The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our review series on the History Channel show Vikings.
Author Lissa Bryan (whose Under These Restless Skies is a fantastic love story set in the Court of Henry VIII) and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 2: The Wanderer. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue.
Lissa: I think I say this every episode, but “Wow, what an episode!”
Sandi: Absolutely. From Wessex, to Kattegat and Hedeby, to Mercia, we moved from the warriors to the farmers to those who remained back in the cold white north while the others were seeking a new place for themselves. It was good to see the variety of their circumstances, I think. We got treated to more or less prosperous Britons as well as a rural community where there is building a conflict of faiths. This to contrast to Kattegat with the frosty weather – shows again why the Northmen were on the move to find new places to live.
L: We start with the aftermath of the battle from the premier episode. Kwenthrith reveals that she wants her uncle’s blood so much because he molested her, and offered her to others when she was a young girl.
S: I have made no bones about my lack of happiness with Princess Kwen in this series, but this really did have to move me over some. A hellish life indeed, as a child, and it is easier for me to put her actions thus far in a better perspective. So long as she doesn’t try messing with Ragnar, anyway. When she said she wanted her uncle’s head, it was really interesting to see how very easily Floki took the request and he brought it back without ceremony.
L: She has a bit of a drunken breakdown in the aftermath, hacking at her uncle’s head and sobbing in relief when she tosses it aside. Her character has really evolved this season, and I’m intrigued to see what will happen with her.
S: Perhaps we’ll see on the other side of the river where her brother has his men, eh?
L: Rollo has a strange incident of his own, hacking at some of the enemy soldiers while in a haze. Clive Standen mentioned in the season previews that Rollo would become a beserker.
S: I am missing Rollo so far this season. The man has kept his shirt on so far, and has been stable and reliable…until he started eating whatever it was that blurred his vision. Were these the same plants/fungi/whatsits that Floki gave him before, to enable him to act in a berserker manner?
L: Torstein has been wounded on his arm, and as the episode progresses, we see that it’s become infected. I don’t know the statistics during the Viking age, but I know that during the Civil War, infection and illness killed more men than direct battle.
S: Too true. Without traveling kvinna medisin (medicine women, healers) it’d be tough to perform any kind of advanced medicine while raiding.
L: Siggy, Helga, and Aslaug are having the same recurring dream. A man with a burning ball of snow, whose blood hisses as it drips into the snow … and a bloody, bound, and blinded Rollo. Aslaug gives a pained smile in front of the children and says it’s “Just a dream,” but you can tell she doesn’t believe that. It’s an omen, and the women are terrified by what it may mean.
S: I called the ladies the Weird Sisters on twitter last night and I’m sticking with that. Aslaug has the reputation of a Seer, Helga – well she’s Floki’s mate and is perfect for him so this worked for me, but to see Siggy in on this? That surprised me. The power of three or a triad is something that exists throughout the history and mythos of humanity, so this was a powerful omen, I think. The dream.
L: King Ecbert is pressing his suit with Lagertha. He asks her if she’s unattached, and then later, we see him gifting her with a fine opal and gold necklace. A step up from his earlier gift of a handful of earth, eh? But, as you said, Lagertha is a practical girl, and she may have appreciated the significance of the handful of earth more. Lagertha seemed very demure during this scene. She’s obviously charmed by Ecbert, but are his intentions honorable?
S: I think “honorable” is a relative term, here. I believe he is serious in pursuing her as a romantic partner and he would treat her well and all that, respecting her body as well as her position, BUT does he mean marriage? I don’t think so. King Ecbert is a product of his people and he is a Christian. He likely holds those who aren’t of his faith to be a lesser type of person, and not worthy of any more binding ties. Such as marriage. I am thinking he wants Lagertha as a mistress of station, but not as a wife. As such, he would see to it that she had everything she wanted…to a point. We all know Lagertha would take issue with at least some of this, no?
L: Björn scolds Porunn for straying from his side during battle and taking risks. She shrugs it off, but then Björn suddenly comes out with a proposal of marriage. A delighted Porunn accepts. But Björn may be sadly disappointed if he thinks it will keep her away from danger.
S: I was very much unsurprised that Björn proposed to Porunn, but it would not be seen as a respectable alliance. I know we talked about the purity of the bride before, and Björn has not treated Porunn as a proper wife prospect in the manner of the Northern culture. He’s treated her as a concubine—a well-loved and fertile concubine—so I am wondering how a marriage proposal will be received by his parents.
L: Back in Hedeby, Kalf has decided to betray Lagertha.
S: That was what I thought he was planning last week. Behind the “Kalfling’s” pretty face is a cunning brain. And a traitorous one.
L: He wants to be earl himself and persuades the supporters of Lagertha’s dead husband to support him. Welp, that little romance didn’t last long, did it?
S: Must not have been much of a romance. More of a playful faux flirtation on her part and an effort (successful) to beguile on his.
L: But the same thing happened to Ragnar when he left his lands, didn’t it? It just shows the danger that leaving with your best men to go raiding presented to a community. It left it vulnerable to outside attack and to usurpers who had the idea of taking advantage of the leaders’ absence.
S: The personality of the leader was a main factor in keeping the people together, at this point. There wasn’t a system in place to make changes, so the leader had to keep things in hand him/herself.
L: Athelstan s facing his own challenges. Lady Judith asks to confess to him because her own confessor is gone. Athelstan protests he was just a monk, not a priest, but she insists she needs to confess. They meet in a confessional booth. Last night during the episode, you and I discussed that confessional booths are probably a bit anachronistic for this era. They don’t seem to have been used this early in the church’s history.
S: Yep. As far ahead of this time as the 12th Century, it is noted that a priest taking confession would often sit on a stool or bench while the penitent knelt at his feet. There was no privacy, no disguising the complete awareness of one from the other. I think that in this instance here with Judith, the writers chose to use a booth as theatre more than anything.
L: In the booth, Judith confesses she’s been having erotic dreams about Athelstan. She leaves right after dropping this bombshell, leaving Athelstan a bit unsettled, to say the least. Later, as Athelstan is saddling up to leave, he reminds her he never gave her penance. She says his leaving is penance enough. As she watches him rid off, her father-in-law, King Ecbert, leans over to murmur to her that the object of her “fascination” is very dangerous. I wonder if the gears are turning in Ecbert’s mind that Judith might be a way to keep the “Tiny Viking” interested in hanging around Wessex.
S: King Ecbert is a visionary (according to the website) and I can see him using those around him for his own aims. It struck me as curious that Judith made very sure to call Ecbert “Father-in-law” during their final chat in this episode. I wonder if there is additional tension between them that has nothing to do with the king’s son.
L: The new “Jarl Kalf” is dining in his (Lagertha’s!) hall and says that he dreamt Ragnar tore out his liver while he was still alive and ate it in front of him with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Okay, I made up that last part. Yeah, I’d say that’s an omen, too, son.
S: And according to your friend on Facebook, the Kalfling was actually eating Lagertha’s own cat. (Is this in place of the lambs from prior seasons, I wonder?)
L: Torstein’s arm has become too badly infected for him to ignore any longer. He calls over to where Rollo and Floki are standing and says the arm has to come off. He puts on a brave face, and even jokes about it a bit: “I never liked that arm anyway.” Floki, the one he has chosen to do the job, maintains the light tone. He tells Floki he would do it for him, if their positions were reversed. The amputation scene was tough to watch, but well-done.
S: The amputation was pretty brutal. (No one gave Torstein any alcohol?) I was pleased to see that Rollo cauterized the stump. It’s messy, it’s gross, but it was better than dying of blood poisoning. And the byplay was very cool.
L: But the last scene we see is of Torstein’s wound having re-opened and darkening the sand beneath him with blood. It seems he’s on his way to the halls of his fathers.
S: The Wanderer, for whom the episode is named, is Harbard. I’m very much intrigued by what his presence means to the storyline and individual characters this season.
Thanks for reading! Comments? Questions? Just let me know! I’ll do my best!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4