In this episode of The Last Kingdom, women are the prime movers behind the events that lead to the Battle of Tettenhall. Kudos to this production for imagining the role of women as something more than hapless victims needing rescuing.
The first thing we see, though, is Fr. Pyrlig (Cavan Clerkin) making his way to the Welsh king Hywel. And although the image of Pyrlig climbing a hill toward a massive fortress is stunning, it seems pretty harsh that the poor guy has to get there on foot. It’s 150 miles from Winchester to Deheubarth! Couldn’t Lady Aelswith give the man a horse?
In any case, it’s Lady Aelswith, not King Edward, who’s sent Pyrlig to Wales in secret to ask for help against the Danes. She’s promised her daughter Aethelflaed that an army would come to her aid at Tettenhall. And because Aelswith’s son Edward refuses to lead his men into Mercia, she has to get help elsewhere. Fr. Pyrlig finds himself in a tough spot, though, when King Hywel (Steffan Rhodri), assuming that the priest has Edward’s authority, demands all the war spoils in return for his help. Pyrlig knows he’s already in trouble with Edward just by being in Wales without the king’s permission, and we’re left not knowing whether he agrees to Hywel’s demand or not.
In Winchester, Lady Aeslwith (Eliza Butterworth) takes heat from Edward as soon as he learns from that snake Aethelhelm where Pyrlig has gone. Edward (Timothy Innes) wasn’t able to stop his sister from going to Mercia to fight the Danes, and now his mother is making alliances behind his back! “You’ve made us look divided!” he rails at his mother. “The Welsh will think we are weak!”
Poor Edward. He is always worried about his reputation, and his mother, who has always adored her son, nevertheless is aware of his weakness. She lets him have it right between the eyes for refusing to come to Mercia’s aid.
“If you wanted men to speak your name in awe,” she tells him, “this was not the way.”
Summing up: Lady Aelswith has advised Aethelflaed where in Mercia to make her stand against Cnut. She has sent Pyrlig to the Welsh for help. And although Edward doesn’t know it yet, she has reached out to Edward’s estranged wife and son.
Lady Aelswith: 3. Edward: 0.
Lord Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller), though, knows that Aelswith has been visiting Athelstan and his mother. The man must have a flock of little birds who keep him informed on all his enemies’ activities. He shares some of what he learns (although probably not all of it) with his whiney daughter, Aelflaed (Amelia Clarkson). She’s given Edward a son, and he’s given her a crown, but he’s already bored with her. This is a little surprising, since she’s the only woman who actually obeys him. She is clearly daddy’s girl, though, and we don’t trust her.
The Danish gang that Cnut sent to Ayelsbury to grab Aethelflaed (Millie Brady) wasn’t expecting to find Uhtred and his men with her. Aethelflaed’s refusal to flee forces Uhtred (Alexander Draemon) to perform a little sleight of hand that convinces the Danes that he’s beheaded Cnut’s eldest son. That will certainly draw Cnut from the place he’s chosen for the upcoming battle and bring him roaring after Uhtred to take his revenge. Uhtred has bought the Mercians some time and a more favorable battleground, while Aethelflaed is hoping that her brother will meet them at Tettenhall.
At King’s Lynn Aethelred (Toby Regbo) is wearing his pointy crown and playing at king while that handsome weasel Eardwulf (Jamie Blackley) has been busy subduing East Anglia.
Aethelred is still unaware that Cnut’s army has been ravaging in Mercia, but Eardwulf knows, although he’s too afraid of Aethelred to tell him. Eardwulf’s sister, though, has gritted her teeth and submitted to Aethelred’s lust just to soften him up. Eadith (Stefanie Martini), sends Eardwulf to Aethelred to break the bad news about the Danes and the upcoming battle.
Like Edward, Aethelred is mostly worried about how he’s going to look if he misses the battle. “My reputation will be ripped to shreds while my wife is revered as the savior of my kingdom!” Nevertheless, he orders his army to head back to Mercia. It will take a while. It’s 123 miles from King’s Lynn to Tettenhall.
Brida, meanwhile, is at the Danish camp with Cnut (Magnus Brun), and as she tries to tell him that she’s carrying his child they are interrupted when the men he’d sent to capture Aethelflaed return, tongue-tied. It’s Brida (Emily Cox) who strides forward, ordering their leader to speak.
When Cnut hears that Uhtred has beheaded his son he goes predictably crazy. Although Brida tries to reason with him, pleading with him not to give up their battle position, Cnut is too enraged to listen. He wants Uhtred’s blood.
So, the battle for Mercia will take place at Tettenhall, just as Aelswith and Aethelflaed wanted. But when Aethelflaed, Uhtred and their handful of men arrive, there is no sign of Edward. King Hywel’s Welshmen appear, though, and the Mercian fyrd, responding to Aethelflaed’s summons, is waiting in the nearby woods. But Cnut has a thousand men, and Uhtred worries that even with the aid of the Welsh, the Mercians can’t win. “What should I tell my men?” Aethelflaed asks him. “Say that Edward is coming. They need to have hope.” Uhtred and his men set a trap that will give Aethelflaed’s troops some advantage in the battle to come, and Aethelflaed is watching, and learning.
When Cnut’s army arrives, it is Brida who senses that something is wrong, Brida who shouts at the Danes to stop while Cnut leads them straight into Uhtred’s trap. What we see here is not the meeting of shield walls that we’ve seen before. It’s more of a melee, and quite wonderfully choreographed and filmed. The late arrival of Aethelred and Edward adds to the tension.
The bad news: Steapa (Adrian Bouchet) is one of the casualties, (No!!!!) and his death gives Edward more bitter accusations s to throw at Aethelflaed when the battle is over.
Brida learns of Cnut’s part in the murder of Ragnar, and Cnut falls to her sword. She is captured by the Welsh, and although she pleads with Uhtred to kill her because she cannot bear to be a slave, he hesitates and she is dragged away. If we see Brida again, which I suspect we will, this will likely be yet another crime that she will hold against her old friend and lover.
Finally, just before the episode ends, we see Aethelred carried off the field with a massive head wound. So hey! Happy ending.
Photo credits: Netflix, THE LAST KINGDOM