Kurt Sutter had us seeing red on Tuesday night when FX aired its highly anticipated – and bloody – medieval drama “The Bastard Executioner.” In fact, in just under the two-minute mark, audiences were already witnessing a gruesome battle take place on the small screen. But as violent as the two-hour series premiere was, not every scene within the pilot was dripping with blood.
Before episode 1 and 2 aired, Sutter revealed to Deadline that “other scenes in the pilot portray emotional conflict, portray moral conflict, spiritual conflict.” And that it did. Viewers watched as the show’s pious protagonist, Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), constantly battled against his inner demons as well as weapon wielding foes.
The pilot kicks off with Wilkin tossing and turning in his sleep as he endures a nightmare about the murderous time he spent in King Edward I’s army. Then in some sort of “Inception”-like twist, Wilkin has a vision in his dream of an angelic figure telling him to lay down his sword.
“You have a destiny to claim,” the heavenly one says. “It is time to lay down the sword, Lord Brattle. Your savior needs you to live the life of a different man.”
So, Wilkin abides and continues to live the life of a farmer and family man with his wife Petra (Elen Rhys) and unborn child – that is, until violence seeks him out.
While walking through the fields with Peta, Wilkin is informed by his neighbors that collectors, sent by the evil ruler Ventris (Brian F. O’Byrne), are on their way to tax them an absurd amount of harvest, threatening whether they’ll be able to survive the harsh winter. Wilkin agrees to join their raid and rides with his fellow farmers despite the risk.
When night finally falls, Wilkin and his men sport masks as they attack the collectors – sparing the life of just one so that he can report back to Ventris and tell him the Welsh men aren’t taking kindly to his new taxing scheme. As the survivor rides back to his ruler, the Welsh pick the pockets of the dead as Wilkin has a vision from his past. In the hallucination, Wilkin remembers Ventris and Milus (Stephen Moyer) wanting the buzzards to eat the skin off his bone (thinking he’s dead) so that the kingdom wouldn’t immortalize the warrior for bravely standing up to the Scots. This gives fans a deep understanding of Wilkin’s hatred for Ventris and his menacing sidekick.
Back in Wales, Ventris learns of the demise of his men and discovers that it was caused by the farmers who live west of the river. He sends more men to pay the farmers a visit in the middle of the night, only to learn that the women are holding down the fort.
“Where’s your men?” a disgruntled soldier asks Petra.
“Where’s your right?” she responds before being grabbed and thrown outside along with the other women, children and elders. Ventris threatens to slit the throat of a child, which is when the truth is finally spilled – along with the blood of a boy.
“Kill them all. Burn [the village] to the ground,” Ventris says after Petra insults him. He then requests that his men “make a sight” out of her for disrespecting him. But, Ventris’ soldier proves to have a heart and lets Petra and her unborn child live after he sees the cross dangling from her neck.
“Run. And don’t ever come back here,” he warns her as she sprints off in to the dark. But Petra is hunted down by an anonymous figure and stabbed in the belly with a sword that’s engraved with a serpent.
Wilkin and his men encounter the gruesome sight in the morning, baring witness to their burnt down homes and slaughtered families. Petra is laid on top of the bodies with her guts, and fetus, spilled out in a horrific sight.
The grieving men learn Ventris was behind the heinous act when they spot his collector lying among the dead.
Wilkin races toward the area where his home once stood and digs up his swords to “fight the devil.”
“I have no plan but vengeance,” the former soldier says. But the village’s witch, Annora (Katey Sagal), warns the revenge-seeking travelers that they need to “alter their purpose” if they want to be victorious.
Annora’s words hit a nerve, causing Wilkin to think more clearly – and deadly. He seeks out the help of more rebels to join his raid and attack Ventris, who is surprised to see the knight is still alive after he left him for dead during a previous battle.
After a gruesome fight, the battle comes down to just Wilkin and Ventris. But ultimately it is Ventris who meets his fate after another farmer shoves a knife through the ruler’s head. However, moments before Ventris perishes, he slits Wilkin’s stomach so severely that his only chance at surviving is at the hands of Annora.
“Who are you women? Truly. What’s your interest in me?” Wilkin asks.
She responds that he has a “fate” that he must learn to hold – a fate “that will forever mark your place in time.”
“I’m here to help tell that story,” Annora says. “The angel spoke the truth. The black child who came to you. I hear the same voices.”
Ventris’ kind-hearted wife, Baroness Love (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), learns of her husband’s death when Wilkin brings the body to the castle.
“Who are you?” she asks Wilkin, who reveals he’s a punisher from a foreign land. Wilkin is called out as a liar by Milus’ brother, but luckily for him, a women (who is the actual executioner’s wife) vouches for his faux story.
“This executioner, his arrival, although it brought sadness, could turn into good fortune. If we can secure him as a soldier,” Milus says to the widow who gives the plan her consent.
That’s when Milus breaks the news to Wilkin who is none to please to hear that his gig has become permanent.
“Our buried truths bind us,” Milus says, admitting he knows that the “executioner” is actually Wilkin, adding that he could use his skills in war. “I need a man with a heart of a dragon.”
The pilot concludes with Annora de-clothing the Dark Mute (Sutter), only to expose his burnt body and the serpent engraved knife that killed Petra. Elsewhere, Wilkin is coerced into executing Milus' brother for allegedly lying. But before Wilkin swings his sword, he sees the ghost of Petra standing in the crowd -- hand-in-hand with the angel and their unborn baby. While following the spirit, he notices Petra’s cross hanging around the neck of one of Milus’ men. This enrages Wilkin, allowing him to take his frustration out on the neck of Milus' kin.
“The Bastard Executioner” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on FX.