Previously on World Without End: Plague started creeping across Europe, and Caris was sent to a war zone in France to get an official document from the king telling Godwyn to stop screwing over the convent already.
It’s autumn 1341 and Caris and her assistant/lover are finally making their way home, along with some rather sleek looking rats. They arrive at Kingsbridge and are happily greeted by Cecilia. Caris, looking pretty beaten down, tells her she saw worse things than she could imagine. Cecilia says Godwyn started work on his palace while they were away, so Caris produces the king’s order. Godwyn, of course, completely dismisses it, pointing out that the king’s seal isn’t on it (called it!). Caris, suddenly regaining her spirit, reminds him that the seal is always kept in England, but if he doubts the document’s authenticity, the king will swear to it when he comes to visit. She tells Godwyn he could lose his position and maybe even his head if he defies the king. Godwyn, of course, suggests Caris got the document on her back, but Caris keeps her cool and Cecilia orders him to stop construction immediately.
On their way back to the convent from the building site, Caris goes back to the awfulness of France and tells Cecilia she now knows for sure that God doesn’t live amongst them. Cecilia reassures her this doubt will pass but Caris knows it won’t.
Ralph (now Sir Ralph) rides up to Shiring Castle for a meeting with Roland. He informs Roland that he’s getting his land at Wigleigh back, along with the earldom of Tench, which is apparently a rather big deal. Philippa comes in just then, along with her preteen daughter. Ralph is as taken with Philippa as ever and asks what the little girl’s name is. Odilla, the girl answers. Philippa hurries her away, but out in the hallway Ralph asks for a word with her. She sends Odilla on her way, and once they’re alone, Ralph asks her to marry him, quite earnestly. It’s the nicest he’s ever seemed. She shuts him down brutally, telling him she used to pity him, but now she thinks he’s a horrible brute and she’d rather die than marry him.
In Wighleigh, the local guy in charge announces that a lot of men from the area have died in the war, leaving their land fallow, so he’s going to give the whole mess over to some guy named George. Absolutely nobody is happy about that, most vocally Gwenda, who asks why they shouldn’t have some of the land. Local Guy in Charge, who’s proven time and again that he can’t make a single good decision, ever, says it’s because George is a landowner and they’re just labourers. But Wulfric was a landowner before Ralph dispossessed him, in what I’m sure everyone in the area must think was a totally raw deal, so why can’t he be re-elevated? This man’s an idiot of the first degree. Gwenda insists the man give the land to the peasants, and he fires back by asking if they can pay the tenants’ fees. She hesitates and says they’ll pay it off bit by bit, as others in the room voice their support. The man reminds everyone that their purpose in life is to feed rich people and his decision is final.
Back on the road, Gwenda yells at Wulfric for just sitting there and saying nothing and he yells at her for making him look whipped. So stand up and say something, Wulfric! Geez, this man is useless. She says as much, and then launches herself on him so they can start a good old-fashioned tussle in the dirt, right in front of their kids. Parenting: you’re doing it wrong. He finally lays her out with a good hard slap and she tells him to get lost and never come back. He takes the invitation, without even a second glance at his own kids. Wulfric sucks.
Well, look who’s back: it’s Merthin, checking out the finally built bridge as he crosses it and quickly finding one of his old friends to catch him up. Friend sits him down for lunch and says that Elfric is head builder now and runs the guild and Friend does all the jobs he doesn’t have time for. Merthin asks after his mother and hears she’s well; then asks after Caris.
The nuns are heading to chapel a little later, watched by Merthin, who notes that Caris is not amongst them. He finds her in the infirmary, working on her book, and he goes in to greet her. She stares at him like he’s a ghost, which makes sense, considering she last heard he was a family man living in Italy. He tells her his wife and child died, but he lived, miraculously. She tells him how sorry she is. He asks after her and she tells him she practices the healing arts. She asks him if he’s staying in Kingsbridge or just stopping along the way. He says that depends on her, and she reminds him that if she leaves the convent she’ll be hanged. He suggests running off to Italy and she accuses him of just trying to replace what he lost. Offended, he tells her his feelings are worthy and genuine, and she rather harshly tells him you can’t sow a crop, go away for years, and then expect to come back to a harvest. She asks him to leave and he slowly turns and walks away.
At the inn that night, he tries to drink away his sorrows while Caris stains her book with tears.
In London, Edward plays chess with his mother and hears that France is in the grip of the plague. She advises attacking now, while France is weak, and he asks where he’s going to find the troops. She reminds him that God indicated his cause was just, but he’s starting to wonder if God was really behind it, since everything that’s happened in the last several years has been to put his mother in power. He checkmates her and tells her to clear out of London, because he doesn’t want her around his court.
She protests, but it’s no good, and in the next scene we see her getting loaded into a carriage and telling one of the courtiers that she’ll be back soon enough.
It’s time for the feast of the winter solstice. The townspeople are partying and Merthin’s drinking. Philippa gets up to dance, watched hungrily by Ralph, who’s sitting next to his mother. Roland comes down and finds Petranilla. He tells her she should dance and calls her the most beautiful woman in Kingsbridge, saying he regrets not having pressed his advantage with her all those years ago. He’s clearly really wasted. He tries to take her outside for a quick lay, for old time’s sake, but she refuses and he stomps off, annoyed.
Ralph goes out for a piss and is approached by Gwenda, who asks him for permission to become a tenant of his. He tells her she asked for that before, and it didn’t work out. Only because you’re a dickhead who doesn’t keep his word, Ralph. She asks for him to give it to her son, instead, because he’s Ralph’s kid. He doesn’t believe it, and I don’t either. She slept with two men within a few hours of each other, so she couldn’t possibly know whose kid he is. It’s not like they had DNA testing back then.
Back inside, someone proposes a toast, hoping for a good spring and for his wife’s boobs to never sag. As good a toast as any, I suppose. He takes a swig of wine and almost immediately begins vomiting up blood. Oh, God, did Petranilla prepare this feast?
He’s taken to Caris, who examines him and finds telltale buboes on his body. She smiles plastically at the wife and tells her to keep the man calm while she has a word with Merthin. Out of the patient’s earshot, she asks if this is what she thinks it is. He says yes and she needs to isolate the man as much as possible. He adds that people in Florence wore linen facemasks while they attended the sick. Caris thanks him and tells one of the other nuns to make sure everyone wears linen masks going forward, because The Plague has arrived.
It doesn’t take long for word to get out, and the itinerant preacher who examined Mattie positions himself at the cathedral door to tell everyone they’re sinners and all going to hell. Inside, the infirmary’s packed with the sick, young and old, and Caris is busy, but starting to look a bit helpless and hopeless. She notes that they need more space to isolate the sick, but the only place where space can be had is, of course, the monastery.
And, of course, Godwyn won’t give dying people space, because he thinks the plague is God’s judgment on the earth and they really need more death to rid the world of this sin. He’s just become wearisome at this point. Seriously, what a boring villain. Cecilia gets right in his face and tells him he’s not only stupid, he’s also malevolent and horrible. And then she starts coughing up blood. If I were her, I’d go ahead and spit it right in his face. God’s judgment indeed. Use the tools you have, sister! She doesn’t, and Godwyn orders her out, covering his face and fleeing the room.
Cecilia gets to die rather more comfortably than most of the townspeople, in her nice bedroom at the convent, attended by Caris. Cecilia insists that Caris wear her mask and tells her she wants Caris to take her place as head of the convent. Caris reminds her that she lost her faith, but Cecilia insists that all true believers have moments of doubt, and she’s sure God will continue to work through her in building her hospice. They could really use that hospice now, couldn’t they? Cecilia glances at her pet hawk, perched near the bed, and dies. Caris slowly removes her mask and weeps.
Bodies are buried in mass graves as we’re told that by Februrary 1342 more than a third of England is dead.
Elizabeth reports to Godwyn that Caris is to take over the convent, though Elizabeth is willing to run against her. He snorts and tells her that Caris is super popular, so they’ll have to exploit her unpopular side, somehow. Her use of masks, for instance, is a pagan superstition, so he orders Elizabeth to stop wearing one. She hesitates because this is just so far beyond stupid it’s hard to even see its limit, and Godwyn continues that they both know this plague is the devil’s work (I thought it was God’s judgment? It can’t be both, Godwyn), and that God will spare them and sicken Caris. And yet, Caris has now been attending to desperately ill, contagious plague victims for months now, and hasn’t shown any signs of sickening, so either God’s taking his precious time, or Godwyn’s full of it, and anyone with a functional brain would see that.
Elizabeth’s an idiot, though, and does what Godwyn says, forgoing the mask and telling another nun that the masks are the devil’s nonsense.
Petranilla’s having a sponge bath at home when she finds a bubo under her arm. Elfric, too, finds growths on his neck. It’s almost as if this is spreading like a contagious disease.
Petranilla summons Godwyn, and by the time he arrives, she really and truly looks like a corpse. He freaks out and asks her what kind of mother she is, putting him in danger, before fleeing. What kind of a man of God are you, refusing to minister to those who need it? What parts of the bible is this moron reading, anyway? Presumably just the Old Testament. I wish we could see him get up to the pearly gates so St Peter can bitchslap him all the way to the innermost circle of hell.
At the convent, Elizabeth is preaching to the other nuns about what a heretic Caris is, like they don’t all have bigger issues to deal with just now. But while she’s talking, her nose starts to bleed. I can’t help but laugh a little.
Petranilla, amazingly, is looking a bit better. She hauls herself to her feet, grabs a shawl, and heads out into the night.
Godwyn tells the other monks to gather up all their valuables, because they’re all leaving Kingsbridge immediately. Thomas asks if this is an order, because he would rather stay. They’re needed to nurse the sick and bury the dead, and if they die of the plague, well, that’s how God wanted it. Godwyn screams that anyone who disobeys will risk his immortal soul. Thomas tells him that’s God’s business, not Godwyn’s.
The nuns vote for their new prioress and Caris wins unanimously. Hilariously, even Elizabeth votes for her.
Petranilla’s made it all the way to Shiring Castle, which makes me think she might actually be some kind of superhero. She tells the guard at the gate she needs to talk to Roland, but he tells her the castle is closed to everyone because of the pestilence. She says she has news of his sons. The guard reminds her that both of Roland’s sons have died (the bishop died in France, offscreen). She says there’s another one he needs to know about. The guard disappears and Roland comes out onto the ramparts. Petranilla tells him he has a son he never knew of. She bore him, and he lives. Roland tells her she’s crazy and tells her to go home and die. She can’t believe he didn’t immediately open his arms to her. I’d be astonished at her cluelessness, but she did just complete a long journey on little strength while suffering from the Black Death.
Caris, now in her prioress garb, emerges from the cathedral and takes in the piles of bodies. Thomas joins her and tells her that Godwyn left overnight. She’s not surprised and asks him just where God is these days. He says that they say God’s presence is often hidden. She adds that God is often mysterious too, so mysterious he picked a non-believer to run his convent. Thomas shrugs that Jesus had some very unusual companions, so it’s not like God’s family is all that picky. He also breaks the news that Godwyn took everything of value, including the money. Caris wonders what he thinks it will buy him.
In London, Edward is sending his young daughter off to marry the Prince of Castile. She’s crying, because she thinks she’ll never see her father again. He promises her she will, and tells her she’s his favourite. They embrace, and she climbs into her carriage and leaves. Edward tries very hard to hold it together, but I think it’s clear there’ll be some kingly, manly tears shed in private.
Godwyn and the monks arrive at the tiny priory of St John in the Forest, the very place where Prior Philip got his start, all those years ago. And either we’ve fast-forwarded to late spring or there was a serious continuity problem here, because the forest is all lush heading-into-summer foliage. They knock on the door and are allowed in. Unfortunately, they can’t stay. The monastery is too small to feed and shelter more than a handful of monks. Godwyn protests that they have gold, but that’s useless these days. Plus, the sensible prior isn’t convinced that Godwyn and the others don’t bring disease with them. Godwyn insists that they’re way too holy to be plagued, but the prior insists they sleep in the barn for a week. Not knowing Godwyn, the man then turns his back to milk a cow, so Godwyn bludgeons him to death, viciously, spraying blood in the milk. Way to ruin some of your already scarce food,Godwyn. He leaves the barn, locks it, and tells the others the prior seems to be sick and has voluntarily isolated himself in the barn. But God’s promised to protect Godwyn, so he’ll tend to the prior. He starts to lead them all in prayer. And we see that Brother Joseph is still amongst them. Curious that we haven’t heard a word from or about him for the past six episodes or so. I figured he was dead.
Back in Kingsbridge, Thomas addresses the townspeople and tells them Godwyn’s gone and he’s hoping the people can help spread some new rules concerning the disease. Caris steps in for a particularly grim version of New Rules: masks for everyone, we need help burying the dead, the town needs to be sealed off, and orphaned children need to be taken in. Caris will also have to go visit the new bishop to have her prioress position ratified. She heads out and is quickly joined by Merthin, who’s going to escort her and refuses to be put off.
They arrive at Bishop Henri’s palace, where Caris is kept at a good distance. She quickly fills the bishop about the goings-on at Kingsbridge. He says that she’s essentially the new prior of Kingsbridge. She can hear confessions and bury the dead, though she can’t say mass. She’s a bit thrown by all that, but hardly has time to re-find her footing before Henri tells her to get lost. And I have to note here that Bishop Henri’s voice (we never get a clear look at him) sounds an awful lot like David Oakes, and since the role curiously doesn’t appear in IMDB’s cast list, I’m going to go ahead and say it could very well be him, in a little in-joke cameo.
Back at the edge of town, Merthin bids Caris good night, but then grabs her and lays a hell of a kiss on her. Hey, it’s the end of the world, right? May as well take advantage while you can. She grins and practically skips back inside.
Merthin, meanwhile, returns home to his mother’s hovel, where he finds her sick in front of the fire.
She’s taken to the convent and Merthin offers to send for Ralph. While he goes to get his message off, his mother tells Caris a secret: she was barren for years, and when she finally gave birth, it was to a stillborn child. She was grief-stricken, but her husband brought her another kid to take its place. Oh, man, did a man write this or what? No way would a grieving mother be appeased by a replacement baby. That’s nuts. Anyway, supposedly the kid’s mother was dead, and eventually Merthin’s mom gave birth to another son, though they hid the fact that the second kid (Merthin) was the true heir so they wouldn’t have to name his brother a bastard. No way would that have happened during this time. We’re talking about an earl’s family here. There’s serious land and castles and such mixed up with that inheritance. They might take a motherless child in and raise it like their own, but they would never claim that he was the heir, while the true heir was treated as a second son. Bloodlines were important to these people. That’s absurd.
Petranilla’s apparently recovered from the plague, which I didn’t even really know was possible. She still has some sores, though, and she lances one and dribbles the pus onto a rose. Eww. Also, it’s nice to see that she has a greater grasp of germs and contagion than Godwyn does.
A message arrives at Shiring castle for Roland, containing that same rose. He puts it up to his nose and takes two nice, deep whiffs.
Late at night, Brother Joseph arrives at the cathedral, finds Thomas, and tells him that the monks took the plague to St John in the Forest. He pulls his cowl back and reveals his own sores. Meanwhile, at St John, Godwyn’s desperately digging graves. How’s that holier-than-thou attitude now, Godwyn?