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 expertise on the Tudor court is getting some notice!) and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 3: Warrior’s Fate. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue.
Lissa: Whew! Need to catch my breath after that one!
Sandi: I need to replace my headphones after that one!
L: The mysterious stranger is invited into Ragnar’s hall by Helga. He claims to be a wandering story-teller, but I noted that his clothes seemed well-kempt and his beard was neatly trimmed. You (ever the medicine woman) noted that his bandage was filthy, but other than that, he didn’t seem like a man who slept in bogs or beds of straw as fortune’s whims dictated.
S: Okay. This is my thought on Harbard and his grooming. He did clean up rather well! I’m thinking a couple of things. One, is that if he is indeed a professional storyteller, it is possible that “show clothes” are all he possesses, and his image is his craft in many ways. Keeping it up would be important. And though he might say he sleeps wherever he can, it is evident by his size and grooming that he generally gets the good beds. The second thought I had with this was that he wasn’t a storyteller at all but has a much more nefarious purpose in mind!
And hey…was I the only one to see the sexual interplay involved with that storytelling? Hm?
L: He tells a long tale of going to a king’s hall and having a bet with the king he could drink all of the wine in his horn, but the level never diminished no matter how much he gulped. He then bet he could beat whomever the king challenged him to wrestle, only to be presented with a suprisingly strong old crone. Siggy watches him with dispassionate eyes as the others become enthralled with the tale. The king in the story reveals that the horn was connected to the sea, which is why it kept refilling, and the crone he fought was Old Age personified. Siggy looks away and says crisply that the “stranger” must be Thor because only Thor could drink the oceans dry or beat old age.
I didn’t have time to look it up last night, but these tales rang a bell in my memory. I could swear I’ve read them before.
S: I found the story of Thor and his journey to Utgard at Hurstwic Norse Mythology’s website: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/mythology/myths/text/thor_utgard.htm
Thor doesn’t actually beat old age, but he does wrestle with her. It is a story in which, the website says, Thor is once again “outclassed by an adversary” regarding his verbal skills.
Thor does not have a silver tongue, which makes the idea of a storyteller taking on his persona to be even more amusing.
L: The “stranger” has odd Rasputin-like powers to soothe Ivar when he screams in pain from his legs. He claims to be taking the baby’s pain into himself. Aslaug is very grateful as her son drifts into a comfortable sleep, but Siggy is alarmed by it… something is amiss here.
S: Siggy is suspicious – Siggy is pretty much always suspicious. She was a jarl’s wife, of course, and has had her own ambitions to see to for a long time. She is not trusting of any man, in my estimate, though she seems to get younger every season.
Okay, I want to bring up King Ecbert and his nobles and their differing opinions as they travel to make nice with the Northmen.
The Pagan v. Christian thing is a big issue here in this season. There was the man who elevated an idol while Athelstan was praying for the farming in episode one, and of course we have Floki who is one of the most vocal supporters of the Northern Way, trying very hard to get Ragnar to see that they shouldn’t be supporting Christians.
King Ecbert is actually helping the pagan newcomers, to the dismay of his underlords. The lesser lords think that a conversion should be the price of the lands given. But Ecbert is looking to military strategy at present rather than a faith thing. It was not uncommon for the rulers of Briton to accept foreigners (and all their ways) to the Island and to give them lands and even titles in exchange for arms. England was rather isolated, but it was very accessible. Having strong arms helping hold it was considered wise policy.
How long, I wonder, until the lesser nobles dig their heels in against their king?
L: Back in Wessex, Kwenthrith asks Ragnar to spare her brother’s life in the upcoming battle. Considering the horrible things about her past that she revealed, I’m saddened for her that she may still feel emotional attachment to him. But perhaps she’s thinking pragmatically that she can rule through him, or ransom him back to his people. We’ll have to wait and see what her motive is.
S: Yeah…she acted a bit off I think. Even compared to last episode. It was really weird.
L: Ecbert continues his campaign to woo the wooly skirts off of Lagertha. He presents her with a plow, and she reacts much like a modern woman given a sports car filled with Gucci purses. She climbs up into the wagon, eyes wide and shining, and runs her hands over the wood.
S: Oh. My. Farming equipment. History Channel and the writers had way too much fun with this one. King Ecbert was a walking innuendo with his plowing and fertilizing and so on. And Lagertha was all comprehensive and, clearly, not averse to, er, plowing. Many kudos to the writers for that little bit of “Really? Did he really say that?” and to the actors for brilliant deliveries.
L: The battle against Kwenthrith’s brother’s troops begins and a not-dead-yet Torstein struggles to his feet. He wants to lead the way up the hill, checking to see where the enemy is. As it turns out, it’s more of his way of honorably ending things than anything, and he’s slain by the opposing force.
S: I had to give the man full credit. The ideal was to die in battle, slaying the enemy, so that a warrior could enter Valhalla with pride and live and drink with his fathers forever. Torstein, though maimed and ill, managed to get himself together enough to meet the enemy and—though wounded enough to remind me of Sean Bean as Boromir in Lord of the Rings—he was able to take a stab at the enemy before being slain on the field of battle.
L: Floki cries over his body later and demands of Ragnar to know how many more of the men have to die for the Christians and their god. He says Torstein’s death was pointless. Ragnar reacts angrily and tells him to shut his face before stomping away. As @duncanpowers noted in our live-Tweet last night, Floki may respect people who occasionally tell him to cut back on the emo, but he looked so wounded.
S: Ragnar made good points in his reaction. Each man’s skein is spun and fated, and each man can make his own choices until his end. Ragnar has not demanded any of his men fight, though he chose to fight himself. He left everyone with their own choice. And Torstein chose to fight. So, too, did Floki. Floki was undoubtedly feeling wounded by his friend’s death as well as Ragnar’s reaction, but I think the words needed saying.
As I mentioned during the show, Ragnar is not just Floki’s friend; he’s also a king and has to lead.
L: Ragnar orders his men not to shoot the prince, who’s heroically … fleeing as his men hold shields over his cowering head. He drops his (unused) sword and shouts to Ragnar that he surrenders. The looks on the Vikings’ faces when he said that were just precious. “He’s …. what? What is that strange and unusual word he’s using? Not fighting? What odd ducks these English are…”
S: Princess K’s brother was SO wimpy, in my estimation. His guards kept him safe, but he was clearly not a guy who was ready to take a stand. Not in front of his men, who had to drop their swords or in front of his sister who treated him like a puppy. Wasn’t she abused at his hands? Ugh.
L: Ecbert brings Lagertha to the Roman bath house, and it’s not long before the two of them are canoodling in the tub. Judith and Athelstan are on the opposite side of the bath, and Judith gets agitated when Lagertha and Ecbert begin kissing. She says it’s not right and scurries from the room. Athelstan follows her, wrapped in an itty-bitty towel (did I actually see terry cloth there?) and tells her not to fret, she hasn’t sinned. But oh boy, does she want to. She really, really wants to.
S: This is where my sound went wonky, but the visuals were communicative. I think Athelstan’s towel was nubby linen, rather than terry cloth, lol, but the man was certainly not ashamed to wear it and only it, eh? It is rare to see him as provoking anyone, but he clearly was in Judith’s case. To be fair, she confessed her desire to him before, but she is now in a place where she is (or is wanting to be seen as) striving not to give in to what they both know is wrong in their society and in terms of their faith.
I wonder why Athelstan’s doing this and I wonder if Judith is playing him or if she realizes she might have overstepped and is having a problem drawing back from that.
L: In battle, Porunn falls, despite Björn struggling to get over to her in time. She’s laying in camp, hovering between life and death when Ragnar comes over after his talk with Floki. Björn is wiping away tears as he says he never should have let her fight, never should have let her risk herself. Ragnar says with his characteristic bluntness, “We’re Vikings! It’s what we do!” and essentially tells him, “Man up, crybaby.” It’s not clear whether she’ll recover or whether the baby has been harmed.
S: Here, what I saw was Ragnar’s known devotion to the health and welfare of the children of his house. I think he was livid to find out a) that Björn allowed his own child to be endangered and b) that Björn didn’t have the authority in the relationship to keep the mother of his child (and Ragnar’s potential first grandchild!) safe at home. Lagertha didn’t battle while pregnant, or while her children were too small, either. Ragnar honors that – it’s a very desirable quality, to be a good mother, in this culture.
I am with your tweet, though, in thinking it’d be okay with me if Porunn didn’t make it. (Sorry, Gaia Weiss! You’re fabulous!). I have never agreed with her as marriage material for Björn Ironside.
L: Lagertha offers to let Ecbert stay to see the spring planting and the harvest offering to Frey. They slaughter a cow, though I suggested they might want to bring back the ever-so-slightly-incorrect human sacrifice aspect and offer Judith up instead. I mean, it was a really nice cow, and she’s not doing anything but tempting poor Athelstan … But I digress. Ecbert agrees to stay for the sacrifice, though his nobles are outraged. They mutter behind him as Lagertha sews the blood into the soil that if the Northmen can’t renounce their pagan gods, they shouldn’t be allowed to stay in Wessex. Ecbert looks thoughtful at this, and as Athelstan dusts soil from his hands.
S: It was interesting to me to note that the nobles didn’t leave entirely. Also, did you note the defiance in Lagertha’s entire attitude when she informed King Ecbert that they’d be doing a blood sacrifice to her god? And what about the pouring of the blood all over her? Ecbert seemed to be evaluating the situation but was carefully refraining from an expression of approval or disapproval. Very cagey, that fellow.
L: Back in Kattegat, two little boys are pulled from the ocean’s depths, drowned. Not near the shore… Far out to sea where they had no business being. Siggy goes to the Seer to ask if this “stranger” might have anything to do with it. The Seer asks her why she thinks that, and she tells him about the shared dreams. But the Seer has no answers for her. The gods have shown him nothing… nothing. The Seer has been blinded and they have no guidance. As he said to Lagertha in the season opener, often omens are not understandable until it’s too late to do anything about it.
“No one can help you,” he says, holding out his hand to her for her expected offering.
S: And she gave him nothing, there as the episode ended. Nothing. I wonder what that portends (if anything).
L: Ominous words indeed!
= = =
We’ll be back next week, on THORSday, with Episode 4: Scarred. Questions? Comments? Let me know and I’ll try to answer! 🙂
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4