Bebbanburg is ripe for retaking. Cnut and Brida have their eyes on Mercia. Uhtred reunites with his now grown son Young Uhtred. Welcome to the exciting fourth season of The Last Kingdom
The first episode of the fourth season of The Last Kingdom was very much a trip back through its storied past, even as certain events moved the tale forward. Its very first scene was a call back to the first season, when the then young Oswald, on a beach with his father Uhtred, caught sight of the arriving Danes. This time, it was Aelfric, ruler of Bebbanburg since Alexander Dreymon's Uhtred was captured by the Danes, who fought to defend his land.
Bebbanburg was Uhtred's long held dream. His quest to reclaim Bebbanburg was part of how he ended up in the service of Alfred. For years, Bebbanburg eluded him. It was a well defended fortress. His uncle Aelfric was too powerful. At one point, Uhtred even became a slave, in part because of Aelfric. For years, it felt as though it was never the right time to ride north and reclaim his heritage. There were wars to be fought, mostly in the service of Wessex and the England Alfred was trying to build.
Now, Bebbanburg was weakened with excursions by the Scots. Finan, Sihtric, and Osferth returned from a trip north with news that Bebbanburg was ripe for an attack. Though he lived as lord of Coccham, Uhtred had too few men. When he rode to Winchester to seek King Edward's assistance, it was with the confidence of a man who knew he had rendered years of invaluable service, and certain his master would not deny him his request.
The Edward Uhtred made his proposal to, however, was a King already secure in his reign, and was careful not to be seen as someone Uhtred could easily manipulate to further whatever his personal goals were at the moment. Uhtred framed his request well; with Uhtred in control of Bebbanburg, Edward would have a foothold in the north. It was a step closer toward Alfred's dream of a united England. Edward was shrewd enough to know that Uhtred did not really care for Alfred's dream, though he had been instrumental in building and preserving it. As Aethelhelm pointed out, Uhtred brought it up because it served his purpose of conquest of Bebbanburg.
It was here that fans who liked the Edward of the third season, the Edward who recognised the truth in Uhtred's words, the Edward who defied his own king and father to support Uhtred's plan, may feel some frustration over the Edward of the fourth season. It was smart to consider the motives of the man asking a major favour (men to fight a war north, men who may die, men who will not be around to defend Wessex). Yet, Uhtred was not the only man who spoke and was certainly not the only man who had a motive. Did Edward even consider what pushed Lord Aethelhelm, the father of Edward's wife, to convince Edward that he held no debt toward Uhtred? Edward initially seemed almost disposed to agree to Uhtred's proposal, until Lord Aethelhelm spoke up against it. After the point was made that Uhtred's oath included putting Edward on the throne, which meant that there was no debt on Uhtred's side or Edward's, it almost seemed like Edward's kingly ego took over.
The assertion that Edward owed Uhtred nothing was particularly galling given all that we, the audience, knew of the sacrifices Uhtred made through the years. Edward owed his very life to Uhtred, who persuaded Iseult to perform a ritual to save the then baby prince, a ritual that led to the death of Uhtred's first born son by Mildrith. Alfred chronicled his greatness for posterity without once acknowledging Uhtred, though before he died he spoke the words his faith and aversion to Uhtred's lack of Christian faith had long prevented him from uttering. Wessex lived, endured, prospered, because of Uhtred; it was a kingdom that beat back the Danes again and again largely due to Uhtred's sword and creative military mind. Why was it so difficult for Alfred, and now Alfred's son Edward, to reward Uhtred with what he has long earned and more?
As frustrating as Edward's decision to listen to a power player like Lord Aethelhelm rather than to men who actually fought and bled for the realm like Father Pyrlig and Uhtred, I have chosen to give Edward a break. Edward grew up under the shadow of his father, who was known for his brilliant mind. Edward knew that Alfred never fully trusted Uhtred, that though Alfred was indebted to Uhtred, Alfred would have greatly preferred not to have had to accept Uhtred's assistance, if there had been other ways to build his dream of England. Edward was growing into his role as King, but there must be some awareness within him that he was not his father. That Edward refused Uhtred's request was a relatively safe course; it kept his army focused on defending Wessex from the threat of Danes who would with certainty attack again.
Edward refused to give Uhtred assistance, but he did not stop Uhtred from reclaiming Bebbanburg on his own. Impatient to reestablish his family in Bebbanburg and secure with the knowledge of his uncle Aelfric's depleted forces, Uhtred decided to push forward with his plan of attack, using only his own men. Aethelflaed, still the lady of Mercia and now Uhtred's lover, gave him a possible way in. Aethelred had been working to put together the relics of Saint Oswald. The only relic Aethelred has yet to collect was the heart of Saint Oswald, which Aelfric kept in Bebbanburg. Intent to gain it, Aethelred sent two monks to negotiate. Aethelflaed suggested that Uhtred intercept the monks on the road and use them to breach Bebbanburg's walls.
Uhtred tried to convince Father Beocca and Hild to go to Bebbanburg with him. Hild insisted that her fighting days were over. Father Beocca, still mourning Thyra, long tried and mostly failed to focus on his work about Saint Cuthbert. When Father Beocca heard that Uhtred kidnapped his own son Young Uhtred, now a deacon living in St. Wilfrid's Church, the old priest decided to join them.
The happiness of a man finally going home was etched on Uhtred's face as the boat carrying his men, his son, and the man who was a father to him more than Lord Uhtred or Ragnar the Fearless. As if to hammer how this episode was anchored by Bebbanburg, there was a quick flashback to young Oswald who became Uhtred after his brother's death. The first time we saw the boy who grew up to be the warrior known as Dane-Slayer, he was looking at the sea through the amber stone that was now part of Uhtred's sword. With an easy, perhaps hopeful smile, Uhtred once more viewed the path to his home through the stone that was his father's.
After three seasons, Uhtred was finally headed to Bebbanburg. It should feel right. It should feel exciting. It didn't. All I could see was a not particularly secure boat carrying too few men who followed their now legendary leader, who believed he could retake his heavily fortified childhood home with no clear plan. I just feared for everyone.
▪️Perhaps the biggest sign that The Last Kingdom was now a Netflix production was first scene featuring Uhtred and Aethelflaed.
▪️Uhtred: 'Goodbye, pure and holy abbess.' Hild: 'Goodbye, you bloodthirsty heathen.' I adore their friendship. Hild gave Uhtred a silver cross before he left.
▪️Uhtred's daughter Stiorra lived in Aethelflaed's estate, whilst his son adopted the Christian faith Alfred pushed him toward. Young Uhtred was not happy with his father.
▪️Uhtred and Young Uhtred's lives were somehow parallel. As a child, Uhtred was torn from his Christian home and had to live amongst warriors from Daneland. Young Uhtred was a Christian who was kidnapped from what he considered his home to live amongst warriors who were mostly Danes (Finan and Osferth notably were Christians).
▪️That too small horse for Young Uhtred was funny, though it was also a poignant reminder of how Uhtred's children grew up without him being around.
▪️Aelfric banished his heir Wihtgar, who then died at sea.
▪️Aldhelm remained loyal to Aethelflaed, and kept the secret of her relationship with Uhtred from her husband Aethelred.
▪️ Aethelred now had his eyes set on the Eadith, the daughter of a disgraced Mercian nobleman. Eadith, however, steadfastly refused to sleep with him.
▪️Eadith's brother Eardwulf was the new commander of Aethelred's guard. He met with Haesten, who told him Cnut was leaving East Anglia to sail to Irland, where his cousin Sigtryggr was held captive. Because I've watched Haesten for a couple of seasons already, I was immediately suspicious of how he accepted the few coins Eardwulf tossed him. Haesten viewed himself far more grandly than that, or at least he did.
▪️Of course it was a trick. Cnut wanted Aethelred to think the threat of the Danes was gone, at least temporarily. With Mercia's guard down, Cnut and Brida's men would occupy the kingdom of Wessex's close ally. Edward would then be honour bound to leave his heavily fortified kingdom to defend Mercia. Outside the walls of Winchester, Edward would be easier to fight.
▪️Cnut sent for his two sons to join him in East Anglia. I still find it disturbing that Brida still did not know that Cnut was behind Ragnar's death. Haesten reminded Cnut of what he knew, and Cnut not so subtly threatened to kill him if he talked.
▪️Eardwulf sold the plan to annex East Anglia to Mercia to Aethelred, who envisioned himself becoming a greater power than Edward's Wessex.
▪️Finan: 'Women of Coccham, we are back!'
Uhtred: 'They know, Finan. They can smell you from here.'
▪️Finan notably had more lines than Sihtric and Osferth, no? I'm not complaining, it was just something I noticed since I love seeing Uhtred's merry band of three together.
▪️Aelswith ruled by her husband's side, but in her son Edward's court, her role and power was much diminished. Aelswith was not amongst my favourite characters in previous seasons, though I did try to take a kinder look at her, but it was still sad to watch how Lord Aethelhelm took over her husband Alfred's study.
▪️Aelswith: 'Please, do not pity me. I have a better life than many widows. And my new rooms are comfortable, if rather near the kitchens.' Perfect delivery by Eliza Butterworth.
▪️When Aelswith tried to complain about Lord Aethelhelm, Father Beocca reminded her of how she banished Edward's firstborn son so Edward could make what she viewed as a better match. 'You cannot invite a serpent into the garden and be surprised when it slithers on the ground.' I have some sympathy for Aelswith, but she totally deserved that barb from Father Beocca.
▪️Hild said there were priests who would swear on the book that Edward's marriage to his first wife was valid.
▪️To Edward's credit, he decided to ignore reports that Cnut was leaving for Irland until their own scouts confirmed it, and focused on strengthening Wessex defenses.
▪️Before leaving Winchester, Father Beocca gave Father Pyrlig blessing to do what he must to protect the king.
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Writer: Martha Hillier
Original Release Date: 26 April 2020