Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E12 “Episode 12” REVIEW

Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E12 “Episode 12” REVIEW


stars 4

Finished airing in the UK on ITV 1
Writer: James Dormer
Director: Marek Losey


Essential Plot Points:

  • The Bregan/Wulfing army arrives at Herot.
  • There are a lot of speeches.
  • The Bregan/Wulfing army attacks Herot. Team Huskarla and Team Smelters hold them back… for a while.
  • Rate and Varr arrive at Herot. The letter Rheda sent Rate last week was a deal that Rheda would marry Rate and make him joint-Jarl if he brought the Varni to Herot’s defence.
  • Rate says sure, but marriage first. Reluctantly Rheda agrees, though she’s not to keen on his idea of a wedding present: horse meat.
  • Beowulf flashbacks to his dad telling him that he really is his son but nobody else knows.
  • Breca is killed by the Wulfing leader, Skellan.
  • When Elvina is attacked by a Wulfing in her hut the mudborn creature she’s been tending defends her. In the confusion (and it is very confusing – we had to watch it three times to work out quite what was going on) the Huskarla guarding Elvina attacks the mudborn and Elvina changes into her skinshifter form then kills the Huskarla. Both Beowulf and Brinni see this and Beowulf tells Brinni to tell no one.
  • Elvina reveals the mudborn is called Grendel and he is her son! Then she leaves town.
  • The Varni join the fray just as relations between Abrecan, the Bregan leader, and Skellan begin to break down.
  • The Wulfings head to the town gate to fight the Varni while Abrecan and the Bregans press on to the Shield Hall.


  • Then Rheda blindsides everyone by emerging from the Shield Hall and engaging with Abecan’s men one-to-one. Her logic is if that Abrecan’s been telling everyone a woman is not fit to be Jarl because she would not have the courage to face him, the the best way to disempower him is to face him.
  • The Bregan army has already forgotten they love Abrecan because he is Super-Fisherman! They side with Rheda instead and Rheda kills her brother. Rate is impressed.
  • Beowulf and Skellan have a sword fight and Beowulf wins! Hurrah! Breca is avenged (but ultimately Beowulf still needs Sleane’s help to win the fight.)
  • All through this Sleane has been getting pep talks from everybody about how great he is except his mum, who has decided he will never be Thane and won’t budge. Neither Sleane nor wife Kela are impressed with their new step dad/step dad-in-law. Horse meat clearly ain’t big in Herot.
  • Elsewhere (somewhere snowy and mountainy) Red Tongue enlists the aid of the Master Of Giants in his fight against humanity.




So that was probably the last episode of Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands if rumours are true. And in typical one-season wonder fashion it saved the best till last and left you desperate for more. Giants man! Come on! Bring on the giants!

Beowulf only has itself to blame with a lacklustre pilot and a slowburn start to the season that almost wilfully put off audiences before suddenly delivering a set of fine episodes in the the run-up to – and including – the season finale. The pilot just appeared to be a bunch of clichés and many watching must have thought, “I can see where this is going…!” with a sigh. So the fact that the show didn’t go there – that it kept veering off in all kinds of unexpected ways, especially as regards Sleane – was a pleasant surprise lost on the vast swathes of viewers who abandoned the show in the first few weeks.

Rheda initially looked like the plucky new Thane who would unite the tribes through charm and intelligence and do everything to make sure her unworthy son would succeed her. Yawn. Seen that before. By the end of the season she is drunk on power and doing anything she can to cling onto it.

Sleane was clearly going to be the jealous brother who would turn evil and end the season as Beowulf’s bitter enemy, probably having sided with an antagonistic Thane. Instead he ended the season adored by everybody in Thane except his mother… but including Beowulf.

This was all great stuff and far more interesting than we all thought the show was going to be. Many expected Game Of Thrones-lite but instead we got full-fat Merlin. If the writers had clicked that a bromance between Sleane and Beowulf would have done the show wonders they could have had a Merlin-sized hit on their hands. Sadly by the time hints of such a bromance appeared (about 30 minutes before the end of the finale) we’ve learned that Hrothgar wasn’t being purely figurative in that flashback way back at the start of the season when he called Beowulf his son. A bromance is one thing but an incestuous one? A bit icky.


The finale is still creaky in places but for the most part it’s a full-on, action-packed crowdpleaser with a few good twists and revelations and much better dialogue than usual (bar a couple of dud speeches). There had to be a major casualty, so someone Blu-Tacked the “Kill Me” sign to Breca’s back because the writers lost interest in him somewhere around episode six. At least he had a couple of good death bed lines to go out on a high. And, hey, Beowulf actually looked the star of his own show for once!

So if that is the end of the road for the series at least it was a worthy ending for the loyal fans who stuck with it. If it’s cancelled there are plenty of loose ends for fan fiction to pick up on; not least the fact that Saray didn’t seem totally dead in her finale scene a few weeks back (we were hoping she’d be back in the finale to help Rheda stick the knife in Abrecan but no such luck). Also… GIANTS! God, how could ITV not commission a season two when they know there’ll be giants!

Actually don’t answer that. It’ll be depressing. And for the moment, Beowulf has left us happy. We’d like to keep it that way for a little while at least…


The Good:


  • Lots of action! Most of it good!


  • Breca leading the Wulfing into the trap with the troll. The bit with the guy begging at the gate to be let out then being whisked off screen by the unseen troll was an especially fun detail.
  • Rheda’s sarcastic reaction to Rate’s wedding present: “How could I turn it down?”
  • Rate’s reaction to Rheda killing Abrecan: “I think you might be my favourite wife.”
  • Breca’s dying line, “I should say sorry for all the bad things I’ve done but I’ve enjoyed doing them too much.”


  • Beowulf spearing Beltane because no one likes a show off
  • Rheda’s withering retort to Keela: “I know what it is to be ignored by a father who favours another. What it is to be always passed over. How it can cripple a child.” “It didn’t cripple you did it?”
  • Beowulf got his mojo back.
  • Here’s something we don’t say often: the “Previously On” section was especially impressive, setting the tone for the finale perfectly.


The Bad:


  • Too much specifying before the battle. There’s nowt wrong with a good stirring speech – and there were some great ones last week – but here they came across like delaying tactics.
  • The abseiling Wulfings looked a little silly
  • Breca death scene would have been much more emotional if someone hadn’t forgotten to write him a decent backstory for the previous 11 episodes. The hints we get here of some hidden Breca who never made it to screen make him sound like a much better character than the guy we got most of the season.
  • “She’s a skin shifter. ” “Get out and not a word to anyone.” Yeah, who really trusts Brinni would keep his mouth shut? But this is conveniently ignored because it would have opened a whole new can of worms that the writers wouldn’t want to deal with this late in the season. It would have been better for Brinni not to have been in this scene at all.
  • The Grendel reveal should be a major jawdropper but it’s shot and edited so weirdly it’s difficult to work out what’s going on at first. An establishing shot showing there was another Huskarla in the room at the start of the scene would have helped.
  • “I see no love for you here Abrecan. If you rule here you will rule only ashes,” says Skellan and he’s probably right but this a classic case of telling-not-showing. We seriously needed to see the Bregans starting to get pissed off with Abrecan long before Rheda addressed the fisherman, Hallam, because as far we’re to know they all still loved him for his amazing fishing abilities.
  • Though Beowulf was much more heroic this week (we were surprised Rheda didn’t send him on a “vital” mission down the woods to pick mushrooms or something) but he still needed Sleane’s help to kill Skellan.


  • This shot: file under “Trying too hard.”


And The Random:


  • Giants are mentioned in the original Beowulf poem but they don’t play a big part. Beowulf tells Hrothgar he once killed a tribe of giants. He also uses a giant’s sword to slay Grendel’s mother. Watch out Elvina!


  • Rheda, don’t think of marrying Rate as losing half your power; think of it as gaining free camping holidays for life!
  • When Kela tells Sleane, “I would do whatever I had to to see you were Thane,” was anybody else thinking she was offering to poison Rate?


  • These kids were re-enacting the Ewoks trashing AT-ST in Return Of The Jedi, surely?


  • If we call this a trebuchet we’re sure some expert in Medieval siege machines will be onto us saying, “I think you’ll find…”
  • So how exactly does presenting Rheda with the meat of his finest horse prove that Rate is a great hunter? The horse was presumably well trained and thought Rate was coming to give him dinner, not kill it!


  • Good to see Breca taking his own advice from a couple of weeks back and using a spade in battle.

Review by Dave Golder

Read our other Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands reviews


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