Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E07 “Episode 7” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on ITV 1, Sundays
Writer: Guy Burt
Director: Colin Teague
Essential Plot Points:
- Jogan’s bickering Wulfing raiders attack Herot. They nick some gold and Kela (Slean’s bride to be) though they don’t realise how important she is to Rheda’s plans.
- Jogan’s sulky, wet son, Draven is captured in the raid.
- Rheda agrees with Jogan to bargain Draven in exchange for Kela.
- But at the exchange, Draven grabs Kela, then jumps on a horse and rides off with her. His bemused dad follows him.
- Beowulf and Varr – suddenly revealed to be some kind of zen warrior – pursue Jogan, Draven and the kidnapped Kela.
- There’s a big fight in which Beowulf kills Jogan, Draven runs off, and Varr rescues the ungrateful Kela.
- Meanwhile in Bregan, Saray reveals that she is an assassin sent to kill Abrecan who fell in love with him instead. This appears to suit Abrecan’s ego.
- Abrecan sends Slean back to Herot promising to make him Thane when their plan to depose Rheda succeeds (but his expression when Slean’s back is turned tells another story).
- Abrecan’s loyal henchman, Vlade, finds Draven and takes him back to Bregan, where Abrecan strikes a deal with him to secure the Wulfings’ support in this plans to become LORD OF THE KNOWN WORLD!!! (Or a few hills and valleys in Northumbria, at least.)
- Abrecan kills Vlade then lies to Beowulf that Vlade was the cause of all evil and treachery in Bregan.
Beowulf has returned! Not to the Shieldlands; he’s been bumbling around there for a while now. Now, Beowulf had returned to be being the star of his own show after a few weeks when he’s been beaten up by all-and-sundry, and skulked listlessly on the edges of the action spouting dialogue that’s been barely more than exposition.
But this week: HE’S BACK! He skewers giant dogs and warrior chiefs; he gallops his horse in slow motion across shallow rivers; he interrogates prisoners with disdain; he tells his Thane how she should be running the show; he senses Abrecan is up to no good; and he waves his sword around. A lot.
Okay, he also falls asleep during the prisoner exchange and lets Draven get away with the easiest kidnap ever, but hey, all that other effort clearly wore him out. We’ll forgive him.
Although still hampered by some of the dry dialogue and clunky plotting that has plagued this show from the start, this episode showed a lot more spark and flare than usual. The fact that it was so action-packed was only part of the reason, though the action set-pieces were great fun and well shot (if you ignored a few iffy CG dog shots). The episode also benefitted from sparkier, livelier characters and an increase in treachery and intrigue.
This mainly centred on Abrecan, a man who’s making his claim replace Machiavelli as history’s foremost schemer. Except he may have some competition… from his own wife, Saray. She’s clearly being set up as a Lady Macbeth character – the power behind the throne – and although nothing explicit has been said yet there are hints that she is pulling the strings (“Should any man have that much power over is Thane?” “Or any woman?”). And can we believe her story about being an assassin who came to kill Abrecan but fell in love with him isntead? It’s easy to believe the assassin bit but falling in love with Abrecan? That sounds like something concocted to appeal to Abrecan’s ego. Has she come here, or been sent here, deliberately to manipulate Abrecan? Vlade certainly seems to think that Abrecan has changed since she came on the scene and he doesn’t like it. Which is probably another reason he was bumped off.
(Besides, it’s amusing to think that the season finale might feature a big ol’ cat fight between Saray and Rheda.)
Whatever the (fictional) truth, the nefarious plotting has certainly shifted up a gear and the show is benefitting.
Kela’s an interesting character too. Is she being randomly selfish, rash and ungrateful, or does she have a bigger plan that will play out when she’s finally forced to marry Slean? Or could she even be part of an even larger plan that concerns the Warigs or Abrecan? Unlikely, as she wasn’t initially supposed to come to Herot. Unless, of course, she did kill her own sister to replace her. You can’t wrote off that possibility.
Rheda, who’s been showing good man management skills until now, turns into a screaming harridan when the Wulfings dare to raid her great hall. She says it’s because Wulfings killed her hubby but, to be honest, she seems more pissed when she discovers some gold trinket has been stolen from her desk than when she discovers Hrothgar’s death mask has been nicked. Maybe Kela’s right: Herot is obsessed with gold. Either way, it’s not the best side we’ve seen of Rheda.
While the show still can’t quite convince you it’s not just a bunch mates out on a Viking re-enactment weekend in Northumbria, this episode is a step in the right direction. The characters are developing well and the backstory is deepening. It still doesn’t have the casual charm of Merlin or the complexity and majesty of Game Of Thrones but it’s improving. Maybe by episode 13 it will feel truly epic. Unless they run out of budget.
- Lots of action. Lots of galloping around on horses. This episode nearly feels “epic”.
- Lots of interesting intrigue. Abrecan is turning into a formidable git, though clearly Saray is the Lady Macbeth behind this Thane. After just two episodes she’s proving to be a very welcome addition to the cast.
- After weeks of looking like a bit of a dick, Beowulf actually gets some properly heroic moments this week. Plus he calls Rheda up on her impossible expectations and he clearly isn’t convinced by Abrecan’s lies at the end of the episode (we loved Kieran Bew’s sneering delivery of, “Really!?!” when Abrecan calls Vlade one of his most trusted men). Finally we have a Beowulf with brains and brawn.
- It’s great to get to see a little bit more of Varr and learn more of his background (even if we’re only being drip-fed information). Though the way he keeps going on about the Varni you wonder why he left.
- The trick that Beowulf and Varr play on Draven with the not-actually-poisoned water is an ingenious moment.
- Whether or not it’s on purpose, we love the way this episode highlights how ostentatious Herot is when it comes to gold. Even Beowulf casually dismisses the Wulfing raid with a condescending, “We have a lot of gold.” You can see why the other Thanes might get pissed by Herot’s sense of entitlement.
- The doggy FX are more like dodgy effects at some points, which is especially odd since at other times they’re really very good indeed. The difference in quality is very jarring.
- Too many conveniently overheard conversations.
- Too many characters telling each other things they already know for the sake of giving the audience information/so they can be conveniently overheard.
- With such a big thing being made about Varr being a “no weapons” combatant, his fight with Draven should have been much more impressive; we were expecting a kung fun monk and we got a bloke who was really good at ducking.
- Draven is annoyingly wet.
And The Random:
- This week ITV’s subtitling has started to called “Herot” (as the place has been spelt in all ITV’s publicity material) “Heorot” which is its spelling in the original Beowulf poem. Not sure if there’s been an official change of policy.
- Jogan says that Rheda was once a “fisherman’s daughter”. We’re not sure if this is to be taken literally or not. Maybe she is that lowly born. On the other hand she originates from Bregan which looks like a glorified fishing village so maybe inhabitants of Bregan – whether high-born or low – are referred to derogatively as “fishermen” by everyone else.
- We’re slightly confused why Vishka doesn’t throw Brinni an axe? Was she incapable because of her injured arm? Was she frozen with fear? Was she scared she might miss and take Brinni’s head off? Did she want him to die because he’s been getting friendly with Kela? It’s a really odd little moment and you kinda want Brinni to ask her what’s going on.
- Why the hell is Rheda not saying, “Bloodly hell, be careful where you’re waving that sword, will you?” at this point?
Review by Dave Golder