selenak: (Uthred and Alfred)
[personal profile] selenak
More Last Kingdom thoughts, and a new icon which I made myself since I couldn't find one, apropos some rewatching after reading the early books and discussions with [personal profile] peasant:



The first season actually is somewhat more ambiguous re: Uthred’s feelings about being Dane or Saxon than I remembered. I had recalled show!Uthred being 100% in tune with the Danes until a combination of circumstance, bad luck and ambition to regain his original inheritance changes that, but the pilot has him talking with Brida about the subject before Kjartan makes his move to destroy Ragnar’s family, at a point when Uthred is ostensibly happy and completely assimilate. He asks Brida, after they’ve had sex for the first time, whether she ever thinks about their pre-Ragnar lives. She shortly says: “No”, then, after a pause, asks him whether he does. Uthred replies: “I think about who I could be…” and then is interrupted by Kjartan & Co. arriving.

Earlier, there’s another bit I missed or forgot, when Ragnar the Older encourages/tells Uthred to spend the night with Brida, i.e. change their childhood friendship into a sexual relationship. Uthred smiles but replies: “I thought in order to be a Dane I should marry a Dane?” Ragnar does not answer that one directly, just repeats: “Go to her”, re: Brida.

There are several potential implications here. One of them being that for all that Uthred and Brida by now are loved and seen as family members by Ragnar & Co., their origin as Saxon captives (and servants) simply makes them on one level different, and it doesn’t occur to Ragnar the Older to, say, consider a match between Uthred and his daughter (yes, there’s the foster sister factor, but Uthred grew up with Brida as much as with Thyra), or Brida and his son. (Would he have been on board with the Ragnar the Younger/Brida relationship that was to develop later? Note that when Brida mid season tells Uthred “I’m with Ragnar now” and he asks whether they have married, Brida replies “I’m his woman”, which to me sounded as if a formal marriage has not taken place.) There’s also the fact Uthred despite being happy with the Ragnar clan obviously hasn’t forgotten the whole “heir of Bebbanburg” factor, which he can’t be as a Dane, no matter whether he’s a foster son or servant or both, but can be as a Saxon.

BTW, since Brida hasn’t got a Saxon inheritance to long for and when she and Uthred make it to Winchester gets a horrible first impression, it’s absolutely unsurprising she doesn’t want to be Saxon and remains committed to being more Danish than the Danes 100%.

Another thing that struck me upon rewatching is that while the second season has its only “supernatural” event (the supposedly dead body telling Uthred he’s to be King) clearly marked as a fraud and a ploy instigated by the brothers Erik and Sigefrid, the first season has Brida seeing an accurate future vision when she’s drunk some mushroom potion, and of course Iseult is not only gifted with herbal lore (helping Alfred’s constant belly aches) but keeps making accurate prophetic predictions and, the big one, heals baby Edward via magic. Now of course it’s possible that Brida simply sees what she wants to see (a future with the Danes, herself on Ragnar’s ship), and that as opposed to what Iseult believes, Edward’s healing (and the death of Uthred’s baby) has nothing to do with her and was simply a coincidence. (The book is a bit more specific than the show: when Uthred discovers that his own son died on the exact same day Iseult healed Edward, he believes it was magic. In the show, it’s never said that it was the same day, and when Uthred asks how baby Uthred dies, Mildrith who doesn’t want to talk to him in the first place simply replies that babies are frail.) But certainly certainly the show leans more on “yes, it was magic” than “no, it was just coincidence”.

Show!Uthred is far more distraught at the death of his firstborn than book!Uthred comes across, though maybe that’s because book Uthred’s narrative voice is that of the old Uthred looking back through the decades (and more lost and born children), whereas the tv show presents the visceral emotional impact on the young man as it happens to him.

Odda the Elder this time around comes across as incredibly tragic, knowing what’s in store. The scene where Odda the Younger rants about how they don’t owe Alfred anything and he’s now allied with Skorpa is one of those things which simply can’t have the same impact in the novel because there we’re stuck to Uthred’s narrative pov. In the tv show, the camera cross cuts between Odda the Elder spotting Alfred in the hall wile Odda the Younger just keeps ranting and ranting, keeps cutting between Odda and Alfred as the awful realization sets in for Odda the Elder, and you can see Odda making his decision and immediately going through with it. Incidentally: would he have done so if Alfred hadn’t been present? Not “would he have sided with Alfred”, that’s a given with Odda the Elder being a Wessex man 100%, but “would he have killed his son?” if he hadn’t seen the King being witness to his son’s treason. (Which meant no “it was all a misunderstanding” deniability was out.) No wonder Odda the Elder in the second season drinks enough for everyone to notice. And no wonder he refuses to accept Alfred’s unwillingness to sacrifice Aetheflaed for the good of Wessex in s2.

Something that had escaped my notice until I read the first two books but which the show does in fact point out in one line of dialogue is that there’s a bit of a parallel/contrast between Uthred and Aethelwold. The book has them being of the same age while the show gives you the impression Aethelwold is a bit younger (and way more immature), but both (the book more so) remind you that both Aethelwold and Uthred have their uncles take what they regard as their inheritance and their place. What makes Aelfric a villain and Alfred lawfully good in the narrative is that Alfred a) doesn’t kill Aethelwold, and b) has both his brother’s and the Witan’s backup for becoming King, whereas Aelfric tries his best to kill Uthred and has no legal justification for his ursurpation. But Uthred having some sympathy for Aethelwold (beyond being amused at Aethelwold’s digs about Alfred) does have its foundation in that parallel. Not that it stops Uthred from telling Alfred he should have Aethelwold killed when he’s asked, but then, that’s Uthred’s general idea of a solution to “what should I do with my enemy?”. Given Aelfric is able to hold on to Bebbanburg and remains a power factor in the area through decades of Danish rule after his ursurpation (in strict contrast to, say, Guthred who loses all he’s gained within months once Uthred isn’t around, or the various puppet kings occasionally showing up), though, you have to wonder whether there aren’t more parallels between him and Alfred, or him and Uthred, for that matter, than the narrative admits. At the very least, he appears to be a competent ruler. And Alfred admits in s2 that if Aethelwold had been “less of a disappointment” to his father the late King, he would have had him killed; he did want that crown.

Confirmed impression: yep, the tv adaption does 100% better with the female characters. Though it never mentions one reason the book gives for Aelswith’s consistent Dane (and Uthred)-loathing (that her hometown was raided, a raid in which book!Uthred took place, though she doesn’ tknow that). But it’s so many little things – the show giving Mildrith a scene with Odda the Elder that allows her to voice her own feelings about the loss of her son and her decision to join a nunnery, Brida’s fallout with Uthred shown as the result of a whole series of scenes from her pov, Iseult being the one to save HIld, Hild’s compassion towards Aelswith in 1.07 (a lesser show would just have kept focusing on the male angst in that episode, i.e. Alfred and Uthred, and forgotten Aelswith is fearing for her child’s life, too, once she’s no more a plot obstacle). Basically, the show is interested in these women beyond whether or not Uthred is romantically attracted to them at any given moment, and the books are not. I’m definitely going to ask for several of these women in this year’s Yuletide.

Having watched an interview with Uthred’s actor: the accent he speaks with as Uthred isn’t his own, so it must be direction, presumably to keep the element of Uthred’s Danishness among the Saxons consistently alive, but if you think about it, it’s not very realistic, given that Uthred was 11 or 12 years old (the tv narration switches a bit) when he got captured by the Danes, and child!Uthred speaks what strikes this foreigner as standard Northern English.

Date: 7 Aug 2017 08:36 (UTC)
peasant: sweet pea (Default)
From: [personal profile] peasant
I want to make a thoughtful contribution to this, but I'm mostly just nodding along and agreeing with you. Thanks for posting, I will try to participate in the actual conversation later.

Date: 13 Aug 2017 01:04 (UTC)
labingi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] labingi
Thanks for this. I've only seen the first couple of episodes of the TV show, but I've enjoyed it and wanted to see more, also wondered about the books. It's interesting to hear your take on it.

Date: 14 Aug 2017 23:37 (UTC)
labingi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] labingi
Thanks for the added info!

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