This review contains spoilers.
Don’t you hate it when visitors turn up unannounced and expect you to feed their entourage of holy men? Especially when there are still twelve-odd centuries to wait before the invention of the twenty-four hour Asda.
That’s kings for you, I suppose. Alfred goes where he will, rocking up at his subjects’ strongholds to install himself at the head of their table and complain like a judgmental mother-in-law about how the décor is too Pagan and how he’s never once seen them use that breadmaker he got them for their wedding.
Uhtred and Gisela—three years into marriage and going strong—coped admirably with this week’s surprise visitors to their home. First came Aethelwold (isn’t Harry McEntire great in that role?), unusually sober for once but telling a decidedly drunk-sounding story about a dead Dane called Bjorn who’d risen from his grave to prophesy that he and Uhtred were destined to be kings. This being the ninth century, instead of being put to bed while Gisela phoned his GP, Aethelwold was tolerated and the seed of this episode’s intrigue was sown.
Specifically, it was sown by Erik and Sigefrid, whose banishment from England’s shores last week had run its course. The brothers were back with a fleet and a plan. Danes being a pretty predictable bunch, it was largely the same plan as before—let the streets run red with Saxon blood, plunder, pillage and so on—but with a cunning additional element: dead Bjorn, the ghost messenger who would draw Uhtred into their revolt against Alfred.
Will Uhtred join them? That was the cliff-hanger with which we were left. Uhtred checked whether his pals thought he was having his leg pulled (once again, this being the ninth century, they assured him dead Bjorn was for realsies) and sighed the sigh of a man whose fate it might be to become a king of kings when all he really wants to do is eat chicken with his fingers alongside his hot, clever wife at their bucolic Wessex estate and string up a few Danish raiders every so often to keep his hand in.
Uhtred and Gisela’s marriage feels pleasingly modern. She’s a proto-feminist who speaks her mind (calling the King’s daughter a whore in a wedding gown is hardcore. People get upset now if you criticise the length of Kate Middleton’s sleeves), she isn’t afraid to ask the King questions and generally has her head screwed on when it comes to Uhtred and Alfred’s ongoing rancour.
If it’s peace Gisela’s after though, she married the wrong man (after she, you know, literally married the wrong man in that forced ceremony to Uhtred’s evil uncle. What’s he been up to these past three years, I wonder?) Peace and warriors don’t mix was the message of the episode. Try as Uhtred might to live among the roaming goats of Cookham and spend his days washing topless in barrels, destiny has other plans for him.
And for Hild. This is where The Last Kingdom’s speedy four-episodes-a-book approach becomes frustrating. It might keep things moving entertaingly apace but there isn’t enough time for character development to truly sink in. Hild’s been living as a warrior for years now, so the significance of her laying down her sword and armour and redonning her religious gear is presumably great. The problem is, we only saw her pick up that sword a week or two ago. There’s no sense of time passing or sacrifices made. Hild’s gone from nun to warrior to would-be abbess in the space of a few episodes. It’s a big deal for her, but to us, she may as well be Air Hostess Barbie changing her togs into Palaeontologist Barbie. That’s no slight on Eva Birtwhistle, by the way, who is excellent in the role. It’s just all a bit of a rush.
The same goes for Thyra and Father Beocca’s story. Ian Hart is terrific as Beocca, and the prospect of watching him and Julia Bache-Wigg’s developing courtship is such an inviting one. His struggle, her recovery… these actors could do wonders with all that, but one short scene and it’s over.
What a scene though, Beocca’s proposal—so romantic and unromantic at the same time—couldn’t have felt more wonderfully Mr Darcy.
A wedding was the talk of Winchester. Aethelflaed is about to pledge her troth to a preening turd “shat from the arse of a giant” who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw him. Let’s hope she was paying close attention in Steapa’s combat lessons.
Uhtred’s the one who really needs to watch out though. Underneath their plan to take London, the brothers are clearly seeking revenge for the hand-ectomy he performed on Sigefrid last they met. “You will always have my respect”? Never trust a compliment from men in matching fur shoulder shrugs. And never accept an invitation if there’s any risk of your host uttering the words “Fetch the blood. It is time.”
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.