After recent successes with popular shows, MGM+ tries their hand at Medieval England this time around, with Bernard Cornwall’s novels adapted into a fictional drama series, The Winter King. In last week’s season premiere, the basic characters and the premise of the plot had been established, as we had seen the protagonist Arthur Pendragon getting banished from his father King Uther’s kingdom of Dumnonia. Being the illegitimate son of Uther, Arthur had no choice but to go live in Gaul under King Ban. Now, in episode 2, King Uther himself is very sick from old age and yet concerned about his new baby boy, Mordred, who is supposed to be the next King of Dumnonia after his own passing.
Who does King Uther appoint for his son’s safety?
The Winter King episode 2, begins with heightened drama, for King Uther is sick and is not expected to live much longer. Because of this reason, the druid Merlin had earlier asked Uther to forget whatever had happened in their pasts and bring back to his kingdom the only warrior who could keep the Saxons away and protect Dumnonia—Arthur. However, Uther had been strictly against this, mostly because of his clash of egos against his illegitimate son, and the king had instead decided to get his enemy factions closer, including the Silurians, who had repeatedly attacked his kingdom earlier. Now, with the man’s health faltering, his favorite daughter Morgan also tries to convince Uther to forgo his plans and instead ask for Arthur’s help, but the king refuses once again. Similarly, on the other side, in Gaul, Merlin meets with Arthur and tries to convince him to return to his homeland in order to protect it. Merlin mentions how King Uther is dying and how enemies of Dumnonia will grab onto this opportunity, but Arthur is simply not swayed. He confirms that he has no feelings for his old kingdom and, therefore, does not want to return to it.
Finally, King Uther’s health grows bad enough for him to have to take some action. The successor to the throne is still a baby, so Uther appoints three individuals in his court to ensure the baby’s protection. First is Bishop Bedwin, the head of the Christian Church that had taken shape in England, while the second is Owain, the champion of Dumnonia. It is really the third name that takes everyone in court by surprise, for Uther chooses King Gundleus of Siluria as the third individual he entrusts with the safety of his baby, the future king. It is also decided that Uther’s queen, Norwenna, would join hands in marriage with Gundleus after the death of the king. A number of subjects spoke out against this decision, for Gundleus’ uncle, Gorfydd of Powys, was a known enemy of Dumnonia. However, Uther decides that Gundleus would be the one powerful enough to ensure the future king’s safety, and he, therefore, entrusts the man with this duty. Seeing this chance as an opportunity to better his position, Gundleus agrees to the role, promising to give up his allegiance to his uncle, Gorfydd. As proof of his changed allegiance, Gundleus vows to send his own troops to fight against and stop Gorfydd’s band of army, who were coming to Dumnonia to steal the harvest.
After all of this is decided and settled, King Uther eventually draws his last breath and dies at his castle. Upon his final wishes, Uther’s body is cremated at Avalon, for he still wants to worship the old Pagan gods even after his death. The cremation ceremony takes place at Avalon, even though Merlin is not present, and the plot jumps forward three weeks later.
Does King Gundleus keep his promise?
Finally, the time comes when Gundleus reveals his evil and disloyal self when the man rides up to Avalon with his army and also his pagan lover. For the most part, Gundleus claimed to be a strict follower of Christianity, always swearing by the crucifix that he wore around his neck. However, like with most other things, this new faith was also just a tool that the man would carry around to make his life easier and better. After arriving at Avalon, Gundleus asks to see baby Mordred and also exchanges pleasantries with Queen Norwenna. However, once the baby is handed over to him, Gundleus stabs him with his knife and proclaims that a baby cannot be the king of any land. Before any of this takes place, the man claims that he has indeed diverted his uncle’s army away from Dumnonia, and he even presents a knife as proof of this. In a sense, Gundleus does keep his promise to end his allegiance to his uncle, but the man temporarily does so only for his own benefit.
If Gorfydd’s attacks on the land can be avoided for the time being and the next successor to the throne, baby Mordred, is killed, then Gundleus can himself take on the role of the kingdom’s ruler, and he knows for sure that there would be no competition facing him in this regard. Therefore, the man cruelly kills the baby and then launches a devastating attack on the peace-loving village of Avalon. With Merlin still absent, the people are alone in their fight against the attackers, and they all fall one after another. The new druid, Nimue, attempts to fight for the people and stop Gundleus, but is unable to do so in the end. Gundleus overpowers her and then also violates her sexually before she is rescued by her lover, Derfel. Earlier in the episode, Derfel recognized Gundleus as the one who had killed his mother and left him to die, and he, therefore, wanted his revenge. Derfel had even approached Gundleus to kill him, but it had been Nimue who stopped him, knowing well that it was not the right time to commit an act like this.
Is Baby King Mordred still alive?
While Gundleus and his army continue the attack on Avalon, a group of survivors, including Queen Norwenna, Derfel, and Nimue, manage to escape the place. They have to make the difficult path through the forests and grasslands away from Avalon, as they intend to reach the capital city of Caer Cadarn and send word to the rest of the lords, looking for some help. However, a great secret is revealed right during their escape, as it is found that the baby King Mordred is actually still alive. When Queen Norwenna moved to Avalon for her husband’s cremation, there was one more couple at the place who had recently given birth to a baby. Upon King Uther’s request, the father of this different baby had made a secret promise to protect Mordred no matter what. Therefore, when Gundleus asked for the baby back in Avalon, it was this different baby that had been handed to him, while the real baby Mordred had been hidden away.
Once the group of survivors could manage a way to escape, they moved away from the place, knowing well that their plan and objective could still be fulfilled. On the other side, Gundleus also realizes that the baby has been changed, and he now sends his army in search of the band of survivors. Derfel also makes his first ever kill during this escape when he has to kill one of Gundleus’ men in the forest. At the very end of The Winter King episode 2, though, Gundleus and his troop are able to not only find the survivors but also threateningly corner them. He asks for the baby but is obviously rebuked by the survivors, following which he calls for his army to kill the entire group. However, at this very moment, Gundleus and his men are attacked from over the ridge, as it is revealed that Arthur has finally returned to Dumnonia.
What can we expect next?
While Arthur has finally returned, the exact reason for his decision is yet to be revealed, for he has very determinedly told Merlin that he does not want to return. While his decision to change can be an option, there might also be other factors that sway him towards this. In the long run, whether Mordred can actually be kept safe and reared in secrecy remains to be seen. Also, Mordred has been seemingly recognized as evil by Merlin, and so what exactly this prophecy translates to will also be seen later on in the series.