The politics swiftly become complicated and the blood begins to flow in earnest in a tense second episode.
This recap of The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 2 contains spoilers.
While I was talking about Christianity in the previous recap, I forgot to mention something relevant and important — Brida’s campaign is being justified in explicitly religious terms. When she and her men raid Sigtryygr’s keep at York and fight him to the point he yields, Rognvaldr repeatedly references how Brida is there to lead the Danes back to the Old Gods, and away from Christianity. It’s why Rognvaldr has bought into her so completely, and it’s his belief that Brida uses to manipulate him. To prove his loyalty, she insists he kills his brother, and while he’s reluctant he commits to the deed until Brida intervenes. Of course, we know that Brida has ulterior motives, most notably revenge on Uhtred and an attack on his bloodline, but her claims of divine purpose make her followers single-minded. She can do essentially anything and have it excused as being justified. If there’s a better example of how organized religion has been utilized throughout human history, I can’t think of one.
The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 2 recap
Of course, Stiorra and Uhtred know better. The former is able to escape with the help of the keep’s women and take shelter in the sewers, but she’s immediately thrust into a predicament when Brida begins killing off the innocents to coax her into revealing herself. And the latter, having received word that York is under attack and Stiorra is in danger, puts the pieces together that this and the castration of his son are a direct attack on his personal bloodline. He demands that Aethelflaed allows him to take troops from Runcorn to liberate York, but Aethelflaed won’t since Eadith has just diagnosed a canker on her flank as being inevitably fatal. As such, there are matters of succession to suddenly consider and finalize, and a full campaign is out of the question.
Uhtred is furious, obviously, and decides to set out anyway with a cadre of loyal men, but he’s raging with Aethelflaed when she attempts to say her farewells. Uhtred doesn’t know of her diagnosis, but Eadith does, and she’s so frantic at the potential of them not reconciling before Aethelflaed’s death that she tells Finan of her condition, though swears him to secrecy until Uhtred has rescued Stiorra. He has to accomplish his mission, and then he has to return to say goodbye to Aethelflaed, and Finan has to make sure he does both. Easier said than done.
Meanwhile, Edward hears of the situation in York, and Aethelhelm predictably tries to force him into using the opportunity to kill both Brida and Sigtryygr and seize York. Naturally, Edward doesn’t want to hear it — props, too, for his constant referencing to his young age and long remaining tenure, just to rub salt into the wound of the man who is relentlessly fretting about the lifespan of his own station. Aethelhelm instructs his goon to ensure that Sigtryygr receives no Saxon aid, though, contrary to the king’s orders, since he isn’t going down without a fight. He also immediately interferes with Edward getting to know Lady Eadgifu of Cent, smugly trying to pay her off.
Another thing I forgot to mention about Brida — she believes her daughter, Vibeke, is a magical Seer, and she uses her to determine who to sacrifice to the gods by blindfolding the little girl and sending her out into a crowd. Whoever’s hand she clasps gets the chop. This is how the unfortunate fella who jumped into a geyser was chosen, and it’s how she picks several “sacrifices” to appease the Gods after the gift of generous winds and calm seas for the journey here. Of course, what she’s really trying to do is lure Stiorra out of hiding, which becomes obvious when Vibeke grabs Rognvaldr’s hand. He immediately starts ranting about his usefulness to the gods, and Brida claims they’ll be satisfied with just a little cut on his face, emulating all religious leaders by only applying scripture and divine writ in the way that most benefits her. We can’t be having someone useful unceremoniously killed off in a courtyard with a bunch of peasant women, can we?
Stiorra is waiting for Sigtryygr, who is out looking for Uhtred on Brida’s orders (and with a new haircut), but he instead runs into Father Pyrlig, Edward’s advisor, who has been sent by Edward to monitor the situation. Pyrlig promises Saxon support, not knowing that Aethelhelm has stymied it. They quickly hook up with Uhtred, who you’ll recall has no men either, and it becomes quickly apparent that they’re not getting any aid from anywhere. Sigtryygr’s accusations that Aethelflaed and Edward are both betraying some pretty concrete arrangements will have to wait, though, since Sigtryygr has a way to get inside, and there’s no time to lose.
Sigtryygr’s way inside is “the path of turds”, as Uhtred refers to it — a Roman sewer tunnel. At the same time, Aethelhelm’s goon intimidates Father Benedict, who owes Aethelhelm a considerable debt, into revealing that Aethelflaed is dying and won’t see the spring, while Stiorra, having seen enough needless death, sends her handmaidens away and reveals herself to Brida.