Netflix's The Last Kingdom gets messy in the fifth episode of its third season.
With Ragnar the Younger dead, the Danes scramble to identify a worthy leader while Uhtred wages a risky war to reclaim the sorceress Skade. We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer, here to recap the episode, discuss important plot points, and point out just how dramatic medieval-era bros can be. Won't you join us?
Who Will Lead?
Alyssa: Jessica, do you hear that? That is the sound of my heart breaking over Brida’s grief. Her relationship with Ragnar was clearly complicated, but she loved him deeply and was all in on whatever it was that they had. To see the men in the camp treat her so poorly immediately after they realized Ragnar was dead was awful, but sadly it wasn't unexpected. I certainly didn’t expect any honor from Cnut after he set all these terrible events into motion, so Brida should probably take her men and go.
Jessica: I’m not sure which was worse: Watching Aethelwold stab Ragnar to death in his bed or watching Brida mourning the loss of her life partner. When she wailed over his body as she tried to close his hand around his sword so that he could die a warrior’s death and enter Valhalla… I felt that sh*t in my bones, fam. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it until the writers of this show wise up: Brida deserves better.
Alyssa: She does and always has. And then for Aethelwold to offer his condolences to “a great man”? I swear, I almost threw my mug of tea at the screen. I need Brida to be the one to kill him. Only that will satisfy me. Question: a little later in the episode, we see Cnut happily grandstanding and claiming leadership over the troups, despite the very recent death of his cousin, and I swear, for a second, I saw doubt in Bloodhair’s eyes. He’s a maniac, but he’s not stupid. I think he may be doubting Cnut’s “he was killed by his whore” story?
Jessica: Cnut is like the Viking version of Chazz from Wedding Crashers. He’s skipped right past Owen Wilson’s cutesy pick-up lines after the happy nuptials and started trying to pick up grieving widows at funerals. When he told Brida he still wanted to bed her, I threw up in my mouth a little, then resolved to cut the guy’s tongue out and feed it to the crows should I ever meet him in person. Cnut is no leader and I think Bloodhair knows that on some level. It’s all fun and games when you’re plotting a coup, but the reality of losing Ragnar is a bit uglier. Fractioned tribes, a vengeful Brida, the opportunity for more in-fighting and the absence of a man with the ability to unite the horde. Bloodhair can see the writing on the wall. I think he’s also experiencing withdrawals from whatever is in Skade’s blood. He’s just one murder away from waking hallucinations.
Alyssa: You’re 100% correct in saying that Cnut is no leader. Ragnar was the unifier of the tribes, and Cnut is kidding himself in thinking that he holds a similar power. These Danish earls are not to be trifled with, but at the same time, they throw temper tantrums like little children when things don’t go their way. They may have been cheering with Cnut for the time being, but there is no way in hell that this post-Ragnar peace holds. You know who wasn’t cheering? Me when Brida informed Uhtred of Ragnar’s death. That cut me DEEP. Despite their separation and spending most of the last season and a half apart, the kinship between Brida and Uhtred has been one of my favorite relationships on the show. That bond was again apparent in this meeting, but Brida really blames Uhtred for Ragnar’s passing. Which is kind of fair, but kinda not. She may not understand Uhtred’s reasoning, but he made a lot of his decisions with Ragnar in mind.
Jessica: Perhaps it’s because I’m a bitter old hag but I kind of enjoyed watching Brida use Uhtred as her own personal punching bag. I agree that I don’t think all the blame lies with Uhtred when it comes to Ragnar’s death, but some of it definitely does, and I think Brida needed this opportunity to truly vent her frustrations, her hurt, to the person left in her life who matters most to her. I don’t think this is the end for these two, and the tears were quietly falling as Brida flayed Uhtred for his refusal to support Ragnar, but I was also silently cheering our girl on. She’s been through so much. If she wants to roast Uhtred over hot coals for a minute, we should let her. Besides, their exchange gave Uhtred the reasoning he needed to reunite with Alfred and once again, join the Saxon cause.
Jessica: I’m just going to come right out and say it: the Saxons are messy y’all. Backstabbing, betrayal, being led by their emotions -- I’d expect nothing more from the Danes but for, as Alfred believes them to be, “God’s chosen people” this squad cannot get its head in the game. Aethelred is so blinded by jealousy and resentment, all he can worry about is his wife’s growing influence and when he’ll get the chance to try to assassinate her again. Gruel and apples are not treating Alfred well. He’s a walking corpse at this point and arguing with Uhtred is just expending more energy he doesn’t have. And young Edward, the poor thing, seems to be trying his best to shoulder the burden his father has placed on him but already it looks like he’s become a member of Uhtred’s unofficial fan club. That will no doubt cause problems later on.
Alyssa: The Saxons are SO messy. Alfred is barely holding it together, and I feel like even those closest to him have no idea how to handle it. While the official stance appears to be “Nothing to see here, Alfred is VERY HEALTHY,” the cracks are beginning to show. He can barely stand. He can barely lift his sword. Alfred has certainly inspired a fair bit of loyalty in his people, but how long can they follow a man with one foot so deeply in the grave? I feel like this episode really gave us the best look at who Edward is becoming, though. He is clearly a young man of conviction -- we saw that in his early reticence to ditch his baby mama -- and when he thinks that Alfred is wrong, he finally isn’t afraid to say it. I really enjoyed Alfred’s little realization that while he may not agree with his son at all, he raised him to be a better man than expected.
Still, Alfred continues to treat Uhtred like he’s the dirt under his feet, despite Uhtred returning and promising to help Alfred’s cause. Sure, Alfred’s cause just happens to coincide with his crusade to recover Skade, but still. I swear, Uhtred could offer Alfred eternal life with no strings attached and Alfred would still treat him like he was scum.
Jessica: There’s definitely some jealousy there on Alfred’s part. I can only assume it grates Alfred’s nerves a bit to see this heathen warrior flourishing, enjoying the confidence of his men, the love of his children, any woman in any village he wants, while Alfred’s pious ass literally rots on the throne. You’d think the man hoping to unify England would have more maturity than a spoiled infant but here we are. Personally, I admire Uhtred’s willingness to return to Alfred’s service, no matter the reason. The man buried his pagan wife knowing it’s not what Uhtred would’ve wanted, then berated him when he dug her up and gave her a Danish funeral service. Alfred’s constantly sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong and Uhtred’s had the patience of a saint when it comes to the guy. But Skade’s curse obviously weighs heavy on the Viking warrior and fear and superstition are powerful motivators.
Alyssa: Very powerful. Fear in particular, which we can see in Aethelred’s continued scheming. I thought he was going to sh*t a brick when he saw Aethelflaed return with Uhtred in tow, but he still seems to be all in on this whole “I need my wife dead” business. At least Aethelflaed is aware. Can I say how proud I was with her knife-wielding at the dinner table? Because I was PROUD. She has gone from gentle maiden to self-sufficient queen in such a beautiful character arc, and I am so here for it. Now, she just needs to stay away from Uhtred’s bed, because his lovers have a shorter shelf life than the drummers from Spinal Tap.
Jessica: At the next family gathering, I too plan to slam my knife down on the dinner table and gesture for my enemies to sit. We’ll see how many of ‘em vote Trump in 2020 after that. As giddy as my feminist self was over Aethelflaed’s display, I can't help but be concerned for her when it comes to Aethelred. He’s a curly-haired weasel, sure, but he seems to have a single-minded fixation over killing his wife. He’s no leader. He’s no warrior. But he’s just conniving enough to pose a threat to our true queen. He is the Pence to Aethelwold’s Trump, but like, in Medieval times.
The Battle For Skade
Alyssa: You are definitely correct, but those schemes will have to wait for another day because we are heading to battle, baby! With Uhtred and his closest crew being sent to draw Haesten out of the walls of Beamfleot (can we talk about how much I enjoy the way Uhtred says “Beamfleot?” Because I really do) with Alfred’s forces to follow, it’s time for some good old-fashioned bloodlust to win the day. Uhtred may have to use the woods instead of a hill this time, but he’s got a pretty solid battle plan. You know how I can tell it’s a solid plan? Because Finan trusts him so much that he is casually leaning on his shield while they wait. We’ve discussed our thirst for Finan quite a lot in these recaps, but girl, this episode was next level. That Irish crumpet could snark his way into my heart and pants any day of the week.
Jessica: I enjoy the way Uhtred says many words. A late-in-life career as an audiobook narrator is in that man’s future should he survive these turbulent times. But I do struggle to suspend my belief that any red-blooded woman would swoon over Uhtred when our boy Finan stands just to his right, all cock-sure bravado and cheeky insults at the ready. He’s a tall draft of Guinness that’s for sure and his beard-game is *chef kiss*. I don’t normally find men who equate their genitals to weapons attractive but this panty-dropper just has a way about him.
Alyssa: Unfortunately, we do not have the opportunity to appreciate all that is Finan for long, because things go sideways very quickly. Uhtred and his men get surrounded by Haesten’s forces pretty quickly (according to plan), but guess who decides to be a piss baby at the eleventh hour? Alfred, again. Despite seeming to go along with Edward’s plan, he is, ONCE AGAIN, perfectly content to let Uhtred die for the cause, holding back his forces despite Uhtred’s team being overwhelmed. I’ve hated Alfred at many moments over the course of three seasons, but this may have been his most craven moment yet.
Jessica: He truly is a spineless worm isn’t he? And while I’ve always considered him a thoughtful, intelligent spineless worm, this decision reeked of a more personal vendetta. What did he expect would happen? Uhtred and his men are scrappy, sure, but Haesten had them surrounded. Our boys may have taken out one or two of his men, but Haesten would’ve eventually defeated them, probably with minor losses. They wouldn’t have “destroyed each other” as Alfred predicted. Would you really want this group of men who agreed to fight for your cause dead at the hands of a traitor, one who most certainly will take up arms against you, all because you don’t get along with Uhtred? Come on, Alfred. You’ve got to be better than that. Thankfully, though Alfred is a turd, Edward is shaping up to be a half-decent king. Who knew?
Alyssa: Look, even if Uhtred comes out of the battle okay (which he will, because of plot armor), there is no way that he will take kindly to Alfred’s sabotage. It’s some classic Saxon bullsh*t, and Uhtred has put up with plenty of it only to once again end up on their side again.
Jessica: Plot armor is better than chain mail so I agree, I don’t think Uhtred is in any real danger here -- though if Finan dies, I warn you now, you’ll be left to do these discussions alone because I will cancel my Netflix subscription and burn my house to the ground in protest -- but I do hope this whole ordeal opens his eyes to the unreliability of a Saxon alliance. What’s the saying? Fool me once, shame on me, fool me several times by pledging troops in battle, offering me lands and money only to strip me of my titles and banish me when I dig up my dead wife, shame on you.
Alyssa: It’s true, and Alfred is once again putting Uhtred’s men at risk as well, which is deeply uncool. No matter how the battle ends up, there is going to be some fallout. Alfred may not live very long, but he will probably live long enough to regret his latest bout of selfishness.