The stakes are set in a big way for the final two episodes in a fantastic crowd-pleasing outing.
This recap of The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 8 contains spoilers.
As a father of two girls, I can definitely relate to the frustration of Uhtred in the cold open of this episode. Following Brida’s death at her hands, Stiorra is enraged at the idea that she could have been redeemed; that her own father might have allowed for it. The problem Stiorra has is that she’s grieving, and like all headstrong young people who find themselves adrift in that sea, she feels as if she’s the only person it has happened to. Suggesting that Uhtred hasn’t experienced loss and grief of his own is absurd; to say that he has put battles over his family is equally ridiculous. But the outcome is the same. Stiorra turns her back on her father and rides off with the Danes. She is beyond the reach of Uhtred — and Edward’s — protection.
And these days, protection is needed more than ever.
The Last Kingdom season 5, episode 8 recap
Accompanied by Father Benedict, Aelfweard makes his way to Bebbanburg to be reunited with his grandfather, who in the space of one conversation implies that Edward ordered Aelflaed killed and that if his new child with Eadgifu is a boy, he’ll try to off Aelfweard as well. For all his faults and his terrible haircut, Aelfweard isn’t really having any of this, but he’s pleased to see his granddad, obviously not realizing that it was him who facilitated the murder of his mother, albeit accidentally.
There’s all kinds of tension at Bebbanburg, thanks at least in part to Wihtgar really not playing ball with Aethelhelm’s nonsense. The problem with having had such a long tenure as a manipulator is that people eventually begin to see through it. As Aethelhelm tries to outline his plans to Aelfweard in a kind of censored, kid-friendly way, Wihtgar constantly translates what he really means, putting Aethelhelm on the spot repeatedly. Will Aelfwynn be happy with her new marital union? Probably not. Will the coming war result in Edward’s death? Probably, yes. I think we’re building towards Aelfweard realizing what granddad is really up to here, and both Wihtgar and Father Benedict are openly antagonistic to him. The latter even excuses himself to “study some verses” and ends up riding away, presumably to inform Edward of Aethelhelm’s plans.
Edward already knows schemes are afoot, though. His solutions seem pretty drastic. He plans to forfeit Aelfweard and clear the path for he and Eadgifu’s son to continue his lineage, allowing Aelfweard and Aethelhelm to roam as fugitives, and giving him time to fortify against them. He claims to have agonized over this decision, but it’s hard to believe. And while Eadgifu claims to be advising him in a purely objective sense, it’s hard to believe that, too. Either way, though, Aethelhelm is struggling to gain the upper hand here — even Wihtgar, his host and ostensible ally, openly mocks him.
As Aelfwynn arrives at Bebbanburg, Eadith and Aelswith make it back to Edward, who, further to his conversation with Eadgifu earlier, isn’t willing to do anything about Aelfwynn’s kidnap. Since Aelswith refuses to part with gold to persuade men to pursue what she deems to be a noble, necessary cause, Eadith instead tries to persuade Uhtred to take his men to search for her. But Uhtred is adamant about returning to Runcorn to try and build a home for his family, including Stiorra, in whom he can see many similarities with Brida. At least, he is until Father Benedict returns with news of Athelhelm’s plot, his alliance with King Constantin, and his current position at Bebbanburg as a guest of Wihtgar — as soon as Uhtred hears that name, well, things change.
Uhtred’s plan is to cut off Constantin’s invasion, take Bebbanburg, and control it for Edward. It’s sensible and will result in the most acceptable losses of innocent life, as well as giving him a home for his family. But Edward isn’t having it. He plans to negotiate with Constantin, marry off Aelfwynn, and divide Northumbria in two in exchange for Aethelhelm’s head. This would mean cleaving through Saxon lands to appease the Scots and essentially sacrificing Aelfwynn, and absolutely nobody is having that. Aldhelm sides with Uhtred. Father Pyrlig sides with Uhtred. Even Aeslwith sides with Uhtred. Edward tries to turn the tables by offering Aethelstan the kingship, but Aethelstan sides with Uhtred — right in Edward’s face. It’s a major moment of unity and a huge crowd-pleasing moment.
Of course, Edward doesn’t like it, so he orders everyone to be detained and banned from leaving on pain of death. But Uhtred and Aldhelm make it clear that they and the Mercian forces will fight back if necessary. The king has a decision to make — and it seems like it has largely already been made for him.