The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: S4E6

“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

146a6-lissa-bryanHeillir!

Lissa Bryan and I like to call ourselves the Shieldmaidens of History: Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms. We’re excited to bring you our recap and discussion of each episode of History Channel’s series VIKINGS.

Lissa Bryan is an awesome historian as well as a writer of historical and End of the World as We Know It romantic fiction. Check out the review I wrote for her book, The End of All Things here.


lagertha kalf burialLissa: We opened with a scene of Lagertha blessing Kalf’s grave, sowing its soil with blood. Erlendur approaches and asks her why she killed Kalf. Lagertha says she did it because she promised. She told him she would kill him for usurping her earldom and she did. She asks Erlendur if he’ll be leaving now that Kalf is gone and he says that he wants to return with her to raid Paris again. Torvi’s little son comes over and she tells him she’s going to be going away for a while. He should cherish his friends, because many of them will die soon, and those that don’t will betray him.

Sandi: Something that always strikes me about Lagertha is her willingness to get her hands dirty. She flinches from nothing. I love that about her. She met her oath, as well, even if part of her didn’t wish to do so. That she gives that advice to the boy is poignant, as she’s been betrayed and has, after a fashion, betrayed others.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Ragnar’s sons Ubbe and Hvitserk are given their arm bands by their father in a sweet and touching ceremony. The boys swore fealty to their father and became men in the eyes of the Viking culture. It was a lovely, warm moment, and Sandi contrasted it with the same scene in season one, when Björn was given his. Ragnar announces he’ll be taking the boys with him to Paris. Aslaug, not respecting their new status, protests that they’re too young. Ragnar – probably stung a bit by this – jabs back at her by saying the boys will probably be safer in his hands given what happened last time he was away.

lissa boys to men tweet

Sandi: Ragnar—sounding breathless, but happy—asks the boys to taste the offering of earth and salt. They then touch both dirt and salt rocks with their tongues. I’ll have to check, but I don’t remember if that was part of the ceremony in the first season. I love that Björn is the one holding the sword that is used in place of a salver that might be used in a Christian communion service. An interesting unspoken moment, I think, happens when Ragnar tells the boys they are swearing their allegiance “to your father” and Aslaug sort of starts in alarm. The tug-of-war between the king and his queen over their sons has been ongoing this season, and this is a part of it. Ragnar is holding, in essence, the threat of being barred from Valhalla if they aren’t loyal to him. Wow. By making them men, Ragnar has essentially cut their formal ties to Aslaug. A mother had the raising of her children when they were small, but young men were expected to gravitate toward their father and the male line as they matured.

ecbert and alfred pilgrimageLissa: In Wessex, another boy is becoming a man, but in this case, by going on pilgrimage. Burger King Ecbert is sending Alfred on a journey to Rome to meet the Pope. When Ecbert announces this, Judith’s eyes light up with excitement. With him is going Father Prudentius, and conveniently enough, Judith’s husband Aethelwulf.  Little Alfred isn’t quite as excited. He asks how long the journey will be. Prudentius tells him they’ll travel about twelve miles per day by foot and Rome is a thousand miles away. Ecbert gives a little speech about what a great thing a pilgrimage is. After the court applauds, the little boy dashes away behind a pillar and fights off a panic attack.

Sandi: This scene caused a minor flurry amongst our fellow raiders on twitter! It was not uncommon for a second son, as Lissa will attest, to have the Church presented as his occupation in life. As Aethelred is Aethelwulf’s son, he could be considered to be in place for being on the throne of Wessex. The “second son”—everyone knows about Alfred’s birth, as King Ecbert says publicly (again, I imagine)—is here being directed into what could be his profession. And his mum, Judith, doesn’t seem dismayed. Could it be that she will be relieved to have this living, breathing proof of her affair with Athelstan out from her sight, as well as the sight of every other person around who is reminded of events? I felt bad for Alfred. The lad hasn’t a clue, here, and the panic attack at such a young age—and that he knew a way to cope with it—speaks of a life that brings these forward often. How many times does Ecbert have to put “great” and “Alfred” together? I do wonder where the “Applause” signs are hidden in that audience chamber…

Lissa: I didn’t even think about the idea that Ecbert might be intending Alfred for the church. Good catch! You’re absolutely right. It would be very smart for Ecbert to push Alfred’s destiny in that direction at this point. As you noted, second sons were often pushed in this direction – willing or not! Ecbert already has the secular powers wrapped up. It’s smart to have a thumb in the proverbial pie of the church as well. Albert would be “fast-tracked” because of his rank and rise quickly in the church. He could be Pope one day. Of course, history tells us his destiny was something different, but Ecbert is thinking wisely, planning ahead for his grandsons and settling the balance of power in Mercia for the generation to come.

Ragnar goes to visit the seer before he leaves, and the Seer tells him of the day of his death: Ragnar will die the day the blind man sees. Later, we see him with Yidu. He asks for more of the medicine and says he’ll need a stash of it for the journey. Yidu says she can’t do that because Ragnar is like a greedy child with it; she has to control how much he takes. So Ragnar had best take her with him when he goes.

yidu ragnar talktotheseer tumblr

from talktotheseer.tumblr.com

Sandi: Everything about Yidu is now having my inner Robbie the Robot calling, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!” Her approach to Ragnar is seductive, making sure to expose her skin as much as possible, yet his attention is on the “medicine” she has made sure he’s very much into. Whether this is a true addiction (with withdrawal as a threat for the future) or just the wish to feel the release of it (with irritation and anger but no physical symptoms) remains to be seen. I hate to think of Ragnar in the thrall of any kind of addiction.

Lissa: The ships depart Kattegat and it’s one of those lovely scenes the History Channel does so well. Gifts they bestow upon us geeky little fans. A chanter sings and beats a drum as they depart, and I’d love dearly to know what song it was he was singing, because you just know the History Channel had him sing an authentic Viking poem as the ships departed.

fleet of skipniu

Sandi: Oh, I was smiling with one of those big, goofy smiles that belongs on a fangirl at a convention. It was awesome. I heard the Old Norse and swooned, even if I didn’t know what it meant. It is scenes like these that make me smile at our boot-sole file.

Lissa: Floki has chosen to take the ship occupied by Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan, whom Floki calls his new friends. He says he’d rather sail with them than Ragnar because these men love the gods as he does and would never betray them. After he speaks, he gives one of those little Floki giggles, but there’s an odd edge to it. His tone is biting and bitter.

vikings floki on shipSandi: Did you get the feeling that Harald and Halfdan are courting Floki, after a fashion? Making much of him, wooing his pride, making him feel as comfortable as possible. Note the deference they pay him, the proximity they maintain throughout. If Floki were a woman, I’d think they were trying to bring her into a relationship of one sort or another. And yes, Floki’s giggle is bitter. Edged. Is he playing another spy game for Ragnar (as he’s done so effectively before) or has he truly “gone to the dark side” even as he seems to be groomed for the role of Kattegat’s new Seer?

Lissa: Oh, yes. Floki is being courted. But this time, I think he might actually be going to “the other side.” As some of our Twitter convos revealed last night, Floki has never lied to Helga before about his thoughts and motivations. Refused to speak, yes, but never lied. He’s telliung her now that Ragnar is no longer his friend. He humiliated Floki. Tortured him. Betrayed the gods. Floki may not turn out to be willing to work against Ragnar, but he seems no longer emotionally bound to him as he once was.

[Back] in Kattegat, Sigurd walks into the house and finds Aslaug breastfeeding Ivar. It’s an odd scene, because Ivar is obviously past the age where mothers have usually weaned their children.

Lissa: Aslaug merely looks back at Sigurd when she sees him watching, and tells him if he’s lonely because his brothers have departed, he should go play with Siggy.  Outside, Sigurd mocks Siggy for being dirty and asks her if she ever bathes. Siggy runs back into the house. It seems to imply the poor little mite is neglected, which seems strange.

Sandi: I keep looking, but there’s no indicator that Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye still has a snake in his eye. Sigurd must be feeling quite bereft, really. His older brothers in their father’s favor and gone on a raid. His younger brother in his mother’s favor and garnering most of her attention (as had long been the case, likely). He’s left with his “dirty” cousin as a playmate, but she’s not a playmate for a young boy. She’s a tag-along. This might build to resentment or something in the future.

Back on the ship at night, we see the Ubbe and Hvitserk wrapped warmly in furs. Yidu tells them not to be afraid and she starts singing. A tear tracks down her cheek, but I don’t know why. I did see Floki’s face when he heard her; he appeared quite unsettled. What is he sensing? An appeal to a different set of gods, perhaps? Or is it the foreign-ness she represents?

aslaug sees harbardLissa: Soon, Aslaug sees a stranger in the doorway. It’s Harbard. He’s returned. Aslaug asks him why he’s come back, and he tells her he can take away all of her pain and sorrow.

Sandi: The concept of “freedom” is raised again, here. Harbard promises Aslaug freedom if she comes to him. And . . . she walks toward him.

Lissa: On the ship, Ragnar uses his sunstone as the ships get parted and misdirected. When they approach the coast of France, the scarlet sails of the Vikings are unfurled, and oh… It was a magnificent sight. How it must have struck fear into the hearts of villagers! Onshore, Floki scoffs at the boats they pass.

Sandi: And back in Wessex, we see Judith’s sorrow as she bids her son goodbye. So maybe it’s sinking in that he’ll be gone? It’s quite an occasion, seeing the pilgrims off. Ecbert, who has been so protective of Alfred, must have something up his sneaky sleeves, here.

Lissa: They find some Frankish troops, and they do what Vikings do. Bodies are strewn about. We see Ubbe and Hvitserk practicing their archery on some hanging bodies. One poor soul is set adrift, strapped to a wide board. Floki and his “new friends” take a few others to a beacon post that’s been lit to warn Paris the Vikings have arrived. They say they have another warning to send Paris. They bind the men to the legs of the stand and set it on fire, celebrating as the Frenchmen scream. From the edge of the woods Björn watches this. His little brothers come up from behind and witness the spectacle, too. Björn doesn’t seem pleased by it.

Sandi: This is really the darker side of the Viking raiding culture. This is psychological warfare, and that’s never going to be pleasant. I wonder what Björn is thinking, here, and if he and his brothers will ever talk about it? Björn Ironsides wins renown in the future as a warrior, but did he use such tactics?

lagertha heart brokenLissa: Ragnar and Lagertha have a quiet moment. She’s sharpening her ax as he sits down beside her.  He asks her about Kalf’s death and whether it broke her heart. Lagertha gives him a small smile – more of a grimace – and says no, her heart was broken long ago. He asks her why she’s with them on this raid, risking her baby. So it does appear that Lagertha really is pregnant, but the Seer’s prophecy that he could see no children as far as he looked rang in our minds. Lagertha is pushing forty or so, by my reckoning. A dangerous age for a pregnancy in that era, and she had such a tragedy the last time she was with child.

Sandi: Is she acting under guidance from the prophecy, convinced that she won’t carry the child to term so it doesn’t matter if she fights or not? Or is she acting in defiance of it? It is interesting and, yes, I think it’s a bit sweet that Ragnar expresses concern for her. But she informs him indirectly that he broke her heart long ago and it never really grew back together in that way.

emperor charles to rollo save usLissa: In Paris, Simple Chuck talks to Rollo and says the Vikings have returned. He promises he – the grandson of Charlemagne – would get down on his knees before Rollo to plead with him to defend Paris. Rollo swears in the name of Christ that he will.

Sandi:  He swears he will not betray his wife, and Gisla flashes a bit of smug, right there. Rollo has pledged himself to this new life and he’s not going to betray them. I feel that this time? He’s firmly opposite his brother Ragnar and it will remain thus. How will they greet one another when they meet again? I am dying to find out.

Lissa: Therese is talking with Darth Odious in his chamber. He has changed his mind about trusting Rollo, a pagan, to defend Paris.  He’s working himself up into a rage. Therese finishes her wine and asks if he wants her to undress. He says he wants to chain her up clothed, and as he does, he reveals he intends to defend Paris, and then kill Simple Chuck and make himself emperor. Therese pretends to moan and get excited about Emperor Odious as he whips her savagely.

Sandi: I feel, here, that Darth Odious is more aware of the undercurrents, when he’s sober, than he lets on. That he knows of the plots and counterplots that are being worked out in the Frankish Court. He’s angry and he’s going to let this play out, perhaps. I think he can be patient, if he’s thinking. But here, he’s not.

athelstan in ragnar vision instaLissa: As the skipniu are sailing up the river, Ragnar has a vision. A white horse runs along the beach, and it leads him to… Ragnar’s old farm. Lagertha is standing there with Gyda in her arms. Athelstan is behind her on a small bridge. And Björn as he was when we first met him, a fierce, stubborn Viking boy. Lagertha beckons to him. Ragnar shakes his head to clear it and the vision vanishes.

Sandi: I think it made Ragnar teary, too. I miss that First Season Ragnar. Back when it was just him, his sunstone, his ambition, but also his farm, his goats, his new slave Athelstan and his daughter still alive. But his story is a story of a life fully lived, I think, with all its ups and downs. Writing-wise, this was a poignant scene and I wonder if it’s prophetic in any way.

Lissa: As the Saga Thing Podcast said last night, Ragnar saw the doors of Valhalla shut to him earlier in the season. Now, he has also seen a glimpse of the Heaven he wants so badly, but it seems he’ll also be denied.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Aslaug leads Harbard over to the bed of her sleeping son, Ivar. They wake the boy and she asks him if he remembers Harbard and the child giggles.  What in the world could they have in store for him?

vikings giggling ivarSandi: I don’t know, but the giggling reminds me of Floki.

Lissa: The ships near Paris. Björn notes with a tone of concern that they haven’t seen Rollo’s camp. Lagertha looks up to see Rollo on horseback with French troops around him. Björn roars at him, “Uncle!” but Rollo does not reply.

vikings reactions to rolloSandi: Indeed, we get reactions. Floki looks unsurprised but disappointed. Ragnar hits a mast with his arm. Erlandur is all, “Is that Rollo?” As if he didn’t know. Lagertha seems impassive, but her mind is working for sure. And Björn’s whole aspect speaks of betrayal. Yes, he left Rollo behind and yes, Ragnar chewed him out about it, but I think Björn still hoped to see his uncle, there. The one who supported him when he was a boy, who helped him learn how to fight, who spoke with him man to man. Who fought with them when they both needed the outlet. And that man, Uncle Rollo, is now Frankified. Björn is betrayed as well.


 

So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Congratulations to History Channel, as VIKINGS has been optioned for a fifth season!

season 5 graphic

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!  – Vafþrúðnismál

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: Promised

“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

146a6-lissa-bryanHeillir!

Lissa Bryan and I like to call ourselves the Shieldmaidens of History: Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms. We’re excited to bring you our recap and discussion of each episode of History Channel’s series VIKINGS.

Lissa Bryan is an awesome historian as well as a writer of historical and End of the World as We Know It romantic fiction. Check out the review I wrote for her book, The End of All Things here.


After a rough technical start, I got back in with the episode about halfway through. This obliged me to return to History Channel’s website to watch it again this morning! And, due to Lissa Bryan’s commitments today, she gave me the go-ahead to post my comments for the both of us. Frightening, no?

crossbow training

We begin with crossbow training and shieldmaiden weapons practice led by Lagertha the Awesome. Erlandur and Kalf are discussing future opportunities to strike back at the family of Ragnar Lo∂brok—Erlandur’s prime obsession. He intimates that Torvi is acting as his “eyes” in Kattegat, with the life of her son hanging in the balance. I cannot stand Erlandur!

“Lagertha must never know what we did,” Kalf tells his co-conspirator. No, really? This is what makes me so distrust Kalf. One night, pledging love and sexy times; the next day, plotting against her. Ugh!

vikings_s4e5_kalf lag preggo

Then, she drops her bomb on him: she tells him she’s “with child”! Is she? The Seer once implied that that wasn’t going to happen again . . .

bjorn and ragnar talkingThen, we head off to see Björn and Ragnar discussing Harald Finehair. Yes, please note the order of the names, here. In the screenshot, too, Björn is in the forefront, on the viewer’s left, giving him silent precedence as the scene begins. Was that on purpose? Ragnar asks his son why he doesn’t care for little Siggy—Ragnar’s grandchild. “She reminds me of things I’d rather forget,” Björn replies.

This is not the most mature attitude, in my opinion. But then the men have a “burn!” moment when accusations fly about Torvi’s son versus Björn’s custodial matters when he was younger (see Season One).

“Your mother left me. You left me,” Ragnar reminds his son.

Björn goes to sound out Harald Finehair who says, “Mine is a small kingdom . . . for now.” So I am thinking that Harald is claiming lordship over parts of Norway, though the land itself did not acknowledge him as king as a whole, yet. Such a gradual assumption of kingship was not uncommon in Europe during this time.

harald wants to achieve fame“What are we here for except to achieve fame?” Harald asks in response to Björn’s remark that the man has ambitions. This is a good question, for a vikingr.

Björn counters with, “Fame won’t make your small kingdom any bigger.” He said this, though, with a look that silently implied this was also a remark about Harald’s, um, virility. I rather enjoyed that Harald, after looking about him, seems mostly amused by what he sees; as if he’d expected nothing else.

bjorn implies harald is lacking

On to Wessex! King Ecbert is sitting at a round table. As the legendary Arthurian Round Table wasn’t even mentioned until the 12th Century by Norman chronicler Wace, this round table could not have been for Ecbert’s guests in terms of implications of the legendary king and his realm. It might, though, be used for our modern eyes. Our “Good King Ecbert the Corrupt-by-his-own-Admission” is proposing an invasion of Mercia to establish Queen Kwenthrith on her throne once more. He does this with young Alfred on his lap, according to @ClassicalBeau on twitter.

invade mercia

After denouncing “W”—the spy from earlier in the season—Kwenthrith informs King Aelle and King Ecbert that they have to invade Mercia to give it back to her. Okay, to me? This seems a very weak stance for her to take, for all that Aethelwulf is smiling at her during her rant/whine. He speaks for her and Ecbert says they’ll go. Aelle, ominously, says nothing.

Still in Wessex, Judith the Free declines Aethelwulf the Flagellant’s directive to join him in bed. “I don’t want to,” she says. Her idea about her own freedom is not aligned with the truth of the matter, I daresay. And, the truths come out. “Sleep with my dad!” “Go sleep with your mistress!” Yeah, it was like that. I was surprised to see the tears in both their eyes, however.

Now, Lissa, when I saw your comment online this morning about Ecbert putting “a ring on it” I had no idea that was going to be literal! Yet he’s done so, here. Judith’s manner is, for me, a bit repulsive considering the mores of the day, yet she’s got her eyes open as to her status, anyway. A whore, but one who has freely chosen to be one. How free does that make her?

vikings_s4e5_duke rolloOn to Paris! Darth Odious and Duke Rollo are discussing the previously agreed upon fortifications against the next invasion by the Northmen. “You don’t know your people like I do,” Rollo reminds the older man. “We must hold Paris . . . When my brother returns, everything will be decided here.” For myself, I’m relieved that there is such clear communication between them. As has been speculated all over the Internet, Rollo’s lingual skills, cough, are certainly superior.

Then, we see Rollo and his Duchess in bed discussing his northern lands. He wants to establish his own court. Historically, remember, this will be Normandy (Northman’s land) and the area will figure prominently for centuries to come. Gisla, though, wants him to focus on being near her father to advise him. Power and influence stem from the king, of course, and she wants to retain her own as well. She has certainly morphed into a sensual being of late. She’s licking food from her fingers, posturing, and so on as she endeavors to persuade her husband to change his focus for the nonce.

Roland_S3Then, we move to Charles’s audience chamber. He’s meeting with Therese-the-sub-spy’s “handler” Roland is sowing distrust of Darth Odious into the emperor’s ear. We bring the mistress herself and the man says Therese is his sister. Sister. And they were having sex not that long ago. Two things come immediately to mind: “Ew, ick!” and “Wait, is he lying to make their closeness seem acceptable?” This means that Roland is not her husband, as I thought, unless it’s secretly (which is entirely possible, with as much subterfuge as the Paris court is hosting). I trust no one, here. During the discussion with Therese, the emperor is very careful not to allow her close to him, as if she were contagious or something.

But the viewer still wants to know: Can she be trusted? And by whom? And when Charles sort of laughs at the end of the scene, should I be worried? He appears strong, for just a moment.

And we return to Kattegat and the Ragnar’s Secret Snake and Former Slave Abode. It is during this scene that Yidu first (to my eyes) starts acting shifty, becoming pushy in encouraging Ragnar to share his secrets with her. Ragnar suspects her of lying about her origins and indeed twitter was alight with speculation once again. Ragnar has basically said he’ll tell her his secrets if she tells him the truth. And he wants those “Ancient Chinese Herbs” she gave him before that had him swinging from the rafters. Is he becoming an addict or is it just a passing fancy?

tang-xizong-cuju.jpgEmperor Xizong of the Tang Dynasty is whom I believe Yidu says was the ruler of China. He reigned from AD 873-888, and a rebellion broke out during his tenure. (According to one source, anyway, Xizong had a thing for a certain ball game—Cuju—which is now considered the earliest form of European Football (American soccer).) It is clear at this juncture that Ragnar suspects Yidu is royalty.

We speed back to Wessex, where the “raid Mercia for Kwenthrith” deal is reiterated. Judith is clearly trying to get in everyone’s craw, here, feeling strong in the support of Burger King Ecbert. Why she feels it necessary to throw this strength at her father Aelle at every opportunity is beyond me; it’s also vastly unwise of her.

Nice photography management and a bow to the show’s producers for hiding Amy Bailey’s pregnancy during these scenes. It wouldn’t do for Queen Kwenthrith to be burgeoning just yet, even if she’s taken a new lover. Kwenthrith—a poster child for the “Don’t Drink with the Queen” campaign—has demanded to know if she can trust Ecbert. Really? He responds with—and this is a direct quote—”Why would you doubt me?”

Oh, Burger King. Let me count the ways! Okay, maybe not here.

lissa ecbert queen k are alike tweet

 

Understatement? Could be!

This is followed by another scene that illustrates in big bright colors how hypocritcal Ecbert is as he prays to God. He is sincere in his prayer; this, I believe. But he seems to see the Divine as being manipulated as easily as those around him are.

Ecbert the hypocrite in church

We return again to Kattegat, which pleases many in the Vikings fandom, if podcasts and twitter are to be believed. Harald was doing his hair and talking to Björn comes to talk to him. We are seeing more instances of Björn taking on leadership roles in Kattegat and the wider world. Harald is proposing joining forces to raid Paris. Everyone wants in on the gold, even if they turn on one another right after. Harald does a fine job of rallying the troops while making himself look good.

Harald’s people arrive and it’s a happy day. But not for Ragnar. He’s throwing knives at a shield for target practice, but he’s bleeding out his mouth. Is this due to the internal wounds that were never properly treated from before or due to the medicines he’s been taking from Yidu?

When Halfdan is introduced to Ragnar, there is a split here between the views of the Old Warrior and the Young Warrior. Ragnar has seen battles. He’s wise and weary. He is not as eager to fight. Then, too, he’s won his fame. Halfdan is all set to go for the “beauty of it” as well as to strike at the Christians, he says. Ragnar assures him, with a rather manic, bloodstained smile, that he will have the opportunity to kill a great many Christians once they reach Paris.

Ragnar will never forget that his best friend was a Christian, I think.

vikings_s4e5_harald and halfdan at party

In the Great Hall that night, there are many games being played and gold changing hands in bets, as well as much alcohol served. Queen Aslaug has, of course, provided all that is needed to entertain. From outside the festivities, Ragnar and Yidu are watching with some detachment. Ragnar denies Yidu’s assertion that he would be missed. He also denies that he is excited about returning to Paris. “I feel so old,” he tells the former slave. He also tells her a great secret of his: The destruction of the Wessex settlement some time before. “Nobody knows.”

Yidu does her part, tear falling down her cheek. “My father’s the emperor.”

vikings_s4e5_enter flokiFloki and Helga join the party and there’s one of those “hushed” moments as the crowd parts before them. A look is exchanged with Ragnar, who is outside, which leads me to remember something said by twitter-er @Detrocker2264: that Floki and Ragnar were destined to be on the same side and that Floki is playing a role again, here. Ears and eyes for his old friend Ragnar, under cover of a false front.

Is that going to be proven true? Will Hirst use that device again or is something else afoot?

“You are the genius that built the boats that changed our world,” Halfdan says to Floki. High praise indeed as they try to suss out the cause for the troubles.

“I killed his pet Christian,” Floki tells them with all apparent cheerfulness.

Helga tries to hush him, and I notice a change in her appearance. She used to be a “flower child” in how she was presented. Now, she is older, as are many, changed and hardened and wary.

vikings_s4e5_yidu ragnar bathtimeWe then move to Ragnar’s Sanctuary for Sensual Water Fun and find a scene between him and Yidu. She is immersed and apparently naked in the bath while he is clothed and bathing her from outside the tub. Or, er, something. I don’t think Great Cuts is going to offer his services before a haircut, though he does cut her hair at the end of it. Ahem.

We go from the furtive darkness of the, er, bath-and-a-haircut moment to the sunny outdoors where Ivar is in the middle of  bunch of children apparently playing Keep Away from Ivar. Not very nice, to be sure, but this is not a modern playground. Aslaug is watching from the sidelines, trying very hard to keep her mouth shut and even Floki is nearby, ready to lightly interfere to toss the toy bladder (?) back to his apprentice with a scowl. Another boy tries to take it away (foolish – don’t they know Ivar’s a prince and well guarded?) and Ivar gets angry. With an axe.

Cue screaming children. “It’s not your fault,” Aslaug tells her blood-spattered son.

tumblr_o48gy4MG581s7xoeto3_500

Ivar axe murderer tweet convo

Floki has a strange look on his face while Helga investigates the scene. She’s distressed; he’s almost energized. “Oh, look! My apprentice can kill with an axe already!”

vikings_s4e5_ prewedding lagWe leave this disrupted day to return to Hedeby, where Lagertha is getting ready to wed Kalf. (In as aside, may I just say that Katheryn Winnick has a most amazing figure?)

Then, a dash back to Kattegat, where Björn is contemplating the ring the berserker had on him. A check with No Ship Network confirmed that NoShipper Steve was the one who predicted on last week’s podcast that there would be a big reveal centered on this ring, delivered by Torvi. The man should be a Seer! Because it happened here that Torvi wound up telling Björn that the ring belonged to Erlandur the mostly-an-ex-husband, who got it from his dad, King Horik.

And as the episode winds to a close, the climax of what has been, for me anyway, ages of annoyance and speculation. Kalf approached Lagertha at the site of their wedding (a very modern-seeming tent made of bolts of gauzy cloth and flowers, apparently). Lagertha appears briefly distressed when he waxes rhapsodic about her beauty.

But only briefly. Because even as he’s kissing her, she’s removing a knife from her sleeve.

She promised she’d kill him.

The Northmen had a saying about vengeance: A wise man is one who lets his vengeance wait. Lagertha is a wise woman. “Long live Earl Ingstad!” Most awesome episode close EVER.

vikings_s4e5_hail earl ing


So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Congratulations to History Channel, as VIKINGS has been optioned for a fifth season!

season 5 graphic

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!  – Vafþrúðnismál

The #ShieldGeeks Discuss Vikings: Yol

“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

146a6-lissa-bryanHeillir!

Lissa Bryan and I like to call ourselves the Shieldmaidens of History: Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms. We’re excited to bring you our recap and discussion of each episode of History Channel’s series VIKINGS.

Lissa Bryan is an awesome historian as well as a writer of historical and End of the World as We Know It romantic fiction. Check out the review I wrote for her book, The End of All Things here.


Lissa: Well, here we are again, and saying as we always do that it was an awesome episode. Some amazing things happened, and there were some huge developments.

Sandi: It really was and there really were! I feel like the stories will be moving forward much more purposefully, now.

Lissa: We began with a scene of Ragnar in a tub in his hall. A wood tub this time, at least. cough copper cough

Sandi: Yes, a smallish tub, as well. Which makes sense, considering. Deep enough to immerse himself if he is sitting or squatting in the water, but it’s not a luxury. The Norse were clean people and liked their baths, but heating up water would have taken a long time so a more compact tub is necessary.

ragnar to yidu bathLissa: He’s talking to Yidu, the Shiny New Slave Girl Aslaug purchased.  He says death has been much on his mind. The death of children, the deaths of friends, and his own death, which has so far eluded him. He says sometimes he doesn’t know whether to kill himself, or everyone around him. He seems to feel safe in confiding his inner torments to her, perhaps because of her slave girl status.  While he’s talking, Yidu struggles to carry over a bucket of hot water to the tub, and when pouring it in, she splashes the king and spills most of it on the floor. Ragnar tsks as he looks over the edge of the tub.

Sandi: And while this is happening, Aslaug is watching from behind the latticework that separates the rooms in the Hall. This is only fair; Ragnar spies on others often from there. I am impressed that Yidu has become so proficient in Norse at this juncture. By her own (later) admission, she’s been enslaved by the Franks, so her ability to learn Norse indicates that she is gifted with languages. [Like some others we’ll discuss later!]

Lissa: In Mercia, Kwenthrith is looking much recovered. She joins Ecbert and his court for Epiphany dinner. Because it’s a fasting meal, they’re having simple gruel. King Aelle is there, and he’s not best pleased with what’s been going on. He’s full of anger and a thirst for vengeance. Queen Kwenthrith asks if that desire for vengeance against Ragnar extends to her son, Ragnar’s bastard. Aelle doesn’t answer.

Sandi: I love how you pick up on the details! It’s good to see King Aelle, here, as he’s quite a major player at this time in history. To date, he’s rather been given short shrift. And I’m thinking, since Magnus’s paternity is so widely accepted, that the consensus is that he will remain Ragnar’s son (Ragnarson!) for the duration.

Lissa: Later, we see Aelle confront Judith, his daughter. He’s outraged that she’s had a bastard baby with a priest who became a Viking, is blaspheming by daring to put her female hands all over the holy scriptures, and he’s infuriated to see her over-familiarity with her father-in-law. Judith gives him a radiant smile and says that no man controls her now. She is free. She is able to say such a thing, of course, because she’s under Ecbert’s protection at the moment and Aelle needs him as an ally, but historically speaking, a woman in the Christian world was under the control of her father or her husband until the day she died. Failing that, it was her son who would grow up to take authority over her. Very few women were “free.”

Sandi: Oh, I have all kinds of worries for Judith, now. She seems to see herself as untouchable, thanks to Sugar-Daddy-in-Law, but we know that Ecbert is a snake in the grass. Corrupt, by his own admission, and willing to turn on his allies if it suits him to do so. Judith, played brilliantly by Jennie Jacques, has such a defiance in her gaze as she stares at her father. She acts as if she’s queen in her own right and unassailable. But, we know that freedom for her is tenuous at best and almost certainly illusory.

ivar not like youLissa: Back in Kattegat, they’re preparing for Jól, or as it’s usually rendered in English, “Yule.”  The log is brought into the hall and laid on the fire, and they’re decorating with mistletoe. Ragnar watches the boys and approaches little Ivar, who’s sitting to the side. He tries to lift the child and coax him into hanging a mistletoe branch, but Ivar refuses. Aslaug steps in and sweeps the boy into her arms. She angrily tells Ragnar that Ivar is different from the others, despite his protests that the boy won’t feel like he’s a “cripple” if she doesn’t treat him like one. She tells Ragnar that Ivar isn’t like him, and Ragnar can’t make the child like him. From her tone, it’s obvious she doesn’t want Ivar to have a close relationship with his father. The boy is hers and hers alone.

Sandi: I prefer Jól and will continue to use it here. I was pleased to see Ragnar acting all “daddy” with his son Ivar. Ragnar has always been an excellent father to his young children. He cherishes them. But Aslaug’s attitude is understandable as well. Ragnar exposed Ivar—as was his right and as was customary for a father and king to do when a child was so obviously malformed—and Aslaug rescued him. That Ragnar did not insist upon the boy’s death, as he could have done, thereafter shows his love for his child, to be sure. But Aslaug claims this boy because she brought him back from the death that he would have known. Additionally, she knows very well how fond Ragnar is of his sons and I’m sure she’s ready to hit him where it hurts, here. Besides, she has plans.

Lissa: Floki enters the Seer’s hut. The Seer stirs from his bed, seemingly still half in his dreams. He says to Floki that he’s waited years, centuries, for him to come, and it’s time to show the Seer who Floki really is. Floki extends his palm, and the Seer licks it. A shudder passes through Floki and he begins to giggle. Giggle like the old “deliciously mad” Floki used to giggle, but there’s a desperate edge to it, as though his eyes have been opened, and he saw far too much in that instant.

floki and seer

Sandi: The Seer’s whole aspect is different in this scene. I get the sense that he is, in some way, passing the torch to Floki. That the Seer licked Floki’s hand is perhaps symbolic of such a change. As always, there is an air of the supernatural in this show, so it is entirely possible that Floki did see more than he expected at that instant. I was surprised to see that Floki was actually in Kattegat, to be honest. I had expected him to be exiled. But it is clear that Floki and Helga are re-established in their village, and Floki has no fears about visiting the Seer.

Lissa: In Paris, Rollo is confronted by a bishop bearing a scroll. The bishop announces that Rollo’s marriage to I-Forgot-How-to-Princess Le Pew is to be annulled for non-consummation. Rollo steps forward and begins to speak in perfect French. He says he has learned the language, and that he is committed to his marriage, and to Paris. He swears he will die to defend Paris against his brother, Ragnar.

Sandi: This was a pleasant surprise—that Rollo spoke in the language of the Franks, not that there was an annulment in the offing. And Rollo’s promise to fight against his brother is strong and well presented. Many in the Vikings fandom believe that, this time?, he means it. No more doubling back for Rollo. Historically, Rollo becomes Robert (well, that was one of the names he is known by) and remains the first Duke of Normandy. It behooved him, certainly, to become fluent in French.

Lissa:  But I was wrong about what they’re celebrating by a few days. It was Epiphany, which is January 6th. So, Rollo actually learned his excellent French in little less than a month. Still quite impressive, non?

Sandi: Oui! And his skills with his tongue, ahem, are later proved, are they not?

Lissa:  His words resonate with Gisla and she dismisses the bishop and all of her attendants. She speaks candidly to Rollo for the first time. She’s touched he took the effort to learn French, but isn’t sure if he’s really sincere. He is still, after all, a Viking at heart. He tells her he slaughtered his own men for her, which she says is a pretty Viking thing to do. She grills him to find out how deeply he’s commitment to this marriage, and his promise to defend Paris.

Sandi: Her entire attitude changes as soon as he opens his mouth. Does she suddenly see him as an incredibly attractive man, (because CLIVE STANDEN) that she has the incredible good luck to be married to, because he speaks in a language she can understand? Is that really all she needed?

Lissa: In response, Rollo takes off his torc. He holds it up and says that it’s something that matters a great deal to him, and hands it to her to do with as she will. Gisla takes it. The next time we see them together, they’re consummating the marriage.

Sandi: The removal of his armband is hugely symbolic. I’m not at all sure that Gisla has a clue about that; what she likely sees is that he’s offering her a bangle. But for Rollo, that’s a visible symbol about his loyalties, his ties of blood to his brother, nephews, and friends back home. The men he led, the men he’s killed. All of that is encompassed in that slender band. And he removes it. Something he’s condemned others for doing in the past. It’s an enormous moment, I think. So, yes. Now they can consummate the marriage. And they do. Loudly.

aslaug as procuressLissa: In Kattegat, Aslaug comes into the bedroom. Ragnar is sprawled on the bed. She speaks to him about her slave girl, Yidu, and asks if Ragnar likes her. Aslaug says Ragnar can have her if he wishes; Aslaug won’t be jealous. Ragnar expresses mild interest in the idea.  Of course, queens have always “managed” their husbands in a similar fashion, trying to steer them toward mistresses who wouldn’t be harmful to the queen’s interests, but Aslaug is probably being more blatant with the subject than queens would usually be, and she’s as casual as though she’s offering Ragnar one of her horses.

Sandi: It may seem cold, but in general, remember, marriages were political things. The marriage of Aslaug and Ragnar here is a deviation rather than the rule. Aslaug is more blatant, yes, but Ragnar—though perhaps a slave to his, er, interests?—isn’t stupid. That his wife was blatant is a double-sided situation. Yes, he has permission after a fashion but there would be suspicion, too. What is Aslaug planning?

ragnar yidu convoLissa: Ragnar goes out to find Yidu, and she’s wrestling with some of the barnyard critters, to no avail. That girl just has no luck with animals. Ragnar pulls her over to the barn, none-too-gently. He asks Yidu how she became a slave. Yidu tells a story of being captured from a ship she was traveling on with her family. Ragnar asks her if she was raped by her captors, and Yidu denies it. Ragnar grips her by the throat and demands to know why. She says they were too afraid. He takes a cloak from a nail and wraps it around her shoulders. He tells her to follow him because he wants to show her something. Yidu looks terrified, but she follows him.

Sandi: So here, we had a ton of speculation on twitter last night. Yidu wasn’t raped, but is she a virgin? Virgins were highly prized but it is vastly unlikely that if she had been one on the journey to Paris, she would have lost that status shortly thereafter once she’d been purchased. Unless. Unless she has some other status she can claim. You mentioned, Lissa, that we don’t know if she’d been married, before. She might be a widow, in which case her virtue would have not been an issue in her slave status; she would have been considered “available”. Which isn’t pretty, I know, but slavery is an ugly thing. She’s young and pretty; if she hasn’t been raped, then she must have some other kind of status that has kept her relatively safe. And we know it’s not her skill with animals! Is she a mystic? A wielder of supernatural powers? There were many opinions.

Lissa: Björn is still in the wilderness man hut. He’s tattooing his own skin with an awl-like implement. He goes outside and encounters the Grunting, Growling Berserker. (Can I just call him Growler for short?) Growler has laid a multitude of anachronistic iron leg traps for Björn, sprung by trip wires with hooks. When Björn reaches him, they battle, and Björn swings a collection of the hook wires he’s collected. They catch Growler across the face, and Björn uses it to bind him to a tree and disarm him. He asks a few times who sent Growler, who replies with… well, growls. He pulls the ring from Growler’s finger and asks who sent him, but Growler refuses to answer. Björn tries a bit of torture, but apparently gets impatient with it and disembowels Growler.

Sandi: Björn’s tattooing methods are painful, but quite accurate I think, for the time and place. So, he’s performed cautery on himself as well as body art. The man must be a glutton for pain. The battle, aside from the anachronistic elements, is good. If Growler is a true berserker, though, he’s not quite on his game. He seems to feel the wounds he’s received with more awareness than was often the case with a true berserker. Those men, whether by virtue of mushrooms or meditation or sheer will, often fought past human endurance because they were unaware of their body’s condition. It was all about the motions of the battle. Here, though, Growler is not so unaware and he is defeated.

Lissa: Farewell, Grunting, Growling Berserker. We hardly knew ye.

Lissa: Ragnar takes Yidu to a cottage where he has quite a menagerie of animals. He has rats in cages suspended from the ceiling, and apparently a few snakes. At first, I wasn’t sure if Yidu was having a vision because the sight of a huge anaconda slithering down one of the poles beside her seemed so bizarrely out of place. But it appears that it was really there. It may be Ragnar’s replacement for Baby Goat. (Maybe it ate Baby Goat.) Perhaps Aslaug wouldn’t allow Ragnar to keep them in the house, and so Ragnar has retreated to his own King Cave, where he can have rats and snakes, and Shiny New Slave Girls.

ragnar snake swallowing

Sandi: This was really odd. I mean, sure, they’ve been doing the World Tour for years now, but it is rather convenient that the king has a menagerie that no one’s heard about before. His sons haven’t even mentioned it and boys love menageries. But okay. Suspend disbelief and move on. Ragnar used to surround himself with animals and we all miss Baby Goat. If the anaconda ate it…well…the circle of life and all that, yeah? Bringing his Shiny New Slave Girl here might be construed as ominous, however. She’s another exotic creature, like the anaconda. Is he putting her in his menagerie, too?

Lissa: He tells Yidu that this is his secret place, and no one comes here except for Ragnar. It’s the only place, he says, that he doesn’t feel alone. She’s free to come here any time she wants. In fact, she’s free to come and go as she pleases. Ragnar is freeing her. He tells her she’s a terrible slave. Really bad at it. And so he’s letting her go. Yidu can’t believe it and asks him if she’s really free to come and go as she pleases. Ragnar says certainly, she can go… if she really wants to. Yidu seems to understand this as the price of her freedom. She approaches Ragnar with something in her hand. She says she can tell he’s still in pain from the wounds he sustained in Paris, and she has some Chinese medicine which will help.

Sandi: So, here we see that she might indeed have had a gift/talent/ability that kept her from being molested during her life as a slave. So far, it’s worked on Ragnar, hasn’t it? But how free is free? Yidu is a slave. And slaves could indeed be free—thereafter to be freedmen or -women—but they had no status in that culture. They had to provide for themselves, and often wound up being servants anyway. If Yidu is a healer (rather like my own herbalist character in my trilogy), then she has status and a possible means of support. But will this be the case?

Lissa:  It seems to be opium, from Ragnar’s reaction to it, because in a few minutes, he’s literally hanging from the ceiling, wearing a bizarre carved mask that he must keep around the house for… some reason.

Sandi: This was surreal, as I am sure it was meant to be. The scene reminded me a bit of the first gathering in season one, when Gyda (sniff!) was still with us.

Lissa: Yidu contentedly chops herbs while Ragnar swings from the rafters, twirls torches, and apparently swallows one of his snake pets whole. It’s a bizarre scene that ends with him a hair’s breadth away from kissing her.

Sandi: Ah, yes. The classic “romance novel” moment: the almost-kiss. And…cut!  So, we are left to a better idea of what freedom means, here. It doesn’t mean Yidu gets a house of her own; a slave wouldn’t have been freed and given actual property of that sort without a ceremony, in all likelihood. This would have been done so that all in the community would know her new status and that no one would seek to punish her for claiming something a slave wouldn’t have been able to have. So, how free is Yidu? Will she abide with the other exotic curiosities of Ragnar’s Reserve?

Lissa: Aslaug goes to Floki and Helga’s house with Ivar in her arms. She says she wants Floki to teach him the ways of the gods, to teach him how to be a Viking. But most of all, she wants him to learn to hate the Christian god as Floki does.

aslaug ivar floki apprenticeSandi: The venom in her voice when she said this was really something! Her whole demeanor was vindictive.

Lissa: As I mentioned on Twitter last night, apprenticing Ivar to Floki to learn carving makes sense. The boy could acquire a very valuable trade that don’t require mobility, and that would make him an important part of their community despite the apparent disability in his legs. But Aslaug seems to be more focused on getting Ivar’s mind trained to hate Christians than in getting her son marketable skills.

Sandi: Oh, yes. But we know, from history, that Ivar doesn’t actually need those carving skills for his future. Still, it is wise of Aslaug to prepare him. She could have chosen any trade, really, but she was deliberate in her choice of Floki as his craftmaster.

bjorn returns

Lissa: Björn goes to Hedeby and finds his mother at her loom with Torvi. Kalf and Erlendur are also present. Björn greets his mother first. She’s relieved to see him alive and well, though the two men are most certainly not, and Björn is not warm toward them, either. He’s headed to Kattegat, and he offers to take Torvi with him, because her husband Erlendur treats her like a slave. Torvi doesn’t need to be asked twice. She wants to leave. But Erlendur says she cannot take her small son.

Sandi: However, in the Viking culture, if a father died, then the mother was granted custody of her children. That was generally how it went. So, on one hand, the child’s should be free to go with Torvi. Erlandur would have no say over his life as he is not the child’s father. He is head of the house, though, and clearly wants to use the boy as a tool. A lever, likely, or a hostage. Very not cool.

Lissa: Torvi is torn, but Lagertha tells her that life is short. She should go. Lagertha will care for the boy.

Sandi: I regard this as a bad move. Not that Lagertha couldn’t protect the boy—of course she could—but he shouldn’t be left behind. I hope my foreboding is unwarranted!

Lissa: In Paris, they’re sitting down for Epiphany dinner when Gisla enters. She has a confident smile on her face and a strut in her step. She beckons Rollo away from the table and they run off into the kitchen where they make loud, passionate love on the table after knocking all the food and dishes to the floor. Hygiene was not a priority in those days, let me tell you.

gisla struts

Sandi: Oh, Gisla was strutting. Strutting like she owned the world. Rather than pouting and holding her nose up in disdain, she is clearly now a woman empowered by personal, ahem, appreciation. Loud and passionate are understatements, I daresay. In a castle of that era, there was virtually no privacy and if the Lord and Lady were engaging in loud sex, everyone knew. But, I imagine that overall this was viewed with tolerance and relief, if not outright pleasure. (We’re not counting Darth Odious, here.)

Lissa: The dinner guests around the table, including a grouchy-looking Aelle, listen to the banging and the moans. We discussed briefly on Twitter that the Christian faith of the era, sex was forbidden during the 40 days before Christmas, and on feast days, like Epiphany. These two are definitely in for a lot of time in the confessional. (A Penitential from around this era can be viewed here http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=JUNIUS_94a&anchor=X15.09.01) It was lessened to twenty days during the medieval times, but boy, there were a lot of confusing rules in the era regarding when and how one could indulge in intercourse.

[Medieval sex flowchart here: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/flowchart.png ]

Sandi: Thing is, what one was allowed to do versus what one actually did were two very different circumstances. And, of course, there was always a way to confess and do penance when one broke the rules.

liturgical sex tweet 1liturgical sex tweet part 2

Lissa: The scene is balanced by a view of the Vikings celebrating Jól, the snowy winter’s night brightly lit with torches. Ragnar, in red and black facepaint, lights the bonfire.

ragnar facepaintSandi: I really appreciated the contrasts, here. The differences in atmosphere, in wardrobe, in activity. Ragnar’s facepaint reminded me a bit of ancient Chinese art. (Peking opera painted face here: http://en.gmw.cn/2012-12/12/content_5994715_3.htm) I had to wonder if Yidu did his makeup?

Lissa: An interesting visitor arrives in Kattegat. Aslaug welcomes King Harald Finehair into her hall. After she offers him a drink, she asks why he’s here. Harald says he wants to meet Ragnar. Where is he, by the way? Aslaug smiles coolly and says he’ll meet Ragnar soon enough. They have dinner in the great hall and Harald offers to play a game of hnefatafl with Aslaug’s sons. While they play, Aslaug asks Harald again why he’s here. He says he made a promise to a princess. He wanted to marry her, but he wasn’t worthy of her, so he made it his ambition to become so. Shades of the “Princess Bride,” eh?

Sandi: Indeed! There’s quite a bit happening under the surface of this conversation. That Harald is balancing a game with the king’s sons with diplomatic conversation speaks well of his abilities, as I’m sure it’s meant to. He comes across as worldly and wise, but good-humored. A dangerous combination, all things being equal.

Lissa: His ambition was to become the king of all Norway and win her hand.

Sandi: Okay, so I was off a little. Apparently Harald Finehair became king of Norway in AD 872 (sorry!), but his reign extended until AD 930. Which is why I said 10th Century; that’s what was in my memory. I did a fact-check this morning and found the actual years. I also found that he was actually wanting to marry a girl named GYDA. Who wouldn’t marry him until he was king of all Norway. And considering there hadn’t been a king of all Norway to that point, this was being quite a definitive challenge.

Lissa: Historically, Harald Finehair gave the “king of all Norway” the old college try, anyway.

Aslaug smiles and asks why he didn’t just take the princess if he wanted her so badly. Harald says he’s really not sure. Aslaug says that a man who aspires to be the king of all Norway would have to kill her husband first. Harald doesn’t directly respond to that, as I imagine it would be impolitic in the extreme to say, “Yeah, lady, that’s why I’m here. Thanks for the mead and supper, btw.” Harald dramatically loses the game to the boys and congratulates them on their win.

harald finehairSandi: He is entirely charming, but also clearly calculating. I really enjoyed this picture of him. Which makes me feel guilty, because I am sure he’s not a “good guy” in this story.

Lissa: I interpreted this conversation to mean that Aslaug and Harald had a history. He was once one of her suitors, but she decided to decline his proposal, and so he went off on a journey of self-improvement, Vikings style, while Aslaug set her sights on Ragnar. Now Harald has come back and the woman he wants as his wife is married to the king standing in the way of his ambition to rule over all of Norway. Seems pretty clear what his path must be.

Sandi: That is a good interpretation, as this is a show of historical fiction, after all. (Consider, if Harald is seeking to be King of Norway in the future it can’t be too far in the future. The Vikings timeline (for this show) began in AD 792, according to the opening of the first season.)

Lissa: Ragnar enters the hall and sees that Björn is there in one slightly-bruised piece, but his attention is pulled away from his son when he spots Harald. He makes his way over to greet the rival king but his mind is obviously already spinning with what it might mean.

Sandi: Oh yes. Is this new fellow (who has more hair!) going to step in on his wife in a personal flirtation/affair? Well, as Harald seems to be quite at home on the dais, it would seem that he is rather more ambitious. Ragnar is well aware of room placement and how to present himself, after all. Yes, the man is suspicious. But he’s also been getting treated by a Chinese herbalist, one can assume, so perhaps he is up to the new challenge!


So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!  – Vafþrúðnismál

Book Review: Hidden in Mist

Hidden in MistHidden in Mist by Penina Keen Spinka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been a fan of Penina’s Norse/Native American series since I first got the opportunity to read Picture Maker

Picture Maker by Penina Keen Spinka

many years ago. Her attention to the details not only of the daily lives in the different cultures, but also the particulars of their belief systems is well-presented, making the stories much more rich for the reader.

In Hidden in Mist, we get to read the culmination of the life stories of Picture Maker’s daughter and stepson – who is Ole Red Hair. We also step right into history to watch the horrific tribal wars of the Longhouse People and others, as well as the Great Peace brought by Deganawida. Legends are addressed in this series and embraced as history, giving us faces and depth to people only heard about.

There is warfare in this book, as there are movements for peace. There is romance, but not of the conventional “love story” variety. This is a book for those who enjoy the cultural history of the Native Americans and the Norse. I heartily recommend the entire series, of which this book is the last.

View all my reviews

The #ShieldGeeks Discuss VIKINGS: Mercy

VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

 

146a6-lissa-bryanHeillir!

Lissa Bryan and I like to call ourselves the Shieldmaidens of History: Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms. We’re excited to bring you our recap and discussion of each episode of History Channel’s series VIKINGS.

Lissa Bryan is an awesome historian as well as a writer of historical and End of the World as We Know It romantic fiction. Check out the review I wrote for her book, The End of All Things here.


Early-wooden-trap-661x441

From realworldsurvivor.com

Lissa: We began the episode with Björn still on his vision quest. He’s setting a metal bear trap. A bit of an anachronism, here… The first mention of iron jaw traps like the one Björn used dates to about 1305 in the work of Crescentiis of Bologna. Björn’s trap probably would have been a torsion trap of wood and sinew. But we’ll add this to the “boot heel file” and move along, because it was a very interesting episode, and I’m sure our readers don’t really care much about the history of iron animal traps.

Sandi: For any newcomers, our “boot heel file” is where we tuck away anachronisms we find on the show. Such as modern soles on 9th Century footwear, punitive measures against unfaithful wives, and, er, advanced bear traps. Hard metals were difficult and expensive, in this time and place. Metallurgy included smelting and such, but the techniques were not well advanced until about the 15th Century. Björn must have had a lot of matériel under those furs he was wearing in the first episode, to be able to produce all that he has. Either that, or the hunting lodge was very well supplied.

helga as sigyn

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Lissa: In Kattegat, Floki is screaming in torment as the icy water drips on him in his prison cave. Helga – as Sigyn did for Loki – holds a bowl above his head to catch the water and ease his suffering. Her arms tremble from the effort, and when she goes to empty the bowl, she collapses in exhaustion, sleeping on the icy stone for just a few moments, until Floki’s cries of pain rouse her again. It’s a hellish punishment for the two of them. Maude Hirst’s acting was just remarkable in this episode, and the costuming/makeup departments did an extraordinary job, as well. She looked like a woman a hair’s-breadth away from utter breakdown.

Sandi: I saw and read commentary last week about Floki’s position here being almost Christ-like in appearance. I don’t think that was the intention, as the I’m sure that the writers were seeking to imitate the Loki/Sigyn story more than anything. But it was certainly ironic, intentional or otherwise. Many ancient societies used the stretched-torso method of torture, as it wore a person down in a surprisingly small amount of time. To add the water was just awful. Ragnar was certainly on target with his punishment here.

Lissa: In Hedeby, Lagertha is making love with Kalf. He rolls over afterward and tells her he loves her, and he always has. He thinks she’s still young enough to give him a child, and then his happiness will be complete. Lagertha doesn’t tell him of the Seer’s prophecy. She remains silent throughout it all. Kalf announces he needs to heed the call of nature, though not so poetically, and then heads outside.

sad lagertha s4e3 vikingshistorySandi: I am so not thrilled with the Kalfling. Wait, he’s getting older, too. Does that make him a bull instead of a calf? We know what bulls are full of, don’t we? I’ve so had it with this man, I have to say. He’s pretty, but I don’t trust him. Not a bit. He says one thing to Lagertha’s face and another to someone else. A politician? Certainly. Lagertha’s face fell when he mentioned having children by her. I imagine her pain at not being able to produce another son for Ragnar—a sad situation that began the dissolution of their wonderful marriage—is combined with the prophecy from the Seer for her, here.

Lissa: He is met by the Princeling, Erlendur, who tells him he’s heard that Björn is out on his own in a cabin – a perfect time to kill him. Kalf thinks that’s a fine idea. They decide to send a berserker to do the dastardly deed. He’s a very large, scarred man with a brutal-looking axe, who seems to communicate primarily with grunts and growls.

Sandi: This does a disservice to berserkers, in my opinion. Not the scars. They’d totally have them. But a berserker was a keen warrior who could be perfectly civilized when not in berserker mode (due to mushrooms or nakedness or whathaveyou). What I want to know is how long Lagertha would make Kalf’s demise last if she knew he was plotting to kill her only son? And if Kalf is not truly thus plotting, how long until the Princeling hamstrings him and feeds him to a bear?

Lissa: Meanwhile, Björn is tracking a bear – or rather, seeing signs of the bear here and there, and catching glimpses of it. He has some bear-murderin’ on his mind, there’s no doubt.

Sandi: Which is good, since he has the ultra-modern trap, no? I get that he is on his I’m a Man journey, but I can’t help but wonder if he’ll meet someone other than the scarred and growling hitman while he’s up in the Greater Whiter North.

Lissa: In Paris, “I Forgot How To Princess” Le Pew is causing embarrassing scenes again.

Sandi: This girl just doesn’t know how “to adult”, I think. Still wondering why she’s been written this way. (I know. I could go on for days on proper comportment of the medieval royal female… I’ll try to restrain myself.)

vikings_s4e3_disdainful GislaLissa: Her father brings in a relic of Saint Eulalia – it must be her feast day, December 10th. Chuck the Simple tells Gisla the story of the saint. It’s sort of an “As you know, Bob,” moment, because Gisla would probably be very aware of this saint. (The real Prudentius wrote about her, as an interesting tie-in.) Girls of that era particularly venerated virgin martyrs. In any case, Gisla remarks that her horrid husband is just like the pagans who slaughtered Eulalia, and he’d probably like to burn her alive, too.

Sandi: This type of thing is actually something one can see Eleanor of Aquitaine saying—but only at the height of her influence and power. Gisla has potential, but she’s unwise as yet.

Lissa: Rollo munches on some chicken, oblivious for the most part, to his wife’s sniping. When she stands up and dramatically demands a divorce, Rollo stands, too. He says, “My woman,” and takes her arm. Gisla shrieks she’ll never be his and throws a goblet of wine in his face before storming out.

wine in face s4e3

Sandi: Rollo has a hard job, here. He knows his wife has taken him in aversion. He doesn’t yet speak the language, he’s doing his level best to conform—knowing that it has cost him men from his own place and people, and knowing it will effectively cut him off from Ragnar forever—and he’s trying, here. Trying to read her cues if not her words. And he gets publicly humiliated. Again. Granted, he’s not Mr. Perfect, but he is trying.

gisla wants a divorceLissa: Her personal feelings for her husband aside, Gisla has to know how badly they need Rollo as an ally. We’ve mocked her for not behaving with the decorum of a princess of her age, but more important is her complete lack of regard as a politician. She wanted her father to respect her political mind, but she can’t seem to stop herself from going out of her way to publicly humiliate and insult a crucial ally. It’s my opinion the show would have served her character far better by showing her struggling to behave herself in public, and perhaps unleashing on him in their private quarters. I’d have respected her far more, in any case.

Sandi: I am so with you, here.

Lissa: Rollo drinks the rest of his own goblet, then drops it to the table. He then proceeds to walk over the table and start out of the room, but the looks the courtiers are giving him are too much for him to handle. He turns around and roars at a young girl and she screams in terror.

Sandi: . . . Yeah, well. Not perfect. He’s probably figured out some of Gisla’s more colorful and derisive vocabulary at this point. “If they’re going to call me a beast, I can act like one!”

Lissa: Chuck and Darth Odious are alarmed by this turn of events. If Rollo leaves, as he seems bent on doing, they’ll be defenseless when Ragnar returns. Chuck sends Odious to try to soothe Rollo. In his chamber, Rollo manages to use a combination of mime and pointing to books to show Odo that he wants to learn how to speak French. Odo promises to get him a tutor, relieved that Rollo will stay at least long enough for lessons.

Sandi: The quick conference that took place between Darth Odious and Rollo was really well done, in my opinion. No translation was given, as I mentioned last night.

no translation for rollo tweet

Sandi: That Odo was determined to get Rollo to agree to a joint action was absolutely obvious. That Rollo tried hard to make himself understood was equally certain. But as to how they actually communicated? That remains to be seen. How much was truly understood?

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, King Ragnar strides into Floki’s prison cave. He asks Helga if she’s told Floki yet… and of course Floki wants to know what he was talking about. Helga has to reluctantly inform Floki that Angrboda has died. Floki’s cries of agony increase.

Sandi: I feel as if Ragnar was wreaking as much vengeance/punishment as he could from this situation before he takes a final action concerning Floki. That Ragnar uses, in essence, the death of little Angrbo∂a to further inflict anguish upon Floki was cruel—especially as he used Helga to do so. (Which does make all kinds of proper sense, but it was also harsh.)

Lissa: In Mercia, Aethelwulf is transporting Queen Kwenthrith and her baby, Magnus. She begs him to stop and light a fire, because little Magnus is freezing. He gives her a chunk of raw meat. She says the boy can’t eat it, and he tells her that she must eat it and survive. Which is a very interesting development, since his father told him that Magnus was the one whose survival was important in this scenario. Choking back her disgust, Kwenthrith gnaws on the meat-cicle.

kwenthelwulf winterSandi: We see here a flare of of what Amy Bailey—the wonderful actress who plays Kwenthrith—said last week: Call them “Kwenthelwulf”. Magnus must survive, said Ecbert, but his son is developing a spine of his own. His relationship with Judith is strained at present (oh, how they’ve grown up and cynical, you know?) but he is seeking this for himself, not his father. And, too, it is very practical to encourage the adult to care for herself first. It goes against the grain, for a mother, but even on airplanes today you have the “take care of your own breathing mask first, then the child’s next to you” directive.

Lissa: Rollo has his first language lesson, and it doesn’t go all that well. He tries repeating the phrases the monk says to him, but the accent is difficult for him. He ends up grabbing the monk and hurling him across the room, flipping the table in his frustration.

Sandi: You and I discussed briefly last night that the French accent can be a challenge! And Rollo has a proper tutor, maybe, but the phrases aren’t the best. I think I’d start by having him learn war terms. “This is a boat. This is the Seine. Here is how we protect the city.” And so on.

language sarcastic tweet

Lissa: Björn’s vision quest turns into a one-man frat party. He opens a keg of mead and gets “tin-roof rusted,” as the saying goes, howling like a wolf at the Northern Lights. He passes out in the snow, never a good idea, but after he wakes (and pukes) Björn finally sees the bear face to face. it’s a huge, fierce creature, roaring at the sight of him. Björn lights into it with a knife, finally finishing the creature off with an axe, but not before he takes a claw swipe to the shoulder. He roars in victory, and it’s heard all the way back in Kattegat by Ragnar, who looks up at the sound. Later, we see him cauterize the wound, and he roars again, though the people of Kattegat don’t hear that one. (And you’d think they would.) During his last scene, we see Björn taking a dip in the lake through a hole in the ice.

bjorn gets drunk s4e3Sandi: As silly as this might have been, it was amusing. And also, I think, very real. A young man, who has lost so much and seen his own vulnerabilities in very physical ways, might indeed be out to prove himself as Björn is, here. And he’d act in ways that he wouldn’t do with the parents around. How many college freshman spend a lot of their first year way from home drunk or hung-over? And I loved the howling. Really, it was a much needed bit of levity in this episode.

Lissa: A bit later, Ragnar is cleaning fish while telling a story of Thor meeting with a strange ferryman. His sons are enthralled by the tale. The stranger turns out to be a man named Harbard. “Did you ever meet him?” Ubbe asks. No, Ragnar says, but perhaps Aslaug has. Aslaug glares at him. Her face is still bruised from Ragnar’s slaps in the last episode. She takes the boys inside for dinner.

Sandi: Ragnar can spin a fine yarn, to be sure. Here, he does so for double-purpose: instructing and entertaining his sons AND taking aim at his wife. That bruise out in the light of day was ugly. Another good move by the Vikings make-up team.

Lissa: Judith is continuing her painting lessons with Prudentius. He tells her the story of Ragnar’s invasion of Paris, but with a pious Christian twist. He says the Vikings were all stricken with disease because of their blasphemy. She asks if there was a monk named Athelstan among them. Prudentius says if there was, he hopes Athelstan would be crucified for it. Judith later relays the story to Ecbert, who is amused by it, though they both regret not getting any news of Athelstan. Judith appears in his room that night and says she’ll be his mistress again, but he has to swear to respect her and treat her as an equal. Ecbert swears it, on the life of Athelstan.

Sandi: May I say here that I am hoping that the plot will soon settle down to two or three places rather than all that are now in use? Kattegat, Mercia, Wessex, Hedeby, Paris, Hunting Lodge in Bear Country… We spend, sometimes, very little time in each locale and it’s distracting. Okay. Anyway. I had to say that.

judith and father sommelier

Back to Judith and her men. Judith seems, by her facial expressions, her invasion into Father Sommelier Prudentius’s personal space, and her careful movements near him, to be planning a seduction. Consciously or subconsciously. I can’t help but think that this is, of course, due to the good father’s resemblance to the lamented Athelstan. Then, she goes on to try to negotiate an “equal” adulterous relationship with King Ecbert, who pretends not to hold it in any hugely important regard. I wonder what Judith is planning—for surely she cannot be naïve enough to think that he’s taking her entirely seriously with her talk of freedom and equality. There are always strings with Ecbert. Always.

Lissa: That night, he wakes, startled out of sleep by some unknown force. He goes into the library. In Kattegat, Ragnar wakes too, and walks out into his silent hall with a torch, looking around for whatever it was that roused him.

Sandi: I still want to know. I mean, we saw how it played out, but this sequence might be showing that somehow, these men are still connected. Through their mutual regard for Athelstan? It was a powerful sequence of scenes, I think.

athelstan s4e3 to ragnarLissa: Ragnar sits down on his throne and someone enters, carrying a bowl of warm water. The stranger pulls back his cowl, and it’s our Athelstan. He tenderly washes Ragnar’s feet. At the same moment, Ecbert feels a gust of wind which scatters the pages of the documents Judith was illuminating. Athelstan enters, but he does not approach Ecbert. He glides by as Ecbert calls for him to come back. Ragnar is enraptured by the sight of his beloved friend. “Mercy,” Athelstan implores. “Mercy.”

Sandi: I was so pleased to see Athelstan. We’ve missed George Blagden on Vikings and, even if it’s a visionary experience, I was happy that he was there. In these paired experiences, it was interesting to me to see how the different visitations were treated. Athelstan washed the “pagan’s feet” yet he scattered the “Christian’s manuscript” with his presence. The former is tender and caring, the latter disruptive. And he speaks to Ragnar but doesn’t approach Ecbert. This is, I’m sure, meant to be a wordless commentary on their behaviors since his death. The plea for Mercy, I cannot help but think was heeded. At least to a degree.

mercy s4e3 athelstan to ragnar

Lissa: As Ragnar reaches out to him, Athelstan vanishes, just as Ecbert’s apparition vanishes.

Sandi: It was very well done of the writers. 

Lissa: In the morning, Ragnar goes to Floki’s cave. He tells Helga she has suffered enough, and cuts Floki’s bonds, tossing the hatchet aside as he walks out of the cave.

Sandi: And the plea for mercy is heard. He tosses the hatchet but, as was asked on twitter last night: Did he bury it? Did he, then, leave all thoughts of future retribution behind him in the cave when he left it?

Lissa: Ecbert goes to find Judith. He tells her of his vision and says he’s convinced Athelstan is dead. Judith bursts into tears and says she loved him.

Sandi: Is it odd to anyone else that she accepts this immediately? Utterly? She loved him; I believe this. But she never even questioned Ecbert’s declaration here. No moment of, “No! It can’t be! How can you be sure?” None of that.

ecbert dead athelstanLissa: Ecbert says he loved Athelstan, too, and embraces her as she sobs. They’re soon called outside.  Aethelwulf has returned with Queen Kwenthrith and her son. Ecbert tells her she’s safe now and takes her inside for food and a bath. Aethulwulf asks Judith why she’s crying. She says it’s because she’s happy her husband has returned home safe. Aethelwulf, the poor fool, seems to be touched by that.

Sandi: I think it’s because he knows he’s got Kwenthrith on the brain and he is not innocent of adulterous thoughts, even if he had yet to go to Kwenthrith’s bed, he was thinking about it at this moment. So he doesn’t have the high road, anymore, and perhaps he has a bit of fellow-feeling for his wife. Mercy, eh?

Lissa: That night, Kwenthrith lies sleepless. Her face says she doesn’t really trust Ecbert’s assurances of safety. Her chamber door opens and Aethelwulf comes inside. Kwenthrith pulls back the covers and invites him into her bed.

Sandi: And . . . Kwenthelwulf is full on happening. Yep. I wonder when—or if?—this will be discovered and what the responses from involved and affected parties will be?

So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!  – Vafþrúðnismál


 

If you’re looking for a wider divergence of opinions on Vikings, may I recommend Project Fandom and the No Ship Network? The first is a blog and the second a podcast that does recaps of each episode and then does the Althing podcast, which is all about the feedback.