Season 3 Episode 5
I meant to discuss this observation when I close my recaps for the third season of The Last Kingdom but, given how this episode ended, perhaps this is the right time. The third season of The Last Kingdom was solely produced by Netflix. Whilst the quality of the show has remained high, there has been a notable difference in the way the episodes are cut. For instance, the third episode ended with a furious Ragnar deciding to allow Uhtred and Bloodhair to fight to the death for Skade; the fight itself happened in the fourth episode. For the fifth episode, the final scene was of Alfred demanding to know what his son Edward would do in the face of the slaughter they were watching. Edward had promised Uhtred men to help in defeating Haesten. The plan was for Uhtred to draw Haesten out of his fortress, which Uhtred succeeded in doing. Hidden by the thick forest that surrounded Beamfleot, Alfred had with some reluctance marched his army, but he refused to give the order to attack. Edward, who had confessed to his father that he was not yet King, who had given his word about the men to Uhtred without first consulting his father, who believed that Haesten needed to be defeated to prevent a great Dane army from massing and a battle that was too big for him to face, sat atop his horse, wanting to come to Uhtred's aide, wanting to fulfil his side of the plan, but not daring to give the command that was not his to give, not yet. That was it. Credits rolled with the cliffhanger on what Edward would do.
If The Last Kingdom were still a network show, the episodes spaced out every week, would we have a battle that had already started cut off, to be continued the next week? I think not. Netflix is built for binge watching. There would be no frustrating week-long wait, for the next episode would roll in five seconds later. Yet, I still hope that for its fourth season, The Last Kingdom would refrain from a cliffhanger such as what happened in this episode. The viewing experience, even on Netflix, is different, better imho, when each episode fulfils the story it is meant to tell. Is the fifth episode meant to show the boy Edward begin to find the King inside him? Then show it. Compelling TV is compelling even without what feels like a trick to get viewers to watch the next episode; The Last Kingdom is better than this.
The ending aside, this is a strong episode that pushed the story significantly forward. Wessex and Mercian forces were gathering in Mercia to face the marching army of the Danes. Aethelflaed suggested that Uhtred go to Alfred so he may use Alfred's men to recover Skade and end the curse upon him. Uhtred did not want to, until Brida rode to him and told him of Ragnar's death. Uhtred was convinced Ragnar's death, just like Gisela's, was part of the curse of Skade. He and his men rode with Aethelflaed to Aylesbury, where Alfred and Aethelred, and their armies, had gathered.
It was a smart move. Uhtred was an outlaw of Wessex. Aylesbury was in Mercia, and Uhtred was not a wanted man in Mercia. When Uhtred was sent to face the Witan, at first, Alfred was not there, represented only by young Edward. The visibly ill Alfred walked in and faced Uhtred, however, and Alfred immediately knew that Uhtred was there for a purpose he was not speaking of. Alfred told Uhtred and his men to leave after they had rested.
Young Edward heard of Uhtred's promise of Beamfleot and peace if he were given 1000 men, and was infinitely more receptive to it than his father. Edward asked for more details of Uhtred's plan. Beamfleot was a strong fortress. Uhtred planned to lure Haesten outside of his walls, riding there with only a handful of men. There was thick forest surrounding Beamfleot that could hide an army, 500 men or more, what Edward promised. If Haesten were defeated, that meant that a third of the great Dane army would not be able to join with the rest. This would significantly weaken the advancing threat to Wessex and Mercia.
Edward gave his word to Uhtred, though he knew that he could not order that number of men to march without the approval of Alfred. Edward cleverly presented his assistance for Uhtred as a way to help himself; he was not yet a King, he told his father. He was not ready to face a great Dane army, or what happens afterwards. If Haesten were defeated, that would give Edward time to grow into his role. "Is it possible to be both proud and feverish with anger?" Alfred asked Father Beocca. "It is often the way, Lord, with children," was Beocca's response.
When Alfred donned his chain mail, it looked as though he was staying upright, alive, by sheer force of will. By the time Alfred was on his horse, wielding his sword, and his people were chanting "Long live the King," (Steapa looked close to tears) I was close to chanting with them. David Dawson has been phenomenal as Alfred. When I was a kid and was starting to read up on my own, one of the kings that caught my attention was Alfred the Great. I was a child and was only interested in a good story, not in history, and Alfred the Great captured my imagination, limited though my understanding was of him. To see him portrayed by David Dawson years later, when his name had faded from my memory as adult concerns superseded imagination, is such a treat for me. We know where this story of Alfred is going, and the chants of "Long live the King" felt like a longing; more Alfred, please, don't leave yet, the show would be poorer without you.
Uhtred successfully taunted Haesten, who rode in force against Uhtred's handful of men. Uhtred challenged Haesten to a fight between the two of them; Haesten had no interest in giving him that. Haesten did not even join his men when they surrounded Uhtred's small force; the coward who could only threaten women who could not defend themselves dared not face Uhtred in single combat.
The men with Uhtred, Mercians who were part of Aethelflaed's household guard, were already dying, yet Alfred refused to order a charge. "Then what will you do, boy? You can either bleat, or you can make a decision. What will you do?" Alfred was trying to teach his son a lesson, trying to pull the king out of the boy; the cost of this were lives lost.
⚔︎Haesten is such a downgrade from previous Dane leaders in The Last Kingdom. I did not appreciate Ubba enough in the first season.
⚔︎After Brida found Ragnar's body, Cnut immediately said it was the woman he was bedding who killed him. Cnut is another downgrade from previous Dane leaders. Erik was a smart strategist without being annoying.
⚔︎Uhtred turned Aethelflaed down, not because he did not want to sh-g her, but because he feared Skade would know and hurt Aethelflaed.
⚔︎Brida declared it was either Cnut who killed Ragnar or Bloodhair. It is Cnut, Brida.
⚔︎ Brida was anguished because Ragnar was trapped in Niflheim.
⚔︎Aethelred had noticed that Aldhelm was defending Aethelflaed.
⚔︎There was a small but nice touch here when Edward sat with Uhtred and his men, Osferth stood up and left. Osfert is the bastard son of Alfred; he did not remain to sit with Alfred's heir. It is nice that The Last Kingdom adds this little touches even for a relatively minor character like Osferth.
⚔︎Lol at Finan's teasing of Steapa.