Season 1 Episode 7
The skirmish in the marshlands between Alfred's ragtag band of what was left of Wessex, and Skorpa's fearsome men, was relatively short, but it was one of the best battle scenes Peak TV has produced. It was a brilliant use of landscape as a weapon, established early on through overhead shots. Even the weapons they would use were telegraphed; arrows were prominently displayed by the Saxon hunters foraging for food, as arrows were used later on to defeat the better armed and more numerous enemy. Uhtred came through for Alfred once more, and for the limping kingdom of Wessex.
What caused Uhtred to become Alfred's man again, it was not entirely clear. Perhaps Uhtred was simply a man who felt loyalty for whomever he was with who was not actively trying to kill him. Alfred did decree that Uhtred and Leofric fight to the death, but it was thankfully interrupted by the arrival of the Danes. Led by Guthrum and accompanied by Young Ragnar and Brida, Winchester, the last bastion of Wessex, fell into Danish hands. Alfred and his family fled to the marshlands, where their lives were saved by Uhtred and Leofric, who now travelled with Iseult and the nun Hild.
It was in the marshlands that Alfred told Uhtred the only path to victory he could see was with a single decisive battle. Unfortunately for the Saxons, there were two armies against them. Skorpa, who was nearby had ships and over a thousand men. Guthrum was holed up in Winchester and had even more men. Alfred had Uhtred and Leofric, and a handful of Saxon fighters. Most of Wessex did not even know that Alfred had survived the attack on Winchester.
Against the protests of his wife, who leaned on prayers in a desperate hope to save their ailing son, Alfred sent the priests to travel across Wessex, announce his survival, and call the men to fight. Uhtred's plan was to kill Skorpa's men who were guarding the ships and to burn those ships. Uhtred wagered that Skorpa would then head toward Guthrum to join up their armies. Alfred would have what he needed, a single battle.
Uhtred, Leofric, and their archers goaded the Danes into chasing them. Already familiar with the territory, the Saxons were able to evade the Danes, who found themselves swallowed up by the marshes. Suddenly finding themselves stuck or in too deep water, the Danes were easy prey to the Saxon arrows and blades.
Alfred's determination to fight for Wessex was tied to the battle his baby son fought, and appeared to lose until Iseult came along. Hild, cognisant to the reality of late 9th century England, warned Iseult that if she tried to help the King's child, and he died anyway, she, a woman and a pagan, would be blamed. One look at the King's near hysterical wife would confirm this. Uhtred pleaded with Iseult to save the boy, however and, in the end, she did. Iseult wept for the unknown child she knew was taken in exchange for the life of the King's son whilst Father Beocca loudly declared that the miracle was the result of prayers by a hundred priests. Father Beocca needed to believe that the miracle was the result of the realm's Christian faith rather than dark magic, for the King's soul, the boy's, and everyone else. For once, Uhtred understood how important this belief was to the kindly Father Beocca, and comforted him.
This was another packed episode, another illustration of The Last Kingdom's commitment to put as much story as it could in each run time. I wanted to end this recap with a scene during the sack of Winchester. Since there were no more horses they could use to flee, Uhtred, Leofric and Iseult hid up a ceiling of a house. Whilst they were up there, two Danes dragged a nun inside, then proceeded to rape her. Iseult could not bear what she was witnessing. She jumped down from her hiding place and stuck a knife into the rapist's eye. Uhtred and Leofric had no choice but to follow her down. The nun, Hild, grabbed Iseult's knife and repeatedly stabbed her rapist. Uhtred and Leofric pretended to be Danes with two captives, Iseult and Hild, so the four of them could escape. As a woman, Iseult understood more than Uhtred and Leofric the agony that Hild was going through. The scene also spoke to Iseult's instinct to protect rather than just save herself, for jumping out of their hiding place could very well have doomed them.
■ Odda the Younger had more than 20 men ready to swear against Uhtred. Leofric felt the only thing he could do for his friend was to give him a warrior's death.
■ Alfred offered to stop the fight to the death between Uhtred and Leofric if Uhtred would resume his debt and send Iseult back to Cornwalum. Uhtred was willing to resume his debt but he refused to send Iseult back, for she would be killed. Alfred then declared that the fight would go on.
■ Aethelwold, who had no friends, was left behind in Winchester after the other noblemen fled. He declared himself King to Guthrum and, after the Danish warlord hit him, he pledged his allegiance. Going straight to Guthrum was a smart move for Aethelwold; it was his only hope for survival. Another Dane might just kill him.
■ Brida saw Uhtred, Leofric, Iseult and Hild trying to escape Winchester, and allowed them to.
■ Brida told Uhtred that Young Ragnar was almost ready to travel north, presumably to kill Kjartan.
■ Iseult gave Alfred a potion to cure his aching stomach.
■ Guthrum was fascinated with Alfred's library. He thought the written word magic and resolved to learn it.