Father Ruskin clearly can’t believe his senses. Having read the scriptures “hand-scribed by the Nazarenes” three times over, his incredulity floats in the dark of Annora’s cave as palpable as the campfire heat and witchy weirdness. In particular, the book’s “Jesus, son of Joseph” assertion — an affront to Ruskin’s “Jesus, the Son of God” faith — blows the holy man’s mind.
“If these are truly his words, the very foundation of all I believe in and all that I preach…“ Ruskin begins to say. “Is shattered?” Annora interrupts.
“That’s why Robinus and his army pursue us,” the healer continues. “We are the Seraphim: the ones chose to carry and protect the words of the Nazarene.”
Eight episodes into basic cable’s bloodiest offering, The Bastard Executioner pulls back the kimono on several of the series’ most compelling characters with this reading of scripture: a book that will, in later centuries, come to be know as the New Testament. Within the series, it’s presented as a narrative catalyst whose import is announced by a mounting body count.
Carrying The Word — not paganism —compelled Annora to alter Brattle’s fate by ordering the Dark Mute to murder Petra. Obliterating The Word is Robinus’ primary directive (by extension, Ed Sheeran’s character’s too). For they are Knights of the Rosula, a.k.a. the descendants of the soldiers who killed Christ. And protecting The Word allows Kurt Sutter’s Dark Mute character to proceed in battle as a kind of magical, invulnerable, grotesquely disfigured archangel.
But when Robinus’ men rush into the far caverns where the healer-witch and her bizarre factotum are presumed to have taken Bin Laden-like refuge, a little magic and some clever booby traps redress the pursuer-pursued power dynamic. Snakes hanging limp on a clothesline come hissing to life to bite chunks from a Knight of the Rosula’s face. A strategically placed letter releases a plume of flame that ignites a bubbling cauldron of oil. And several henchmen die hideous deaths. The upshot: Robinus upgrades Ruskin from a suspect to a full-on person of interest worthy of kidnapping, along with (somewhat inexplicably) “a male child.”
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Meanwhile, England teeters on the brink of civil war. A consortium of influential barons called the Ordainers has seized power from Edward II and his A-hole right-hand man, Piers Gaveston, is on the run (for “leading the king astray”) with a bounty on his head. Will Lady Love, the Ordainers would like to know, provide Ventrishire’s military might in exchange for a spot at the royal negotiating table?
The Baroness doesn’t let her three-month old fake pregnancy preclude Machiavellian maneuvering. Ventrishire, she counters, will round up Gaveston in exchange for the self-determination to deal with the Welsh rebel uprising. (What goes unsaid: To give an opt-out for her rebel leader half-brother, the Wolf.) “We have to try compromise before combat,” the Baroness argues.
Prichard and Brattle ride out to Annora’s new Tora Bora — the Eastern Bay Coves — where she treats the erstwhile executioner to a vision from his infancy: A nun is shown in flashback attempting to drown baby Brattle during his christening only to be slain by a faceless knight.
Then rebel nomads attack our heroes only to be repelled by the Dark Mute’s mysterious, take-a-knee ninja skills. “Bury them in the soft sand,” he tells Prichard of the dozen or so men the Mute has just slaughtered. “I thought he was without tongue,” Prichard replies, incredulous on the beach.
NEXT: The Baroness admits her baby bump is fake