The only thing that kept fans of Sons of Anarchy from going into massive withdrawal sickness when they learned that the show was ending was the news that creator/executive producer/show runner Kurt Sutter had already sold a new show to FX networks. So it’s a great understatement to say that there are a lot of people, myself included, who have been anxiously awaiting the premiere of “The Bastard Executioner”.
The shires of 14th-century northern Wales would seem to be a huge change from a motorcycle gang in the fictional town of Charming California. However Kurt Sutter has no difficulty seeing the similarities. Both settings are well-suited to violence, betrayal, heart wrenching loss, vengeance, and devotion to family/clan.
The story follows Wilkin Brattle who was a loyal soldier in the Army of King Edward I. He was set up by jealous officers of his own army who felt that he was rising in the ranks too quickly and arrange for him to get caught in a trap massacre in a border skirmish with the Scots. He was left for dead but managed to survive. A vision from an Angel urged him to lay down his sword to become another man. He moved to northern Wales where he settles down as a barley farmer with a wife and kids.
The Shire where he lives is ruled by a ruthless Baron who excessively taxes his subjects. Wilkin joins with a group of his fellow farmers to intercept and kill the Baron’s tax collector however Wilkin uses a wooden club having put away the sword as commanded by his angelic visitor.
The Baron retaliates by destroying his village and massacring the women, the children, and the elderly and burning the village to the ground. Wilkin picks up his sword so that he and his fellow farmer/raiders can seek vengeance. Without giving away too much more of the plot, he ends up faking his own death and taking on the identity of a traveling executioner. He is hired against his will to serve at the Castle of the Baron as their resident executioner. This gives him the opportunity to seek out those who massacred his village.
The amount of blood and gore easily meets or exceeds Kurt Sutter’s usual standards. The evisceration of Wilkin’s pregnant wife is especially gruesome above and beyond the usual sword battles. This show is definitely not for the squeamish. The drama and sadness created by the massacre is also up to Sutter’s usual high standards.
Fans of Sons of Anarchy will recognize many of the actors who have been recast in this new show. However Wilkin is portrayed by newcomer Lee Jones. For the Anarchy fans who were worried about missing Katey Segal, her husband Sutter couldn’t resist casting her in the show as well. She plays a mysterious healer/witch named Annora of the Alder. Fans of her previous character Gemma Teller will be well pleased. There are hints she has more connection to Gemma than is immediately apparent. Sutter himself plays even creepier character with a scarred face who is listed as “The Dark Mute” in the IMDB cast listing. He and Annora lurk in the shadows and seem to have a secret agenda all their own.
There are some lighter moments such as the impish character “Ash y Goedwig” who has a love affair with his pet sheep and the camaraderie among Wilkin and his rebel compatriots is noble and familiar as that of the SAMCRO motorcycle club.
The violence and brutality means that this show, like its ancestor Sons of Anarchy, is not for everyone. But it is definitely everything that Kurt Sutter fans have hoped it will be. For his fans like me this is a must-see. And if you’re new to Kurt Sutter’s work, don’t mind violence, brutality, blood and gore and are looking for some of the best written and acted drama on television then I recommend you check this out.
One caveat, this is not a casual watch show. I actually had to watch the two hour premiere twice through because I missed some plot points and was unfamiliar with the new characters. But now I’m confident I’m up to speed and the storytelling will be much easier to follow.