The historical fiction drama series on MGM+, The Winter King, wraps up its first season with some immediate issues resolved while most of the action is still kept away. Last week’s episode 9 showed Arthur preparing to take over the alliance that King Gorfydd was about to make with the Saxon warlord Aelle, intending to himself make a deal with the enemy. Nimue, the only remaining druidess of Dumnonia, had also been banished by Arthur after a misunderstanding, and her trusted friend Derfel had set out to save her at the Isle of the Dead. The Winter King episode 10 deals with these two matters, drawing an end to an overall underwhelming first season.
What has happened so far?
Setting out to tell the tale of Arthur Pendragon, The Winter King had begun with Dumnonia’s King Uther banishing his illegitimate son Arthur from his kingdom after the latter had failed to protect his stepbrother’s life. Although the exiled prince had decided never to set foot on his homelands again, Arthur eventually had to change his mind. Following the death of King Uther, Dumnonia was in a terrible crisis since the next successor, Mordred, was only a baby. Although Uther had appointed three powerful men to be caretakers of the land until Mordred grew up, one of them, Gundleus of Siluria, immediately betrayed this trust. Ordered by his uncle, King Gorfydd of Powys, an old enemy of Dumnonia, Gundleus tried to kill baby Mordred and was eventually caught and imprisoned by Arthur.
After his return, Arthur realized the dire situation that his homeland was in, particularly because of the threat of intruders. The Saxons were inching closer to Britain with time, and they would soon barge into the lands and butcher every kingdom they would come across. More concerned about the whole of Britain than just Dumnonia, Arthur wanted to make an arrangement of peace with Gorfydd to make his homeland and Powys allies in battle. Without all the kingdoms of Britain united, the islands would fall even quicker, and so an arrangement was indeed made. Arthur was to marry Gorfydd’s daughter, Ceinwyn, and the two kingdoms would then be considered allies. However, Arthur falling in love with a different woman in Powys, Guinevere, led to much internal strife, following which he decided to go with his heart. Arthur fled Powys with Guinevere, breaking his promise to Gorfydd and resulting in horrific consequences.
King Gorfydd tortured and killed Bishop Bedwin, leading a more shrewd and plotting Catholic priest, Sansum, to take his place. This, in turn, led to a disagreement between Arthur and his kingdom’s druidess, Nimue, whom he banished to the dangerous Isle of the Dead. Gorfydd had also now decided to join hands with a Saxon warlord named Aelle in order to make his fight against Arthur stronger. In order to stop this alliance, which would be extremely dangerous for Dumnonia, Arthur made up his mind to form a temporary alliance with Aelle and deal with the crisis.
Does Arthur form an alliance with Aelle?
The Winter King episode 10 begins with Arthur preparing his men to ride out to the meeting spot where Aelle and his Saxon men were supposed to come. Guinevere looks on concernedly, for she had proposed to her husband that he take along a different term for the alliance with Aelle. While Arthur wanted to offer tin supplies to the Saxons that they would most definitely need for their weapons, Guinevere made it felt that this might not be enough. Instead, she wanted Arthur to give Aelle a blueprint map of the Ratae fortress in Powys, the castle of King Gorfydd, so that the Saxons could attack and capture the kingdom. However, Arthur had been completely against this move, saying that he would never sell off British lands to any intruders. At present, Guinevere also decides to go along with Arthur and his party, joining them on her horse.
It is revealed that Guinevere manages to speak and understand the Saxon language, since she has spoken with many Saxon prisoners that Gorfydd had imprisoned at his castle. Using this skill, and also with Arthur showing the tin that he had brought along, they are finally accompanied by the Saxon scouts to their leader, Aelle. From the very beginning of this meeting, the Saxon warlord intends to demean Arthur, revealing that he knows everything about him, and the protagonist does not shy away either. Arthur reminds Aelle how he is just a lowly helper of the Saxon King Cerdic, who is used around by the king with no benefits or rewards given. Arthur then proposes his plan—his kingdom would regularly give Aelle tin if the warlord agreed to not form any alliance with Gorfydd and also be at peace with Dumnonia for the next year.
Arthur tries to convince Aelle that Gorfydd would betray his trust too and attack the Saxons with the help of his Irish friends, and he even states that all this was his own plan. Aelle does not ultimately believe all this, though, and like Guinevere had guessed, the tin is not enough to buy the Saxons. Aelle’s men take Guinevere captive, and Arthur immediately offers himself instead, leading to a rather difficult situation for the Dumnonians. Guinevere now makes the final offer—the map of the Ratae fortress—and indeed, this immediately changes Aelle’s perspective, for the Saxons had been wanting to take control of Powys for a long time. Ultimately, Arthur does form an alliance with Aelle, making sure that the Saxons will not side with Gorfydd and also be at peace with Dumnonia, but the terms of this agreement are not suitable for him. During The Winter King season 1’s ending, Arthur promises that he will not let Britain fall so easily and gives his word to kill Aelle and liberate Powys from Saxon rule.
What happens at the Isle of the Dead?
Along with the alliance between Arthur and Aelle, The Winter King episode 10 focuses on Derfel’s adventure as he goes to the Isle of the Dead all by himself to save his beloved Nimue. The episode reveals that the Isle of the Dead is actually a prison island where criminals from all over Dumnonia are sent and kept captive. However, the island is essentially a death trap, since the prisoners are given to eat only once every three days, and there is no way of escaping. As is revealed towards the end of the episode, nobody returns from the island simply because they are not allowed to. Earlier, the prisoners would be let go after some stipulated time at the place, but King Uther had changed this rule to never let anyone out of the prison. While Uther had seemingly done this as a show of his power, Arthur now feels bad for such a cruel decision, and he also apologizes to the prisoners on the island.
After Derfel reaches the island and enters the prison caves, he comes across many women and young children. He learns that many of the prisoners at the place had actually never done anything wrong, but their lords or kings had simply wanted to get rid of them and had, therefore, banished them to the place. Some had to give birth inside the prison, as they were pregnant at the time, and in fact, the unwanted pregnancy is what led their lords to send them there. They tell Derfel that they believe that someone will come and heroically save them, and although Derfel tries to rescue the people, this savior ultimately turns out to be Arthur. After talking to these prisoner women, Derfel learns that Nimue, whom they refer to as the sorceress, had been trying to escape the place and had also asked them to join her. Derfel has to traverse through the cave alone when suddenly someone jumps on him intending to attack, and this thankfully turns out to be Nimue herself.
Nimue had been traumatized both physically and mentally from her short experience at the Isle of the Dead prison, and she takes some time to even believe that it was actually Derfel who had come to rescue her from the place. The two then try to bring down a wall of rocks, but they are attacked by the hungry prisoners who want to kill and eat them. On the other side, after sorting out the alliance with Aelle, Arthur rushed to the Isle of the Dead to save both Derfel and Nimue, for he had acknowledged that he had made a grave mistake in banishing the druidess. Using the magical powers of his sword, Excalibur, Arthur easily brings down the rock wall, protecting Derfel and Nimue from the zombie-like prisoners.
Once they are rescued, Nimue refuses to return to Dumnonia and states that she will go somewhere else, for she is clearly still angry at Arthur. Recalling what Guinevere had told him about the druidess’ importance, Arthur now genuinely apologizes to Nimue and asks her to return with them. When she still refuses, Arthur kneels in front of her as a sign of extreme apology and convinces Nimue to return to Dumnonia and help in Arthur’s fight against the Saxons. As The Winter King season 1 ends with this happy reunion and also with Arthur’s strong promise to drive out the Saxons, we are also given a brief glimpse of Merlin. The powerful druid had been searching for a specific treasure known as the Horn of Bran, and although he now finds it, the artifact seems to be filled with blood, signifying massive bloodshed and warfare in the near future.