Dread. That is the overwhelming feeling that seizes me as this episode runs through its Previouslies... First, we are reminded that our Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) already had two sons prior to marrying King Edward IV (Max Irons)—oh yeah; where have they been?—and then we are bombarded with a flurry of disquieting recollection: doubts as to the legality of the royal marriage; the King’s favorite mistress, Jane Shore (Emily Berrington); the King’s brother Richard (Aneurin Barnard) looking sinister; the departure of the young heir to the throne for Wales, under the care of Elizabeth’s brother Anthony (Ben Lamb); and Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) scheming to rid the world of all Yorks in order that her Lancastrian son might become King.
(Need to catch up? Don't miss Rachel Hyland's recaps of The White Queen episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, episode 6, and episode 7. The series is currently airing in the UK; it premieres on Starz in the U.S. on August 10, at which time we'll repost the recaps weekly.)
Then: reading! For the first time in the series we get expository text that goes beyond a mere date and place, establishing for us that it is now 1483 (roughly a decade after the last episode’s events) and the realm is at peace. The young Prince Edward (Sonny Ashbourne Serkis) is still immured in Wales under the guardianship of his Uncle Anthony, along with his half-brother Richard (Dean Charles Chapman)—oh, there you are, one of Elizabeth’s other sons! The other aspiring heir to the throne, Henry Tudor (Michael Marcus), has grown into a man in exile, but has now been invited back to England by an Edward clearly weakening in his hirsute and rotund old age. Elizabeth looks barely a week older than when the series began, but Edward has here been given the full fat suit and glued-on beard treatment; throw on a red hat and he’s pretty much Santa at this point. (He’s not the only one for whom beard=old, by the by; Anthony and Jasper Tudor both get bushy growths to signify their advancing years, as well. It’s not attractive.)
****MAJOR EPISODE 8 SPOILERS BELOW****
Anyway, the royal couple are at dinner with their children, including Thomas Grey (Ashley Charles)—oh, there you are, the other one of Elizabeth’s other sons!—and Princess Elizabeth (Freya Mavor), their eldest daughter (seriously, History: get new names!), is all arch and teasing with her father in such a simpering, annoying way that if she were my kid it would be straight to the Tower for her. Luckily, she is much better with the drama than she is with the comedy, because she has a big role to play as events unfold, and most of it is Drama with a capital-D.
But, first! Edward’s sick. Uh oh...
It is a sudden and fatal illness, leaving Elizabeth shattered, but me utterly unmoved. A big part of this is doubtless due to his general vulgarity and hatefulness from the last episode (thanks, show, for making me dislike a character so thoroughly before killing him off), but also there is the fact that his final act on this Earth is to make his brother Richard the Lord Protector of England, considering the next king is still only a boy. Because after so many boneheaded decisions when it comes to his kinsmen, why would he ever have learned a lesson and have come to trust Elizabeth’s judgment on this stuff? Idiot. And so, with this one final piece of blind stupidity, the king is dead.
Long live the King!
But...which King? The young Edward, of course, should be King—and in the History books, he is styled as Edward V—but as he is abruptly taken to the Tower for his “protection” by a weak-willed Richard easily swayed by delusions of grandeur, it isn’t looking good. Richard is getting all kinds of poison whispered in his ear by his suddenly strident wife, an Anne (Faye Marsay) gone all cold and Lord Warwicky in the ten years since her sister Isabel’s post-natal death. Anne still holds Elizabeth responsible for this event and more besides—she’s convinced that Elizabeth will rule England through the junior Edward just as she apparently did through the senior (not that we saw much evidence of this), and so urges her husband first to take steps to secure the boy away from his mother’s evil influence—and then eventually, to just declare the boys illegitimate and take the throne himself. After all, she did always want to be queen.
So much happens to get us from the point of Edward’s death to Richard and Anne’s coronation that it’s a positive whirligig of intrigue and influence, of bad decisions and bad parenting, and it quite leaves one breathless. Each move Elizabeth makes to secure her own position, and that of her children, is so wrong-headed that it seems she has been taking lessons from Edward on how to do the dumbest thing possible at every turn, except that where he trusted too easily, she trusts not at all. Her lack of faith in Richard pretty much makes him live down to her expectations, and her every effort to shore up her family’s power makes him trust her all the less—especially with Anne and his calculating mother, Duchess Cecily (Caroline Goodall), urging him to take the commoner down.
So we have him taking all the self-serving advice thrown at him—fear Elizabeth; arrest her brothers; take her sons; take the throne—while she is taking none of the excellent advice that is bestowed upon her—be reasonable; discuss things calmly with Richard; don’t appropriate the entire Treasury and flee with your whole family to Sanctuary and also tell your brother the Lord Admiral (oh yeah, Elizabeth had another brother, didn’t she?) to “ready the Fleet.”
She really should have heeded that last, especially, since ignoring it leads to having the now-former Lord Admiral being the first of her family to be charged with treason since way back when Lord Warwick executed Dad Rivers and the cute brother who was good at falconry. (Wow, that seems like a long time ago.) And Elizabeth’s Other Brother is not the last of her clan to come up against such charges herein: by the end of the episode both of her sons from her first marriage are persona non grata, as well.
And then there’s Anthony.
Oh, Anthony. As so many men before you, here you are undone by the sins of the flesh. See, the King’s mistress was earlier banished from Court by a disgusted Richard and Anne before Edward was even cold in his deathbed. Clearly realizing that Anthony was the only kindly person left in the show (though I have high hopes for Princess Elizabeth, after her sadly-ignored wiser-heads counsel to her frantic mother), Jane went to him for aid, and in the end slept her way to a roof over her head with her wanton courtesan ways. But Anthony then used Jane to get a message to his sister, begging her to parley with Richard—and Jane, now considered by Richard an enemy, was witnessed by Lady Margaret.
Damn you, Lady Margaret! Damn you to hell. (I will admit, however, that you are played by an extraordinarily good actress; the best in the show by far, now that Janet McTeer is gone.) Oh, look, it’s not that I don’t think your son has a claim to the throne, and quite frankly, all of this born-to-rule nonsense is ludicrous, anyway. Give me democracy any day! But the way you and your sleazy husband Lord Stanley (Rupert Graves) play one side against the other, and with you pretending loyalty to Elizabeth but really dividing the House of York from the inside so that you some day might conquer it, is just going to get those poor little boys in the Tower killed.
As it did Anthony, you bitch.
Sigh. Where the death of the King caused me little more than a shrug, the execution of the stalwart Anthony Rivers—bastion of nobility and sense and decency in a world gone power-mad—by a sneering Richard and Anne had the tears flowing in earnest, only a few of them reserved for his fellow victim, Richard Grey. I really have to wonder at the slack-jawed Edward Jr., looking on as both his brother and his supposedly beloved Uncle are beheaded. Oh, I get the other “prince” not being especially upset by this spectacle (he is not, in fact, Prince Richard but a double sent in by Elizabeth to ensure her true royal son’s escape in the care of Thomas Grey). But what’s with little Ed’s lack of emotion? The audience is all choked up here, dude, and you can’t even muster a sniffle for the two guys who raised you? Maybe you deserve to have your throne usurped, you callous little twerp. (Meanwhile? There are three Richards in this scene. Grr.)
So, the upshot of this episode? Edward: dead. Anthony: dead. Jane Shore: dead. Elizabeth is routed, one of her sons is also dead (with at least one more to follow in pretty short order) and Anne has finally fulfilled her father’s ambition to see his blood on the throne. But, ha! Not for long, Anne! The wicked witch Elizabeth has cursed you: your son, she calls “sickly,” you, she calls “frail,” and your husband’s sword arm she officially damns. So when Henry Tudor comes with an army to take the stolen throne—and oh, he’s a’coming; not only has Maggie B already set the wheels in motion, but Princess Elizabeth has also had a magical Seeing about it—then watch out, Anthony-killers! Vengeance will be ours.
And it is a vengeance I cannot wait to see wrought, after what was an emotionally wrenching and yet altogether riveting episode. Best of the series, without a doubt! Let’s hope next week’s can at least equal it…
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.