In the first The Bastard Executioner recap, Wilkin Brattle finds a new purpose after tragedy forces his hand back on the sword and into the service of the man he wants to kill most….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
There is a familiar Gladiatorial tone to Kurt Sutter’s new series The Bastard Executioner even if the show takes place at a different time and place than the 2001 Oscar winner for best picture.
Both the film and series are marked by strong lead performances, outstanding writing and a story as old as time itself — one dripping with blood and vengeance.
Much like Gladiator, Sutter’s new show envisions a warrior reluctantly drawn back into battle after the brutal death of his family only to take up the mantle of another man, who would then allow him to get close enough to the person responsible to stare them straight in the eye while driving a blade into their heart.
Like Maximus before him, Wilkin Brattle (played by Lee Jones) is driven by purpose and motivated by grief. They are powerful factors when the end game is revenge.
And vengeance will certainly play a very heavy role in this series along with an overwhelming amount of faith. This time in history is marked by bloody wars and religious uprisings and really those words are truly interchangeable.
The two hour pilot for The Bastard Executioner played more like a prequel to what’s about to unfold over the next eight weeks during this first season of the show. The setup was wonderful. The back story is rich but very deep and somewhat complicated. The payoff happened in the final 15 minutes and it sets up the entire series going forward.
So strap in kids — lace up your boots, sharpen your blades, and get ready to dig into the first episode of The Bastard Executioner with our recap of the two-hour ‘Pilot’:
A Warrior’s Call
Haunted by visions of past battles, Wilkin Brattle laid down his sword five years ago after he went to war for King Edward I against the Scots only to have a nobleman named Erik Ventris and his right hand man Miles Corbett betray them because they fought as Welshman. King Edward anticipated a Welsh uprising after another great war ended just a few years earlier so this was Ventris’ way of stamping down any further fighting by crushing two sides with one stone. For his reward, Ventris was upgraded to Baron over a section of England that is now called Ventrishire.
Meanwhile, Wilkin laid near dead on the battlefield after suffering a stab wound to the gut. Just when it looked like his final breath would be drawn, Wilkin saw the vision of an angelic creature holding out her hand and offering him repentance.
“It is time to lay down the sword, Wilkin Brattle. Your savior needs you to lead the life of a different man.”
Outside of playing dead to avoid Ventris and Corbett discovering that he was still alive, Wilkin decided from that moment on that he was going to serve a higher purpose while simultaneously laying down his sword. Of course moments later, Wilkin sees a terrifying vision of a dragon flying out of one of his dead friend’s body before he finally wakes up in a cold sweat with his clothes sticking to his body.
Wilkin has moved on from fighting wars and now lives his day as a barley farmer in a section of Ventrishire with his wife Petra and their unborn child. You can already tell this story is going to end in a bad, bad way.
It seems while Wilkin has buried his sword and vowed to never swing it again, he didn’t say he wouldn’t swing a giant club instead.
See, Wilkin has teamed up with his buddy Toran and five other local farmers to ransack Ventris’ taxmen when they come to town because the Baron overseeing their land is charging way too much to live there with excessive tariffs and taxes. Baron Ventris uses taxes as a way to control and hold his people under lock and key. Wilkin and the others from Ventrishire see it as oppressive rule and they intend to fight back.
The Cast of Characters
Like any pilot episode, the debut of The Bastard Executioner introduced a litany of characters but with a mix of thick accents and lots of dialogue, it was tough at times to tell everyone apart much less catch their names. So let’s run down some of the key players outside of Wilkin Brattle and his merry band of Robin Hood soldiers.
Baron Erik Ventris is now the head of Ventrishire and an English nobleman. He spends his mornings thrusting inside his wife, Baroness Lady Love Ventris, before then telling her that his seed is wasted on her barren hole because they still don’t have a child.
He’s flanked on his side by Miles Corbett, the same weasel sidekick who helped him stamp out the Welsh five years ago and thought Wilkin was dead. Now Corbett is the Chamberlain (No. 2 guy in charge, right hand to the Baron) where he carries out his boss’ instructions with brutal detail. In his free time, Corbett likes to make jokes about King Edward II sexual proclivity while he’s currently buggering the male chamberman who empties the Baron’s pots and wipes his ass when he’s done taking a shit. Miles is also made to put up with his idiotic half brother Randolph, who is family but also a disgrace to the Corbett name.
Baroness Lady Love Ventris is a conflicted woman deep in faith but short on love thanks to her asshole husband. She spends most of her free time away from the Baron with her friend and priest, Father Ruskin.
Meanwhile back at farmland, we also meet Annora of the Alders — who is a Slavic seer and healer, who befriends Wilkin’s wife Petra while advising her on all manners of medical practices and advice for her new baby on the way. Annora is joined by her silent, scarred up friend The Dark Mute aka Ludwig aka Kurt Sutter, who never says a word but instead writes down what he needs to say after being burned so horrifically he can barely open his mouth.
We also meet a traveling executioner named Gawain Maddox, who tortures and kills men for a living while beating his wife and kid for the hell of it. Maddox goes from town to town acting as a ‘punisher’ meant to carry out sentences of all manner with most of them ending in somebody’s death. He might flay someone alive as an extreme form of torture, but the result is always the same. Maddox is torturing someone at Castle Pryce in another part of England when he finds out that his pay is getting cut by the Baron of that province so he decides to pack up his family and relocate to Ventrishire instead.
Baron Ventris decides it’s time to tax his shire once again so he dispatches his brigade of men with a fair warning to be on the lookout for the hooded rogues that constantly attack from the shadows and steal whatever supplies that were brought with them.
The bandits are actually Wilkin and his friends, who attack the Baron’s men as a warning to stop taxing local people so much because winter is coming and if these farmers pay anything else before then, there won’t be much left to feed the families living in Ventrishire.
Wilkin reluctantly leaves his wife and unborn baby behind (which you know is going to end badly) and he trots off with his best friend Toran, his wife’s father, a Moroccan named Berber the Moor and even an orphan boy named Ash — a simpleton who gets a little too close with his sheep Miriam but also understands the woods in Ventrishire better than anybody else living there.
Wilkin no longer carries a sword but instead favors the club as his weapon of choice.
When Wilkin and his men attack Baron Ventris’ tax collectors, they dispatch them in no time as the bodies pile up and the blood begins to flow. Wilkin is still dealing with some internal strife considering he promised to lay down his sword but now kills men with a club instead. It’s a sad compromise for what Wilkin vowed to do five years ago and the guild is eating away at him from the inside out.
The band of outlaws do end up letting one man go so he can run back to Baron Ventris and tell him what happened to his men and what will continue to happen if he sends more people to collect unnecessary taxes.
Unfortunately, the one man who is allowed to leave spots Ash near a tree after he was left behind as a lookout and when he returns to Castle Ventris he remarks that the young man was wearing a coat made of beaver pelts.
It doesn’t take Ventris and his goons long to figure out that the only place in Ventrishire where beavers are captured and killed is south near a riverbed. Ventris decides that swift and violent action must be taken to stamp out these outlaws while his wife begs him to show mercy and instead act as a man of the people with harsh but just action instead of sheer brutality.
Ventris prefers brutality.
So Ventris is off to the shire while Wilkin and his men are still miles away riding back with the expectation of arriving home in the morning. By that time, the entire village will be engulfed in flames or turned to ash because Ventris acts quickly to exact his revenge. He slits one boy’s throat before Wilkin’s wife Petra and Toran’s wife concede to confess that their husbands are the ones riding out with hoods and crushing his tax collectors.
Despite a promise no harm would come to Toran’s son, Ventris slits his throat and commands the entire village be burned to the ground with everybody living there murdered — including Petra, who he says should receive special attention to make an example out of her.
As the killing begins, Petra is able to run away but quickly a knight in Ventris’ command named Leon tracks her down. Petra begs for the life of her unborn child and miraculously Leon listens. He steals her crucifix but then tells Petra to run away and never come back here again. Sadly, Petra never made it that far because moments later she turns and sees a face she recognizes (although we as the audience do not see it) and asks ‘what are you doing here?’. A moment later a jeweled dagger is driven into Petra’s belly and she bleeds out as her baby dies while never having seen the light of this world with his or her own eyes.
The culprit then places a bloody cross on her forehead as a marker as she fades away and dies.
Husband to a Murdered Wife
The next morning Wilkin and the others ride back and see the cascades of smoke rising from the village they once called home. When they arrive, Wilkin sees his beloved Petra laying on top of a pile of bodies, her entrails ripped out and flung across the pile and the body of their unborn child left out in the sun to rot. The rest of Wilkin’s men are just as upset but their leader is done with the tears and wants to cause some bloodshed to get payback.
Wilkin wastes no time going back to his house, ripping up the ground underneath a table and digging up his belt and two swords that served him so well as a soldier and will now help him get vengeance for what happened to Petra and his baby.
On the road to Castle Ventris, Wilkin encounters Annora and her mute. Annora claims they arrived after the slaughter already happened, but she has some friendly advice to tender to Wilkin before he attacks a heavily fortified castle with no possibility of walking away victorious.
Instead, she suggests Toran make a deal with all the other disgruntled farmers and people living around Ventrishire to act as an army to dismantle the king and his men, who have regrouped and gone back out on the road to find the final stragglers of this pitiful uprising and stomp them out as an example of what happens when you go up against the crown.
Sure enough, Wilkin and his men confront the Baron and he re-introduces himself as the knight that he thought was long since dead who is now back from the grave to finish a job he should have started five years ago.
“I live with the terror of your betrayal everyday and I’ll spare you that pain. Death will quiet your mind.”
A battle ensues and before a single sword is drawn, Randolph Corbett high tails it out of there on horseback while the Baron and his small garrison of men try to fight off a growing horde of attackers. The fight doesn’t last long with all of the royal forces being slaughtered as well as Gawain Maddox, the traveling executioner who was picked up along the road to help inflict torture on the men who were responsible for the growing list of robberies.
Finally, the Baron is the last man standing before he gets into a sword fight with Wilkin. The two adversaries battle back and forth until Wilkin finally gets the upper hand.
Just when it seems like he’s about to strike the finale blow, Ventris pulls one last trick with a knife hidden in his army that he plunges into Wilkin’s side. Taron quickly grabs his own blade and jams it through the back of Ventris’ skull and out his mouth on the other side.
Annora shows up to tend to Wilkin’s injuries but quickly turns her attention to cutting his hair and burning a cross on the side of his face with a blazing hot blade. When Wilkin awakens he finds his hair gone and the scar placed on his face and he finally questions Annora on why she did this to him and what her purpose is in this fight.
Annora: “You have a fate that you must learn to hold. One that will forever mark your place in time. I’m here to help tell that story.”
Wilkin: “My story is over”
Annora: “No, it has just begun. The angel spoke the truth.”
Wilkin: “The angel?”
Annora: “The bright child who came to you.”
Wilkin: “I’ve never whispered a word of that to anyone”
Annora: “I hear the same voices. It is time to lay down the sword, Wilkin Brattle. Your savior needs you to lead the life of a different man.”
Annora uses the ‘angelic’ words in a more literal translation as she points over to the fallen executioner, Gawain Maddox, and the scarred cross that covers his right cheek. Annora tells Wilkin in not so many words that assuming Maddox’s life is the key to his survival and that’s why she burned him and cut off his hair so he could resemble the traveling punisher.
A New Beginning
Wilkin and Taron travel to Castle Ventris with the Baron’s body and a few more bodies in tow as a way to deliver the fallen royal back to his home while hopefully currying favor with the ruling faction so they can be given a reprieve and escape this God forsaken part of the country forever.
When they arrive, Wilkin (now calling himself Maddox) tells Lady Love Ventris about her husband’s death as well as the murder of his soldiers at the hands of the bandits. He just wants to deliver the body and get the hell out of there, but things never go as smoothly as planned.
Randolph Corbett — the one man to survive the slaughter in the fields — immediately recognizes Wilkin and his friend as two of the outlaws who attacked the Baron’s army. Wilkin denies the accusation, but Randolph’s brother Miles has an easy solution. See when Gawain Maddox went along with the Baron to the battle, he sent his wife, son and small baby back to Castle Ventris to wait for his arrival.
Wilkin reluctantly agrees because really he has no other choice. Thankfully for his own fate, Maddox’s wife has lived through a live of brutal abuse at the hands of her real husband so when she sees Wilkin claiming his identity, she quickly grabs him close for a hug while his son does the same. Wilkin’s own identity is safe but that’s not so good for Randolph.
His brother Miles quickly accuses his brother of either lying about the executioner or fleeing his Baron in his moment of need. Either way, it’s an automatic death sentence and it just so happens they have a new executioner on hand to carry out the punishment.
Later that night in the chapel, Wilkin runs into Lady Love Ventris and after they share a few words she notices that he has some blood on his shirt. She quickly lifts up his shirt to tend to the wound, but when her finger touches his flesh, both of them see the same flashes of a vision with a baby being held in someone’s arms — is this a prophecy that Wilkin and Lady Love are meant to have a child together down the road?
After Lady Love exits, Miles Corbett enters the chapel and shares some news with Wilkin that he isn’t going to enjoy very much.
Miles tells him that they’ve decided to hire on Wilkin and his friend Taron (who is now going by the name Marshall) on as full time executioners. Considering the amount of justice he’s about to dole out in the wake of Baron Ventris’ death, having an on call executioner will be rather handy.
Miles: “Your position is now standing.”
Wilkin: “We’re journeymen. Travelers”
Miles: “And now you have a home.”
Wilkin stares down his new employer while likely biting his tongue because deep down he would like nothing more than to gut him where he stands for butchering his wife and unborn child (even though technically he didn’t do it). Instead he watches as Miles puts his hand on his chest in a rather unsettling way and says that the kingdom needs someone ‘with the heart of a dragon’. Wilkin pulls away but it’s unclear if Miles was insinuating that he knew more about the new executioner than he was letting on or if he was just interested in welcoming him to the kingdom in a much more personal and private way.
Back at the caves that same night where Wilkin sent the rest of his men to hide along with Annora, the quiet mute is furiously scribbling runes all along the rock wall with a piece of slate. Annora emerges from behind wearing nothing but her alabaster skin and tattoos of the same runes covering her entire body. As Annora approaches, the mute she now calls Ludwig pulls off his hood and reveals his face and body. She tells him it’s time to renew their faith, which likely means some kind of bizarre sex ritual. The more disturbing part of this tryst is the revelation that the mute’s dagger was the same weapon that killed Petra Brattle.
In other words, Annora isn’t allowing fate to play out but rather manipulating the situation to her advantage. She wanted Wilkin to seek vengeance and if that meant his wife and child had to die to take him to that place then so be it.
The next day, Miles trots his brother out to the gallows where Wilkin stands as judge, jury and executioner. Before he can swing the sword, Wilkin gets distracted by a vision of his wife in the crowd holding a baby and they are surrounded by the same warm, glowing light that held the angel that visited him on the field of battle all those years ago.
When he makes it over to them, Petra tells her husband ‘always’ and at that moment the angel appears again and pulls her by the hand back through the crowd as they exit the arena. Wilkin composes himself and returns to the stage where he wields his mighty broadsword and swings it down with one long motion before severing Randolph’s head from his body.
And at that moment, an executioner is born.
The Bastard Executioner returns next Tuesday night at 10pm ET for a brand new episode on FX