The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: The Last Ship

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

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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: I hate to start this review off with a concluding statement, but I’ve got to get this off my chest: for me, this is the lowest-rated Vikings episode in … well… ever, I think. I was left deeply dissatisfied, confused, and irritated, not feelings I want to associate with a favorite show.

Sandi: Believe me when I say, “I hear you!” I think there will be considerable backlash from this episode. But. I am going to try to keep faith, grateful that the second half of the season will be happening in 2016, not 2017.

Lissa: The episode started right where we left off, with Floki’s ingenious floating platforms heading up river. Rollo, as we see, is on a ship of his own, floating down to meet his brother. Floki shouts to Rollo: “Rollo! Betrayer of the gods and of all the sacred things in Midgard! Come here you snake—come my way and let my axe slake its thirst on your blood. Come to Floki.”

Sandi: It was one of those wonderful shots this show does so well. The wide expanse of the fleets with more personal views of individuals. Rollo invokes the name of God, here, and I was surprised by that. Though he had technically “converted” to Christianity, one doesn’t see him sounding like a Christian before this episode. He is paying lip-service, here, if nothing else. But that’s more than he’s done before, unbidden. This could be seen as an indirect response to Floki’s challenge, actually.

Lissa: In the streets of Paris, we see a priest walking through the crowds, giving them blessings and absolution before the battle. Gisla is in church, praying before a statue of the Virgin Mary, begging her to save her husband and the city. As she weeps, the statue of the Virgin appears to weep as well. Gisla later offers Rollo’s torc, placing it on the Virgin’s feet.

Sandi: This is a nice continuation from last episode, in which we discussed the exploitation of relics, real or invented, in this era. Did the statue of the Virgin Mary really cry? History shows that there are examples where statues were made to show tears to garner awe—and monetary gifts—from the faithful. I believe Gisla’s prayers to be sincere, here, as definite affection has developed between her and Rollo. It might be considered odd, though, that Gisla is making an offering that she herself might see as “pagan” in origin.

Lissa: Ragnar pops the last of his “Chinese medicine,” and drops Yidu’s empty pouch at his feet. Rollo gives his own men a stirring speech to inspire them to victory.

“All of my life. And all of your lives have come to this point. There is nowhere else to be but here. Nowhere else to live or die but here. To be here now is the only thing that matters. So gather yourselves, gather all of your strength, and all of your sweetness into an iron ball, for we will attack again and again until we reach and overcome their king or we die in the attempt.” 

Sandi: It’s a great speech. Very much along the lines of what Henry V said in the eponymous play. Interesting, though, that Ragnar’s use of the last of the Yidu-brand, there, was also considered inspiring. At least to his son Björn. And Lagertha was waiting to  hear if Ragnar thought the gods were with them. So, even speech-less, as it were, Ragnar was a source of inspiration to those who knew him best, even if not to Rollo’s wider audience.

Lissa: The ships collide in the water, and the battle ensues. It’s wonderfully shot, as most Vikings battle scenes are, but most of the action is confined to the main platform where Lagertha, Ragnar, and Floki are.

Sandi: This is calculated for effect, I’m sure. The focus gives a more obvious purpose as to the benefit of the battle platforms, as well as letting the viewers focus on those who have become most important to many of us. You can see, though, the clear advantages to having the stable platforms amidst a naval fleet. It’s not an aircraft carrier of modern times, but the room to launch arrows rather than airplanes is invaluable.

Lissa: In the midst of the carnage, we see Simple Chuck with Roland and Therese at the dining table. He says that even as they speak, Count Rollo is fighting to save Paris. Roland tells him that He’s made alternative plans for the defense of the city if Rollo happens to fail. Roland doesn’t think Chuck should put all of his faith into a pagan. Chuck says that Rollo has not only his faith but his heart. Therese gives a small laugh and tells him that’s stupid.

Sandi: This was rather baffling. Clearly, the Bobbsy Twins have seriously underestimated their ruler or overestimated their importance to him. Or both.

Lissa: Chuck orders dessert, which turns out to be Roland and Therese being garroted by the guards. Chuck nibbles on a bit of chicken and smiles as he watches them die.

Sandi: Ew. But. What stands out to me is the new aspect to the Emperor Chuck’s demeanor seen in the last couple of episodes. He’s more defined, now. Stronger. Seeming more aware of power nuances than he had demonstrated before. Kudos to Lothaire Bluteau, who plays Charles in the show.

Lissa: We see Halfdan take an arrow, and Floki is stabbed in the side. as the Seer in Kattegat lets out a roar of agony. We see Lagertha battling, using her shield as a shieldmaiden would have, using it as an edged weapon and as a block. It was a delightful little historical touch in an episode that – frankly – didn’t have many.

Sandi: Those that enjoy battle scenes would have enjoyed this one. A lot of hand to hand. Plenty of arrows. There are men overboard, and no one is a clear victor as the donnybrook—or should we say mêlée—continues.

Lissa: Rollo and Ragnar finally meet in battle. Ragnar taunts him, telling Rollo that he looks like a bitch. Considering that many scholars think the English word “bitch” comes from the old Norse bikkjuna, meaning female dog, it might be a period-accurate insult.

Sandi: I think that’s a fair assessment. And many kudos to you, ma’am, for going all Norse!

Lissa: “One of us will die today,” Ragnar promises him. The two brothers fight, and it’s a harsh and brutal struggle that doesn’t have a clear winner. Lagertha sees Rollo pin Ragnar against the side of the ship and hammer his face with his bare fists. (Interesting that neither brother pulled a secondary weapon, isn’t it?) She fights her way toward them, but falls when she’s stabbed through the shoulder.

Sandi: The fight between the brothers really did surprise me. As you said, no secondary weapons were used. But then, this was a personal struggle more than a martial one, in my estimation. Their whole lives, they’ve struggled with one another. Alongside or in opposition, Ragnar and Rollo have not had an easy time of it. That two mighty warriors,  both of whom are more than proficient with axe and sword, find it needful to slug it out in a brawl involving fists and elbows, is quite eloquent on its own. No flashy statements. It’s about proving themselves on a visceral level.

Lissa: This [Lagertha’s involvement] breaks up the fight between Ragnar and Rollo. Ragnar orders his men to get her into the boat and shove off. He tries to charge Rollo again, but his men grab him and throw him into the ship with the wounded. They row away, the battle lost. Both men look horribly depressed in the aftermath.

Sandi: So, no death for Rollo that day. No resolution to a long and troubled relationship. I have to believe, though, that neither of them truly desired death to come to their brother. A beating, yes. Humiliation? Certainly. But death? Not so much, or either of them could have made it happen.

Lissa: Rollo returns to Paris and he’s cheered as soon as he stumbles off of his horse to stagger down the street. The people clap and scream his name, and some rather insensitive types slap the injured man on the back.

Sandi: Yeah. Not quite a ticker tape parade, is it? But this is a culture of personal contact, whether that be meeting with a king, fighting face to face, or welcoming home a battle-chief.

rollo tickertape

Lissa: Gisla runs down to greet him, kissing his bloodied mouth passionately. Simple Chuck kisses him too, on both cheeks. Rollo calls out “God bless Paris!” Either his faith really has changed, or he’s being very clever in pretending it has to appease his new people. Chuck crowns him with a golden laurel and proclaims him Caesar.

Sandi: I am thinking that, for the present, Rollo’s place in the Frankish pantheon is holding steady. No garroting wire in sight.

Lissa: I saw an interesting comment on Tumblr this morning… That it would have been interesting to have Gisla place the golden laurel on Rollo’s head, fulfilling the prophecy that a princess will crown the bear. Is the fact Hirst chose not to do it evidence that Rollo isn’t the “bear” that was prophesied to receive the crown?

We see one last scene of the battered and depressed Ragnar in the ship. His eyes are swollen shut.

Sandi: It’s a sad scene, really. I wonder what’s going through Ragnar’s head, here? He only stopped his fight with Rollo, it seemed, because Lagertha was grievously wounded. “Get her on the boat!” he shouted. And then, he directs them to get the boat she’s on away. “Get her out of here” before turning—with a weapon—to confront Rollo once again. And his men pushed him into one as well, as he needed the respite from his slugfest with Rollo. I do believe this happens against his express wishes.

Lissa: … And then…

Sandi: . . . Yeah . . .

Lissa: Björn is standing in the water in Kattegat, fishing. Everyone immediately started Tweeting, saying, “What? Huh? What did I miss?” It was a moment of collective bewilderment.

Sandi: It was weird. And not in the Norse “wyrd” sense. We were all displaced. Seeing Björn in Kattegat was one thing. I had hoped to get resolution about his daughter (Siglet!) and so on, but times had clearly changed. The village is clearly more populous than it was last time we saw it. Prosperity is sure, based upon the clothing we can see and the barrels on the dock.

prosperous kattegat aslaugLissa: Aslaug comes out of the hall and calls to him to say he needs to see something.

Sandi:  And this is where this viewer, anyway, was studying her and then studying the environment, to see the changes that would give us clues as to how long a gap we’ve had since we saw battle-sore Ragnar. And boy, were we surprised!

Lissa: A messenger is standing in the hall. He tells Björn that he’s come to see Ragnar. Aslaug says that no one has seen Ragnar for years, not since his defeat in Paris. “How could such a man disappear?” the messenger asks. The messenger says he has word that Ragnar has a son by Queen Kwenthrith in Wessex, and the boy is about twelve now. (Which means we’ve skipped ahead in time about five or six years by my reckoning.) Aslaug gulps wine throughout the chat. Moreover, the messenger has found out that the settlement in Wessex has been destroyed, and that Ragnar knew about it soon after it happened. Aslaug smirks as she tells the messenger she’s glad he came.

Sandi: Story-wise, this gives all of us who are puzzled by the circumstances a solid reason as to why so much seems to be missing from this section of the story. Much of what we expected to see has already (hopefully) happened, years past. Did Hirst do this to get us to the next level in this story or because he felt there were too many threads to tie off to fit into that final twenty minutes (for American audiences)? On the positive side, the way that facial expressions communicated Björn’s dominance in the scene between himself and messenger was very well done. The messenger thinks to make a joke about something Björn takes quite seriously, and in next to no time, Björn’s demeanor has the messenger nonverbally backing down.

Lissa: Björn says he needs to tell his brothers about this. Aslaug tells him they’re at a hunting cabin. It’s not the “cabin in the Smoky Mountains” that Björn used. This is a more traditional sod-house with a slanted roof. Ragnar’s grown sons are lounging around outside. Ivar has some very strange eyes. The whites are blue-toned.

ivar blue eyesSandi: His eyes reminded me a bit of the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. Was Ivar eating some spice? No, I’m fairly certain this is meant to remind us he’s been touched by Harbard, whom some might say is an incarnation of Odin himself. That was a bit weird in a scene that was otherwise well structured in terms of historical niceties.

Lissa: The boys are furious when Björn tells them that Ragnar lied to the people of Kattegat. All of the boys feel abandoned by him, except for Ivar.  Ivar scoffs and says it would have been a waste of time to tell the people of Kattegat, who would get all fired up and want revenge. That,” says Ivar, “is why he didn’t tell them. They were dead. Ragnar wanted to sail to Paris. He wanted to be famous. Isn’t that more important?” Ivar says he feels Ragnar did nothing wrong. He spits out scornfully that Hvitserk, Ubbe and Sigurd sound like a bunch of Christians.

Sandi: Sigurd, sorry, reminded me of Erlandur. Now, I’m prepared to like Sigurd, but the physical resemblance was a bit unnerving. Ivar’s position is clear, here. He’s very Old School. Having been—one presumes—continually tutored by Floki during his younger years, this is not surprising.

Lissa: Björn says he doesn’t think Ragnar is coming back. He thinks the loss in Paris finally broke him. He is just a man, after all, not a god. A deeply flawed man. But despite everything, Ragnar is still his father, and he loves him.

Lissa: But the boys’ conversation is enlightening in one respect.

Lissa: We find that Ubbe is the more thoughtful one among them. He says Ragnar’s power isn’t what interests him, it’s what he does with that power. Ivar has the blunt, pragmatic (and somewhat sociopathic) train of thought that Ragnar acted as a true Viking in what he did. Hvitserk and Sigurd say they’ll kill him themselves when they see him. Ubbe speaks of fatherly love.

Sandi: It’s interesting. The younger men haven’t had the time with Ragnar that their eldest brother has, so their impressions of Ragnar are largely academic, I think. They discuss Ragnar as if he’s more of an idea than a person. A point to be pondered rather than their father.

floki little boatsLissa: Björn goes to talk to Floki. He and Helga are at the water’s edge, sailing model ships. Helga tells Björn that his ships are almost ready and soon he’ll be able to sail to the Mediterranean. Floki is still skeptical that it actually exists. He says the map could be fictional, drawn by a child, for all Björn knows. Björn asks Floki if he’ll go, and Floki chuckles. A journey to a mythical land that may not exist? Sure, Floki is down for that.

Sandi: Björn’s actions in this segment strike me as much more regal than otherwise. He’s keeping tabs on his fellow “princes”—such as they might be—as well as with Floki, to see how future naval preparations are going. But we don’t sense a wartime effort, here. Kattegat is a peaceful and prosperous place, and what Björn wants to do is explore. Björn isn’t king, per se, but he is likely considered the highest ranking man in the kingdom.

Lissa: Helga smiles and says that if Floki is made enough to go, she will as well. Their skepticism that the Mediterranean Sea is really there strikes me as odd, especially in light of the next scene which shows people from many far-off lands have joined Kattegat, including what appear to be Arab traders that presumably sailed it personally in their voyage to the land of the Norse.

older flokiSandi: Maybe the term “Mediterranean Sea” is a nebulous term, here. A far off place that holds dreams and ideals, but without any real idea as to what it is. I enjoyed the body language between Floki and Björn. An initial hesitation, as if they are deciding how to approach a topic one knows, one suspects, might be hard. But then, they are in accord and it’s arms about shoulders and we’ve-been-friends-forever. With Floki as the older man, now, rather than the young genius.

Lissa: We next see Ragnar sitting at the edge of a large and prosperous village. He rises and walks down the street, people stop to turn and stare at him. Some follow him as he walks. We also see people from many different nationalities trading in the market. When he reaches the center of town, we see that it’s Kattegat. Ragnar’s sons come out to the edge of the group surrounding him. Oddly, Ivar crawls on the ground on his stomach, pulling himself by his elbows.  Did he outgrow the cart and they simply never made him another?

Sandi: The size of the place shocked me, once I understood where we were. Gone is the simple fishing and farming village from Season One. This is a major trading center, as much of a city as one might expect to find in this time and place. Not everyone who followed Ragnar to the center of town would have known him by sight; so many would be following only due to the whispers that were passed along as he made his way to his sons.

Lissa: They’re glaring at Ragnar. Ragnar says he understands their anger. What kind of a king abandons his people? What kind of father abandons his sons? He shouts at the boys to kill him. The only way for someone else to become king is to kill him. He offers his sword to all of the people standing around the edge of the circle. No one will take it. Ragnar drives his sword into the earth and shouts at them all, demanding to know who would be king.

Sandi: Ivar, from his position low to the ground, lifts his chin as if in answer, but then he has to duck his head a bit; he knows he couldn’t challenge Ragnar on his own. And really, would he want to?  Hvitserk, when confronted face to face, refuses to kill Ragnar, though he had said he would, were his father to return. Ubbe is watching, studying, but not preparing a response. I think that Sigurd looks most betrayed. Like, “I waited for you. I watched for you. And you never came to hear what I had to tell you.” But no matter what their facial expressions communicate, their lack of acceptance of Ragnar’s challenge appears unified. No one. No one wants to try to claim the kingship. Not one of them.

Lissa: And that’s where it ends.

Sandi: It was something I would expect to see in a young adult trilogy, perhaps. The end of book two before book three. Unsatisfying. Unresolved.

rollo ragnar aerial fight

Lissa: I was flummoxed. I was irritated. I was disappointed. I felt like I was expecting to see the Battle of Waterloo, and instead ended up watching a short man beat a mall security guard with a Nerf bat.

Sandi: The transition was, in my view, too abrupt. I felt that the ending was supposed to provide suspense and excitement, but instead, it left so many unanswered issues as to be disappointing.

Lissa: There were some glaring questions left unanswered. Who, in Ragnar’s absence, ruled Kattegat? It seems to be Aslaug, because she takes a seat on the chair in the king’s hall. Presumably, she’s been kept as regent by the claim of Björn or that of her own sons. But that makes little sense, given how Harald Finehair was angling for the throne – it was the only reason he went on the Paris raid, after all. Did he just say, “My brother has been killed. I think I’ll give up on this monarchy bid.”

bjorn eyeing aslaug.gifSandi: On twitter, @US_TV_Addict suggested that perhaps flashbacks might be utilized when the season recommences. This would be undeniably helpful in determining how things got to where they are, but will they resolve our abandonment issues? Maybe? Aslaug was ruling in Kattegat, as perhaps per the Seer’s words some time before. I sense that Björn hasn’t supplanted her because he wants to keep an eye on her. He is the one whom many likely look to. Notice that he was not grouped with the other sons to meet Ragnar. Björn has his own place and no one challenges it. Not even Aslaug.

But the reason for abandoning Paris escapes me. Historically, Björn is made famous for his trip to the Mediterranean, so it is possible that Paris will be sidelined in the future. But what of Rollo and his transition to being the Duke of Normandy (Northman’s Land)? Will we see this?

Lissa: Why didn’t Ragnar regroup for another attack? It seemed, from what I saw, that while the initial losses were heavy, there were still some ships that hadn’t even engaged yet when Ragnar rowed away. He said his whole purpose in going back to Paris was to kill Rollo. Mission most assuredly not accomplished.

Sandi: Most assuredly. I maintain that the reason for Ragnar’s abandonment of the Paris operation is due to his relationship with Rollo. Yes, he came to kill him, but he couldn’t do it. This had to strike at his heart, there at the end. Also, he changed his course of action when Lagertha was wounded. This was significant for him as well, even if we don’t see her there at the end with the boys.

lagertha looking over shoulderLissa: Lagertha’s fate isn’t addressed, though she was shown for a moment in the teaser for the “sneak peek” of next season. I think it’s safe to assume she’s still with us, and that she’s gone home to rule Hedeby.

Sandi: But without that peek, her fate would be unknown. Another major character left in limbo. Most disquieting.

Lissa: I feel like this episode suffered badly in the editing room. Moreover, it probably would have been better if they’d just ended the season with the last one, which would have provided a better “cliffhanger” than this confusing jumble. Perhaps, if it hadn’t been crammed into a season ending, the time jump could have been handled better.

Sandi: I’m just not sure if they understood the big, gaping confusion we would feel, being transported from post-boxing-scene, battle-weary Ragnar to peacefully fishing Björn. If the episode had ended with the weary Ragnar, we would have felt irked, perhaps, because no one’s “fate was sealed” as was mentioned in the blurb under the episode on the show’s website. But it would have settled in more easily than the abrupt time jump. Perhaps, as I let this sink in, I’ll feel more comfortable with the uncertainty, and less irked at the questions I felt should have been answered.

Whether I do or not, though, I will certainly be waiting for the second part of this season, later this year. I might even have my next Viking book ready by then. 😉

ragnarssons band cover


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

6 comments

  1. pmayhew53 · April 23, 2016

    Reblogged this on pmayhew53.

    • Sandi · April 24, 2016

      Thank you!

  2. Lina · April 25, 2016

    Honestly I loved the time jump, it felt like hitting the restart button on what has been a rather terrible season. After the slow pace, filler plot lines and unecesaary sex scenes, the time jump was such a relief. What would have made it better would be to see Siggy jr., but I guess she never had much of a chance since all daughters can do on this show is die.
    Hirst confirmed that aslaug has been ruling Kattegat in ragnar’s absence. I think it’s to prep us for Lagertha vs aslaug in season 4b.

    • Sandi · April 25, 2016

      Well, I’m good with having a time jump in general terms. I am. BUT I feel like so very much got utterly forgotten with this one. I look forward to seeing Lagertha v. Aslaug in the second half of the season. I think everyone’s been waiting for that for years. lol Thanks for reading, Lina!

  3. Angelyn · April 29, 2016

    “..because he felt there were too many threads to tie off to fit into that final twenty minutes (for American audiences)?” Yes.

    • Sandi · April 29, 2016

      I am really looking forward to seeing what he does with that when we come back in the fall. I think I’m feeling better about the episode now that a week has gone by, to be honest. lol Hearing others’ interpretations and all has helped. Thanks for reading and retweeting! 🙂

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