THE SHIELDMAIDENS OF HISTORY (PROTECTING THE INNOCENT FROM ANACHRONISMS) WELCOME YOU BACK TO OUR REVIEW SERIES ON THE HISTORY CHANNEL SHOW VIKINGS.
We’re back here in the middle of Season Three of VIKINGS on History Channel. I’m so happy to be able to discuss these episodes with that Woman of Win, Lissa Bryan, whose latest book, Shadows Have Gone, has just been released! Her comments are below in blue.
Lissa: I don’t even know where to start. Quite literally – because of a mix-up in the time zones, I missed the first ten minutes of the episode.
Sandi: Well, the beginning segment before the first commercial. I believe my exact words were: So, we’ve had religious tension, childbirth, death by kingly hands — all before the first commercial.
A messenger came with the delayed news of the slaughter of the Norse farmers. Floki blamed this slaughter on Athelstan’s Christian God and the concept that they were at odds with the Norse gods. Ragnar didn’t want the news to get out, so after ascertaining that the messenger hadn’t told anyone else, King Ragnar strangled the man. Right there.
Additionally, Porunn had her baby—a beautiful girl whom Björn named Siggy. There were a few other ideas that were tossed around on Twitter, but I think Siggy is a worthy name. In the culture of the Northmen, the acceptance of a child hinged upon its father, so that Björn immediately did so was a relief to Porunn.
Who may or may not have called Björn her husband. Which would mean that a lot happened we didn’t get to see.
We also didn’t see Aslaug with a baby or a bump. So I guess The Wanderer didn’t get her pregnant…? That totally surprised me.
L: When I joined, Aslaug was having a nightmare about Siggy’s death. Ragnar watches her coldly as she jerks awake with a gasp. He tells her she could have slept with Harbard right in front of the children, for all he cared, as long as she was taking proper care of them. Aslaug is heart-struck, and she attacks him with slaps. Ragnar smirks as she draws away, stung by his indifference, and tells her to have sweet dreams.
S: Yeah. Ragnar isn’t all that keen on Aslaug at present. Still, her position is secure in that she has borne him sons and runs his household while he’s away. I am sorry she’s so unhappy. She wanted more and now even Siggy, her best friend, has been taken from her.L: Judith has just given birth to her child. She was dragged from her bed into the town square and sentenced as an adulteress. I question the historical aspects of this scene, because I think that a princess accused of adultery in this era would more likely have been stuffed into a nunnery quietly, rather than bring into question the line of succession by airing her crimes in public. Adultery at this time was seen more of as a property crime under early Anglo-Saxon law, something that was worthy of financial compensation, rather than public mutilation. The laws which created this punishment came under the reign of Cnut, a good two hundred years later than this show is set.
S: You are right on with that, there. The penalties in Wessex in this time focused on a wergild that would be paid from the male perpetrator to the cuckolded husband. The penalty for a woman wasn’t even stipulated in my research.
L: Judith is sentenced to have her ears and nose chopped off…. unless she named the man who impregnated her. She screamed in terror and agony as one of her ears was sliced off. She couldn’t take it – she broke and shouted Athelstan’s name. Ecbert’s eyes widened in alarm and he quickly grabbed his son. He said that Athelstan was a holy man, and it must have been God’s plan this should happen. And, besides, there are larger issues at play. The child, he decrees, will be baptized and named Alfred.
S: King Ecbert’s behavior here was, to me, very odd. The No Ship Network, whose thoughtful podcasts on this show have been filled with great insights, called Ecbert “Cream of Wheat”, because he’s so smooth and all. I look forward to hearing if they’ve changed his nickname.
L: It seems he’s going to be the historical figure Alfred the Great, though history records his mother as being a different wife of Athelwulf.
S: Well, I can kind of see that happening, if his mother were in disgrace.
I want to take a minute here and discuss the preparations for the invasion of Paris. I love how Ragnar and Athelstan employed their version of the sand table to highlight key obstacles, routes, and strategies for the proposed invasion of this city. Paris is impregnable, Athelstan says. Not something Ragnar wants to hear.
L: Athelstan, in his room, is enraptured by a beam of light. He plays with his fingers in the glow, and is suddenly stricken by a vision. He arises re-invigorated in his faith. He goes to the fjørd and throws his torc into the water. He tells Ragnar that he is now a Christian again, and has renounced the Northmen’s gods. He offers to leave Kattegat, and Ragnar is agonized by the idea. He tells Athelstan he can’t leave him – he loves him.
S: I think that, for Athelstan’s character arc, this was a necessary step. He was a man of strong faith, years ago, but his life experiences have had him divided in his loyalties for a long time. Here, he reclaims what I think is the purity of his faith and doesn’t count the cost to him. He cares only that he is back where he belongs.
Throwing away the torc, though, was a bad move. It was disrespectful and left him—and through him, Ragnar—open to hostility and criticism.
Still the scene where the two men confront this schism is wonderful. There is devotion and confidence between the two men, and Ragnar plainly expresses how valued Athelstan is. This is one of the key relationships in the entire show and I am wondering what will happen now.
L: Floki has seen Athelstan cast off his torc. He retrieves it from the water and tells Björn about it. Actually, it seems he tells everyone about it, because when Athelstan walks into the hall, it falls silent and he is given hostile stares. Rollo grabs his arm and demands to know where his armband is. Ragnar escorts him away, breaking the tension, but it was a bad moment.
S: It goes to show that Ragnar’s loyalty is to Athelstan his friend, without regarding their different faiths.
L: Kalf has arrived with the princeling and Horik’s widow. The prince has brought with him ships and warriors to help with the raid on Paris, and so Ragnar welcomes them with open arms. Lagertha is not as pleased. Those are HER ships. Kalf meets up with Lagertha in the hall, and insinuates that their fates are joined. She should marry him if she wants to get her stuff back, it seems.
S: This whole thing makes me nervous. Lagertha does not back down, but she is seeming to let the usurpation of her earldom slide for the time being. She doesn’t trust Kalf, but he’s still coming on to her. I kinda hope she manages to have him, oh, meet an unfortunate end in battle.
L: Björn tries to coax Porunn into his bed, but she rejects him and tells him to go enjoy the favors of other women, indicating an elvin blonde Viking woman. Miss Big Eyes tells Björn she’s going with her husband on the raid to Paris – not because she simply doesn’t want to be left at home, but because she’s a VIKING. Björn meets up with her on the beach a bit later and they have a passionate embrace. Björn refers to Porunn as his wife at this juncture, so I am going to call that a confirmation that there was indeed a wedding between episodes five and six.
S: Porunn is having serious body confidence issues, I’m thinking. Sounds like she and her man haven’t been intimate for a long time. He obviously wants her, but she is adamantly refusing. That she wants to act as something of a procurer for him surprised me.
And is it just me or does Miss Big Eyes remind anyone else of Helga? (LATE ADDITION: Per @duncanpowers on twitter, the women who play Helga and Torvi (Miss Big Eyes) are sisters in real life!)
L: Floki is carving ship prows when he has a vision of one bleeding. He starts to run off and Helga stops him. I was a bit disturbed by this scene, because I never imagined Floki would harm his beloved Helga, but he grabs her by the throat and squeezes as she gasps. He finally releases her, and she says that there is someone he needs to hurt.
S: Last time we saw blood, there was the sacrifice of the cow in front of the Christians. This time, we see it in a vision and one has to know that this means another sacrifice. As Floki said last week, the gods bring life and death. I was really surprised how violent Floki got, though, with Helga. He apologized after a fashion, but was clearly enveloped in his urgent need to carry out what he perceived as his mission.
L: And then it happens. Honestly, I’m still so stunned by this turn of events that I don’t really know how to describe it.
S: You were not the only one, last night. Even those who knew about Athelstan’s planned departure from the series, were stunned.
L: Athelstan is praying in his room, anointing himself with oil as he kneels, nude, before the cross. He sings a hymn, and when he finishes, he looks up with a sweet, beatific smile. “Floki,” he says in a gentle voice, a stark contrast to the fierce fury in Floki’s tear-filled eyes. Athelstan commends his spirit to God, and then Floki strikes. Athelstan falls, and Floki anoints himself with Athelstan’s blood, just as the priest had anointed himself with oils only moments before.
S: I don’t know that he was nude. Looked like he was wearing a loincloth. From behind, it appeared as if it were made after the images of Christ on the cross.
What struck me most was how abrupt and final that was. It worked, but we didn’t get a confirmation of “He’s dead” or anything from Floki. Though, I didn’t seen Athelstan’s chest move so I imagined that was a fatal blow.
L: I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I was trying to figure out ways it could be untrue even as we watched Ragnar lugging Athelstan’s body up the hill to bury him at the spot where the two of them recited the Lord’s Prayer last season. It was, as Ragnar said, the closest he could get Athelstan to his god.
S: It took Ragnar’s words to confirm it for me, too.
L: He weeps as he speaks to Athelstan’s grave. ‘How could you leave me when we have so much more to talk about?” Later, he slices his flesh at the creek, dripping his blood into the water as he dons Athelstan’s cross. “Forgive me for what I am about to do.”
S: When Ragnar shaved his head, I figured it had a dual purpose. One, it was a sign of mourning. Two, it would have had a cleansing effect. Like he was ready to start something new. Why did he choose to wear Athelstan’s rather elaborate cross? What purpose will it serve?
And why did he feel the need to ask for forgiveness about it? I imagine we’ll find the answers in Paris. Ragnar always has a plan.
And that’s a wrap this week! If you have questions or comments, let me know and I’ll get right on them. 🙂 Predictions for the rest of the season? I’d love to know what they are. Only five more episodes to go! Next week: Paris.
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4