Season 2 Episode 4
There has always been a calmness on Young Ragnar that made him different from his more hotheaded brother Uhtred, a control over his emotions that allowed him to make his wealth, surrender as a hostage, save his brother, all whilst carrying the weight of the blood feud with Kjartan the Cruel over the massacre of his family and the kidnapping of his sister Thyra. When Ragnar finally came face to face with Kjartan, he remained calm still, at least, initially. Yet Kjartan taunted him about Thyra, and Ragnar unleashed the fury of the son of Ragnar the Fearless. Ragnar overwhelmingly defeated Kjartan in single combat, and rightly denied Kjartan the mercy of allowing him to die with a sword in his hand, and enter Valhalla. Yet even with Kjartan dead, Ragnar's rage did not leave. Ragnar did not stop hitting his blade against Kjartan's dead flesh until Uhtred stopped him. Uhtred kept his arms around his brother, until they saw their sister Thyra; by this time they had already heard a fraction of the horrific abuse she suffered.
You left me, both of you, Thyra told her brothers. It was Father Beocca who went in between Thyra and her brothers, and it was Father Beocca's words that appeared to have moved Thyra enough for her to remember the time when they were children, and Uhtred saved her from Sven. Later, when Uhtred and company were riding back to Wessex (Ragnar and Brida remained at Dunholm), Thyra was shown to ride with Hild, a sensitive choice, for Hild also survived rape. Julia Bache-Wiig imbued her performance with power, vulnerability and heartbreak; a dark strength seeped through Thyra from the very first time we saw her onscreen. That Thyra's parts of the episode was handled well (I shudder to think of what Game of Thrones would have done with this storyline) made me check if a woman wrote this episode. Yes, a woman did, Sophie Petzal.
Uhtred and Ragnar's assault of Dunholm was another showcase of The Last Kingdom's ability to stage battle scenes with coherent strategies. When Ragnar scoped out Dunhom in the guise of a dead horseman, he spotted a potential vulnerability, a door to access a water spring where a very small force could sneak into. At night, Ragnar's larger force, set to attack the north gate, separated from Uhtred's band of eight. Uhtred and five others used the cover of darkness to run and press their backs against Dunholm's walls; two remained in the woods to signal Ragnar. When the small gate opened, Uhtred gave the signal, and the two in the woods set off a fiery arrow. Ragnar saw this from his position in the woods in front of the north gate, and he proceeded with his attack, carrying a battering ram they all knew was not enough to open the strong gates of Dunholm. Brida remained in the woods with a second force of warriors.
Uhtred and his band fought to penetrate the castle whilst Ragnar sustained heavy losses. Kjartan appeared to be prevailing against Ragnar's assault, but he did not expect Uhtred's approach from behind that allowed Steapa, after much fighting, to open the gate to Ragnar (and, by this time, Brida's second force). Even inside the fortress, The Last Kingdom utilised a shield wall to menacing effect; it was clear that Kjartan's forces had been overwhelmed. It was then that Kjartan challenged Ragnar to single combat. Ragnar could have killed Kjartan with the help of his victorious army, but Ragnar, to Brida's protests, faced Kjartan in single combat, and defeated him with a rage that made even the hardened warriors watching wince.
Everything I described in the first four paragraphs of this recap happened in the last few minutes of this episode; much more occurred before the assault at Dunholm. This is what makes The Last Kingdom one of the best shows on TV; its every episode is packed. Uhtred and Ragnar were able to make their way to Dunholm because King Alfred dispatched them to King Guthrum, whose lands were menaced by the brothers Sigefrid and Erik. Even before they reached Guthrum's seat at Eoferwic, Finan suggested attacking Sigefrid and Erik's camp. Uhtred did not want Ragnar to help in the dangerous assault because, if Uhtred were killed, Ragnar needed to finish their blood feud with Kjartan. Uhtred, Finan and Steapa sneaked into the camp of the brothers. Uhtred and Sigefrid had an intense and lengthy one on one combat inside Sigefrid's tent that ended with Uhtred's chopping off Sigefrid's sword hand. When the camp was roused, Uhtred used Sigefrid as a human shield and extracted a promise from his brother Erik that they would take a ship and leave Northumbria. Uhtred and company then rode to Eoferwic, where he presented Guthred with Sigefrid's hand.
Uhtred was clearly still furious at Guthred, who made him a slave and caused the death of Halig. In exchange for ridding him of the brothers Sigefrid and Erik, Uhtred demanded Guthred's army to march with him and Ragnar to Dunholm. Ragnar calmly told Guthred that if he refused, Ragnar would take his army anyway, and Eoferwic as well.
Ragnar had no designs for Dunholm; all he wanted was Kjartan. Uhtred insisted that Ragnar should have Dunholm, however, Kjartan, after all, built it off the blood of Ragnar's father Ragnar. Though Guthred eventually told Ragnar that he would write to Alfred and tell him that he (Guthred) sent Ragnar to Dunholm, thereby making their blood feud a legitimate, royally-sanctioned assault, Aethelwold sagely told Uhtred that Alfred already knew Uhtred was going to attack Dunholm, and was fine with it. For Alfred (according to Aethelwold), Eoferwic would never be the centre of power whilst Dunholm remained strong under the control of Kjartan. What Alfred wanted was for Guthred to be the one true lord of the north; this was part of his plan to create a united England.
Aethelwold was not the only one to see through Alfred's plans. When Ragnar asked Uhtred if Bebbanburg was next, after Dunholm, Uhtred said next was Wessex. He wanted peace, for a time. He had also figured out that Alfred instructed Steapa to kill him if he turned his eyes toward Bebbanburg (according to Alfred himself, Steapa's instruction was to kill Uhtred if he turned his attention toward Bebbanburg or Northumbria as a whole). And so Uhtred left his brother once more, and rode back to Wessex where Gisela, now his wife, waited.
⚔︎Ragnar was not happy that Uhtred had once more sworn his sword to Alfred, but the brothers remained in good terms. Uhtred did not appear to have told Ragnar that he only swore his sword in exchange for Ragnar's freedom.
⚔︎Aethelwold was convinced that Alfred wanted him killed.
⚔︎At Loidis (Leeds), Brida gathered men to help in Ragnar's quest to avenge his father.
⚔︎Thyra had her hungry hounds kill Sven; Kjartan saw his son mauled by the very hounds he instructed not to be fed.
⚔︎I Googled the game Tafl; there's a long Wiki article about it here. Alfred and Aethelflaed were shown playing it, and Aethelwold referred to it when he figured out Sigefrid's position in the camp.
⚔︎Sigefrid swore to kill Uhtred; we have not seen the last of this guy.
⚔︎Aethelwold: "Uhtred, you are his man. You more than anyone will bring about his dream of an England."
⚔︎Guthred confessed he feared Uhtred would take his newly found power.
⚔︎Hild held Uhtred's hand before they fought to enter Dunholm. It was also Hild who ministered to Uhtred following his fight with Sigefrid. I really like the friendship that developed between them.