In Episode 4 scriptwriter Stephen Buchard takes all the elements of the plot of THE BURNING LAND and mixes them up to tell essentially the same story but in a way that will hold quite a few surprises for those who have read the novel. And that’s all to the good! We like surprises.
This episode is rife with conflicts and shifting alliances. Uhtred’s face-off against Bloodhair is the first and most visible conflict, but before long the Danish leaders are plotting against each other in secret just as Uhtred said they would. Cnut, who has just been itching to make trouble of some kind, allies with lickspittle Æthelwold—an unlikely pairing.
It leads to a savage and cruel act that certainly took me by surprise, especially considering the dweeb responsible for it. Listen close and you’ll hear the Norns singing. And given how events play out by the end of the episode, we are sure to see the leaders of the Danish army exacting vengeance on each other before long.
On the Saxon side, Æthelred bows to Alfred’s command to join him in defending the south against the Danes, but hopes that Alfred will stop malingering and die already. Uhtred arrives in southern Mercia and has his hands full, not just with Danish enemies but with 3 women—4 if you count the abbess of Winchcombe who wants no truck with pagan Danes. “I don’t like you,” she snarls at Uhtred, looking just like everybody’s worst nun nightmare. That’s just before the convent at Winchcombe becomes Battle Abbey.
There’s some nice parallelism in the portrayal of Uhtred’s interaction with Æthelflaed and then Skade, and I was glad to see how that played out. But poor Uhtred has been cursed again, and even worse, he’s had to make a promise to Skade that, from where I’m sitting, sounds like a fate worse than death. With any luck he won’t have to keep it, but he hasn’t been terribly lucky of late and that curse is just hanging over his head like a naked sword.
The ætheling Edward does his best to rebel against his father, but he’s outgunned. Dad pulls out the old “Do you think I wanted to be king when I was your age?” argument (we’ve all heard that one, right?) and Edward wilts. Matters of the heart are not important in royal Wessex; only duty. And in the blink of an eye, the old adage ‘Like father, like son” is played out before our very eyes.
Edward’s soon-to-be father-in-law Æthelhelm shows up, and because even Beocca thinks he’s a prick we know he absolutely must be. But as if to offset the contemptuous, full-of-himself Æthelhelm, that rapscallion Welshman Fr. Pyrlig returns to Winchester, too. Hurrah!
Now, let’s talk about the Danish camp. It’s pretty darned luxurious. Way too luxurious to be believable. There is some grumbling among the warlords that the army is travelling too slowly, and it must be because of all the stuff they’re dragging along with them. Tents, beds, tables, ale flagons…honestly, the vikings were really good at quickly raising fortified camps, but I don’t think their camps were this lavish. Ragnar’s tent looks practically like a big top. And did you notice the candle lanterns on the table?
Pretty stylish for vikings—they look like they’re made of glass and metal, although in the 9th century they would have been made of horn and wood. They were an invention of…wait for it…Alfred the Great. Yeah, probably the Danish army didn’t have candle lanterns on their tables. Or even tables. But the tents make a nice backdrop for the skullduggery going on in the camp that night. We have to wait until Episode 5, though, to see what comes of it.