Warning: spoilers ahead for The Last Kingdom series 2
At the start of season two, our hero was drowning his sorrows over the murder of Shadow Queen Iseult in the season one finale. It took Hild, the nun he’d helped to rescue from the Danes, to shake him out of it, give him back his sword and remind him that he was Uhtred, son of Uhtred and that he had a birth right to reclaim. To Bebbanburg!
Not quite yet to Bebbanburg though. First, Father Beocca had a mission for Uhtred. Our beloved priest had been told by Abbot Eadred, a shady string-pulling type, that he’d seen the true king of Northumbria—a Christian Dane called Guthred—chosen by a saint in a vision. Guthred though, was currently being held as a slave by Uhtred’s old enemy Sven One-Eyed (the son of Kjartan who’d betrayed and killed Uhtred’s adopted dad Ragnar the Elder). Seeing a way to get closer to Bebbanburg, Uhtred went to rescue Guthred, enacting a plan in which he wore a horse skull and made Sven believe he was an undead warrior sent by Odin to curse him for the part he played in Ragnar the Elder’s murder. It worked a treat, and freed slave Guthred was crowned King of Northumbria.
Guthred, a puppet of the ambitious Abbot Eadred, had a clever, independent sister called Gisela. Uhtred immediately caught her eye and she readily welcomed him into her bell tent for the night. When Uhtred asked her brother for permission to marry Gisela though, Guthred—egged on by Abbot Eadred, who saw Uhtred as a threat to Guthred’s (and therefore his own) power—captured Uhtred and sold him to Icelandic Slavers. Uhtred’s pal and horseman Halig, loyal to the last, demanded to go with his lord and the two embarked on a months-long journey of hardship. Halig, sadly, didn’t survive. He was tortured to death and drowned tied to the prow of a ship while Uhtred became a shadow of his former self.
Down in Winchester, King Alfred was flushed with success from the battle of Ethandun and making plans to unite more of the country under his rule. Part of his political strategy was for his daughter Aethelflaed to marry Mercian leader Aethelred. Petitioned by Ragnar the younger and Brida to let them rescue Uhtred from the slavers, Alfred consented and Uhtred was duly saved, bringing back with him an Irish warrior named Finan, also captured as a slave, who went on to fight by his side. Hild nursed Uhtred back to health, and once again gave him back his sword. Former nun Hild had spent her time training to be a warrior, leaving aside her vocation to learn how to fight.
Meanwhile, Guthred had made a deal with Uhtred’s uncle Aelfric, that he would deliver his nephew’s head and give Aelfric his sister Gisela into the bargain. Having her wits about her, Gisela escaped to a nunnery, but was tracked down and forced into marriage to Aelfric by proxy. Uhtred, seeking out his love, arrived at the nunnery, disrupted the wedding and killed the cruel Abbot Eadred. He and Gisela escaped and married, but Alfred was angry that Uhtred had killed a man of the church and demanded that Ragnar, whom he’d made responsible for Uhtred when he sent him to rescue him from the slavers, pay the cost. To save Ragnar, Uhtred once again swore fealty to Alfred, but much against his wishes.
Uncle Aelfric, learning that his nephew’s head was still very much attached to his neck and that he’d lost his bride to Uhtred, withdrew the deal he’d made with Guthred, whose peace negotiations with the two Danish brothers ruling the North—Sigefrid and Erik—were also going badly.
Uhtred snuck into Sigefrid and Erik’s camp to kill them, but instead cut off Sigefrid’s hand (making an enemy of him) and threatened to murder Erik if they didn’t leave England’s shores. For love of his brother, Sigefrid agreed to leave the country. Uhtred sent Guthred Sigefrid’s hand as a threat.
Uhtred and Ragnar’s new mission was to rescue Ragnar’s sister Thyra from Kjartan and Sven One-Eyed. Sven had lost his eye as punishment for his attempted rape of Thyra in his youth, leading to his and his father’s banishment by Ragnar the Elder. When they returned to kill Ragnar, they took Thyra hostage and kept her in captivity for years in a dungeon in their keep in Dunholm, with only a pack of dogs for company. Before the attack, Kjartan’s illegitimate son Sihtric, who hates his father, swears an oath of loyalty to Uhtred.
Uhtred, Ragnar, Brida and co. storm the Dunholm keep and free Thyra, who is traumatised after years of captivity. Ragnar savagely beats Kjartan to death in revenge for his father’s murder and Thyra’s kidnapping, and Thyra sets her pack of dogs on Sven One-Eyed, killing him too. Father Beocca helps to nurse Thyra back to health and in the process, the pair of them fall in love and marry.
Three years pass, which Uhtred and Gisela have spent in their estate at Cookham, having children and living a peaceful life. When Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold turns up to tell Uhtred of a prophesy he’s heard that he and Uhtred are destined to be kings, Uhtred goes off to sniff it out. Really, it’s a trick by Danish brothers Sigefrid (now with a dagger in place of the hand Uhtred cut off) and Erik, who have returned to England to continue their invasion and revenge plan, and want Uhtred to join them in their revolt against Alfred.
Meanwhile, Aethelflaed has been married off to the Mercian Aethelred, who turns out to be a cruel, abusive, possessive husband and a weak, deceitful leader who pretends to make peace with Alfred but secretly plots against him. Conscious of her duty as the king’s daughter, Aethelflaed doesn’t reveal the extent of her abuse by her husband, but swears that he will not break her.
Hild, having lived as a warrior for years now, decides to lay down her sword and re-enter the church, becoming an Abbess. Taking her place in Uhtred’s Scooby Gang (not that anybody could take Hild’s place) alongside Irishman Finan is Osferth, a young monk who left the monastery behind and asked to become a warrior like his dead uncle Leofric. Osferth, it’s fair to say, is not a natural. A born fighter is Father Pyrlig, a priest who used to be a warrior that Uhtred rescues from Sigefrid and Erik, forming a fast bond with him.
Back with the royals, because Aethelred is so possessive and controlling, when he, Uhtred and Alfred’s troops move on Sigefrid and Erik in battle, he doesn’t allow his wife to remain at home so endangers her by bringing her to battle. When the Northmen pull a trick and vacate the stronghold under attacked instead taking their forces to the battle camp, Aethelflaed as Alfred daughter is kidnapped by the Danes, taken to their fort at Beamfleot, and ransomed for an exorbitant sum. Alfred frets over whether to pay the ransom, sick with worry for his daughter but also for his kingdom.
Alfred and Odda the Ealdorman fall out over the dilemma, with Odda convinced that the king should storm Beomfleot and that Aethelflaed would be better off dead. Alfred decides to pay the ransom, but Odda goes against his orders, raises his own fyrd and attacks Beomfleoat, sadly dying as a result.
In captivity, Aethelflaed’s upbringing (and sword lessons) pay off as she defends herself from further sexual assault by the Danes, and ends up falling in love with Erik, the younger and far kinder of the two brothers. They plan to escape together, but when Uhtred arrives to bargain for her release, he discovers them, as does Sigefrid.
There’s a big battle in which Beamfleot is burned to the ground. Erik is killed by Sigefrid and then Sigefrid is killed by Aethelflaed – a moment gloriously witnessed by her craven bastard of a husband, who might think twice about crossing her in future. Aethelflaed returns to Aethelred, having experienced true love, having killed a man, and (we think) having got pregnant with Erik’s child. And Uhtred lives to fight another day.
To glory or Valhalla!
The Last Kingdom series 3 is out now on Netflix.