The Kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Navarre remain divided, carved up between three brothers occupying their thrones. After the fall of the Cordoba Caliphate, Rodrigo Diaz narrates about his grandson taking up his father’s sword and fighting in his stead. This cuts us forward to the moments our story begins.
Episode 1 of El Cid begins in Vivar during the 11th Century. A young boy called Ruy is told to head to Leon, right on the eve of his Father passing away. After saying goodbye to his Mother, he heads out on horseback with Rodrigo to the capital city. Starting as a page boy, we cut forward in time to see him grow into a tenacious young man; the same one we saw in the battlefield earlier in the episode during the prologue.
It’s clear Ruy has a lot to learn though, especially as he speaks to lady Jimena and tries to woo her. She’s romantically involved with the Count of Leon’s son, Orduno, and this is not a fight Ruy will win. Rodrigo knows this and takes his grandson away. But a fight is coming.
Trouble brews in Vivar as whispers about the other kingdoms soon becomes a more fleshed out plan to usurp the King and steal the throne from under him. At the centre of this is the Count himself, Flain. It turns out he’s working in collusion with Rodrigo too.
After greeting a new page boy, Lisardo, Ruy passes Jimena again and this inevitably leads to more conflict between Orduno and Ruy. Ruy however, is made squire for the soon-to-be-knighted Sancho. Orduno blindsides Ruy in private and antagonizes him, pushing the boy and bemoaning his family. This predictably sees Orduno receive a stiff jab to the face for his troubles.
While Urraca and Alfonso grow closer together, the various page boys all practice their horseback skills through jousting. Only, they’re interrupted by King Fernando arriving and greeting the different men. That is, until he takes Sancho aside and informs him of a plot involving Zaragoza. They need to try and keep their Kingdom intact, especially given they’re financing their efforts.
Urraca senses Orduno’s standoffish attitude toward Fernando and jumps at the chance of seeing Sancho humiliated. She suggests Orduno sabotage Sancho’s horse during the upcoming jousting competition. Given Ruy is his squire, this would put him in the firing line too killing two birds with one stone.
Ruy is haunted by the ghosts of his past though, sneaking in to wield his Father’s sword that night. Swinging it around the room, Ruy remembers moments from a defining battle in 1054 when the King of Navarre fell and the fate of the Kingdoms was sealed. Rodrigo arrives to bring him to his senses though, telling Ruy to head home.
On his way, he notices Rodrigo heading out and decides to follow from afar. This, of course, stems back to Flain’s earlier coup about the King, as Ruy notices that Rodrigo has removed an air behind the King’s box; perfect for an assassin’s blade.
Believing the King is in danger, Ruy finds his allegiances torn between the Kingdom and his kin, contemplating whether he should tell the King outright about the plot against his life. Eventually he decides not to, especially when King Fernando and King Ramiro wind up drinking and becoming rowdy that evening.
In the morning, the big joust tournament takes place as the two Kingdoms square off against one another. While all eyes remain fixed on the ensuing duels, Ruy eyes up his Grandfather and Flain suspiciously. Urraca too has ulterior motives, especially when she tasks Jimena to give Ruy a message about meeting at the chestnut tree later that day. While they talk, Urraca reminds Orduno of his mission.
This small distraction is enough for Ruy to lose his Grandfather momentarily in the crowd. As he follows, he manages to catch the tail end of his conversation. With a knife in hand, Ruy watches as this assassin heads for the box. Only, Ruy sabotages the threat, killing the assassin but taking a knife blow to the shoulder for his troubles.
With the assassin gone and Beltran the victor, Ruy races back to see Sancho, who’s none too happy with his squire. He’s not the only one either. Rodrigo convinces Flain not to begin the rebellion as they find the assassin dead and his neck broken. With blood staining the blade, Rodrigo realizes this crimson evidence belongs to Ruy.
Flain feeds back the bad news to Sancha that the assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Up on the rooftop, a troubled Fernando realizes that someone is after him while Flain remains determined to find the man responsible for stopping their assassination attempt.
The Episode Review
Amazon Prime’s latest foray into Spanish historical fiction is certainly a good looking one. The production and set design is outstanding and you really feel like you’re stepping into 11th Century Spain. Hats off to everyone involved in this production too because honestly, the show looks spectacular.
As for the plotting, there’s an awful lot of characters introduced in a short space of time and given the political scheming and various coups, there’s a very Game Of Thrones-esque feel to all this.
So far the political scheming and intrigue is enough to carry this show and by the end of this 70 minute episode, El Cid settles into a more consistent rhythm. There’s certainly more understanding over who these characters are and how they all slot together in the grand scheme of things.
For the most part, El Cid promises to be quite the enthralling historical drama and with only 5 episodes, it’s one that promises to be a relatively simple and engaging watch. With political powers moving in the shadows, all eyes now turn to Ruy as he looks like he’s just fallen into a viper’s nest.