Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E11 “Episode 11” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on ITV 1, Sundays
Writer: Guy Burt
Director: Marek Losey
Essential Plot Points:
- Rheda returns to Herot and orders Slean to be locked up for his acts of betrayal.
- Word is sent to allied clans that Herot needs help fighting against the Bregan and Wulfing army. None of them, however, will be able to get to Herot in time (the Banning will presumably have to wait for Lagathorn to sober up).
- Beowulf convinces Rheda he should ride to Varni and ask Rate for their help. Rheda doesn’t think Rate will agree because of the little matter of her exiling him. Beowulf thinks it’s worth a try because otherwise he’ll have nothing to do this week.
- Varr accompanies Beowulf with a secret message from Rheda for Rate.
- Slean convinces Huskarla commander Gil to free him so he can lead the Huskarla in a futile defence against the Bregan-Wulfing army at Draca bridge. Maybe they can delay the invaders long enough for help to reach Herot.
- The Huskarla defend the bridge valiantly thanks to Slean’s inspiring leadership but the invaders are too strong in number.
- Just before their final suicidal attempt to defend the bridge Gil knocks Slean unconscious and orders Vashka and Brinni to take him back to Herot. Gil believes Slean will one day make a great Thane so it would be a shame for him to die here.
- Rheda doesn’t agree and seems mightily miffed Slean didn’t have the decency to die at the bridge to salvage his reputation.
- When Varr and Beowulf arrive at Varni Abrecan’s man is already there trying to make a Bregan-Varni alliance. Rate says he’ll support whoever wins.
- Varr, after a pointless ceremonial fight in which he unconvincingly kills his arsey half-brother, gives Rate the message from Rheda.
- Rate burns the message (we’ll presumably learn what it said next week) and Varr has to stay in Varni to look after his dead half-brother’s family. There is clearly more going on here than Varr is telling Beowulf.
- Beowulf plods back to Herot looking like a sulky panda because yet again he got lumbered with the duller of the week’s two plots.
- After following her pet mudborn to the abandoned Giant city, Elvina encounters Red Tongue who asks her to join him.
Well, it’s not quite Helm’s Deep – more Helm’s Paddling Pool – but the defence of Draca Bridge feels nearer to the epic fantasy vibe that Beowulf has been striving for since the pilot. Conceptually, it’s more The 300 – the plucky few taking on a much greater army – but from the first shot of the two statues holding up the bridge the show is clearly riffing off from Jackson’s Middle-earth rather than Snyder’s pixel-painted ancient Greece.
And when the episode is concentrating on Slean and his men desperately trying to the right thing and save Herot it’s hugely entertaining. Hey, who doesn’t like to see a giant dog being crowd-surfed over the side of a bridge? Slean proves to be an effective and inspiring leader (and, yes we’re convinced that Slean was ready to die, and this wasn’t just a big PR exercise) and the series of mini-skirmishes are surprisingly convincing and avoid becoming repetitive.
Sadly, the show’s called Beowulf, and it will keep cutting back to the boring lug. At least this week he’s not wandering around a forest, but he is almost completely redundant. Since his only useful plot function is to tell Rheda that Rate isn’t going to help, this whole B-plot could have been given to Varr and some anonymous Herot extra.
You’d assume that the show’s writers have simply given up trying to make their hero interesting, but the end of the episode, with the Wulfing leader’s monologue about killing Beowulf in revenge for the death of his brother, suggests that they think the audience still has an investment in the character. Sorry, but no. We all pulled our money out of Beowulf Inc and bought shares in Slean PLC weeks back.
Because you do care about Slean. You cheer for him when the spurs his men on. Your heart goes out to him when Rheda rejects him as her son and heir. And you can understand why he’s always got a strop on when the flashbacks reveal what a total and utter git his dad was. Kela might for the moment be wondering if she backed the wrong horse but we’d advise her to stick with Slean because Gil was right: he does have the makings of a great Thane.
Elsewhere, Varr has an unconvincing scrap in a camp site, Red Tongue tries to tempt Elvina and Breca gets four lines. The letter Rheda gave to Varr to give Rate will clearly come into play next week and it’s intriguing to ponder what offer she made. We don’t believe for a minute Rate has just dismissed it out of hand, but we do believe she wouldn’t let Beowulf in on her plans.
- Lots of great, inspiring speeches.
- The defence of Draca Bridge scenes may have been The 300-lite (about 286-lite as far as we could tell) but they were full of some great action sequences.
- They way the Huskarle shoved the Wulfing dog over the edge of the bridge was one of the top moments. Much more fun the usual poke-a-sword-in-it solution.
- Ed Speleers was especially good as Slean again.
- Gil knocking out Slean to save him from being killed – we definitely did not see that coming, but dramatically, it works for us.
- Vashka managed to tag along of a field trip and end not accidentally kill or injure a colleague.
- The final voiceover from the Wulfing leader gave the episode a chilling closing scene.
- So Varni is basically one of the crappier fields at the Glastonbury festival? Considering the Varnis’ elaborate hair and costumes we were expecting the place to look a bit less grubby. This truly did have the feel of “end of season budgetary concerns”.
- Varr’s fight with his half-brother was, frankly, rubbish: short and unconvincing. The bit when Varr was supposed to be throwing sand in his half-brother’s face looked like he was pouring it down his trouser leg.
- Beowulf was relegated to the B-plot yet again.
- It would have been nice to see Vashka and Brinni stand up for Slean when Rheda laid into him. Rheda, who seemed so politically shrewd at the start of the series, now seems to be being ruled by her heart.
- The wet Wulfing teenager may have gone for a Braveheart makeover but he still looks about as hard as a Teletubby.
And The Random:
- Erm… what was this guy doing exactly? He appeared to be taking firewood from one basket and putting it in the next basket using an implement specially designed to make the task more complicated than just doing it by hand.
- Did you spot the amount of spittle flying out of Gil’s mouth during his last rousing rallying cry? We bet the camera man had to wipe his lens after that one.
- We’re reliably informed by out North Eastern correspondent that our North Eatern correspondent got it wrong last week and the beach the Wulfings arrived at is actually Blast Beach, Seaham. This location was also used in Alien 3. But not as a beach.
Review by Dave Golder