Fact vs Fiction: The Great season 2 episode 9, Walnut Season

The Great
Elle Fanning in 'The Great' (Image credit: Hulu)

This post contains spoilers for The Great season 2 episode 9, "Walnut Season."

Catherine (Elle Fanning) and Peter (Nicholas Hoult) have come a long way over the course of The Great season 2: from coup to co-parenting. “Walnut Season” opens with the birth of Paul and as we have come to expect, this timeline has been dramatically altered from the real historical events. There is also a time jump of six weeks, which gives the conflict with the Ottomans a chance to hit some snags and see the new parents dance around swirling emotions. 

Peter is in a state of disarray as he tries to keep the death of Catherine’s mother secret (and how it happened), while his wife is struggling with the positive shift in her feelings toward him. It is a penultimate episode full of dilemmas that play into the fabrication of the narrative. After all, in reality, Peter was long dead by this point.

This alternate path works in the audience’s favor, as Catherine’s ruthless streak occurs while Peter softens — plus Hoult is too good in this role to kill off. Neither has done a huge 180 on who they were last season and instead, it is the natural progression as one takes on the leadership role (while the other gets used to a titleless existence).

Meanwhile, the plan to topple Catherine appears to be dead in the water, but the return of Georgina (Charity Wakefield) from France suggests otherwise. It is suspicious when Georgina waxes lyrical about Enlightenment and later in the episode it is revealed to be part of a scheme. Going into the finale with an old enemy stirring the pot ups the stakes further as there are sneak attacks coming from all angles. Her return also causes issues for Marial (Phoebe Fox) because a single woman still lacks agency.

We are going to separate fact from fiction in the second season of The Great. This episode-by-episode guide continues with how “Walnut Season” depicts Catherine’s very public birth and what really happened with Elizabeth taking her baby. Plus, inheritance laws pose a threat to Marial.

Did Catherine give birth in front of an audience?

Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in The Great

Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

The unveiling of a new royal baby is an event that is still treated with reverence. Thankfully, even with the interest in the modern Royals, no cameras actually make it through the hospital door. In "Walnut Season," the public spectacle of labor is justified as protecting the integrity of the heir to the throne process — this way a different baby couldn’t be subbed in. But this never happened in Russia, which as we have previously mentioned was always incredibly private about this life event. The same cannot be said for the French royalty. In 1661, King Louis XIV’s wife Queen Maria-Therese endured an audience that was keen to protect the line of succession. 

Biographer Virginia Rounding in her book Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power describes the birth of Paul and the subsequent swift removal of the baby, noting that Catherine “was given no time to experience any maternal satisfaction or to hold her son.” She was then left alone for hours to lie in the “soiled sheets” and in extreme discomfort while Empress Elizabeth (and her attendants) focused on the baby. Rounding also explains that Catherine (as per Russian Orthodox tradition) had to “remain in close confinement for 40 days after the birth.” There were also questions about the paternity of the child, but Elizabeth treated the boy as a legitimate heir.  

How did Elizabeth’s son Igor die? 

Belinda Bromilow and Nicholas Hoult in The Great

Belinda Bromilow and Nicholas Hoult in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

This is a trick question as Elizabeth didn’t have any children and the tragic murder of 6-year-old Igor is a fictitious event. 

Peter’s mother’s cruel streak is courtesy of The Great writers, as she died not long after giving birth (the result of postpartum infection). The extra embellishments have laid the foundation for one of the most complex relationships in the series as this version of Elizabeth is eccentric but with an ability to speak to both Peter and Catherine’s interests. When she finds out the truth regarding her son’s death — after Peter lets slip the secret he has kept since he was a child — it allows this character a chance to express her sorrow and alleviates some of the guilt she has been carrying. 

While the real Elizabeth took Paul from his mother after she gave birth as dictated by tradition, here Elizabeth takes a moment to live in the past. It is traumatic to separate a mother from her baby, but she quickly gives him back to Catherine after her brief fantasy has come to life. It is a heartbreaking scene and one that should give Bromilow an Emmy nomination if there is any awards justice.  

Could a single woman inherit property?

Elle Fanning in The Great

Phoebe Fox in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

In 1753, a decree granted married Russian women control of their property, which is of no use to the single Marial, who is once again trapped by her circumstances. After finally getting used to living a life of luxury, the discovery of a male heir means she no longer has any control over her living situation. 

She cannot marry Grigor (Gwilym Lee) because his wife Georgina has just returned from exile and the options within the court is like a nightmare episode of The Bachelorette with an 18th-century twist. Thankfully, Marial finds a solution that means she is now engaged to her cousin (who is a child) but both of them can live comfortably without having to do anything stomach-churning.

The Great season 2 is available to stream (in its entirety) on Hulu in the US. In the UK episodes air weekly on Channel 4 in the UK.

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Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.