Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk VIKINGS – Episode 8

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All Vikings images herein are the property of the History Channel. Click here to go there.

Bjorn and Rollo sparGotta say, after the !!! moments from last episode, it was a bit of a relief not to be cringing into my chair for this episode! There was action, plot development, and some very nice Viking men to look at, yes, but nothing that made me say, “Oh, no they didn’t!”
a2alissapicLissa Bryan, author of historical fiction novel Under These Restless Skies, and I tweeted during the show last night and are here again to share our thoughts on what happened. Much of the things that occur on this show are from the old Sagas and have historical backing, which makes this all the more fascinating for me. Sometimes, the writers take liberties, but it is still a world I believe really existed more than one thousand years ago. Her remarks are here in purple.

Lissa: As Aslaug predicted, her baby was born with disabilities. It was so sad to see Ragnar tucking the blanket gently around his newborn son, even as he left him to die on that river bank.


Ragnar waiting for birthSandi: I was just relieved Ragnar didn’t take an axe to him so that the blood would call to predators. (Yes, my head so went there.) As twitter user @Kennethmd told me last night, the sons of Ragnar are better known that Ragnar himself, so the son was not, ultimately, killed. Though Ragnar did indeed sacrifice him. That was his intent. And he walked away from it. That’s important.


Aslaug showed a certain strength of character in defying the cultural norms regarding disabled children. Ragnar, too. Both of them decided that they loved their baby too much to expose him. It will be interesting to see how the community reacts to this situation.


Indeed. Though history isn’t certain what the deal was with Ivar (it is possible that he wasn’t physically weak at all), the story here indicates that he is. In that time, it was the responsibility of the father to accept a child of his and allow that child to live. He had the responsibility, then, of seeing to it that the child would grow into a productive member of their society, not wasting limited resources. Which was why a baby that was seen as not healthy in some way was often exposed to the elements, so that the gods would take the child back before he was named and the society wouldn’t be compelled to care for someone who couldn’t give back to the rest. That was the idea, anyway, as far as I have seen.


Baby Ivar and parentsHistorically speaking, there’s some debate over Ivar’s actual disability. Some people think that the “Boneless” designation came from … ah … his inability to father children. Others think that the nickname actually translates to “Legless” but not in the form of a disability, but because he never needed his legs to leave a battlefield (meaning he was always carried off on his warrior’s shields as a celebration after victory.) Another interpretation says he couldn’t walk, but he was a very big, strong warrior never the less, a poweful shot with a bow, powerful enough to earn the Northmen’s respect,, despite the fact he had to be carried into battle. Whether he was actually disabled or not, Ivar was a renowned warrior with many victories.


The timeline here for the series has him born rather later than is often indicated, but it works well for the story. As the Seer said in the first season, Ragnar’s sons will have more renown than their father.
I had to raise a brow at Lagertha’s bathtub. That didn’t strike me as very accurate for a series that has thus far been commendable in this respect. Bathing seems to have been mostly a communal activity at hotspring pools and bath houses. It seems likely that if she’d had a personal tub, it would have been made of wood, not beaten copper. 
lissa tweet 4 17


My research (which has mostly focused on the Norwegian people of this era) has indicated that cleansing usually happened in steam houses. One might rinse off from that in a spring, river, or from a bucket poured over a person after sweating. It is my thought, as you said, that any bathtub would not have been made from metal. Metal was far too precious to use for something as luxurious as a bathtub. Though, one has to remember that Lagertha’s dead husband was – by her own word, I think -considered insane by some.


In this scene, we see again the man who struck the fatal blow at the feast after Lagertha stabbed her husband. He wants a piece of the pie, so to speak, to marry Lagertha or at least to spend the night with her. He claims that was the deal if he helped her slay her husband and become earl. Lagertha shuts him down fast. He doesn’t have the courage to carry out any of his threats.


And the minion did not seem to fight much about it, which makes me wonder if he has other plans or if Lagertha’s strength is just that overwhelming, even when she is naked and unarmed. Or, perhaps, especially when she is naked and unarmed.


vikings_episode6_BjornandslaveLagertha doesn’t seem too impressed with Porunn. Doubtless, the status issue comes into play. Björn is the son of two powerful jarls, and his marriage would be a matter of alliances, not love. Lagertha would have no problem if Björn was just enjoying the company of a slave girl, but he seems to be getting very emotionally involved with her, and Lagertha is probably worried he will want to marry her soon.


It would make more sense, to her, if Björn were to take Porunn as a leman, or sex slave. Someone whose job it was to keep him thusly entertained. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was something Lagertha would consider: buying Porunn from her owner and giving her as a gift to her son. This would emphasize what would be considered their proper places in society as well as give Lagertha the opportunity to remind Björn of his duties. Marriage was not a thing of the heart, in this time and place. It was a business arrangement. Especially among powerful families. A man was considered to be of a good age to marry when he was perhaps twenty. Björn is close enough to this age that it is fine to consider an alliance but not with a slave.


Floki HorikFloki seems to be having some issues with Ragnar, whose faith he contrasts unfavorably with that of Horik. Horik is courting him, hoping to exploit Floki’s shipbuilding genius. I really enjoyed the seafaring scenes in this episode. 


Oh, don’t get me started on King Horik! He is wooing Floki away with words Floki wants to hear; he’s a fine manipulator. I wonder how this will play out. Will Horik get Floki to move his family at some point and build ships for King Horik’s purposes, thus leaving Ragnar without oars?


We meet Princess Kwenthrith in this episode. She was interesting at first because she seemed to have a sharp eye for the political situation, but then… They seem to be setting her up as a sort of Messalina-type character. She seems to be based on Cynethrith, a powerful queen of Mercia about whom little is known, but who was important enough in her day to have coins minted in her own name.


Ecbert and mercia princessShe comes in and takes no prisoners. King Ecbert’s response to her was quite amusing, sending in some of his men to, ah, keep her entertained. I will have to read up on her before next week’s episode.


Ragnar’s arrogance is getting him into trouble. He’s acting as a sole agent, as though his allies – including King Horik – are merely his assistants in the matter of raiding England. His tone was bordering on disrespectful when he addressed Lagertha by her title Jarl Igstat. It made me wonder if it was just the situation or whether he really doesn’t respect her claim to the title of her dead husband.


Horik and Ragnar conferRagnar lacks leadership skills. He is a good leader in battle, and can handle the ups and downs of a single region without incident, but he never learned how to “win friends and influence people” in terms of large-scale management. I am thinking that, in terms of Lagertha, he respects her but can’t seem to work his head around treating her as a social equal. As his former marital partner, thinking back to early in last season, they were equals in terms of their society. But now that she has won a realm (of sorts) for herself, it isn’t something he can mesh in his understanding. Then, too, his priorities have never been well-fixed. He would probably take her back as his wife in a heartbeat if she’d agree to share with Aslaug. Lagertha, though, is better able to adjust her perspectives.


Ragnar sent Torstein to parlay with Ecbert and was delighted when the king’s son came back to talk, carrying with him Athelstan’s torc. I imagine that Athelstan is one of the first things Ragnar is going to ask for when he speaks with Ecbert. Unfortunately, that meeting may be a little tense, because when the prince’s company leaves the camp, they’re ambushed. The prince is the only one who manages to stagger away.


Death at ambushOh, there was a sweet moment. Ragnar’s relationship with Athelstan has been, for me, one of my favorite aspects of this show. Even when they’re not in the same country, the friendship/brotherish bond is still there. And Ragnar is eager to see Athelstan again, and he gasps when Atheltstan’s armband is returned to him. But, yet again, Horik is going to mess this up.  Apparently, it was he who staged the ambush. I am thinking that he did this for two reasons: One, he is wanting to emphasize to Ragnar that it is Horik, not Ragnar, who is the big dog in this game. And two, Horik isn’t interested in amicable relations with the King of Wessex. Ragnar wants to relocate to Wessex. He is impressed with their resources. His interest lies in keeping the peace. But not everyone agrees with how he does things.  And sometimes, his choices get people killed.  However, the blame for this ambush lies entirely with Horik (and his son). As you say, things will be tense when Ecbert and Ragnar meet again.


I am guessing the conference will not take place in the bath.


  1. Angelyn · April 20, 2014

    wonderful posts on this series. I’ve been reading to see what I missed during the shows–you all are so perceptive!

    Ivar: good intuition re: his disabilities. It could be the inability to father a child–Ethelred the Unready comes to mind.

    Aslaug: “a certain strength of character” — comments like this one makes me concerned that we are looking at the past with a wax paper overlay. It is problematic to assign what we think are higher values/morals to a time period we are not entirely familiar with. However, looking at that baby one has to believe there is a motivation innate in all of us to save him from his destiny.

    Rollo: best chest on TV

    • Sandi · April 20, 2014

      Hello, Angelyn!

      Thank you. 🙂 So glad if you’re finding something worthwhile in our discussions. 🙂

      I personally have issues with Aslaug, I know. Lissa is more knowledgeable about her since she has read the Scandinavian Sagas, while I have concentrated more on the Norwegian histories. If Ivar had no physical deformities, it is highly unlikely that the issue of his survival was ever called into question, as Jarl Ragnar wouldn’t have been compelled to expose his son, even if he were to be rescued. So that is another circumstance in favor of ‘the Boneless’ appellation to have something to do with another aspect of Ivar’s character, perhaps.

      Rollo: I concur. The man has definite magnetism. And he should always fight without a shirt. It appears that his nephew Björn will be taking after him. lol

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