethelflaed and King Hywel.
Sigtryggr and Brida attacked Winchester and took Edward’s mother, wife and sons hostage. Edward rushed back to Winchester but his head-on attack failed and his army spent a month waiting outside the city. While Uhtred and Sigtryggr were negotiating a truce, Edward attacked. Before more lives were lost, Uhtred stopped the fighting and negotiated an exchange with Sigtryggr: Edward and Aethelflaed would give him the Northern city of Eoforwic/York (which Aethelflaed had just regained from the Danes) in exchange for Winchester.
All 10 episodes of The Last Kingdom Season 5 are available to stream on Netflix now.