At the beginning of the second episode of The Last Kingdom, as he’s recapping the events of his life thus far, Uhtred claims that “Destiny is all,” and this is a theme that reverberates throughout the book, as well. But is it? This episode seems to be much more about choice and about careful political maneuvering than about destiny.
We pick up with Uhtred and Brida running (well, riding) from his uncle and his men.
Uhtred is convinced they can just go to Ubba and ask for an army to take back his lands, but Brida and I are skeptical. On the way, they find a slaughtered village, and a survivor tells them that the Danes sacked the village as revenge for an uprising led by a Saxon slave who killed his master at a wedding party — meaning, of course, Uhtred. Brida is immediately worried that this story will get to Ubba first and that Ubba will no longer trust Uhtred — “He will believe the story that he hears first and he will kill you.” This is an interesting nod to the novel, in which this same concept is important, but regards Alfred, not Ubba, and news of an accomplishment — killing Ubba, actually – rather than a crime. It also continues the theme of how whoever controls the message controls history.
Meanwhile, in Winchester, Beocca has to talk down Alfred, who is angsty about being tempted by women. He claims — even in relative private — to not want to be king, which is a bit different from his ambitions in the book. Beocca also has the false story about Uhtred, but in his version, Uhtred killed Ragnar “for England,” and Beocca wants to bring him into Alfred’s service, but Alfred isn’t particularly interested. Edmund of East Anglia has sent to Aethelred (Alfred’s brother, the current king) in Wessex for help fending off an imminent invasion by Ubba, but the brothers decide to simply offer prayers, and basically write off East Anglia — and here is where Wessex becomes THE LAST KINGDOM.
By now Uhtred and Brida have made it to East Anglia, where they’re worried about approaching Ubba, whose reactions are dictated by superstitions and sorcery. Brida (in the middle of sex, because sure?) realizes that the best way to safeguard Uhtred’s life is to take Ubba’s sorcerer Storri hostage in return for Uhtred’s safety. They get to Storri, who is guarding captive King Edmund, by pretending Brida is a Saxon slave (which … she was) Uhtred is delivering to be Storri’s sex slave as a gift from Ubba — clever way to use the way women are perceived in their favor. Brida takes Storri away and Uhtred waits for Ubba. Shockingly (not shockingly at all), Ubba doesn’t believe Uhtred’s claim that Ragnar was killed by Danes rather than by him.
In a very funny scene with a horrifying result, Edmund tells Ubba and his men the story of St. Sebastian, who was saved by God even though he was shot full of arrows. He also says that he will remain king under the Danes and their terms if the Danes are baptized. (This is one of the times when Uhtred’s knowledge of both cultures comes in useful, as he’s there to attempt to explain baptism to Ubba.) Somehow Edmund talks himself into proving the Christian God’s greatness by being shot full of arrows like St. Sebastian — and, of course, promptly dies. Ubba enjoys this, so he suggests trying the same test on Uhtred — saying Odin will protect him if he’s telling the truth. Only the announcement that he has Storri saves Uhtred (for now; Ubba swears to kill him). Thanks, Brida! Uhtred makes a very dramatic exit, after which Ubba takes an axe to something in his rage, and his brother Guthrum replies “Excellent. Firewood.” Heh. I love that this show has a sense of humor.
Brida wants to find Ragnar’s son Ragnar, but he’s in Ireland, and Uhtred convinces her that they no longer have a place with the other Danes. For now, their focus is on staying alive until he returns. Uhtred does have a good sword made — and overpays the smith, for some reason? To show how great he is? In return, the smith tells him that both Saxons and Danes are looking for him, and sure enough, he’s almost immediately attacked, but he and Brida escape. I wasn’t sure if I was just missing something in not being able to figure out which side was attacking him, but Brida implies that they were hired assassins and she’s not sure which side they were from either. She wants Uhtred to give up on reclaiming his father’s land, but he refuses — and decides to go to Aethelred.
Speaking of! There’s all sorts of family drama, as the king’s son is found drunk yet again and generally considered to be a failure as an heir. Aethelred doesn’t even want to consider the boy his son: “If his mother were not already dead I’d have her beheaded for adultery.” And he makes explicit to his nobleman Odda that he wants Alfred to be the next king. This is fairly different from the book, in which Aethelred dies when his son is an infant. And the ages in the show really don’t work at all — Aethelred’s reign was when he was about 18 to 24 years old, so there’s no way he’d have a teenaged son while he was alive.
Uhtred and Brida make it to Wessex, where Uhtred (of course) immediately almost gets into a fight, but Beocca recognizes him and intervenes, but takes him to Alfred rather than Aethelred. (Beocca is hilariously skeptical of Brida.) Uhtred is impressed by how much Alfred knows about his situations with Kjarten and Ubba. Alfred says he has spies everywhere, and “Whatever I discover about my enemies is written down.” This entire show is basically a PSA for literacy. And Alfred also discloses his eventual plan: uniting all the kingdoms of England under the Christian God. He absolutely doesn’t trust Uhtred, but Beocca has the documents showing that Uhtred is the true ealdorman of Bebbanburg, and Uhtred’s potential as someone who can move among both worlds must be obvious. Uhtred decides to spy on Guthrum in order to win Alfred’s trust. He uses his knowledge of Danish culture to predict what Guthrum is planning, and Alfred suspects it’s a trick, but he and Aethrelred decide to act in case he’s telling the truth — but make Uhtred and Brida prisoners in the meantime. The episode ends with the Saxons and Danes fighting while Uhtred and Brida are in cages.
(Image courtesy of BBC America.)