Digging into a new series is always a challenge, and FX’s "The Bastard Executioner," created by "Sons of Anarchy" kingpin Kurt Sutter, is more complicated than most. Set in 14th century Wales, the gritty and bloody period drama features a large cast of characters dwelling in the fictional county of Ventrishire, many of whom are played by new faces.
Thus, to keep things simple, here’s a basic guide to the major characters of the series and some of their relationships (with details redacted to avoid spoilers). Enjoy!
To start things off, this is Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones)! Wilkin is our hero. Sometimes he doesn’t wear a shirt. He was originally a badass knight fighting in the war between the English and Welsh…
…but after a battle went bad, he quit and became a farmer and got himself a wife.
This is Petra Brattle (Elen Rhys)! She is nice and pretty and pregnant and Wilkin loves her a lot. Hopefully nothing bad happens to her that might cause Wilkin to give up the quiet life and return to his bloody roots! (I don’t feel like that counts as a spoiler, given the assumption that you, gentle reader, have read a book or seen a movie at some point in your life.)
This is Annora of the Aiders (Katey Sagal), who’s a pagan witch-type hanging around Wilkin and Petra’s village. Because she is a pagan witch-type, she not only knows medicines and whatnot, but also seems to know an awful lot about the weird visions Wilkin experiences from time to time. And she hangs around a lot with this guy…
…known only as The Dark Mute and played by Sutter himself. The Mute is in some sort of relationship with Annora, which leads to these words of advice: Don’t try imagining what all of this might say about the relationship between Sutter and real-life wife Sagal. Really. Don’t.
Toran Prichard (Sam Spruell) is another farmer and Wilkin’s best bro. I don’t really remember him mattering much at all in the pilot, but every bro deserves a bro to talk to.
Here’s Ash y Goedwig (Darren Evans), an orphaned trapper who, according to the FX publicity materials, has "an uncanny connection to animals." This means a lot of discussion about his relationships with sheep.
Outside of the village, we have people who are in charge of Ventrishire. Like Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer), who’s chamberlain of Ventrishire and also did some time in Army at the same time as Wilkin. He’s got plenty of secrets.
There’s also Baroness Lowry ‘Love’ Aberffraw Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), who is Welsh-born but married an Englishman for political reasons. She’s smart and a potentially great ruler, but of course — because it’s the 1300s — she’s under pressure to produce an heir. ‘Love’ arguably has the best character name in the entire show.
Isabel Kittin (Sarah White) is the handmaiden/best friend of Baroness Lowry ‘Love’ Aberffraw Ventris (seriously such a great name), and, at the very least, is the reason why "Bastard Executioner" passes the Bechdel Test before the 20 minute mark. Isabel seems nice!
Father Ruskin (Timothy V. Murphy) isn’t a huge part of the pilot, but he’s worth mentioning because, for one thing, Murphy should be familiar to "Sons of Anarchy" fans as the Irish gangster Gaalan. For another thing, here’s how his official bio opens: "As a man, Timothy V. Murphy is the embodiment of Irish charm, humor and magnetism." That’s awesome.
So we’ve met a lot of people, but maybe you’ve noticed that so far, no one seems to be a bastard or an executioner. The reason for that is one of the pilot’s biggest twists, which I won’t spoil. But I will share this photo of Jessamy Maddox (Sarah Sweeney) who’s the wife of "journeyman executioner" Gawain Maddox (Felix Scott). Gawain’s a dick who abuses his wife and son, but Jessamy seems like a decent person. And she’ll be very important down the line.
There are a fair number of other characters, including the Baron himself (Brian F. O’Byrne) and a significant cameo by "Americans" star Matthew Rhys as Welsh rebel Gruffudd y Blaidd. But the above should hopefully guide you through the first two hours and the weeks to come, leaving you free to enjoy the crazy twists and bloody action you’d hope from a series created by Kurt Sutter.
"The Bastard Executioner" premieres tonight at 10pm on FX.