Episode 1 of Heirs to the Land (Los herederos de la tierra) Season 1 begins with two men struggling to swim up to the ocean’s surface until they eventually fall still.
It’s late 14th-century Barcelona. Many sad faces populate a quiet tavern until one man bursts in to say the men have been found.
A young man named Hugo Llor, his mother Antonina, and his sister Arsenda go to the shore, where they find Hugo’s father dead on the sand.
Meanwhile, Sir Arnau Estanyol (from the series Cathedral of the Sea) speaks with his son, Bernat. He and his wife Mar prepare to send the lad off to study in Alexandria. While Bernat boards his boat, Arnau draws Hugo to his side.
When Hugo returns home, his mother is packing up their things. With his father gone, they can’t afford their house.
Sir Arnau has found her work with a glovemaker and Arsenda a job as a maid at the convent. Hugo will be separated from them and given work at the shipyard.
The King’s council, of which Arnau is a part, has pressing concerns. King Pedro’s health has worsened; he may die. Prince Juan is the successor, but Queen Sibila de Fortia has her own supporters. There is talk of potential war.
Arnau says the council must show loyalty to their king. Others think this will hurt them. If they don’t support Prince Juan now, he may punish them when he becomes king. The queen flees, leaving her husband behind to go and meet her supporters. Soon after, the king dies.
When Hugo learns of King Pedro’s death and the resulting uprisings, he runs home to check on his mother. He discovers her employers haven’t been treating her well, and they command Hugo to leave.
Hugo next goes to the convent to meet his sister secretly. He and Arsenda speak to each other on the roof. She doesn’t enjoy her life at the convent, but she will become a nun if God calls her to do so.
Arnau and Mar worry about what will happen now that the king is dead. They were some of his most loyal supporters. Arnau has flashbacks to his life as a child. The Puig family mistreated him, particularly a girl named Margarida.
The Puiges have apparently always been close to Prince Juan. When news arrives of the king’s death, Genís Puig, Count of Navarcles, leads other nobles in a toast to the prince-turned-king. Margarida walks in at the tail end of the toast. She is now blind and walks with a cane.
Juan’s army rushes the castle where Queen Sibila has taken refuge. The battle ends with Genís forcing Sibila to surrender. The new king appoints Genís as the royal knight of his armies.
Mar wants to leave Barcelona, as the Puig family surely wants vengeance against Arnau. (Heirs to the Land does a poor job at shedding light on Arnau’s former involvement with them. If you watched Cathedral of the Sea, you’ll know that Arnau and Margarida are cousins. Arnau escaped and later caused her family’s financial ruin.)
Arnau insists on staying. The king has summoned the council, and he must go, though they will likely execute him. He tells Mar to stay in the cathedral and pray to the Virgin Mary.
Hugo attends the gathering, and the first traitor is executed. He calls for Arnau, which makes Margarida perk up. Hugo makes his way to Arnua, whose gaze is transfixed on Margarida. He tells Hugo to find his wife and tell her to run, for the Puiges are here. Another man tells Hugo to stay; he will find Mar.
Margarida then screeches Arnaus’ name, yelling that he caused her family’s ruin and the death of her parents and her brother. She calls for him to be seized.
Genís condemns Arnau to death by decapitation. Hugo calls Margarida a wretched swine, for which he is seized and beaten.
Mar arrives just as guards put Arnau’s head on the chopping block. He looks into her eyes and mouths, “I love you,” right before they decapitate him.
Margarida’s nephew Roger goes to tell her the good news… but he can’t wake her up. Genís notices and rushes toward her. Realizing she’s dead, he puts his head in her lap and cries.
Hugo wakes up in a bed. His boss gives him food and tells him he was lucky for not suffering a worse fate.
The king exiles Mar. Genís stops her before she leaves to take her shoes, which he says belong to him. He calls for all the Estanyol possessions to burn.
The episode ends with Bernat arriving at Constantinople. Looking at the shoreline, he remarks, “I wish my father could see me.”
The Episode Review
Heirs to the Land is a gorgeously shot Spanish period drama following in the vein of its prequel series, Cathedral of the Sea. Both shows are based on novels by Ildefonso Falcones, titled La catedral del mar and Los herederos de la tierra. While the former chronicles the hardships and victories of Arnau Estanyol, this sequel takes a turn to focus on the humble beginnings of Hugo Llor.
The premier episode immediately unfolds some fascinating and intense political conflict. The characters aren’t as fleshed out as one would hope (I would hold that it takes a lot more than some tragic events to make a protagonist interesting, and with Hugo, that’s about all we receive). However, the religious setting, shifting political dynamic, and social unrest all work together to create a compelling background for the ensuing drama.
There are unfortunately a couple of negatives to the series I don’t foresee going away. One is the lack of context for much of the existing conflict. At times, it’s as if viewers are expected to have seen Cathedral of the Sea. If Heirs to the Land is to be its own series, it needs to be able to stand on its own.
The other downside is the portrayal of women. Although this is just the first episode, I’m already wary that the show will relegate women to the sidelines and simply use them as fodder for Hugo’s growth.
Time will tell the series’ ultimate strengths and flaws. But if a Barcelona-set period drama piques your interest, I’d recommend Heirs to the Land based on this episode.