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The Last Kingdom 5.3: The Road to Aylesbury

At the end of the last episode we were holding our collective breath as Stiorra left hiding to face Brida. Thankfully, this third episode did not keep us in suspense for too long. Uhtred’s daughter has learned how to taunt, and she provokes Brida into single combat by suggesting twice that Brida is a coward.  Stiorra doesn’t look all that confident that she will win this battle, and the imprisoned citizens of York aren’t either as they shout at her not to fight Brida. Unknown to everyone but us, Uhtred and company have made it into the compound, and just as Brida raises her sword to strike a fallen Stiorra, Sigtryggr sends an arrow into one of Brida’s Beloveds, and Brida freezes.

In the midst of the ensuing mayhem, Brida’s daughter makes her way to a rooftop. Uhtred and Brida both try to reach the child, and Brida shouts that the girl must jump to her, not to Uhtred. Is this a measure of her blind hatred toward Uhtred that she believes he would harm the child? Or is she reacting to Uhtred’s earlier shout that she should not have gone after his children, that she heard it as a threat to her daughter? We cannot read Brida’s mind, but I’m guessing that whatever her thinking, she’s going to blame Uhtred for her daughter’s death.

When the dust has settled Stiorra upbraids her father for allowing Brida to walk away from York, her dead child in her arms. And although there is surely a desire for vengeance in Stiorra’s cold words because she saw so many of her innocent people die, there is also a very large grain of truth. She warns Uhtred that Brida will find more people to follow her, and Uhtred realizes that his pity for Brida’s loss of her child has led him into an error that he is going to have to correct. Yet even as he searches for Brida, we discover that he may pay dearly for his mistake. Poor Fr. Pyrlig has gone off with the refugees from York in search of safety, and suddenly he’s surrounded by Brida’s men. The blasted priest is on foot again, darn it. I KNEW he needed to have a horse!

Before we can learn Pyrlig’s fate we’re back in the compound at York. Uhtred tries to calm Sigtryggr as he bitterly castigates himself for ever trusting the Christians. He wants Uhtred’s oath, while Stiorra, sensing her husband’s disquiet and need for guidance, wants her father to stay in York.  And Uhtred is pulled in two directions because while his daughter needs him, his son is lying wounded down in Runcorn. And he doesn’t even know about Aethelflaed yet.

King Edward in Winchester is clueless about  Aethelflaed, too; but that snake  Aethelhelm has learned of her condition, and he is plotting to get his grandson on the Mercian throne that Aethelflaed wants for her daughter.

In Mercia, Aethelflaed’s mum is still living in denial, convinced that God will heal her daughter. That swine Fr. Benedict gives Aethelflaed Extreme Unction which, as seen here, looks a little voodoo-like and threatening, especially since we do not trust Fr. Benedict. But there have been instances when the administering of that sacrament did sometimes result in the restoration of health. Aethelflaed, though, is resigned to her fate and insists on traveling to her capital of Aylesbury; it is 150 miles away and would have taken at least 10 days, perhaps 2 weeks, to reach in an uncomfortable covered wagon.

News of her illness, though, is spreading. It’s Aethelhelm who tells Edward about his sister, interrupting a tender moment between the king and his new lady, Eadgifu. Edward can’t believe it at first, but he finally accepts that his elder sister, ruler of a neighboring kingdom, is about to die. There will be enormous consequences personally and politically.  

At the same time, Uhtred is preparing to continue his search for Brida; we’re really worried about Pyrlig; and Finan at last gets Uhtred’s attention by whispering, “It’s the Lady Aethelflaed.”

One major difference between this series and the books on which it is based is that the series is not bound to Uhtred. The novels are written in first person, in Uhtred’s point of view. The reader sees only what Uhtred sees or is told. We are constantly in his mind and reading his opinions about everybody and everything. But this filmed series can be with each of the main characters, can explore each of their personalities and intentions and difficulties, one after another. It can take us from Edward in Winchester to Uhtred in York to Aethelflaed in Aylesbury within a few minutes. It uses those jumps in time and space, as it does right now, moving from Uhtred and Finan in York to Eadith and Aldhelm in Aylesbury, in order to prolong suspense even as it moves the story forward. It also makes effective use of close-up to capture the expressions of the characters in their moments of relief, terror, or anguish.

At this moment Uhtred is expressing disbelief, then confusion, then anguish as he listens to Finan. He’s going to have to go south. To Aylesbury. To Aethelflaed.

And only now do we discover that Pyrlig is still alive, although even Brida doesn’t yet know why. And I can’t help remembering how, many seasons back, Pyrlig was about to be crucified by Danes in London until Uhtred, knowing that the priest had been a warrior, suggested he be given a sword and told to fight for his life. Will he be given another chance to do that? Here’s hoping…

Aethelflaed’s daughter, overprotected from the truth of her mother’s illness by her grandmother, finally gets an earful from Aldhelm who, we know, has long borne an unrequited passion for Aethelflaed. What follows is a beautifully sad scene as Aelfwynn finally understands what is happening to her mother. Last season Aethelflaed lay beside her ailing daughter, afraid for her life; now the scene has been reversed. Yet even as Aethelflaed assures her daughter that the witan will support her as ruler of Mercia and asks a grieving Aldhelm to protect the girl, Aethelhelm’s assassin is bribing the Mercian elders to betray her.

In Winchester Edward’s queen is making an ill-timed move with political implications that earns her disapproval from Edward and a rebuke from her poisonous father. Eadgifu overhears Aethelhelm say that his grandson will be king of Mercia in a week and reports it to Edward. The king intuits that Aethelhelm is bribing the Mercians for his own purposes, but Edward clearly has a plan, as well, and probably not the same plan. Personally, I don’t trust either one of them!

So Edward, his son, and his father-in-law are headed for Aylesbury just like Uhtred and company. Clearly, there’s going to be some kind of showdown around the dying Aethelflaed. Meanwhile, in York, Sigtryggr is putting his brother to a trial by ordeal. Ow.




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