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 post-apocalyptic trilogy concludes this month with Shadows Have Gone) and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 4: Scarred. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue.
Lissa: My, things are moving in rather interesting directions, aren’t they?
Sandi: They really are! One thing to note is the continuation of Floki’s concern about the Christians’ influence on Ragnar (and Rollo). I’m glad that—what with everything else happening this week—this theme wasn’t lost. Historically, it’s significant.
L: Kwenthrith discovers Ragnar has been injured as he lounges by the banks of the river. She climbs up on him and urinates on his wound. (It’s not a jellyfish sting, Kwenthrith.) A somewhat unusual method of treatment, I should think. It’s a little unclear when she resumes her perch on him if there’s going to be a little bit more “healing” going on – of the Marvin Gaye type.
S: Urine is actually indicated for the treatment of wounds, if there aren’t other methods available. It may seem really gross to us in our present day world, but urine is a filtered substance and is even potable at need. As to whether she employed any Marvin Gaye treatments, we don’t know… I’d like to think not, but with Princess Kwenthrith? Who can say?
L: Back in Kattgat, Rasputin – I mean Harbard – is still using his magicks to soothe little Ivar’s pain. Aslaug begins to spend more and more time with him, strolling with him as he tells her stories. She argues with Siggy about it, who still mistrusts the stranger and his intentions. Aslaug more or less casts her duties into Siggy’s lap in turn for having the freedom to spend her time with Harbard He lures Aslaug inside an empty building and seduces her. Well, maybe “seduces” isn’t the right word, because Aslaug doesn’t seem to need much persuasion in that regard.
S: Her behavior seemed out of character to her second-season behavior. Aslaug is now a wife who is perhaps feeling neglected and under-appreciated, certainly not loved as she wishes she could be. So, bring in a charming stranger and..? Still, I would have liked Aslaug not to be so easily seduced.
L: I think the parallel with Rasputin was strong here. Empress Alexandra was also accused of being under Rasputin’s sexual thrall, and she hung on his every word to the detriment of her duties, according to her detractors.
The next scene shows Judith and Athelstan in bed together. I was hoping it was one of her dreams, but no, she and Athelstan crossed the line into the physical. He tells her he loves her and pulls her in for another embrace.
S: his really surprised me. Last we saw of these two (together) Judith was putting up a big “Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly!” façade. The advances in this relationship initiated from her side, though Athelstan did grow more forward during and after the steamy bath in last week’s episode. But last night, the two of them appeared entirely comfortable with one another, and the princess seems no longer to be at odds with her choice, while they are in bed together.
L: We see Porunn, too. Her face is horribly injured from the battle. She says Bjorn won’t want to marry her any more (one can wish!) but Bjorn assures her that isn’t true and kisses her forehead.
S: Had quite a few comments about Björn’s perfect post-battle hair. It was a bit amusing. Porunn’s poor face was a mess, and her flippant attitude was designed to shield her from Björn’s possible rejection. And he, poor guy, is not shallow enough to think of abandoning her due to her injuries, but I think he’s engaged in a considerable amount of self-castigation over how he didn’t protect her as he should have. This could drive a wedge that has nothing to do with her looks.
L: Lagertha is in the king’s bedroom, listening to him as he tries to convince her to shrug off her duty as earl and stay in Wessex with her settlement. Lagertha tumbles into bed with him with a smile, but says she has come to discover that King Ecbert cares about nothing but himself. Lagertha has gone into this affair with no illusions. She is not a wide-eyed girl to have her head turned by a king’s attention and a few trinkets. She had fun with him and accepted his gifts, but she has no intention of staying as his mistress.
S: I really enjoyed her clear personal strength in that scene. She’ll take her pleasure, certainly, but not forsake her responsibilities. Has she strengthened the alliance with King Ecbert? I think so, at least in the short term. Will King Ecbert continue to pursue her now that he’s been with her? Not sure, because Ecbert is a practical man and if she’s not going to be his, he might seek someone else who would be.
L: But Lagertha is going to be surprised when she returns to her lands. Kalf’s advisor frets over the fact she’ll be returning with seasoned warriors at her back. Kalf says he has a plan for that, an ally coming to support him.
S: The Kalfling’s arrogance continues to surprise me. Granted, he managed to get the support of Earl Ingstadt’s people in the short term, but Lagertha’s personal charisma is great, and her battle prowess undoubted. How can he think to win out over her, no matter who he has in alliance?
L: In Kattegat, Ragnar’s sons wonder to Siggy where their mother is. Siggy tells them Aslaug is with Harbard and one day they will understand the sacrifices mothers make for their children. The boys wander off, presumably in search of her. Siggy chases after them to see the boys trying to cross the frozen expanse of water. She shouts at them to stop, but it’s too late. The ice cracks below them and boys plunge into the water.
S: This almost had a dreamlike quality, her pursuit. The winter landscape once again contrasts with the more springlike views where Ragnar & Co. are, which helped in this otherworldly feeling. When Siggy took off her shoes, I winced. Loudly. Hissed, too. Frozen feet are so not fun. The wonderful thing about this is how determined Siggy is to save the lives of her lord’s sons. She had just been demonstrating her own proclivity for personal leadership, yet she will preserve the right bloodline even at the cost of her own.
L: Siggy morphs into a superhero. Dashing across the ice, she tosses off her cape and leaps into the hole, diving after the boys. She surfaces for a gasp of air and sees a ethereal girl sitting on the edge of the ice. With a sweet smile, she takes Siggy’s hand. Siggy’s whole face lights up when she sees her. Last night, you wondered if maybe it was the daughter Siggy had lost. My True Love said it was a Valkyrie. In either case, after saving one (or both – it was unclear to me) of the boys, Siggy surfaces one last time and sees Habard watching her flounder in the water. She sinks back below the surface, her hair floating in the current. Siggy died a hero, battling to save her people.
S: In an article I read this morning on Entertainment Weekly, it was revealed that the lady waiting for Siggy on the ice was indeed the spirit of her daughter. The idea was that Siggy would get to return to those she loved in death, since her loves in life had not proven permanent or satisfactory. I think that her death was a good one, as she saved the lives of two children, and her expression as she sinks is not one of despair, so I am left with a good feeling.
L: Back in Wessex, there’s a party to welcome Ragnar home. He looks around quickly and spots Athelstan, and you can almost hear him say, “Okay, there’s one, where’s…” He asks Ecbert, “How is … the settlement?” but he’s not really asking about the farm. He’s asking about Lagertha, to whom Ecbert defers the question. She’s wearing the opal necklace that Ecbert gave her. There’s a bit of flirting between Lagertha and Ragnar, and Ragnar notes that Lagertha seems to have gotten to know Ecbert well. Lagertha doesn’t deny it.
S: I still love Ragnar and Lagertha as a couple. They understand one another so well, and she is his equal in every way. Ecbert, though an astute man, does not comprehend the full nature of the bond Ragnar and Lagertha share, I don’t think. The dynamic is fascinating.
L: A bit later, King Ecbert embraces both Lagertha and Athelstan in a gregarious and overly-friendly crouch-hug. He asks them both to stay in Wessex when the ships leave. Lagertha says she’s already given him the answer to that one, and Athelstan says he’s going where Ragnar goes. Ecbert is not best pleased to be losing both of his favorite chesspieces – I mean Vikings – at once. He tells Athelstan that’s the wrong decision.
S: His manner with both of them is so familiar. Athelstan looks a bit uncomfortable. I am wondering if he is feeling that way due to his relationship with Judith or his relationship with the king himself? Not that anything untoward was overtly demonstrated, but Ecbert has been quite attached to him.
L: Judith draws Athelstan into a cove and asks him to stay. She sinned for him after all. But Athelstan tells her that her husband, Ecbert’s son, has returned now, and Athelstan is going to leave with his people. Judith kisses him, and they are seen … possibly by Floki? It was so dark, it was hard to tell. Considering the follow-up scene outside where Floki says he’s talking to the gods, I’m betting it was him. What he will do with this very dangerous information is a question that will keep me guessing all week. As he told Siggy before, he can’t keep a secret.
S: This scene is really odd and necessary. I’m not sure if it was Floki catching a glimpse of The Priest and the Princess—might have been the cuckolded husband—but either way, they’re keeping it to themselves…for now. What might Floki do with the information? It’s possible that he could use it and talk to Aethelwulf about it, since elsewhere in this episode they’re almost sort of talking with one another. And I don’t know. I think Floki can keep a secret, but only if it matters to him. After all, he played us all last season!
I wanted to mention another moment I really liked. When Ragnar and Ecbert are talking, sitting side by side, man to man. Not making eye contact, but speaking to the air in front of them. “Are you a good man?” “Are you corrupt?” And they both agree that they both are both of these things. Yet still they sit, observing those around them with a casual sort of jaundice that I think is amusing and also sad. Ragnar of many years ago wouldn’t have been able to deal with this in such a calm manner, I don’t think. He had to prove himself and so on, but now…he’s different. He’s a king. And he calls Ecbert out on Ecbert’s own schemes. I like it.
L: Kwenthrith introduces her brother to court and tells everyone that she has now gotten past the abuses she endured. She proposes a toast to her brother, but she pours out her own wine as her brother begins to drink. Predictably, he begins to choke, and blood pours from his lips as he collapses to the floor.
S: What struck me is that no one, but no one, said anything.
L: Kwenthrith looks a little horrified at what she has wrought, but she stands and asks everyone to lift their glasses to the sole heir of the throne of Mercia. Ragnar doesn’t looks surprised by this turn of events, but neither does anyone else, frankly. They gaze down into their cups and as one, pour the wine onto the floor, and toss the empty vessels at Kwenthith’s feet.
S: This was one of the most amusing moments of the episode last night. Everyone holding their cups and then they’re all, “Nope, not gonna risk it.” All that wine, all over the floor. And still, Kwenthrith is utterly unrepentant. Just, “So, that’s done, eh?”
L: We discussed last season that Kwenthrith was a real person, though little is known about her. She seems to have had an unusual amount of power for a woman of that era, and even minted coins wth her name and face on them. Like many figures of the era, her name is entwined with legend, so it’s hard to tell what’s truth and what is fable.
I will say that most historical folks prefer to do their poisoning in private, or with a bit more subtlety. An oaf her brother may have been, but he was still a prince, and the church frowns upon fratricide.
S: One of the chief draws of murder by poison is that the murderer is often allowed to remain anonymous. If someone was going to kill someone in full view of an entire royal court, why not go for something more direct? Lagertha, for example, wouldn’t poison someone to do away with them in front of others. She’d see it as a show of power and would indeed show her strength. Kwenthrith, on the other hand, simply watches with avid interest as her brother chokes to death and dies. It’s morbid. And does not gain her any respect, in my estimation.
L: In Kattegat, Harbard has a bit more of a frosty reception when he next sees Aslaug. He tells her that Ivar won’t experience as much pain any more, because he has taken it into himself. It’s time for him to move on. “Who am I? A wanderer,” he says as he leaves, pulling up the hood of his cloak, and stepping out into the mist… where he vanishes.
S: The change is really sudden here, for me. Is Aslaug frosty because she feels she’s been taken advantage of or are her feelings due to Siggy’s death and her suspicions about Harbard’s possible involvement? And has he really taken Ivar’s pain? If so, how? Three women had a vision of this man who strode into Kattegat, helped, told stories, had sex with the queen, and then left again. The dream would seem to indicate he has more importance than the few episodes in which he appeared, so I will wait to see what happens next with him.
L: Kalf’s new ally arrives. It’s the son of King Horik, the princeling that Ragnar spared at the end of last season. And he has brought with him Tovid, Earl Borg’s wife. She carries Borg’s baby in her arms. An alliance of two claims to the land, it seems, joining with Kalf’s forces. Ragnar’s mercy has come back to haunt him.
S: Shouldn’t ever spare a princeling if you want to rule peacefully. Isn’t that in the How to Be A Conquering Overlord handbook? I wonder how problematic this will be for Lagertha. This is such an amazing season. Again!
Thank you for reading and to all those who tweeted with Lissa and me last night! It was great to hear from you! Have any questions or comments about this episode? Let me know. See you next week for Episode Five: The Usurper.
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4