This review contains spoilers.
You know what they say – exacting bloody revenge on your sworn enemy is all a lot of fun until somebody takes it too far. After that thrilling assault on Dunholm, everybody was having a grand old time watching Ragnar Ragnarsson avenge his family by defeating Kjartan, then he had to go and ruin it by falling into a berserker’s frenzy. Suddenly it was goodbye Kjartan the Cruel, hello Kjartan the pulpy mass of teeth and bone.
You know you’ve overdone it when warriors like Clapa, Brida and Steapa turn away in disgust. These are folks who laugh like drains at alehouse stories about popping eyeballs, and whose every other sentence ends with a shrug and the words “let’s just kill them while they sleep”.
Ragnar’s rage, however, may prove to have more serious consequences than the cost of getting little bits of Kjartan cleaned out of the carpet. By the time Uhtred pulled Ragnar away, Sihtric had a face like thunder, indicating that Kjartan’s bastard son may have harboured more love for his father than he cared to admit.
Pah. What’s one more death threat to this lot? The Last Kingdom’s Danes live dangerously. To glory or Valhalla is their battle cry. To the end!
There was a pleasing sense of an ending about episode four, which wraps up the third book in Bernard Cornwell’s series, making way for the last half of this series to cover Sword Song. By the episode’s end, Sigefrid and Erik had been run off Northumberland’s shores, Kjartan and Sven One-Eyed had been turned into Pedigree Chum, Ragnar had been gifted Dunholm, Uhtred was off for a honeymoon with his new wife, and traumatised Thyra had been freed.
Thyra’s reunion (if you can call it that) with her brothers was fascinating, largely thanks to the promising pairing of her and Father Beocca. Seeing her for the injured creature she is, Beocca approached Thyra as you would a dangerous, cornered hound. He took charge calmly, confidently, winning her trust by showing no fear and presenting no threat. After suffering years of abuse at the hands of men, Beocca may finally be one she can trust. And to him, her strength in suffering has made her divine.
Speaking of divinity, there was holy justice in Thyra’s revenge on Sven One-Eyed, who wasn’t left with one of anything by the time her hungry hounds had finished with him. I gather that Sven was defeated by Finan before the dogs got to him in the books, but Thyra getting revenge on her cowardly kidnapper was a much more satisfying narrative move.
Sven’s death scene took some smart editing. Dogs not being the most reliable actors, Thyra’s pack didn’t so much menace their victim as bound excitedly towards him tails-wagging as if he was less their mistress’ tormentor and more the man who delivers the Bonios. Still, Julia Bache-Wiig, who plays Thyra, was a bewitching enough screen presence to carry it all off. She’s so fragile and ethereal-looking—made more so by some terrific costume and make-up—you could almost see what Father Beocca’s on about. Instead of being installed as a living relic in a nunnery like all those anorexic female saints of the day though, what Thyra really needs are some hot dinners and tender care.
With any luck Hild will see to that, if, that is, she has any time left between kicking arses. The warrior nun collected some more scalps during the assault on Dunholm (I’m so glad the siege plan fell apart; that wouldn’t have been a tenth as exciting to watch), another successful plan masterminded by Uhtred, and one that, unusually, didn’t involve wearing the skull of a dead horse or carrying around anyone’s decapitated head in a sack.
That wasn’t the only success Uhtred pulled off this week. First he married Gisela (I like the look of a Saxon wedding. No centrepieces, no organza chair sashes, just a priest and a couple randier than a ram in tupping season), then he chopped off Sigefrid’s sword hand (ensuring he now won’t be remembered as the Lord of Chaos, but rather as the Lord of Not Being Able To Do Up A Zip), delivered it with a threat to Guthred the Turd (now his official kingly epithet), and sent the fearsome brothers packing.
After last week’s torment, it was a pretty successful week for the arseling, all told, even if our hero did get so upset over Thyra his eyeliner got smudged. I’d like to think there was a tear in there for dear Halig. I still miss Halig.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.