Finan steps up as the best friend ever as The Last Kingdom shatters our hearts.
A fast pace has always been part of The Last Kingdom's DNA. It is a show that burns through two Saxon Chronicles books per season. The amount of story it manages to cram into each episode is impressive. It is this pace that saved me from turning into an emotional wreck. Father Beocca's death hovered throughout the episode, but a little more than halfway through, Uhtred already had a new enemy, a next battle to fight. Uhtred grieved. He was still grieving by the time he reunited with Aethelflaed. But The Last Kingdom refused to allow grief to be the overarching theme of this episode, even as it wrenched its share of tears. As Young Uhtred pointed out, Uhtred's cause was to keep the people he loved safe. So here, in this tale of nation building, we got an episode that was overwhelmingly about how love powered its greatest warrior.
With Aelfric dead and Uhtred's forces massively outnumbered inside the walls of Bebbanburg, Uhtred tried to convince Wihtgar to fight him one on one. Wihtgar was way too clever to fall for that. Father Beocca attempted to wake in Wihtgar a sense of kinship. Uhtred's fight was with Aelfric, Father Beocca pointed out. With Aelfric dead, there was no reason for Uhtred and Wihtgar not to join forces and defeat the Scots that had been attempting to gain ground in Bebbanburg. That did not work, too. Instead, Wihtgar meant to kill all of Uhtred's men, starting with his son Young Uhtred, so there was no one left alive to challenge his claim to Bebbanburg.* As he has saved Uhtred's life many times since he was a boy, Father Beocca did not hesitate. He used his own body to shield Young Uhtred from Wihtgar's arrow.
The fierce fighting that followed did not allow Uhtred to take Father Beocca's body with him as they escaped. Broken afterwards for days, perhaps even weeks, Uhtred even considered returning to Bebbanburg so he could retrieve Father Beocca's body and give him a proper Christian burial next to Thyra. It could not be done, of course. Uhtred dug up earth with his hands and buried the silver cross Hild gave him.
At Uhtred's lowest point, Finan stepped up as his greatest friend. It was Finan who rallied their weary troops. He tasked Sihtric to raise coin so they could gather provisions and purchase horses that would take them south. Finan also had a moving talk with Young Uhtred. The boy thought his father blamed him for Father Beocca's death. Finan spoke of how he and Uhtred met as slaves, of how Uhtred consistently fought for the sake of people he loved. Later, Young Uhtred spoke with his father, and it felt like a turning point for Uhtred. Young Uhtred pledged his support to a father he so recently resented. Yes, by this time Uhtred had already resolved to march against Cnut, but there definitely was a clearing of his eyes during his conversation with his son. He lost one battle, but there were greater wars ahead, and he still had people he loved and who loved him beside him.
Uhtred wanted to face Cnut because, after all this time, he finally found out that Cnut was behind his brother Ragnar's murder. On their way south, Uhtred and his men ran into Haesten, who was travelling north with his family and Cnut's two sons. Haesten could not help himself; he kept taunting Uhtred about Aethelflaed. Uhtred had enough of Haesten's insults to Aethelflaed, and threatened to kill him. Haesten bargained his knowledge of Ragnar's death for his life. Uhtred let Haesten go, but he took custody of Cnut's sons.
Uhtred did not mean to get involved with another quarrel between Wessex and the Danes. Yet he worried about Aethelflaed. He knew he had to face Cnut to avenge his brother Ragnar. The warrior who not too long ago felt he was finished with war now rode toward one.
Aethelflaed was in grave danger, and this was in large part because of her husband and brother. To be fair to Edward, his decision making here was Wessex strategic. He read Cnut's play correctly. Cnut positioned his army where he had terrain advantage. The atrocities Cnut's men were committing against Mercians were meant to draw Edward out of his heavily fortified city. If Edward rode to face Cnut, Edward's army would lose. Edward's decision was to send for Aethelred so they could combine their forces and fight Cnut together.
It was dispassionately sound, but for Aelswith, who was Mercian by birth, and Aethelflaed, who was a leader of Mercia by marriage and battle reputation, it was unacceptable. Aethelflaed decided to ride out and raise the Mercian fyrd. The army Aethelflaed would raise, however, would not be enough. She still needed Edward's help.
Aelswith promised that Edward would be there to support Aelthelflaed's troops, but it was increasingly clear to her that even if Edward decided to march, it would likely be too late for her daughter. Aelswith persuaded Father Pyrlig to go behind Edward's back and ask for help from the Welsh king Hywel.
In this largely emotional episode, I'd give the MVP to Finan. Frequently a source of humour, this time, it almost felt like Finan carried Uhtred until he could stand again and move through his grief. It was lovely for the writers to include a reminder here that Uhtred and Finan survived slavery together. They were bound by unspeakable torment. There was no way Finan was quitting on his lord. And he did not.
▪︎ *Uhtred has another son, right? The baby Gisela died giving birth to.
▪︎ Wihtgar headed for Bebbanburg because, like Uhtred, he heard that Aelfric was weakened.
▪︎ My heart hurt when Uhtred almost in desperation ordered Finan and his men to lay down their swords, after Wihtgar threatened their lives.
▪︎ I really like Alexander Dreymon's physical acting (I don't know if this term makes sense but I'll try to explain). You can see the difference in the way his body moved back in the first season during fight scenes, and the way they moved now that Uhtred was older, with more battle wounds and presumably bodily limitations that come with age and a hard life. Kudos to the fight choreographers as well.
▪︎ When Aelswith pointed out that Alfred was in spirit king to all Saxons, Edward tersely replied that his father was not there. Both the writing of Edward and the performance of Timothy Innes achieve this careful balance of a young king who was smart, who wanted to keep control of his court, who wanted decisions to be made by him and him alone, though he listened, some of the time, to advise.
▪︎ Aethelflaed correctly pointed out that Mercians have died when they stood with Wessex in previous battles.
▪︎ With Aelthelflaed determined to fight Cnut, Aelswith suggested a valley where lesser numbers may prevail. It was a nice illustration of how Aelswith's touting of her experience was not all talk. Her political instincts may not always be on point, but Aelswith knew the terrain.
▪︎ Continuing his despicable ways, Aethelred told Eardwulf that he would consider lifting his decree that all generations of their family be born under disgrace if Eardwulf won the whole of East Anglia for him.
▪︎ Eadith despised Aethelred. This made her sacrifice of finally agreeing to sleep with Aethelred even more disturbing. She did it to improve his mood, so her brother could have a chance to tell the truth and not lose his head.
▪︎ Eardwulf killed Edward's messenger after he learnt that Haesten tricked him, and that Mercia was now under Cnut's control. Eadith witnessed this. It was Eadith who insisted that Eardwulf tell Aethelred the truth.
▪︎ Aethelhelm told Edward to allow Aethelred to fight Cnut on his own. Aethelred's 400 men would be no match for Cnut's army. With Aethelred dead, Edward could then fight Cnut's presumably depleted army, and prevail. Without Aethelred, Edward could annex Mercia to Wessex. Of course, this would mean sacrificing not just Aethelred but Aethelflaed as well.
▪︎ When Aethelflaed arrived in Mercia, she witnessed what was left of Cnut's atrocities. A spy of Cnut who remained in the city overheard Aethelflaed's plan to fight Cnut. He reported back to Cnut, who ordered him to take Aethelflaed.
▪︎ Uhtred joined Aethelflaed in Mercia with his men and Cnut's young sons.
▪︎ Aethelflaed's uneasy relationship with her brother Edward could very well be historically accurate.
Director: Sarah O'Gorman
Writer: Charlotte Wolf
Original Release Date: 26 April 2020