Early in Episode 7 of The Last Kingdom 4 Uhtred arrives in Aylesbury, a town beset by hunger, fear, sickness, mistrust and a lack of leadership. The ealdormen who should be running the place are at odds with the king and with each other. Uhtred interrupts their wrangling to announce that Aethelred was murdered by sparrow-brained Eardwulf and that Aethelflaed’s daughter is safe, but he won’t say where she is.
Poor Aelfwynn is ninety miles away, lying sick in the Wyre Forest and being treated with a mixture of wormwood and holy water. Osferth is concerned that the concoction will kill her.
But although wormwood sounds creepy, it is still used today for stomach ailments. Its German name is vermouth, so basically Eadith was giving Aelfwynn a martini without the gin. But when Aelfwynn can’t be wakened, Eadith insists that they take her back to Aylesbury where a healer can treat her. So back they go, on a very long hike. Several scenes later Sihtric (Arnas Fedaravicius) finds Aethelflaed (Millie Brady) and leads her to the Wyre Forest, where the woman who sheltered the girl tells them that Aelfwynn died and was taken to be buried at Aylesbury. So Aethelflaed, stricken, rides toward Ayelsbury.
Edward is busily blaming Uhtred for the problems he’s currently facing with the Mercians. He insists that there would have been a smooth transition of power if Uhtred and Aethelflaed had not fled Aylesbury. He conveniently forgets that the man he chose to take power was a murderer and a thief. Yet even as he sends Uhtred to be caged until he reveals Aelfwynn’s whereabouts, Edward is thinking ahead, showing some signs that he is his father’s son—and his mother’s. He orders the Wessex guards to take grain from the ealdormen that are hoarding it and distribute it among the townsfolk. When Ealdorman Burgred shows up to confront the king about it, Edward not only pulls rank (“I’m anointed by God and I’m a son of Alfred”), he informs Burgred that his son is on the way to Wessex to be held hostage for Burgred’s good behavior. Edward: 1, Burgred: 0
Uhtred has been placed in the gentle hands of slimy Aethelhelm who orders his man Cenric to beat the whereabouts of Aelfwynn out of Uhtred while Aethelhelm just sits and enjoys the show.
Aelswith, under the influence of both her bad and her good angels, tells her son that although he was callous to send Burgred’s son away, it was a smart move. Edward has averted a fight and shown himself to be decisive. But don’t try to conquer the Mercians, she advises. They will resist. Slimy Aethelhelm interrupts to report that despite their efforts to persuade him Uhtred refuses to reveal where Aelfwynn is. Alarmed, Edward goes to see what condition Uhtred is in.
We are about 30 minutes into the show at this point, and now we have come to what I think is one of the very best scenes of this season so far. It is a conversation between King Edward and a battered but defiant Uhtred. In his earlier dealing with Burgred, Edward played his ‘I’m the king’ card. But in this scene with Uhtred, Edward shows his vulnerability. He starts by entering Uhtred’s cage and sitting on the floor to face him. And THAT was astounding.
These two men, remember, have a long history. Uhtred taught a young Edward how to wield a sword; Edward observed, for years, his father’s struggles with Uhtred; Edward knows that Uhtred loves Aethelflaed; and clearly, Edward respects this man. In this scene Edward is given the opportunity to think out loud about courage, fate, Alfred’s dream of a united England, and Edward’s own mistakes. In the end, he gives Uhtred his freedom and asks him to keep Aethelflaed and her daughter safe until the conflict in Mercia is settled, because he’s afraid that things are going to get bad.
Edward also sends that snake Aethehelm away, a sure sign that the king is wising up. When he is alerted that his niece is outside the gate he orders her brought inside and sends for every healer in the town.
In the scene that follows Edward watches, unseen, as Uhtred contains a growing riot by telling the Mercians that they must work as one. Aelswith, her bad angel on her shoulder, is standing behind Edward muttering, “See how he influences them. He will make them rise against you.” Edward’s response is to have Uhtred brought to him.
And now Edward and Uhtred have another heart to heart that appears at first to be confrontational, but Edward has something else in mind. He needs a good man to act as interim ruler in Mercia, and he makes Uhtred an offer that Uhtred can’t refuse. It would mean, though, that Uhtred would once again have to give his oath to a Saxon king, and he’s reluctant. While Uhtred is thinking it over, even Aelswith agrees with Edward that it may be the only good solution. And although Aethelflaed’s name has been mentioned several times in this episode, the penny hasn’t dropped yet that she is the obvious choice to lead Mercia.
Aelswith brings Athelstan to his father, telling Edward that the boy needs his protection.
Edward is angry because he has a queen and a son by her to deal with, and he orders Aelswith to take the boy back to wherever he was hidden. But he hasn’t really refused to do what his mother has asked. And we are learning that Edward needs to process things, so stay tuned.
In Wales Brida (Emily Cox) is rescued by Cnut’s cousin Sigtryggr (Eysteinn Sigurdarson). I laughed out loud at what happened when Rhodri (Nigel Lindsay) insisted that Brida was dead. Once out of her pit Brida tells Sigtryggr that she has a score to settle with Uhtred for allowing her to be taken by the Welsh, and then she tosses her tormentor Rhodri into the pit. Turn about’s fair play.
Aethelflaed is reunited with her daughter who is cured of her illness and Aelswith tells us that The Sickness is fading.
Uhtred meets with Edward and agrees to become the temporary lord of Mercia. On learning of this, Uhtred’s companions are jubilant. Uhtred, though, is not happy. What, we wonder, is he thinking?