The Bastard Executioner
The season finale of The Bastard Executioner is titled “Blood and Quiescence/Crau a Chwsg” (Welsh for “Blood and Sleep”). While a great deal of blood is lost in the final battle, the season ends peacefully, and the future appears as if it will be calm — for a while, at least.
First up: revenge. Milus had given Toran and Wilkin free rein to kill Sir Locke and the Reeve, respectively, to avenge the deaths of their wives and children. However, when Milus sees the Reeve praying in the chapel in the opening scene, regret crosses his eyes; a changed man in these final episodes, Milus appears to question his orders. Luckily, Toran and Wilkin are not blinded by the same vengeance that started them on this journey.
Toran follows Locke and corners him, telling him the truth of his past, and that it was his wife and child who Locke killed in the raid. Locke says that while he takes orders from his commander, he alone is responsible for the blood of his blade. Instead of killing him immediately, Toran offers a fair fight, which ends in him being disarmed. Their debts are cleared, and as Locke walks off, Toran collapses and cries. He realizes that killing Locke will not assuage his pain.
Later, Wilkin confronts the Reeve: “The cross you wear around your neck belonged to my wife. She was carrying our child …” and he makes it clear that his goal is to kill the Reeve to avenge the deaths of Petra and their daughter. The Reeve promises him that he didn’t kill her; he says, “I wear this not as plunder, but as a reminder: God before crown.” Insert quick golden-Petra-vision, then Wilkin backs down. Unlike Toran — who settles his debt with his enemy — Wilkin doesn’t find out who actually killed his wife and child. (Nor do we, though the dagger in the first episode suggests it was the Dark Mute.)
Of course, it would be less than savory for Wilkin to engage in vengeful murder. He is, after all, likely the direct descendant of Jesus. No big deal.
There are many revelations in the finale about the role of religion as well. Annora shows Wilkin the Book of the Nazarene. She explains that the pages reveal that Jesus was just a man, but he had a singular relationship with God — and that is the true holy experience. “A church built to glorify that,” Annora says, would “only lead to greed and destruction.” The gospels, she explains, are filled with much of God’s truth, and “much of man’s persuasion.”
Annora reveals to Wilkin that the Seraphim get the original words tattooed on their flesh. One person “carries the blood,” and there are 12 disciples who follow and protect that individual. She is a direct descendant of Jesus of Nazarene. Wilkin presses on, asking if he’s also the blood, if he’s the son of Annora and Dark Mute — the nun and warrior from his visions. Annora is vague, but we are fairly sure that Wilkin is a direct descendant, too, which really adds some flair to the standard monomyth.
The Dark Mute comes forward, reminding everyone in the room that there’s a little boy who needs to be saved. Wilkin immediately visits Lady Love to tell her. He doesn’t give many details, but he explains enough for her to know that the Rosula believe Annora and others like her are a threat to the church. “Her truth is extraordinary,” he says, “But it’s the only truth we have.”
“What possible threat could a gentle, aged woman pose to the church?” Lady Love asks, bewildered, adding that she finds it hard to believe the Archdeacon would be so conniving and dangerous. While some of the conversations surrounding religion are a bit heavy-handed — the “very special moment” soundtrack while Annora and Wilkin are speaking comes to mind — Kurt Sutter brings up excellent points about faith, religion, and society. These ideas are especially poignant in times like today, amid chatter about the Crusades — both past and present — as well as the threats posed by religious extremists at home and abroad. (The Rosula are “very deadly,” Annora tells Lady Love. “They have no fear of dying.”)
Meanwhile, a poignant moment occurs between Berber the Moor and Aiden the Jew in their scribes’ quarters. Berber is keeping vigil while Aiden prays, and Aiden is wary of what he will owe him for keeping his secret. Berber shows him his Koran: “Now you know my secret, so there is no price I can demand … Faiths that have only known discord now serve each other.” Aiden had been a freeman scribe, but he lashed out violently after a Teutonic knight kept mocking his “Jew face.” He explains that he was raised by “angry and devout wolves” and knew “the Torah and survival.” Berber, on the other hand, came from scholars who taught him to think and learn, “a skill that served me until the conquest.” His wife and child escaped via Andorran trade routes, but he and his brother found “false passage” on a labor ship.
Sutter is Catholic, but the medieval Catholic church clearly stands out as the enemy on this show. As he said in an interview with Deadline, “It’s this weird part of history where Roman Catholicism is dominant and being jammed down everybody’s throat to the point where religion wasn’t a belief, it was an army. If you weren’t Catholic, you were gone. If you were Jewish, you were gone. If you were Muslim, you were gone.” It’s clear that Sutter wants us to take away the injustice in that sort of religious ideology, and perhaps advocate for the “Jesus as philosopher” approach partnered with a personal, individual relationship with God.
That’s why Archdeacon Robinus is the ultimate enemy in The Bastard Executioner. “If this is but another deception,” he says as they looking for Annora, “Kill the boy. Slowly.” He’s willing to collect skins and kill children to protect his greed-infested church. The Rosula are defeated, though, thanks to the Wolf and the Rebels joining forces, while the Dark Mute shows up to light medieval bombs and chase the enemy down in flames. I had originally suspected his facial scars were from being burned as a punishment from the king. Instead, “light myself on fire and flail wildly” seems to be his battle m.o., and it worked against the Rosula. However, he succumbs to the flame and dies, protecting whom and what he loves most. (Before leading them into battle, he comes dangerously close to saying, “Wilkin, I am your father.”)
As the large Rosula army charges the merry band of Ventrishire servants, volunteer soldiers, and Welsh rebels, Sir Cormac yells, “Sanguis enim Dei!” which means, “For God’s blood!” Their army is defeated — except for Sir Cormac, who runs off after being wounded — but Annora and Wilkin survive. If this is what they are fighting for, God’s blood wins. Father Ruskin and Luca survive, and Luca kills Robinus.
And, of course, Lady Love and Wilkin are together at last. There’s more hand-holding in the chapel, but the main event occurs at the very end of the episode. The two are alone in Lady Love’s bedchamber, playfully flirting and dropping bawdy double endentres. It’s an altogether sexy and satisfying scene — one most viewers have waited all season to see. (Ed Sheeran/Sir Cormac’s voice singing, “Do you feel any pain?” during the concluding coitus is, admittedly, a bit unsettling.) When he comes home from battle, Wilkin tells Lady Love, “I am home, my love.” As they embrace in bed, she asks, “Do you love me?” and he responds, “I have always loved you.”
Here is where Sutter breaks from his Shakespearean norm: The Bastard Executioner has a fairly happy ending. Evil is conquered, Lady Love gets the “adventure” she’s always wanted in Wilkin, and even Milus is shown to be a redeemed character. If this was indeed the last installment of Sutter’s story, it succeeded in its aims of being part love story, part battle gore, and part critique on religion’s role in society.
- Poor Jessamy. She tries to attack Lady Love again, and finds herself drugged in a wagon of furs to be traded off to Pryceshire, where she will be put in a “sanctuary” to treat her madness. Isabel asks Milus, “Is it true that they drill holes in your skull and drive anointed rods in?” (A reference to trepanation, perhaps?) Milus responds that he’d rather be mad. He quickly realizes that he should take this opportunity to flirt with Isabel about “anointed rods” and a “fresh hole.” In some wild twist of storytelling, this pairing makes sense.
- A bit of unfinished business: Ash’s penchant for chopping up bodies? That seems like something we should have revisited.
- Milus and Lady Love’s warmth toward one another has grown in the last few of episodes. He compassionately tells her how and when they can explain a pregnancy loss (and seems to let up on the idea of her marrying Baron Pryce). Since Lady Love is making love to three different men in the final scene — a knight, a barley farmer, and a punisher — chances are good that their shared vision will be a reality and they will have a son — securing Ventrishire, the future of the Welsh people, and the lineage of Jesus of Nazarene. Now, that’s efficiency.