It already been nine months since the wildly popular biker drama Sons of Anarchy ended it's six-year run on FX. Ever since the show concluded fans have been waiting patiently for confirmation regarding the proposed prequel, First 9, and the Mayan-related spin-off which was floated recently.
Kurt Sutter has confirmed that the First 9 project is still in the pipeline, but it looks like it won't become anything solid until Sutter finishes up with his current undertaking - The Bastard Executioner - as he wants to take some time off before coming back to the series with a fresh mindset. Understandable.
But what is The Bastard Executioner, and is it worth checking out for Sons of Anarchy fans?
The Bastard Executioner
We're now three episodes in to Kurt Sutter's latest offering and it's received a mixed bag of reviews so far.
Set in 14th-century Wales, The Bastard Executioner tells the story of Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a warrior who fought the Scots in the English army under Edward I. He lays down his sword when his life is spared by an angelic figure and he receives a message telling him to cease fighting. He leaves the battlefield behind to settle for a simpler life as a farmer in Wales with his pregnant wife.
But fate in the form of the villainous Baron Ventris, who rules the lands where he lives, shatters his peaceful existence. Following an attack Wilkin and a band of rebels made upon the Baron's tax collector the townsfolk, including his wife and unborn child, are brutally murdered.
Wilkin and co set off to take revenge against the Baron after finding the townsfolk and their families slain. They're met by Katey Sagal's mysterious Annora of the Alders, who has been watching Wilkin from the background, and her sidekick The Dark Mute (played by Sutter himself).
Annora convinces Wilkin to join up with a group of rebels who are mounting an attack against Baron Ventris. There's a big bloody battle, which ends with the Baron slain and Annora disguising Wilkin to take the place of a dead executioner in Ventris' army - the cruel Gawain Maddox. They return to the Baron's castle with his body and... Well, if this sounds interesting so far you should probably give it a shot.
So how does it measure up?
Covering themes of loyalty, brotherhood, betrayal and vengeance you'd think that The Bastard Executioner would share a lineage with Sons of Anarchy. But though there are similarities it's got a very different feel to it and that's a good thing. Clearly this is what Sutter was going for following the huge success of both Sons of Anarchy and The Shield:
"I'd been blessed to work on two great shows for 15 years, but as much as I love the crime genre I just wanted to do something that didn't involve a car chase or throwaway guns. When [Producer] Brian Grazer brought this idea to me, I was fascinated by this period of history and the fact there is not a whole lot of self-awareness or enlightenment going on post-Crusades, so it was a messy time and it was great to tell the story from the perspective of an executioner."
The Bastard Executioner has been compared to Game of Thrones due to the themes of medieval politics and corruption, as well as the brutal bloodiness that starts pretty much right off of the bat. I'm not sure if that's a fair comparison now though, as Game of Thrones tries to be more of a political epic whilst The Bastard Executioner does centre mainly on it's one conflicted hero and his journey, though that may change as we get further into the series.
To begin with it may seem like there's nothing particularly new going on here, the theme of the retired hero picking up his sword in vengeance has been told many times before, to varying degrees of success. But thus far there's been enough twists and subplots sprinkled in to keep it interesting and whilst the pilot episode(s) may have been a bit of a slow burner, it looks like the action is starting to pick up now. (Although Ed Sheeran is in episode 4 and I'm not sure how I feel about that.)
The most intriguing part of the series so far has been Annora, her agenda and just what she's planning for Wilkin as she moves him like a chess piece, orchestrating the events that lead to him taking the executioners place. Sagal won critical acclaim for her portrayal of the intimidating matriarch Gemma Teller in Sons of Anarchy and she brings her powerful performance to Annora here, just with less swearing.
The Bastard Executioner is everything you would expect from Kurt Sutter - bleak, bloody, littered with gore, sex scenes and strong manipulative women. It's not really comparable to Sons of Anarchy, which is a good thing. I'd encourage anyone who has an interest in Sutter's work to give it a go but come at it with a fresh perspective. There's no motorbikes here but it looks like there's going to be Shakespearean level tragedy galore and he's already proved he can deliver on that front.