The premiere episode builds up to some early calamity, as Brida sets sail on a quest for vengeance.
This recap of The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 1 contains spoilers.
Between the recap of previous seasons, some narration, and a cold open that shows Brida coaxing someone into jumping into a broiling Icelandic geyser and setting out for war, it’s fairly obvious what this premiere of The Last Kingdom’s fifth season is up to. There’s a conflict coming, though in Bernard Cornwell’s dense historical fiction there always tends to be. But this conflict is deeply personal, has been developed across four prior seasons, and seems to be brewing in all corners of the known world, which is the impression we get after this careful hour skillfully builds up to a few closing moments of bloodshed, betrayal, and carnage.
The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 1 recap
Brida is barely seen outside of that opening and a closing sequence in which she rides triumphantly into York with a cadre of angry men, their faces symbolically painted in white and their weapons plunging into whoever happens to be nearby. But her presence is felt all throughout the episode, most notably in Runcorn, the border between Mercia and Northumbria where Uhtred is keeping an uneasy peace, battling back raiders, promoting trade, and raising Aeathelstan in as cautious a manner as possible. Aethelstan has reached that awkward age all kids get to when they believe they’re grown-ups but are still really children, and he wants to go and fight to prove himself more than the b*****d boy that everyone torments him for being. Uhtred would rather he didn’t.
The impression one gets is that he won’t get much of a choice either way. During a Blood Month hunt, Aethelstan is ambushed by three men we later learn are in the employ of Aethelhelm, whose scheming with Aeflaed continues apace in the court of King Edward, despite the monarch’s obvious mistrust and dislike of him. Aethelstan, who fights off and kills two of the attackers, seems much more capable of inheriting the throne of Wessex than Aethelhelm’s grandson Aelfweard, a limp boy with a terrible haircut, but you try telling grandpa that.
The way this overlaps with Brida’s campaign is mostly in dialogue, at least for now. They’re separate plotlines that can’t help but become intertwined as we go since everyone relevant in one is also relevant in the other. Uhtred, for instance, is largely dismissive of the threat posed by Rognvaldr and the Danes, believing reports of Rognvaldr’s conquests at sea to be overblown, but in York, we see Rognvaldr ingratiate himself with Sigtryggr by playing up his self-pitying alcoholism, just so he can request safe passage for “some of his people” who have been accused of raiding, he claims unfairly. Sigtryggr, despite Stiorra’s suspicions, is sympathetic to his brother, so agrees, not realizing that he has agreed to open the gates to Brida and her entire army. Oops.
Sigtryggr was already having problems with Christian missionaries, and the persistent march of Christendom is felt over in Runcorn, too, since Aethelflaed arrives with her mother Aelswith and daughter Aelfwynn and a preacher named Father Benedict, who is ostensibly there to replace paganism with a love of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but is really just a delinquent gambler and needs to be put wherever he can do the least harm to his coffers. But it’s no accident that the idea of “progress” is bundled up in the idea of everyone being compelled to believe the same thing.
Father Benedict’s big debut is interrupted by the arrival of Uhtred’s son, who seems very much to have been castrated if the bloodstains on his tunic are anything to go by, and just like that, all of Uhtred’s worst fears about Brida’s return are confirmed. But as he stands by the river bellowing her name, his men on standby, he of course hears no response, since Brida is elsewhere. A complicated game of revenge, politicking, and war is afoot.