UHTRED RAGNARSSON IS MINE!
Our Uhtred is many things: a Saxon, a sometime-Dane, a pagan, a baptized Christian (well, not really), a canny warrior, a lady’s man (Beocca: ‘even his scars are handsome’), and sometimes a downright fool. Gotta love the guy.
In this episode he is all of the above and, unfortunately for Uhtred, the foolishness comes at the episode’s end. But, to begin…
We are again in Cumbraland. Where, you may ask, is Cumbraland? Well, it’s near the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. Bernard Cornwell calls it Caer Ligualid, or Carlisle. It was on the border of Saxon controlled land, and everything west of it, all the way down to Chester, was controlled by Scandinavians (Danes or Norse, take your pick).
So, in lovely Cumbraland Guthred is king and Uhtred is Guthred’s war leader and he is making friendly with the king’s sister Gisela.
A big fellow named Clapa (Magnus Samuelsson) is helping Uhtred train his troops, and here comes Tekil with 6 friends to offer their swords to Guthred. Really, though, they’ve been sent by Kjartan to capture and maim Uhtred. They might have succeeded but for Hallig, Hild and Clapa who come to the rescue. The thugs are dispatched, but it turns out that one of them is Kjartan’s bastard son, Sihtric (Arnas Fedarvicius), and when he begs to swear allegiance to Uhtred, Uhtred takes him on. Does Uhtred really trust Sihtric? Apparently. Do we? We are not altogether sure.
Much of this episode is pulled straight from Cornwell’s Lords of the North, but once again, Stephen Butchard has had to condense or collapse events and combine several characters into one. For example, the Danish war leader Ivarr, grandson of Ragnar Lothbrok, has been replaced by the brothers Sigefrid & Erik who first appear in the following novel, Sword Song. This works, at least so far. Also, Abbot Eadred seems to be doing triple duty as Uhtred’s religious nemesis without any help from the novel’s creepy monks Jænberht & Ida, and he does just fine all by himself. He badmouths Uhtred to Guthred every chance he gets and schemes against him in secret. The abbot definitely has the king’s ear, which worries Uhtred, but not as much as it should. Nice habit, he’s wearing. I quite like the colorful trim, and we know that the Anglo-Saxons were fond of bright colors.
Hild’s role is a bit more martial than it was in the novel. In exchange for a butchery lesson conducted on one of Kjartan’s dead Danes, (eww) she nabs herself a byrnie. She chooses one that is combo chain mail and leather. It certainly has a nice, lacey look to it, and is probably much lighter than a chain mail byrnie (even a small one weights 25 lbs), but will it stop a sword? Hild! Fashion isn’t the key consideration here!
Despite the changes and substitutions, though, the bones of the story are the same. Uhtred gives Guthred good advice, but Guthred listens instead to the sly, serpent-tongued abbot who secretly sends an offer to Uhtred’s nasty uncle Æfric up in his Bebbanburg fortress. Ælfric, I have to say, is looking quite natty in his handsome new tunic. He’s clean and quite good looking. He actually reminds me a little of Alfred. Too bad he’s a bad guy.
Speaking of Alfred, he is down in Winchester standing with his wife, Ælswith, watching his daughter Æthelflaed practice her sword skills with Steapa. Steapa (Adrian Bouchet) is a significant character. Keep an eye on him. Alfred remarks fondly that he does not wish to see his daughter wed. Practical Ælswith says that she must be wed and in any case,
“Steapa would kill any man who dared to harm her. Even a husband. He’s as much her man as he is yours.”
And then Alfred – pious, intense, serious Alfred the Great – makes a joke! Even Ælswith can barely believe it.
We need a little levity right about now because back up north Uhtred is putting the severed heads of Tekla and his men to good use. I’m sorry that the writers did not have Uhtred describe himself as a shadow walker, a sceadugengan, because I’d love to hear that word said out loud. How do you pronounce it again? However you say it, a sceadugengan is what he is, and when Kjartan and his men find those severed heads the background music is a total creep out. Uhtred, disguised as the dead horseman, rides again, and even though Kjartan shouts that he knows it’s Uhtred, the cry comes back, “I’ll have your soul!”
And then it’s time for Uhtred to be a darned fool by making a bid for Gisela’s hand in marriage. He does this by explaining to his friend Guthred that he, Uhtred, is a lord of the north just like Sigeferth; that he might easily become Guthred’s rival. He says this half in jest, half in earnest, and really it’s his timing that is so horrible because he has just unwittingly (Uhtred, you dimwit) played into the hands of Abbot Eadred who’s been hissing to Guthred that Uhtred wants to be king.
So, in the final scenes, Guthred turns on his friend like a snake, turns on the man who saved him from slavery and who was responsible for making him king. He trades Uhtred for 200 of Ælfric’s warriors so he can defeat Kjartan by besieging Dunholm. Sure, he knows it’s wrong and he feels some guilt. But, let’s face it: all the grit in Guthred’s bloodline went to his sister.
All is not lost, though, because Hild has gone to Alfred for help. She covers the 200+ miles to Winchester in practically the blink of an eye, and although there are some there who are pretty eager to say it would be impossible to save Uhtred so why even try? – I’m looking at you, Ælswith – and although Alfred can’t imagine how to go about finding our sold-into-slavery hero, good old Odda the Elder has a brilliant suggestion. Way to go Odda!
But help for Uhtred and his trusty companion Hallig is, of course, a long way away, and we’re left with a lovely cliffhanger of an ending until the next episode. Oh, well done!