Let us pause in our ongoing discussion of The Bastard Executioner to praise the sound of bloody murder. Toward the end of episode 6, “Thorns / Drain,” we find Prichard in the Castle Ventris dungeon with a positively IDed member of The Guilty, who’s strung up in shackles and awaiting torture and certain death. Amid mouthfuls of blood and anguished moans, the noble savage has coughed up some information regarding the Shire massacre that set the series’ action in motion — for instance, that Baron Ventris personally slit Prichard’s son’s throat, while Sir Locke is the one who thrust a knife blade into the strongman’s wife’s belly — but not enough. So Prichard takes what looks like a wine corkscrew to the man’s mouth to pry that intel free.
First, we hear what sounds like a series of twigs snapping as the sharp device penetrates sensitive parts of his face. That’s followed by a mushy crunch — bone breaking? — and the more deliberate noise of arterial spray. Eventually, Brattle must step in to deliver the coup de grâce. Seconds after he plunges his dagger into the Guilty man’s gullet, we are treated to the meaty slap of blood dribbling onto stone floor.
It’s all so much more disgusting than what’s happening visually in the scene: a visceral counterpoint to actual evisceration. But it’s hardly the only body shock to be found in “Thorns / Drain.”
To name another, Annora of the Alders has started extruding these puzzling little arrowhead thingies through stigmata in her palm and out of her tattooed décolletage. She passes a handful of them on to the Dark Mute who grasps their importance without further question. But when Annora presents another crop of her body thorns to Father Ruskin, the holy man balks at such an outward display of Paganism. “I do not deal in remedies, woman!” Ruskin exclaims.
“These are not to heal,” Annora replies. “They are to warn. An omen. A danger comes to this court. A darkness… You will know it when you see it.”
Presumably, so will we.
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Future series installments may or may not dictate if her dark augury has anything to do with Sir Cormac’s progress in tracking the Seraphim (from episode 4) to coastal Ventrishire. (Ed Sheeran is good with maps — who knew?) But it can’t be good for any of our heroes that Cormac’s boss is finally revealed as none other than the Archdeacon of Windsor, indicating that this pagan witch-hunting business has become a priority at the top of the country’s spiritual food chain.
As a lesser but no less freaky kind of body shock in the episode, we grow to understand more of Chamberlain Corbett’s carnal appetites. Thus far, we’ve known he likes getting it on with men and women alike. But in the scene where Leon Tell provides interruptus to Corbett’s coitus, we meet his latest paramours as they exit the bedroom: the sexual Wonder Twins, Ramona and Clara (Eloise Lovell Anderson and Sophie Lovell Anderson) followed by a little person! (Call it a ménage à trois pointe cinq…)
Of course, the big “Aha” of “Thorns / Drain” has nothing to do with sexytime. Backed into a corner, the Baroness has been publicly proclaiming her pregnancy when she is kidnapped by unknown pursuers and finds herself in a face-to-face meeting with Welsh rebellion leader The Wolf (Matthew Rhys). Their conversation begins with stilted formality before giving way to the pair’s real relationship. She calls him her father’s “secret son.” He calls her “dear sister” before Lady Love corrects the rebel brigand: “Half sister,” she says, adding: “Clearly, my father chose ill-bred mistresses early in his marriage, incapable of bearing children sound of mind.”
Their meet-cute at the Ancestral Ruins of Inner Ventrishire does more than simply explain the Baroness’ gusto for class warfare that has been growing more and more pronounced since the pilot. The Wolf — or “Griffy,” as Lady Love calls the character whose full name is Gruffudd y Blaidd — wants sis to basically finance his rebellion by selling off antique heirlooms ripped off from the family crypt inside Castle Ventrishire. Which, despite the risk of having her head forcibly separated from her body if they are found out, is exactly what she does because “an independent Wales” is revealed as the Baroness’ fondest wish.
NEXT: Corbett makes Brattle an offer he can’t refuse [pagebreak]
Meanwhile — to paraphrase Jay-Z — Brattle’s got 99 problems, but Jessamy is just one. En route to running stolen weapons to the Wolf, the executioner is accidentally forced to kill a royal guard, Sir Huxley. This latest murder causes the Bastard Executioner to reassess his priorities. “It is time to take our revenge and escape,” Brattle tells Prichard.
And from there, he tells his family that they have until sundown to get out of Dodge. Jessamy, however, still refuses to acknowledge that Brattle is anyone other than Gawain Maddox, even as he attempts to shake her from this fugue state of belief. “I’m not sure why you hold on to this lie in the way you do,” he tells her. “I’m not your husband. Nor am I an executioner. All in this room know that truth as well as the Chamberlain.”
Jessamy’s recourse involves tattling Brattle out to Corbett just as he is about to take flight with Calo, Ash, Prichard and Berber in tow. But the crazy woman doesn’t do the crazy thing we’re expecting: Chamberlain imprisons Brattle because she told him she feared the punisher was going to kill some castle knights for making inappropriate sexual remarks.
This is when the proverbial penny drops, and Corbett articulates what he has been aware of all along. “I know who you and your friends are,” he shouts inside the confines of Castle Ventris’ much-used dungeon. “Hooded bandits caught up inside a bloody dumb show!”
Soon, Corbett is making Brattle et al. an offer they can’t refuse.
The Chamberlain, it turns out, can’t trust his knights — hired guns with no special allegiance to him or Ventrishire — and wants to enlist the Guilty-hunters as men who will serve him “beyond the boundaries of manor law.” If they help him, Corbett promises the men will be able to take their revenge (with the caveat that Leon Tell must remain alive in the short term). If they decline, however, they seal their own doom.
And he’s quick enough on the uptake to notice the special relationship brewing between Brattle and Lady Love. “Imagine how heartbroken Love would be to discover her growing affection was born on a bed of lies and Godless deception!” the Chamberlain taunts.
By the end of the episode, the Baroness is pretty much the only character who doesn’t know Brattle’s true identity. When the two meet in ye olde food-storage catacomb, the executioner is having a full-blown identity crisis. And she holds his hand, reassuring Brattle/Maddox that “God sees the grace” within him.
In turn, he calls Lady Love “kind” and “so beautiful” — to be sure, a bold come-on for an axe swinger to make toward a noblewoman. “My moments with you feel like the only thing that holds any truth,” he says before admitting his feelings: “I have been drawn to you.”
He quickly apologizes because 14th-century fief dwellers are expected to know their station in life. But the Baroness is not offended, recalling a “vision” she had when she touched Brattle/Maddox’s scar upon their first meeting inside the Castle chapel — a vision of the birth of a boy.
Things conclude this way: with two characters vulnerable in their shared openness, taking leave after speaking of a visionary bond.