Episode 3 begins at Dunholm, where Uhtred has been reunited with Ragnar and Brida. Along with Uhtred’s companions is an old friend from Season 1, who is a wonderful stand-in for Uhtred’s conscience, pricking him about who he is and what he is, and arguing on the side of Alfred and the Saxons.
Perhaps the most surprising reveal in this episode is the discovery that Æthelred’s right hand man, Aldhelm, is actually a Mercian who loves Mercia, and who has realized that Æthelred is not the king Aldhelm had hoped he would be. Aldhelm is given the best line in this episode when Æthelred guts the messenger who brings him some bad news.
“Lord, you cannot simply execute your subjects as you please. This is the 9th century.”
Alfred is busy with a scribe who is writing down the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I love it when the show refers to an actual historical item. Yes, Alfred was the one who commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as they have come to be known, giving us a contemporary account of what was happening in England at that time. He had several copies made and sent to various monastic centers, and some of them kept updating the chronicle through the following decades. We have six different versions of it, in different lengths. One version continues into the 12th century.
The picture shown here is not, alas, copied from one of the Chronicles but from a 10th century manuscript describing the duties of kingship. Today it lives in the British Library.
There is a wonderful scene at Dunholm with Ragnar playing ringmaster at games pitting the Saxons against the Danes. Hilarity ensues until Hæsten, Bloodhair and Æthelwold show up to urge war against an ailing Alfred and the atmosphere gets immediately tense. As if Uhtred didn’t have enough trouble from the shade haunting him, his conscience is goaded, unwittingly, by Æthelwold and Ragnar. “We are both traitors, but for a good cause,” Æthelwold tells him. Later Ragnar tells him that they can form a great army and take Wessex, and “you have made it possible by abandoning Alfred.” Poor Uhtred is miserable, and nobody else looks particularly happy at this gathering, either.
The Danes agree to unite and attack Wessex, but Uhtred’s men are not happy about being part of it and Uhtred is still struggling with his conscience when who should show up but Beocca and Thyra with a plea from Æthelflaed that we know Uhtred is not going to be able to ignore. Some oaths are made with love, and those we cannot break. (The Burning Land)
Meantime Skade has been trying to get inside Uhtred’s head with promises of kingship. I like Stephen Buchard’s move to have Uhtred kiss Skade merely for the purpose of spiting Bloodhair. I think I know where this is going, but I’m not saying and I could be wrong.
Down in Winchester poor Alfred is struggling against the disease that is killing him, and there is a tender scene with Ælswith that I found moving.
He is also troubled by his wayward son who has gone and wed some girl without permission. Just an fyi: the girl has twins, a son and a daughter. And that son, Athelstan, will grow up to be one of the greatest kings of England ever. But not in this season, or even next. Meantime, we have Episode 4 to watch.