Uhtred and Ubba finally confront each other in this week’s explosive episode.
Let’s bitch it out…
“Never cross Ubba (Rune Temte). And never, ever fight him,” warned Ravn (Rutger Hauer), the grey-haired Viking patriarch in the first episode of BBC America’s The Last Kingdom. This week, Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), having already broken the first rule, finally manages to confront Ubba and break the second rule, too. In an episode that’s central motif is ”justice” and rife with fights, the duel between these two stands out.
Let’s backtrack a bit and set the stage: having escaped from Wareham, Uhtred discovers the smashed remains of Guthrum’s (Thomas W. Gabrielsson) invasion force upon a Wessex beach, so he makes his way back to his new lands, wife, and son. Unfortunately, Odda the Younger (Brian Vernel) has taken Mildrith (Amy Wren) and Uhtred junior away in order to escape the coming Vikings, so all Uhtred finds is his land’s caretaker, Oswald (Victor McGuire), bumping uglies in his house with an unenthusiastic peasant girl. It’s a thoroughly unpleasant homecoming for Uhtred. Ahem. Uhtred warns Oswald that any more transgressions will lead to his death – we’ll return to this later.
Alfred (David Dawson) hasn’t yet discovered that Guthrum’s army was wrecked by a storm, so to meet the invading Danes he splits his forces: Alfred will take his men to stop Guthrum, and Odda the Elder will take his army to meet Ubba, who has returned from Ireland.
In an effort to reunite with his wife and son, Uhtred tracks down the Oddas, who are encamped on a hill overlooking Ubba’s forces, The Danes are fresh off the boat, so to speak, but Odda is running out of food and water and is hesitant to attack. Ubba and his sorcerer, Storri (Henning Valin Jakobsen), meet with the Saxons in an effort to have them surrender. It’s a great scene where Ubba and Uhtred trade barbs – and the overly emotional Viking is manipulated by Uhtred into allowing the Saxons more time to decide what they want to do.
Uhtred proposes a daring plan: he will burn the Viking’s ships to create a distraction so that Odda the Elder can launch a surprise attack on his side. Odda agrees, although his son attempts to convince him that they should use the distraction to retreat and meet up with Alfred’s forces, leaving Uhtred to be killed by the Danes.
Uhtred manages to start the ship fires, but is spotted by Ubba who, as motivated by emotion as ever, challenges him to a duel even as the Viking ships burn around them. Not the most tactically sound decision there, Ubba. The two posture a bunch and have a great fight where we learn that Ubba’s Achilles Heel is literally his heels; Uhtred soundly defeats the Earl and kills him in front of Storri and the rest of his men.
Just as Ubba’s enraged men are about to extract vengeance, the English swoop in to defeat the Danes. And this is only about half way into the episode. Talk about fast paced storytelling!
Odda the Elder has been grievously wounded in battle, which puts ‘the Younger’ in control of his lands and men, so Uhtred’s pal, Leofric, tries to convince Uhtred to ride back to Winchester first, claim the Saxon victory and win favour with Alfred. But Uhtred – like Ubba – is driven by emotion, and instead rides for Mildrith and his newborn son. I can’t really blame the guy, but it is definitely a mistake. Instead of Uhtred claiming glory, Odda the
Sleazy Younger claims the victory as his own and Alfred names him as a hero of Wessex.
The rest of the episode of basically Uhtred throwing tantrums. Predictably, once he hears that Odda has taken credit for his plan he storms into Alfred’s church ceremony, and even draws his sword. Of course, this all ends miserably for Uhtred, and as punishment he’s forced to crawl on his knees to grovel before Alfred and the cross. Not only did Uhtred not get credit for his victory; he’s now going to be viewed with even more suspicion by Alfred. Smooth move Uhtred.
While Uhtred may have aligned himself with the Saxons, he’s obviously still very much beholden to the Danish style of justice. While his Saxon lords may have organized religion and laws, there’s no justice here in Uhtred’s eyes.
Uhtred leaves Winchester in a rage with Mildrith, refusing to allow her to baptise their son, which makes her understandably miserable. When they return home, they stumble upon Oswald in the middle of what was probably a long-running scam: selling Uhtred and Mildrith’s lumber and pocketing the profits. It is the last straw for Uhtred: he cruelly kills Oswald in front of Mildrith in either a rage, or a misguided sense of Viking “justice.”
Uhtred is the embodiment of the notion that you can win every battle, but still lose the war. Whether he is blinded by emotion, selfishness, or just the inability to think ahead, Uhtred is hopeless when it comes to managing the big picture. Even though he essentially saves Wessex single-handedly, he’s never been further away from his goals.
Aside from Uhtred, The Last Kingdom once again proves that it is the reigning champ of fitting a huge amount of storytelling into a single hour of television. We really get the perfect blend of action and character development. ‘Episode 5’ truly showcases everything that makes TLK great.
- This show is fantastic at showcasing characters having little “flashes” of emotion on their face. Even if it’s just for a moment, it’s noticeable and does a great job at enriching the characters. Case in point: the flash of anger that crosses Uhtred’s face after Ubba tells him: “there never is a meeting that you do not seem to attend. Is there more than one of you?” Or conversely, just before their duel, when Uhtred tells Ubba that the gods are angry with him, you can see just a moment of self-doubt come over Ubba.
- I really expected the fight between Ubba and Uhtred to come later in the series. I suppose that means the Guthrum is taking over as the main Viking baddy. Guthrum is more cool and calculating that Ubba, so I think he’ll make a “smarter” villain, but damnit I’m going to miss Ubba’s volatility. It was also a ton of fun watching Uhtred manipulate Ubba; he knows right where to prod him to get the “best” reaction.
- When Uhtred slices Ubba’s heels: yikes.
- Ubba to Uhtred after Uhtred starts the boat fires: “Was it you, the fires?”
Uhtred: “Must have been the gods. They are angry with you.”
Uhtred: “First blood, or to the death?”
Your turn: What did you think of Uhtred’s reactions this week? Was he justified in killed Oswald, or has he finally snapped?
The Last Kingdom airs Saturdays at 10pm EST on BBC America (in the US).