In the middle of the previous Episode (4), Alfred’s widow says, as she mourns her daughter, “There has already been so much death, Uhtred, I could not bear more of it.”
I’m with her.
And so this 5th episode was another one that was hard to watch and even harder to write about because the story dives into darkness and death. I had to stop watching half-way through, and I suppose some of my own distress was because the show reflects the world we live in today. Just read the news.
The episode again takes us all over Britain, beginning in Aylesbury. King Edward gets plenty of negative feedback about the way he grabbed the throne of Mercia, and is even second-guessing his own actions. But his new lady Eadgifu (Sonya Cassidy) is nearby to reassure him. I can’t quite make out Eadgifu, but she’s showing evidence of being a force behind the throne. She and Stiorra both have spines of steel.
While Edward is attempting to ingratiate himself to the Mercians, that slimeball Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller) is scheming to provoke war between the Saxons and the Danes. This powerful Saxon ealdormen wants his grandson to be king of a united England, and he tells his minion Bresal (Harry Anton) that “Like the king I have learned that nothing is as effective as the stench of death.” And if King Edward dies in battle, even better. So he puts his plan in motion, but warns Bresal that it must not be traced back to him. The men who commit the act must claim they are Sigtryggr’s men. We don’t know what he’s planning, but when he attempted something similar in The Flame Bearer, Uhtred was on to him and prevented it. This time his much more cruel scheme works only too well, only he doesn’t know it yet. Wyrd bið ful aræd.
Edward’s Queen Aelflaed shows some spine in this episode, and I think we have to honor her with a line from Shakespeare: “Nothing in her life became her like the leaving of it.” Her death in this series is purely fictional, though. While the show presents her as the mother of only one son by Edward, the historical Aelflaed bore him 8 children, and although we don’t know the actual cause of her death, it may be safe to say that given all those births she was just plain exhausted.
Uhtred returns to his people in Runcorn determined to get more men and head north again to find Brida. First, though, he checks on young Uhtred, recuperating from his wound although still in pain. Young Uhtred suggests that his father might marry again and have more children, and Uhtred responds bitterly that he would not curse another child with him as a father. And now we have an extremely mysterious dialogue between father and son.
“What of the son who was hidden, who does not know his father?”
Uhtred snarls, “You do not know that. It is not safe for you to know that. His time will come.”
I have no idea who they are talking about!!! Who are the show runners going to spring on us?
But, back in the woods: It’s out favorite villain Haesten, now a trader, (really!) who stumbles upon the crime scene in the forest, and when he finds the dead queen of Wessex he is really disturbed. We have never seen Haesten disturbed like this. And for once, Haesten does a good thing: He sends the visionary to safety, and takes the queen’s body to Uhtred at Runcorn. Haesten doesn’t want to see war any more than Uhtred does. It’s bad for trade. As they run through the possible perpetrators of the crime—Sigtryggr, his brother Rognvalder, Brida, or the Mercians—our Baby Monk Osferth predicts: “This is a bad omen, lord, for all of us. I fear this death will bring only more death.” And it’s only when we look back on his words later that we know how true they were. Wonderful dialogue!!
Now Uhtred has to act, sending Sihtric and Athelstan to spy on the king’s doings at Aylesbury while he and Haesten go to York to warn Sigtryggr and Stiorra that there is trouble brewing. Brida is on the back burner now, but she’s still around. She’s decided she wants Fr. Pyrlig to take her to Uhtred, and THAT sounds ominous.
And let’s not forget Aelswith who is in hiding with Aelfwynn, and is planning to marry the girl off to the young Cynlaef. Her thinking is that if the girl is married to a nobody she won’t be a threat to anybody. But I don’t know. Those two slaughtered nuns in the forest seem to contradict that theory.
In Aylesbury that swine Aethelhelm is freaking out because word of the slaughter of women he ordered has not gotten out yet (thanks to Haesten who hid the bodies). He goes to the king and announces without any proof that the Danes have murdered the visionary and they must be punished. When Edward refuses to act Aethelhelm takes matters into his own hands and sends warriors to attack Runcorn in the king’s name, hoping that this little fire will start a war. Not all of our favorite lads survive the ensuing slaughter. Last episode I was prepared for the death of Aethelflaed. I wasn’t prepared for what happened here—I. Just. Wasn’t.
King Edward, still unaware of the death of his queen, asks his son Athelstan to lead the Mercian guard, a step towards reconciliation. He orders Aethelhelm to go to Scotland with a message of reassurance for the Scots king, but Aethelhelm plans to attack York instead. Since he hasn’t been able to provoke Edward into war, he’ll start the war himself.
But Sigtryggr is already on a war footing because the refugees from Runcorn have arrived with lurid tales of the slaughter ostensibly ordered by the king. Sigtryggr is outraged. All his fears about Edward’s bloody ambitions have been confirmed. If Edward wants war, then Sigtryggr will oblige him.
In Aylesbury Bresal has brought the queen’s body and blamed her death on the Danes. Now Edward finally does what Aethelhelm has been trying to get him to do. Eager for vengeance, the Saxons are going north to war against the Danes.
Meantime, Uhtred has discovered that it was the visionary who was the target of the murders in the forest, not the queen. As he often does, he intuits the mind of his enemy who, in this case, is that smear of pond scum Aethelhelm. Hard on the heels of that realization Uhtred is faced with news brought by Finan and Cynlaef—news of Runcorn. News of Osferth.
There is bad news for that swine Aethelhelm, too. When his man Bresal tells him that the queen was slaughtered instead of the visionary, Aethelhelm is unmanned, ready to kill himself. But he’s not mourning because his daughter died and it was his fault; he’s morning because the influence he had at court died with her. Bresal here is like an evil spirit, urging him to finish what he started, to fight for the influence he’s lost, to find himself. It’s a bizarre scene, and at the end of it, Bresal has succeeded because the ealdorman slowly straightens from his groveling and whimpering, and now he looks like he’s possessed by a devil. I guess he’s found himself but, really, he didn’t have to look very hard.