Season 3 Episode 4
The fourth episode of the third season marks the end of the one character in the camp of the Danes I still care for, Young Ragnar. Just before he led a massive army against Wessex, Ragnar had to watch his brother Uhtred and his sister Thyra ride away. Ragnar had to lead a loose coalition of treacherous allies whilst his heart was broken. His fists let loose some of his pain on Aethelwold's tongue, for Ragnar rightly recognised the poison that Aethelwold was spreading, but Ragnar failed to see there was yet another enemy much closer to him, his cousin Cnut. It was Cnut who told Aethelwold that Ragnar was going to kill him soon. It was Cnut who told Aethelwold he needed to kill Ragnar on the night before the march to Wessex was supposed to quicken, for by then Ragnar would be in battle mode. On the last night of the almost leisurely march, the last time Ragnar was going to sleep with another woman to father another son, on the last night that he had his guard down, Aethelwold sneaked into his tent. Aethelwold killed the woman first, then repeatedly stabbed Ragnar. Aethelwold then dragged the woman out of the bed, used Ragnar's sword to stab her, then placed the knife he used to kill Ragnar on the woman's hand. In a few minutes. Aethelwold created the appearance that the son of Ragnar the Fearless was killed by the woman he was bedding.
What was appalling about this end of Ragnar was that early in the episode, The Last Kingdom once more showed the importance of a warrior dying whilst holding his weapon. Uhtred and Bloodhair were allowed to fight to the death for Skade. Though someone from the crowd tried to cheat and took Uhtred's sword (Finan later took the sword back and tossed it to Uhtred), Uhtred still prevailed. On his back, with Uhtred poised to stab his heart, there was a moment of panic in Bloodhair's eyes, which disappeared as soon as his hand grasped his axe. A warrior must die holding his weapon so he may enter Valhalla. With his weapon in his hand, Bloodhair at once appeared ready to die. He did not, because Ragnar intervened. Ragnar declared that he did not want to lose a single man before the battle began.
Ragnar became the leader of this alliance because, as Uhtred pointed out, he was the only one all of them would trust. Ragnar was well liked, he was a competent commander, and he was not shown to indulge in the cruelties like the likes of Kjartan. That he had a cousin who desired his wife and his position was fine, storywise, but at this point, we have not been shown anything about Cnut that makes him more than annoying. What would make a querulous group of Danes follow him? It was disturbing to watch Cnut manipulate Aethelwold into killing Ragnar, however. Aethelwold was not without a measure of cleverness, but his words were often, as Ragnar fumed, dripping with poison. To then watch Cnut drip poison into his ears was unsettling. Cnut was a whisperer and his words were meant to cut whomsoever he thought was in his way. Aethelwold wielded the blade, but it was Cnut who killed Ragnar.
How heartbroken would Uhtred be when the news of his brother's death reached him? He had traveled to Aethelflaed's side, and once more saved her. Uhtred and his men were able to sneak into the nunnery without Aethelflaed's guards noticing; the men were loyal but they were not warriors nor were they guards. Later, Haesten and his men were able to surround the nunnery without the guards outside raising alarm; three of them were killed one after the other as Haesten demanded Aethelflaed's surrender.
Consistent to Uhtred's characterisation, he was again shown to value the lives of his men when thinking strategy. Sihtric and the others wanted to attack; though Haesten's small army of 40 or so men outnumbered them, they would rather attempt to fight through rather than get trapped in the nunnery that had a wooden roof. An attack could be timed and planned; if the nunnery burnt, they would have to flee disorganised and likely die. Yet Uhtred ordered them to wait. The Abbess was sent out to talk to them, to stall, for there was no way they would believe Aethelflaed was not hidden inside. The Abbess, however, in her fury at the death that was done in front of her, tried to attack and was killed. Haesten then led a small force inside the nunnery.
Uhtred and his men surprised them; 12 or 13 of Haesten's men were killed before they retreated. By waiting, Uhtred was able to preserve the lives of his men whilst he also thinned the number on Haesten's side. Now that Haesten already knew Uhtred was inside, Uhtred decided to negotiate.
Haesten has had an obsession with Aethelflaed since he saw her bathe naked when she was a prisoner by the brothers Sigefrid and Erik. It was disturbing to see Alfred and Aelswith treat Haesten, whom they believed was an ally, with more courtesy than they did Uhtred, when it was Haesten who wanted to inflict unspeakable cruelty on their daughter Aethelflaed. Haesten was willing to openly have Alfred as an enemy just so he could get his hands on Aethelflaed, but Uhtred offered him something just as compelling to a Dane, a powerful sorceress in Skade.
Another consistent characteristic of Uhtred was that women were drawn to him. Aethelflaed kissed him. Skade did, too. For all of Skade's pronouncements that she has seen things, her eyes often gravitated to the practical rather than the supernatural. That Uhtred won in the fight against Bloodhair for her person was fine with her; as she pointed out to Bloodhair, Uhtred has defeated him twice. Skade wanted Uhtred because Uhtred was the greater warrior, and therefore had the greater chance of being King. When Uhtred tried to convince her of his plan to bargain her for Aethelflaed, Uhtred even told her that he would bed her. Skade pronounced that Uhtred would remain cursed until he had come found her again, but she cooperated. Faced with the offer of having a sorceress by his side, especially one as beautiful as Skade, Haesten agreed to let Aethelflaed be, at least for a time.
In Wessex, the news that a large army of Danes was marching further strengthened Alfred's resolve to marry off his son Edward to the daughter of a wealthy and powerful lord. Bishop Erkenwald said that Edward's wife Ecgwynn had decided to enter a nunnery; this was a lie. After Edward was browbeaten into accepting the engagement, men were sent to seize Ecgwynn and Edward's children; they were to become wards of the church. Ecgwynn was dragged off her home, as well; she was told she was wanted in Winchester, though it was not clear what exactly was done to her.
⚔︎Ragnar was outwardly calm in the beginning of the episode, though he was clearly in pain. When he started beating on Aethelwold, it was as though he was trying to release his pain and inflict it upon the man he blamed for the loss of his brother.
⚔︎Aethelwold loudly protested after Ragnar allowed Uhtred to leave. Aethelwold wanted Uhtred killed. It was then that Ragnar pounded on his face.
⚔︎Alfred sent word for Aethelred to raise men, for they would meet the Danes together.
⚔︎Before Ragnar was killed, Cnut also spread his poison on Bloodhair, and made it known he did not agree with the choosing of Ragnar as the leader of the army. The scouts Ragnar ordered sent were to be messengers as well, to recruit men for Cnut and Bloodhair.
⚔︎Trapped inside the nunnery, Aethelflaed offered to give herself up to Haesten. Uhtred vehemently rejected this.