The first episode of The Winter King reimagines the King Arthur tale and kicks things off for an exciting first season. The Winter King is the first book in Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles, which also includes Enemy of God and Excalibur and is the inspiration for the Last Kingdom trilogy. The more fantastical parts of the Arthurian legend were toned down in these works while still being there.
In The Winter King, Eddie Marsan plays King Uther Pendragon, a figure who tries to bring tribes together to fight against the incoming Saxons during the so-called “Dark Ages” of the 5th century.
What Happened In The Winter King Episode 1?
Episode 1 of The Winter King opens with Mordred, Uther’s real son, being killed by the Saxons in combat on the White Horse Plains. Arthur, Uther’s illegitimate son, carries his younger brother’s corpse to Caer Cadarn, the Dumnonian capital. Even though Arthur’s best friend Owain begs him not to face the king at this time, he does it nevertheless.
When Arthur brings Mordred’s corpse to the king, he got a mad reaction by the monarch, who blames him for his sudden death since he did not defend Mordred during the fight. Making things worse, Arthur tells his father that he should take over as king. Besides Arthur, everyone in the court was aware that Uther would never anoint a cretin as the next king of Dumnonia.
After Arthur crossed the border, Uther showed him his place and told him the harsh truth about his roots. Uther had no choice but to chop off Arthur’s head from his body as Arthur raised his voice in an argument. Uther was about to pour even more blood when the famed wizard Merlin, who had been waiting in the shadows, stepped in. Uther’s ineptitude as a leader has been shown as undeniable.
He blames not just Arthur but also the other tribe leaders at the court for his son’s sudden death. After previous Saxon raids, Uther had sounded the warning, but none of the chieftains had responded. Uther blames each of them for the more and more raids since they were too busy with their own fun and games. Uther finally kicks Arthur out from the Isle and gives heads-up to the other leaders not to help or protect him, lest they end up the same.
Before departing, Arthur tells Owain that he doesn’t think his father is cut out to be king. He can no longer see mistakes in his thinking and so can’t get better. He realizes that if he continues along this path, the kingdom will never be united, and so he asks Owain to earn Uther’s confidence so that he may provide better advice. Arthur informs Owain that the Saxons must be stopped on the western edge of Calleva since no one can stop them from taking over the Isle if they do.
Before leaving Dumnonia, Arthur rescues a youngster from the flames of a northern village. He takes the hurt young man to Merlin’s Avalon safe place, where everyone gets along and feels tight-knit. Arthur asks Merlin to raise the youngster as he raised Arthur when they were both young. Based on what we’ve seen in the cartoon, it seems likely that Merlin and Arthur became close during Arthur’s growing-up years, when he spent a great deal of time in Avalon under Merlin’s tutelage.
After tending to the boy’s injuries, one of the young druids called Nimue learns that he is a Saxon and may have been enslaved in one of the English towns. Nimue renames him Derfel, and Hywel, Merlin’s aide, begins caring for him as he’s his own kid. When Nimue is asked by the gods to choose between them and Derfel, the story suddenly stops her and Derfel’s love, which had been developing for the last eight years.
If Nimue tries to live a regular life, Merlin says, she will lose her power to hear the gods’ voices. He thinks she will one day be the most influential druid in all of Britain, making her choice super important for the survival of the island. Nimue separates from Derfel because she finally decides to be herself, the person she was always meant to be. But the little lad can’t come to terms with the change of circumstances and is freaked out by memories of the night he lost his mother.
Derfel had the same bad dream over and over in which a guy with a mark of Siluria kidnapped or murdered his mother and then threw him on a pike to be executed. But Derfel swiftly recalls Arthur’s words, gathering confidence and resolving to become a warrior like Arthur in order to avenge his mother’s death.
Derfel stays at Caer Cadarn to learn to become a warrior like Arthur, while Nimue and the others return to Avalon with the queen and the infant prince. About three months later, Owain notices the young man’s enthusiasm and talent and decides to coach him directly. But before Derfel could celebrate, he unexpectedly ran across a guy who brought back painful memories.
Gundleus, King of Siluria, a devout Christian and merciless robber, has come to the city to see the High King. Uther is planning an evil scheme, despite Queen Morgan’s pleading that he ignores Gundleus and makes him pay for his crimes against the country. To fight other problems, he proposes to make an agreement with the devil.
Despite Gundleus’ assurances to the king that he has had a big life change after becoming a Christian, we know from seeing Vikings: Valhalla that individuals like Gundleus are deluded and incapable of putting an end to their bloodlust. They need just a fresh pretext and new foes to draw blood once again, and we think the Pagan community will provide both.
Gundleus shows the High King that he is ready to do whatever to make one for his sins. Uther takes advantage of the situation to request that Gundleus put a halt to his uncle Gorfydd’s months-long campaign of pillage around the country’s boundaries. If Gundleus is able to permanently thwart him, he will be let off for his crimes.
Derfel, who had been listening in on the whole thing, saw the Siluria mark on Gundleus’ chest as it was being discussed. It was an immediate trigger for memories of the monster who had wounded Derfel’s mother, and we anticipate that Derfel will now faithfully follow Gundleus. Since the day he began having flashbacks to the terrible past, Derfel had been burning with anger, and he wouldn’t rest until he killed Gundleus. The key issue is whether or not a weak Derfel could defeat a powerful warlord.
Merlin tracks down Arthur to the coast of Gaul, King Ban’s territory, as Episode 1 of The Winter King comes to a close. King Ban has just enlisted Arthur to lead a war party against the Franks on his behalf. Sagramor, one of Arthur’s soldiers, takes Merlin to his master, reuniting the renowned magician with his old friend and student after many years apart.
Without wasting any time, Merlin alerts the mighty warrior about the upcoming risks that threaten the Isle. Arthur is very devoted to his brother and father, therefore it will be difficult for Merlin to convince him to take up arms against them. Even on his first trip to Avalon, Merlin laid the blame for Mordred’s death on Arthur and pointed out that Uther’s poor tactics were to blame.
But the devoted son would hear nothing spoken in opposition to his father. As a result, Episode 2 is likely going to be about Merlin trying to convince Arthur that he has to betray his loyalties in order to secure the future of the Isle. Also, Derfel will likely try to eliminate Gundleus out of vengeance for the terrible things that happened to him in the past.
What we anticipate the most, though, is Arthur’s mission to unite Britain’s many peoples under a single flag and establish himself as the country’s only real king. The adventure has just started, and we can only pray that the story keeps getting exciting from here on out! One of the most important aspects of a historical epic drama is its pacing, and based on the first episode, we’re certain that it won’t let us down in this regard.
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