After the success of the TV drama Vikings , the History Channel has added a new fiction show to its roster. This one is about medieval knights, specifically the Order of the Templars. There is one thing that is strange about it. Despite being a History Channel show, there are many non-standard pronunciations of names.
The story starts on day 41 of the siege of Acre (pronounced Acker) in the Holy Land, 1291. The Saracens have siege engines, and an army of a hundred thousand men. In contrast, the Xians claim to have a god on their side. Well, they forget that both sides claim to have the same god.
Naturally, the city falls to the Saracens. A knight named Landry (Tom Cullen - The Last Days on Mars ) takes the Holy Grail to the docks, but the Xians have been betrayed. Neither side gets the Grail, which is an unhappy compromise.
Fifteen years later, the Templars have made their new home in Paris. They do not seem to have aged much. However, a new younger generation is taking over. The young knight is now a Prior, and he tutors the King of France in sword-play.
France may not have a Muslim community (yet), but that does not mean there is no religious oppression. A merchant makes some facetious remarks about Jewish stereotypes. He is then murdered in broad daylight by a man dressed as a Jew. Naturally, anti-semitic riots break out. The King's advisor tells him to evacuate the Jews from the city. What alternative does he have?
The Grand Master of the Templars is assassinated by a gang of thugs. A couple of knights go off to retrieve his body for burial, while the new Grand Master leads the forces to save the Jews. Despite being a force of mounted knights, they dismount and fight on foot like infantry.
The Grand-Master's advisor, Tancred (Simon Merrels - Spartacus: War Of The Damned ) is cautious about his decisions. After all, involvement in local politics is beyond the Order's remit. However, in the last fifteen years they have failed to mount an expedition to liberate Acre. It is inevitable that they will get involved in local affairs.
The old Grand-Master had a quest, to find the Holy Grail. Now his replacement gets a clue to its whereabouts.
The French King has a daughter, Princess Isabella ( Sabrina Bartlett ). The creepy Royal Advisor wants to marry her off to the King of England, which will secure an alliance between the French and English thrones. However, the Queen wants her daughter to marry the Catalan King.
The Pope (Jim Carter - ) visits Paris to appoint Landry (Tom Cullen - The Last Days on Mars ) as the new Templar Grandmaster. He also visits the King, and interferes in the marriage negotiations.
Landry insists on going in person to investigate the theft of his predecessor's body. Tancred (Simon Merrels - Spartacus: War Of The Damned ) advises him not to, but tags along anyway. The farm-boy is called Percival, and the limping knight is called Gawain. Yes, whoever thought up the names did not go to any great lenghts to be original.
Percival is bloodthirsty for revenge, and wants to get it himself rather than relying on the heavily-armed Templars. Landry goes after him alone, rather than wait for his bodyguards to catch up. Well, all this does is prove the Templar standards are so low that the farm-boy is still a potential recruit.
The key from the previous episode gets plugged into the magic lantern. Instead of delegating to his minions, Grand Master Landry (Tom Cullen - The Last Days on Mars ) and his second-in-command Tancred (Simon Merrels - Spartacus: War Of The Damned ) go looking for the next clue. They run into some Saracen assassins - not just cut-throats, but full-on Ninja types.
Percival starts his training as a Templar. The first duty of the novice warrior-monks is to distribute grain to the poor. He encounters a robber - the Jewish girl from the first episode. It turns out she is involved with the local criminal underworld, and they are targeting Percival for some reason.
The French Queen discovers that she is pregnant. Unfortunately she has not had sex with her husband in two years. Instead she has been carrying on a secret affair with his best friend - Landry! She considers taking a potion to end the pregnancy. Her lady-in-waiting advises her to leave her husband, shack up with her boyfriend, and live off her inherited wealth. Will Landry quit his job and abandon his quest? Nobody considers the third option - she could be a good wife, sleep with her lawfully married husband, and pretend that the child is his.
The Queen's daughter, Princess Isabella, has much better luck. She has been promised in marriage to the Catalan Prince. The bad news is that in doing so they incurred the wrath of Edward Longshanks, the King of England made famous by the film Braveheart . The Catalan Ambassador tells the French vizier that in the case of war with England, the only support the Catalans will offer is thoughts and prayers. This is good news for the English ambassador, who will not have to deliver bad news to Longshanks. But the Catalan's cup-bearer acts unusually for a supposed servant.
Landry leaves his friends in charge of the Templar HQ. He rides off to follow the only clue he has. The dead Saracen had a tattoo that Landry recognised from somewhere, so he visits a Pagan druid and takes a dream potion to help him remember.
Landry's dream is a flashback to his childhood, when he was an orphan in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He becomes squire to a passing Templar named Godfrey, which explains how he met his mentor and why he was trusted as replacement Grand Master. They are hunted by a Cathar named Malik, who wants to retrieve a box that Godfrey stole. This brings up the old Da Vinci Code conspiracy theory, of the Templars taking the Grail from the Cathars. Of course, this does not explain why they took it via Jerusalem. Also, how to the Hashishim get their hands on fresh oranges?
The title of the previous episode comes from a story that Godfrey tells his new squire. There are two wolves inside your heart. Which one is stronger? It depends on which one you choose to feed. Of course, this is a 20th Century legend attributed to a Cherokee man, by way of George Bernard Shaw.
With Landry gone, the other Templars investigate the murder. Percival the novice is busy trying to recover his locket. He tracks the thief, the Jewish girl, to a massive stone cellar in the middle of the city. However, she is luring him into a trap for his arch-enemy the highwayman.
The Catalan ambassador now regrets his success at arranging the marriage. The cost, military support in the inevitable war with Edward Longshanks ( Braveheart ), is just too steep for his conscience. The French vizier gives him some info that will help end the engagement. Of course, each of them is unhappy about the sacrifices demanded of them.
Tancred (Simon Merrels - Spartacus: War Of The Damned ) has been convicted, and his punishment is to walk the gauntlet. This is not a trial by ordeal, since he is already found guilty. It is just a cruel and unusual punishment.
The Earl of Oxford, the English Ambassador, has disappeared from his rented rooms in the Bishop's palace. Since England has sent an informal declaration of war, this implies that an attack will be made upon the French King's court in Paris.
The Templars are called in to do the French military's job. They discover that the English had access to Greek fire. In reality this was used exclusively by the Byzantine military, but this story has it in the hands of a Mongol warrior who acted as a mercenary. Yes, not only are the Arabian Hashishim wandering around medieval Paris but there is a Mongol mercenary lurking in the shadows too. He is dressed as one of the Persian Immortals from 300 . Maybe he is a cosplayer in search of a Convention!
The royal wedding goes ahead, secured by the Templars and performed by the Pope himself. Naturally the Mongol tries an amateurish assassination attempt. Somehow, despite everything, the Mongol gets away. Worse, the Princess manages to get taken hostage in the process. There is logic to this, because there is a plan behind it all. But the plan depends on the Templars being completely unable to secure the palace!
The Jewish girl wants to impress the farm-boy by catching Roland the highwayman. She is a young woman who once stabbed a man in the back when he was fighting someone else, while the highwayman is a massive brute who has killed dozens of men in much fairer fights than anything she has ever been in.
The Grand Vizier is on top of the world. He is granted lands and a title for his service to the King of France. His Uncle visits to congratulate him. Everything is about to crumble around him.
The Hashishim are back. They want to trade a clue to the grail's location in exchange for the man responsible for their friend's death. Will Landry sell out his friend to get what he wants?
The Queen of Catalonia has invaded Navarre. The King of France gathers his army, but his wife disobeys his orders and charges headlong into the situation. She expects everyone to automatically obey her, even though she rejects the same reasoning that she should obey the King.
Landry follows the Hashishim's clue to the grail. It leads him back to the nunnery he met his predecessor at.
De Nogaret the Grand Vizier is in hiding, disguised as a homeless man in Paris. Rather than flee with his uncle, he remained in order to pursue the grail. His contact, Gawain, is becoming more and more disenchanted with Landry's selfish ways.
Roland the highwayman is extradited to Genoa, even though he killed the Templars' Grand Master on French soil. He is sent off in an open cage, with no out-riders and a single armoured man as driver. Yes, a complete recipe for disaster.
So far, a series of betrayals have taken place. Unfortunately from a story-telling perspective the heroes seem incapable of losing. However, the villains have still got a chance at victory.
The King of France has abandoned Navarre, and with it his wife. The locals will not follow her, because they have no personal loyalty to her.
Landry has the Grail. He conferences with Godfrey's associates - the Hashishim and the nun. They want to hide the Grail again, like Godfrey did. Landry's plan is to hand it over to the Pope, even if this means launching another Crusade.
De Nogaret has a plan to get himself reinstated. He assembles an army of cut-throats, but he needs a sponsor so he can pay them.
Landry goes to the Grand Master of the Templars, in the hope of turning him against the Pope. Unfortunately the Pope got there first, with the Grail. Landry now has to stand trial for his crimes.
Tancred (Simon Merrels - Spartacus: War Of The Damned ) is strangely absent from the trial. It turns out that Landry has sent him on a different mission. Luckily the five minutes Tancrede spent with the Brotherhood of light allowed them to train him in their ninja-like assassin skills.
What of De Nogaret and the King of France? They are plotting back in Paris. But De Nogaret still has a real-life Ninja on his payroll.
De Nogaret gets the grail from his Ninja. Her concealment skills are so good that she can hide in plain sight. Yes, an oriental woman in Paris circa the year 1300!
The King of France orders De Nogaret to ambush Landry and the Templars. They deploy their men, whom Landry dismisses as mere mercenaries and De Nogaret gives the title The Red Guard. With regards to their status as paid professionals, they are in service to the King so they are government employees. The Templars are religious fundamentalists, and this does not make them morally superior to anyone. As for the name The Red Guard, this seems to be a reference to Cardinal Richelieu's private army in The Three Musketeers . In all fairness, the Templars have more in common with Richelieu's men.
As in the previous battles, the Templars dismount in order to fight. However, there is an impressive mounted charge.
The King of France wants to take personal revenge on Landry. He takes his wife's infidelity very personally, even though it was always an arranged marriage. This was the era of courtly love, when lonely aristocratic house-wives were wooed by travelling musicians. The result is that the King comes across as a whiny privileged man-child. Compared to the equally two-dimensional hero Landry, he seems somewhat non-threatening.
The ending allows for a potential sequel series. There are more questions raised than answers given.