This week Uhtred reaps what was sown in last week’s character-driven episode.
Let’s bitch it out…
Last week’s character-driven episode of The Last Kingdom saw an impressive amount of plotlines set up, and this week Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) – for better or for worse – reaps what was sown.
The biggest change for Uhtred is his new marriage to Mildrith (Amy Wren), an arrangement he agreed to last week when he swore loyalty to King Alfred (David Dawson). Unfortunately for Uhtred, Mildrith comes burdened with a 2000 shilling debt to the church, a fact he only discovers on the voyage back to Mildrith’s (and now his) humble lands. It’s a debt that could be wiped clean by the King, but is instead used by Alfred to control Uhtred; it further complicates the relationship between these two leading figures who are allied by circumstance, but otherwise at odds in so many ways.
The Last Kingdom’s writers have done a great job in slowly ratcheting up the complexity of Uhtred’s life over the four episodes thus far. There was never any question for him of adopting the Viking lifestyle when his father was killed, but now that he’s been thrust into the Saxon world – both by necessity, and by his own desires (selfishness?) – his loyalties and relationships are in constant tension to one another.
As TLK moves along, it is this tension that creates a compelling show. And the tension isn’t just with Uhtred’s internal loyalties, it’s imbued in almost every major character and relationship of the show; from the conflict between Saxon and Dane, down to Alfred’s need for spiritual purity despite his worldly desires (“There are times I crave meat, and other things. But I know the gratification would be fleeting, the suffering prolonged, and so I suffer gruel.”). With each episode, the stakes are raised, for Uhtred, for Alfred, and for England.
Uhtred’s marriage to Mildrith begins shakily enough, but her kindness wins him over and soon enough she’s pregnant with their child (also named Uhtred). Daddy Uhtred has settled into a simple but rewarding life as elderman of Lyscombe, but when he spots a contingent of Danes marching on the fortress of Wareham he is forced to return to Winchester to warn the King.
Alfred decides to raise an army and retake Wareham, where he negotiates with the Viking leader, Guthrum (Thomas W. Gabrielsson). Ubba (Rune Temte), the usual leader of the Danes has left for Ireland to avenge the death of his brother; Alfred knows this and aims to exploit the weakened Vikings. The Danes will leave Wessex within the month, but hostages must be exchanged by each side. Among the Saxon hostages is Uhtred, who waits to hear of Ubba’s return and then escape to warn Alfred.
As a hostage inside the fortress Wareham, Uhtred discovers another consequence of his decision to swear loyalty to Alfred: Brida (Emily Cox), who left Uhtred last week, has shacked up with his Danish brother, Ragnar (Tobias Santelmann). Uhtred takes this in good spirits, at least on the surface, but treading the line between Saxon and Dane is wearing on our protagonist.
Ultimately, word arrives that Ubba has returned from Ireland, and is bringing the entire Viking force with him. Guthrum executes the Saxon hostages but releases Uhtred after Ragnar stands between them.
One of the core elements of this week’s episode is the relationship between Alfred and Uhtred. After being sent as a hostage, Uhtred clearly realizes that he is nothing more than a pawn in Alfred’s greater plans. This has got to wreak havoc on Uhtred’s sense of self, as based on his actions in past episodes, he clearly believes that he is something greater than a simple landowner. As Kyle Fowle at The A.V. Club remarks, it’s this ambition that causes most of Uhtred’s problems; he is is own worst enemy. From swearing loyalty to Alfred, to agreeing to marry Mildrith, Uhtred’s need to appear loyal and be “successful” (for lack of a better word) in Saxon society has caused him to make decisions without thinking them through; the consequences of which are fully on display this week.
- Damn, can the writers ever squeeze a lot out of 55 minute episodes. This continually impresses me. There’s rarely a squandered shot or wasted moment.
- Odda the Younger (Brian Vernel) has a bone to pick with Uhtred over his marraige to Mildrith. Odda definitely has a “rapey” vibe to him, too; I wonder if there will be some nastiness from him while Mildrith is stuck in Winchester waiting for for husband’s return.
- Alfred is fantastic to watch. I mention it week after week, but he’s portrayed with such subtlety that he’s super engaging.
- Alfred’s plan to send a priest as a hostage to attempt to convert Guthrum is clever, but it cements my belief that Alfred is far more cold and cunning than he appears at first glance. He knew full well that the priest would be the first to be executed if things went poorly, which they would have immediately after Uhtred’s escape (if it had gone down that way).
- Guthrum is a much more rational leader than Ubba. I think that Ubba’s impulsiveness, rage, and downright “craziness” will be his downfall soon. Maybe Uhtred will be able to goad him into a mistake.
- Once again, the Danes now how to party. Tug-of-War over a firepit? You won’t see those English nerds doing anything that hardcore! They’re too busy sipping broth and praying to do anything fun.
- Leofric: “We’ll be slipping in blood and entrails before the day is out.”
Uhtred: “With luck.”
- Uhtred: “I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.”
Ragnar: “Then you haven’t been living. Or as Ravyn would say, tomorrow we die.”
Your turn: So what do you think is going to happen next week? Will the Viking invasion kick off in earnest?
The Last Kingdom airs Saturdays at 10pm EST on BBC America (in the US)