As The Last Kingdom is now a Netflix-only deal, we’re reviewing the new series an episode a day. Please keep spoilers for future episodes out of the comments. Destiny is all!
This review contains spoilers.
Ragnar Ragnarsson was right about one thing – that was the last extra-marital field he’d ever plough. Ragnar’s promise to Brida was made woefully true by the cowardly Aethelwold and the manipulative Cnut, a typo in a ginger beard.
It wasn’t a glorious death. Like his father before him, Ragnar was betrayed by a snake in the grass. Two snakes – one desperate to survive, the other coldly planning to usurp his cousin’s leadership, and to take his woman.
They’ll be two headless snakes if Brida susses out that Ragnar’s latest bit of stuff wasn’t responsible for his squelchy demise. That woman makes six vows to kill someone before breakfast. Now that her true love has been murdered in his bed, the spears will fly.
Spears were already flying throughout episode four (they really haven’t skimped on the stage-blood and rubber-axe budget this series, have they? Impressive). The hour was awash with exhilarating action, from Uhtred and Bloodhair making the square, to the storming of the Abbey, to Ragnar’s bloody end.
The opening bout was a livener, a little pick-me-up that gave Uhtred the chance to stretch his fighting legs amid all this series’ brooding and plotting. While our lead was never in danger (this is episode four of ten, after all), the side line interactions from Finan and co. made the outcome unpredictable. It also gave us a chance to witness the formation of the smallest shield wall yet (just two!) and some impressive sword twiddling. Good stuff.
Uhtred won the bout and the witch, an achievement unlocked that allowed him to move on to his next Super Mario mission: rescue a princess.
Snog a princess, more like. With that kiss in the stables, Aethelflaed showed more than a purely professional interest in Uhtred. It makes sense for her to have a crush on her dad’s hot mate from work. Uhtred’s always treated her well, and, as Erik proved, warrior Danes with a sensitive side are totally her type. For the sake of Mercia though, its Lady had better not skip any further down that particular path. Uhtred’s women have the life expectancy of mayflies, and Aethelflaed has history to make.
Millie Brady inhabits her character with convincing poise and backbone in series three. Aethelflaed’s a changed woman since we last saw her sticking the pointy end in Sigefrid; she’s grown into the kind of capable leader you can really get behind (literally, when a band of marauding Danes comes knocking at the door). More robust than her father, braver than her husband, and less hot-headed than her Uhtred, the Lady of Mercia is the hero England needs. It’s only a pity she wasn’t able to think up a way out of her Abbey predicament herself.
Uhtred though, is always the man with a plan. He’s a one-warrior ideas factory, ever ready with some wheeze involving a horse’s skull or a castle breach. This one involved swapping a witch for a princess, promising to do it with the witch so she’d acquiesce, and getting re-cursed in the process.
Someone who could use Uhtred’s strategic nous now is Aethelwold, whose days are surely numbered. Actor Harry McEntire has always been entertaining as the wry, self-serving spare wheel of Alfred’s court, but underneath the wisecracks and shadowy skulking, he’s also managed to convey recognisable feeling. Craven, egotistical feeling, but feeling nonetheless. Aethelwold’s cowardly actions this episode—driven by an absolute need for survival (and hey, having made it this far with little more than his sneakiness to recommend him, the man’s certainly a survivor) were awful, but made sense for the desperate person we know.
By the teeth of Saint Cuthbert though, once Brida finds out that he was responsible for Ragnar’s murder, Aethelwold will be Aethel-over.
On the subject of prefixes, there was a brand new Aethel to learn this week: Edward’s betrothed’s father Aethelhelm. May we recommend you keep them all straight using these handy rhymes:
Aethelwold is crafty and cold
Aethelflaed should never have wed
Aethelred needs an axe in the head
Aethelhelm is underwhelmed (by having to stay at an inn when he was looking forward to a weekend in a palace superior double with cathedral views.)
Yes, yes, I know. Needs work. We’ll get there.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.