THE KING’S DAUGHTER
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
In the opening scene, Uhtred and his companions arrive at the Saxon camp to find no one left alive. It is heartrending to watch Beocca calling Thyra’s name over and over and getting no reply. That entire scene had me all misty-eyed.
Despite having read Bernard Cornwell’s Sword Song, I did not know how Beocca’s search was going to turn out because the book handles this event quite differently. The screenwriters are, of course, forced to compress and revise because of time and because they are dealing with a different medium; at the same time it allows them to toss in some surprises for those of us who have read the novels on which the show is based. I’m enjoying the changes/additions because they remain true, I think, to the world, the characters and the story that Cornwell created.
Now, back to that ravaged Saxon camp. Unfortunately for Æthelred, he has to go back to Winchester and face Alfred’s wrath when the king learns that his daughter is missing. Serves him right, the weasel. Luckily for Æthelred, who apparently has only half a brain, his buddy Aldhelm is there in every scene, murmuring instructions in his ear about what to do, say and think. Æthelred is one step up from a ventriloquist’s dummy.
Alfred is royally outraged upon learning that
a) his daughter accompanied her husband to battle and
b) she is probably a hostage of the Danes.
He is, though, amazingly self-controlled, and all the good lines are given to Odda. He snarls that Æthelred has put the kingdom at risk and gets to call him useless, arrogant, a toad, an idiot and a fool. We are cheering Odda on, and we cheer again when Æthelwold pipes up and adds that the only man capable of cleaning up this puddle of shit that Æthelred has created is Uhtred.
Uhtred has wasted no time in sending spies to Benfleet to discover if the king’s daughter lives, but he doesn’t go to Winchester because Alfred has banished him from court. Instead he goes to Cookham and he tells Gisela what happened. Now we are treated to a couple of scenes that illustrate the close relationship between them. She tells him, You will be Æthelflæd’s hope, and she urges him to go to to Winchester right away to take part in the search for the girl. He counters that they will go, but not yet. He wants no part of the court intrigue until he has news. (Is he just a little pissed off at the king? You bet!)
We go to Winchester, next, to witness a scene between Alfred and his wife Ælswith. She is no friend of Uhtred’s but, fearful of what the Danes will do to her daughter, she gently echoes what Gisela has said. Send Uhtred to Benfleet. If our daughter is there, and alive, Uhtred will raise her spirits. Alfred, though, is as stubborn as Uhtred. His hope must be in God, not in Uhtred.
In the Anglo-Saxon culture, it was expected that a good wife would counsel her husband and that he should listen. He may not follow her counsel, but he should listen. This is where Uhtred, Alfred and Beocca differ from The Weasel. They listen to their wives, even if they don’t agree with the advice they’re given. The Weasel, though, doesn’t want Æthelflæd’s advice about anything. She’s just supposed to shut up and do as she’s told.
When the Witan meets to discuss the problem of Danish armies and a captive royal daughter, Ælswith is at her husband’s side.
Uhtred arrives with news that Æthelflæd is alive, and Alfred orders The Weasel to negotiate with the Danes for her release. Odda, Æthelwold and Beocca counsel that Uhtred should go as well, and now Alfred’s doubts are whirling in his mind and we see them reflected on his face. Can he trust Uhtred? He sought counsel over that and prayed over that, and he still does not know. It is Ælswith who, with a single, pleading look, convinces him. Yay Ælswith! (Eliza Butterworth, can you hear us applauding your portrayal of Alfred’s wife?)
I have to say, though, that like that snake, Aldhelm, I am wondering how Erik knew where Æthelflæd was or even that she would be with her husband’s army. All I can think of is that he must have had spies shadowing the force from Mercia and Wessex, and that would certainly make sense.
In the Viking camp at Benfleet, Æthelflæd has drawn some unwanted attention. Hæsten and Sigefrid have both been leering at her, and Erik seems to be puzzled and bemused by his own growing feelings for the Saxon king’s daughter. Hæsten tries to rape her (this is practically a requirement, right?), and she defends herself using whatever comes to hand: first a bucket of piss, then the bucket itself, and then a knife.
Erik steps into the fray and, to her surprise, he’s on her side. One thing leads to another, and although the relationship that springs up between them seems to happen very quickly, it probably develops over many weeks. Besides, Erik is far more tender toward her than The Weasel ever was.
In Winchester Odda suggests to Alfred that if the ransom demanded for Æthelflæd is too costly in silver or blood, perhaps she should be encouraged to take her own life. She would be one of God’s martyrs, rewarded in heaven. You are a king before you are a father, Odda says.
Whoa! I did not see that coming. Alfred didn’t either, and he is not exactly receptive to this suggestion.
Let’s talk about Odda for a moment. I do not know if I’m right here, but I think this is an illustration of Odda’s concern for Wessex. He puts Wessex first always. He supports Uhtred not because he’s fond of the warrior, but because he recognizes Uhtred’s value to Wessex. And let us remember that in Season 1, Odda killed his own son because he had been a traitor to Wessex.
Æthelwold overhears Odda’s conversation with Alfred, and later Odda accosts him and says that if Æthelwold is anything like his father, Alfred’s brother, I may need you. For what? Æthelwold asks. And I’m wondering, too. For what?
I do not know what Odda is going to do next. We know that he feels as if his life has been wasted – he is always drinking – so what is going on in his head?
When the negotiation team from Wessex arrives at Benfleet, the Danes totally humiliate The Weasel and we are cheered to see him wake up naked in a pig pen, which means that he and Æthelwold now have something in common. While The Weasel has been unconscious, Uhtred has been negotiating a price for Æthelflæd as well as watching Erik with interest and concern because he intuits that something may be going on between Erik and his hostage. In private, Erik confesses to this. Then Æthelflæd puts Uhtred in a really tight spot because she and Erik want to run away and she wants Uhtred to help them. He uses all the arguments against it that he can think of – and they are really good arguments. Your husband, your father and Sigefrid will all come after you. You’ll die. Your family will die. I am sworn to your father. If I help you and succeed, he will have me killed, and besides that you are asking me to assist in getting you killed.
But Æthelflæd is not just a young girl in love. She tops all his arguments with I will not be the treasure that builds an army against my father.
Whoo boy. Now what?