This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.
The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our review series on the History Channel show Vikings.
I am so excited to be back for a third season of History Channel’s VIKINGS series! Once again, author Lissa Bryan and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 1: Mercenary. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue, this season. And boy, did we have a lot to say!
Lissa: This was a great premier episode! It had everything. Gorgeous costumes (cough boot heels cough), action, love, and conflicting alliances.
Sandi: I was enraptured by last night’s episode. Getting to see everyone, trying to study the interpersonal dynamics…wow. And I missed the boot heels! Who had them?
L: It was one of the men on the boat as they were leaving for Wessex. I saw it as they were lounging back. I’m thinking we might just have to learn to live with that one. I suppose History Channel’s commitment to authenticity does not extend to hiring a cobbler.
We started out with Lagertha going to the Seer to learn her future. She had an achingly sad expression in her eyes when he told her she would never bear another child. I think she already knew, but the last shred of hope she had died at that moment, and it was hard to watch.
S: I felt bad for Lagertha. I do wonder what this trip to the Seer might have had to do with her flirtatious behavior back in her own Hall. She strutted in there – it was great. Lagertha is a powerful woman. I was a little surprised, I confess, to see her flirting. She doesn’t often let her feminine side come out to play. I wonder how this will happen this season.
L: We haven’t seen that since some of her loving scenes with Ragnar early in the series. I suppose she’s been so busy being a Jarl, she hasn’t had much time to focus on being a woman. Perhaps with this young man, she feels safe enough to let it out. The actress looked so beautiful in these scenes. Lagertha would be about thirty in the series now, correct? In those days, that was certainly nearing the end of her youth, so her question to the Seer is understandable.
The Seer predicted a harvest of blood, broiling seas, a “trickster” whose weapon will cleave her, and a river with three crossings or shores, which I think may represent the three major power players in this situation: Lagertha herself, Ragnar, and Ecbert. Lagertha didn’t unerstand what he was talking about and the Seer chuckled. He said that the nature of prophecy is that its meaning doesn’t become clear until it’s too late to stop it. Dark times are ahead, it seems.
S: Well, yes. Dark times, indeed. Invasions are happening, and that is not going to be pretty.
L: She then asked about her own death, which is a question I’d never ask in a million years.
S: Me, either. Who would want to know that? How would that knowledge affect everyday decisions?
L: I certainly wouldn’t do so much saving for retirement!
He didn’t give her a definitive answer on that one, which worried me a little – is it already too late to stop it, or is there a fork in the road ahead where Lagertha could make a choice, and only when she looks back would she realize its significance?
S: These are a people who believe in the skein of their lives already being woven, so Fate is a given. Is it a matter of her choices or just a matter of time?
L: Lagertha’s hall seems quite prosperous! And she has a very handsome young gentleman who is her new right-hand man. And maybe left-hand … And maybe more than hands. She asks him about potential new spouses for herself, and then asks why he never approached her with his own offer. He essentially says he’s not good enough for her, and she should have a marriage that brings her wealth and status. Noble fella. He’ll hold down the fort for her in her absence, he says.
S: Ha. Noble indeed. Later, when he confronts Einar in the little rowboat with the axe, he intimates he himself will be the next earl. How does he plan on that happening? Will he woo Lagertha or depose her?
L: My money is on “wooing,” at least for now. He’s obviously smitten, but if Lagetha declines his offer, or marries another man, heartbreak could lead to some ugly decisions.
But she’s barely out the door before there’s a man challenging for her seat. It seems there are some who wish for rule that represented her dead husband’s interests. Lagertha’s new chief assistant puts that down quickly.
Björn and Ragnar overlook Kattegat and discuss the reason why they fight. Ragnar looked as though he was wearing the mantle of a king well across his broad shoulders, but it seems he recognizes the costs of his reponsibility. He tells his son that power is dangerous and it attracts the worst.
S: This is very interesting, seeing how this relationship plays out. Ragnar is a good father toward his younger sons (Ivar notwithstanding) but as Björn gets older, there is more of a confrontational nature between them. Which makes perfect sense. Ragnar is operating with knowledge of the prophecies about his sons, and Björn is coming into himself and, heck, out there with a lover and likely siring a child of his own. Ragnar wants to do right by his eldest, but communicating that means there will be harsh words.
L: What a conflict in Ragnar! He is so proud of Björn and wants to see him thrive, but at the same time, it would be hard to know your boy is destined to achieve more greatness than you ever will, especially given the emphasis on fame as a warrior in their culture and religion. Not only is poor Ragnar doomed to watch Björn outshine him on earth, but in the Afterlife, as well!
Floki tells Helga that he feels trapped and smothered by the happiness of his family life. He’s genuinely spooked by it, and I think it’s because he’s now realizing just how much he stands to lose. What the gods have given, they can take away in an instant. He tries to pick a fight with Helga, but she isn’t having it. He’s a hard man to love, there’s no doubt. His baby is beautiful, though. I mentioned on Twitter that I wondered if she’d be a Seer.
S: Floki’s behavior was unsettling here. After he played us all last season, I am going to try harder to understand him this year.
L: I am so glad he turned out to be a loyal friend and my faith in him wasn’t misplaced.
S: I’m wondering how much of this behavior is because he’s afraid he’ll lose all the blessings he has gained and how much of it is a sense of time passing? He is loyal to Ragnar, but he doesn’t agree with him on all fronts. He misses, I think, the old ways and the old days when things were simpler. Perhaps he needs to design more ships?
L: He is absolutely out of his comfort zone, there is no dfenying it. Floki has deep-seated problems. The show hasn’t really explored the root of them. He’s just “Crazy Floki,” the genius shipbuilder who is clearly a bit “tetched” but is ultimately a good guy. Now, he is utterly out of his element. He wasn’t a man made for peace, love, and happiness. (Remember his fear the first time he beheld his baby?) Perhaps you’re right that he’s the kind of person who always needs someone to battle against.
Floki isn’t the only of Kattegat’s men to wants to leave town. Torstein, it seems, has gotten two women in the family way, and the ladies hate one another. He wants gone, like, YESTERDAY. Both women glare from the pier as the men hop in their long boats for the trip to Wessex to claim the lands Ecbert promised them.
S: Torstein cracked me up. “Get me outta here!” And the scene where the longships were pulling out of harbor showed images of the women being left behind. Some pregnant, some not, but it seemed rather clear that their men were content to go at that point.
L: I can’t imagine how I’d be.
“Did you pack your spear?”
“DId you pack that lunch I made you?”
“You didn’t forget to sharpen your axe did you?”
“You will be careful, won’t you?”
“By all the GODS, woman!”
“Maybe I should just come with you…”
Aslaug, too, is standing on the pier, eyes narrowed as she watches her husband talk with Lagertha. There was an earlier scene in which Ragnar giggled, chased, and wrestled with his children until Aslaug entered carrying Ivar. “How’s Boneless?” Ragnar asks, tactless as ever. The baby’s limp legs peek from under the blanket. Aslaug asks if Ragnar loves the boy and Ragnar replies that of course he does. But there’s no doubt he’s troubled by the child’s condition. And he may be feeling guilt in what he believes is his role in creating the child’s disability. Aslaug then asks a very dangerous question. “Do you love me?” We don’t see the answer to that, and it’s just as well. She should have known better than to ask it.
S: She should have, yes. And I wonder if Björn would have anything to say to the situation if he were aware of the emotional currents, there. He was never in favor of Aslaug supplanting his own mother.
L: I think here may have been a bit of schadenfreude. I certainly felt it from the audience last night. There isn’t much sympathy for her character. But from her perspective, she has now spent years being a good wife to Ragnar and building him a happy home. he’s clearly enthralled with his children and he’s a wonderful father, but there’s a part of him that will never belong to her, no matter how hard Aslaug tries.
S: Ivar the Boneless goes on to be an enormously effective warrior (http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/FeaturesBritain/EnglandIvarr.htm
) but there is still a lot of controversy about what, precisely was wrong with him. It is unlikely that he actually had issues as a youngster since he was considered a warrior, but there is talk that he may have been afflicted with a degenerative bone issue in later life.
L: So many theories on this man and what his issues may have been -if any. Some theorize thast he may have been called “Legless” because he never needed his legs to walk off a battlefield – he was always carried off in victory. In any case, he was an amazing warrior, so if he did havea disability, he must have decided as a young man that he wasn’t going to let a little thing like not being able to walk stop him.
It would be interesting to see Floki design him a saddle in which Ivar could ride and remain uptight while he practiced his bow and sword.
S: Oh, and if you click that link above? There is mention of yet another Wife of Ragnar… We’ll have to keep our eyes open.
L: Yeah, the old stories aren’t entirely clear on how many wives he had or their order in his life. So the show has a lot of possibilities in that regard.
Björn is trying to convince Porunn, who has a new Mockingjay haircut, to stay home in Kattegat, but no dice. She’s going too. He kisses her as Ragnar watches, and I was still hoping Ragnar would take the young man aside and explain what Björn should know: she’s not a suitable bride for the son of a jarl and a king. Porunn may feel she can begin to win honor and wealth by participating in the raids, but she’ll still never be suitable to be his bride.
S: Mockingjay haircut. Nice! I was also reminded of that movie. I am with you on the Unsuitable Bride front. Porunn is undoubtedly a strongwilled woman, but she is not a good choice for Wife of the Eldest Son of a King. And is she going to Floki’s makeup artist? I keep expecting to see her eyeliner run. (Okay, so I’m not a Porunn fan, either. lol I think Björn can do better. And he should!)
L: I’m just wondering when his parents are going to step in. Aslaug did something rather sly when she freed Porunn. I have to wonder if it was because she was hoping to reduce Björn’s status in favor of her own sons by making it easier for him to marry Porunn instead of a princess who would bring him wealth and status.
I respect Porunn as an individual. She’s undoubtedly strong and determined. She wants to try to make herself worthy of Björn by building her reputation and wealth as a raider. I imagine that Lagertha, watching it, has to have the same respect, but at the same time, her marriage to Björn just cannot be. Björn should know that too, but I forsee conflict with his parents if they object.
As a free man, how much power did his parents actually have over Björn’s choice in a wife? Could they legally forbid it? (I imagine most parents wouldn’t have to bring down force of law because the respect for one’s elders was so strong, but where did they legally stand over a man?) Add in the fact that they’re a king and a jarl, and it seems they would have full rights to forbid the union.
S: Marriages were generally arranged by the families of the higher classes, as marriage was considered to be for the forging of alliances. For a man to marry for love, so far beneath him, was not admired. Also, a well bred man would have seen to his fiancé’s virtue before marriage – anything less would be disrespectful. So Björn hasn’t treated Porunn as a prospective wife as much as he has a concubine or something. His family might not be able to legally
forbid a marriage, but it would be deeply frowned upon and seen as a lessening of the man in this regard.
L: Ecbert greets Ragnar and Lagertha with a banquet. Princess Kwenthrith is there, and I’ve got to tell you, I am pleased by what seems to be an evolution in her character. She was far more modest and subdued than the flamboyant, man-hungry, wild thing of last year. As you said, it’s only the first episode, but I hope we’ll see a real layered portrayal evolve here, instead of the Messalina caricature she was before.
S: She really did seem to have calmed down, some. She wants blood, yes, but she doesn’t seem to willing to consume every male in her vicinity to get it. But does she want to consume Ragnar…?
L: Gosh who can blame her there? Rawr. He actually might make a good husband for her. He has an army to win back her claim to the crown, which at this point, is more important to her than royal blood. He could help her expand her holdings, and make her a formiddable queen.
Ecbert uses Athelstan as the translator, and both Lissa and I cyber-drooled over the music of the languages. Ecbert convinces both Ragnar and Lagertha – whom he addresses as equals though Ragnar is now a king due to the “unfortunate accident” that befell his predecessor. They will support his military ambitions, and that of Kwenthrith, in exchange for lands.
S: I adored listening to the Old English and Scandinavian last night. Swooning did happen. King Ecbert seemed to be, initially, very casual and welcoming. I am not inclined to trust him, though he did amuse me greatly in his loquacious admiration for Lagertha.
L: Ecbert is delighted to see Athelstan again. He hands him the cross that Athelstan left behind when he decided to go to Ragnar and renounce his faith. Athelstan is reluctant to take it back, but he wisely does. He is in a very tenuous position in this regard.
S: Athelstan really must tread carefully. What actual status does he have? What protection does he have aside from the favor of two kings? How far will that take him? How has it changed him? The ease with which he interacts with Lagertha is good to see. They seem comfortable with one another, friends even. They’ve come a long way.
And with Ragnar! We ended last season with Ragnar learning the Lord’s Prayer from Athelstan (the only words Ragnar spoke for the entire episode, remember) and saying in this episode that he regards Athelstan as his John the Baptist (although I believe they would have called him John the Baptizer at this time). Ragnar says it’s because he will follow Athelstan (!!!) but I wonder if this is also because he expects Athelstan to speak for him and make introductions to the locals, too.
L: I think Ragnar genuinely loves the “tiny Viking.” Because of that love, he’s dabbling in Athelstan’s faith, which was the source of much of his conflict with Floki in the last season. I think Ragnar was telling Athelstan that he would follow his lead because he trusted him not to lead him astray. One had to have immense faith in a translator, especially when negotiating such delicate matters. He had to be able to rely on Athelstan to full convey Ecbert’s meaning and vice versa.
But poor Athelstan, always having to walk the fine line between worlds!
Ecbert’s daughter-in-law is fascinated by Athelstan’s scars from the aborted crucifixion. She calls them stigmata and presses a kiss into Athelstan’s palm.
S: Oh, Athelstan needs to have a care with this woman (Yes, I saw the previews, too!). Not sure where he is in his previous (current?) crisis of faith, and the man deserves to love and be loved, but… that lady is very married. And pregnant, it sounded like. Her husband was certainly all kinds of possessive.
L: King Ecbert hops in Lagertha’s wagon and proceeds to chat her up as they drive along. I half expected him to yawn and stretch his arms up so he could lay it down behind her shoulders. (He probably smells like Axe Body Spray, too. :D) He’s very interested in Lagertha, but she didn’t seem so keen. He would make a good husband for her, financially speaking, but I don’t think her mind is going in that particular direction.
S: That was a very amusing scene. :)
L: They meet the forces of Kwenthrith’s brother, and the Vikings acquit themselves marvelously, as usual. Kwenthrith hangs back in the long boat, gasping at the violence, or whatever it is women in movies gasp at during battles. I mean, could you at least throw some rocks or something? Last season’s Kwenthrith seemed to have a bit more grit.
S: I enjoyed the quick discussion/banter that occurred before Ragnar decided how to handle the situation. “I dunno, Boss, that looks kind of messy…” He evaluated the forces arrayed and then chose whom to fight. To excellent effect, apparently.
L: Floki picks up the battered crown of the dead king and smirks at it. Richard III much?
S: I was thinking Henry VII. 🙂
L: I was thinking of the play, dear, not the man. 😀
Lo, here, this long-usurped royalty
From the dead temples of this bloody wretch
Have I pluck’d off, to grace thy brows withal:
Wear it, enjoy it, and make much of it.
But it’s just a bauble to him. I don’t think Floki has ever sought power. He prefers to be behind the throne… lurking.
S: He’s good at that. 🙂 But I think he rather despises the English, overall. They are largely a Christian people and he finds that a weakness. A weakness that he is fervently hoping is not further transmitted to Ragnar.
L: All in all, a terrific opener. And that preview! Oh my stars and garters! I can’t wait to see Lagertha’s reaction when she hears a certain proposal!
S: For real! I was breathless by the time it wrapped up. Just amazing. The cast of this show is very sure we’re going to be appreciative of everything this season and I am inclined to agree.
Thanks, History Channel!
Thoughts? Comments? Let us know! And feel free to chime in next week (2/26) when Lissa and I are on twitter again during the next episode!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4