The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: The Outsider

 

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“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 
 

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Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fourth (point five) season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter with the hashtag #ShieldGeeks where and Lissa and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We’ll follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!

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146a6-lissa-bryanLissa Bryan is a delightful historian as well as being a wonderful writer. Her latest book, Dominion, is a dystopian romance taking place at a time in the not-too-far-distant future. 

Lissa: It seems like we’ve had such a long wait, but the show made it up to us with an episode that delivered a lot of emotion and promise for an exciting season.

Sandi: I really appreciated that this episode focused on the Kattegat Kontingent (Yes, I know I spelled that with a K. Alliteration, anyone?) As an audience, we need to get to know Vikings: The Next Generation and we got a good start on that. A solid beginning for what is to come!

Lissa: We began right where we left off with Ragnar thrusting his sword into the earth and shouting to his sons, “Who wants to be king?” He throws his arms wide, baring his chest for a blade, daring them to kill him and take the throne. After a long, tense moment, Ubbe strides forward, sword in hand, his head lowered… Ragnar challenge him, even strkes him, trying to goad him into attacking.

Sandi: Well, just before that part, you see this really quiet scene. Ragnar, alone, on the edge of the water. It’s obvious it’s out of sequence from the last scene of the prior episode and before the continuation of that scene that you just mentioned. Highly effective, a bit disconcerting, and a good place to take a breath before we were tossed in.

Lissa: We next see Ragnar standing alone at the edge of the bay, looking out over the water. Was it the same place he made his tender goodbyes to his daughter, Gyda? He stands there, silent, for a long moment.

Sandi: Ah, I hadn’t even thought of it as a Gyda-moment. Shame on me, as she’s a favorite of mine. But yeah, I can see that. Ragnar was a fond father, especially in his younger years. It isn’t as obvious when we return to the confrontation with his son’s in Kattegat’s market square.

Lissa: And then… They embrace. Björn asks his father, “Why have you returned?”

Sandi: I thought it was a great question. Regardless of the fact that the young men were just discussing it, it bears confrontation, here. Björn is getting his future in order, as we knew from the prior episode as well as his plans as they unfold in this one. The other lads are all sons of Aslaug and have their own dynamic. Why would their father return when he’d been (apparently) content to be gone so long?

Lissa: We see him with the quartet next, and he tells his sons the reason he’s returned is to see what has become of them. He wants to go back to England, but Björn tells him that he intends to explore the Mediterranean. Hvitserk is going with Björn. Sigurd and Ubbe say they will not leave their mother because their kingdom in Kattegat needs to be protected. Ragnar tells them they’re right to think of family. They walk away from their father, leaving him alone beneath a tree.

Sandi: This is their stance at the beginning of the episode. I have to wonder, as we see the tale spin out, how much of these answers were made strictly in a contrary reaction to their father’s reappearance?

Lissa: The boys discuss this over dinner as Aslaug watches. As they debate whether to join Björn’s or Ragnar’s voyage, Ivar sneers at Sigurd’s decision to stay in Kattegat and asks him if he’s worried about getting seasick. Sigurd retorts he’s afraid of nothing.

Sandi: The episode is called The Outsider and it seems that the reference is to Ivar, here. His inclusion into various aspects of his brothers’ lives is . . . unwontedly later than it might be. Additionally, Aslaug has always rather favored him, so this would contribute as much as his physical disability, I would think. That Ivar makes his presence felt by taunts and the force of his personality is not to be wondered at. What did we call him? A sociopath? A charming one?

Lissa: Ivar next creeps on the slave girl who fills their goblets, running his hand down over her hip. When Ubbe chides him that it’s wrong to treat her that way, Ivar shrugs and says she’s just a slave. Aslaug asks him to stop.

Sandi: Aslaug. I am not entirely sure what to make of her at this juncture, to be honest. But Ragnar’s first wife is easier for me to read.

Lissa: Lagertha doesn’t seem to have aged a day.

Sandi: No. Kidding. Especially compared to Ragnar. Thanks to genetics (and the wonderful people of the VIKINGS makeup teams, I’m certain!) Lagertha now appears almost in a different generation than the husband of her youth.

Lissa: She is sparring with a dark-haired girl with an elaborate neck tattoo, whose name is Astrid, but I have officially dubbed Joan Jett. I won’t be budged on this nickname. Enshrined, it is, in our conversations, thus and forevermore. Joan Jett is holding her own as they tussle, Lagertha initially getting the upper hand, then being toppled by the other woman. When they fall back to the grass beside one another Joan asks her whether Lagertha will tell her what they’re training for, but Lagertha says she’s not yet ready to say it.

Sandi: Which of course allows us to speculate. Lagertha is still, one presumes, the Earl Ingstad. Is she preparing for a conflict that will involve her demesne? I am inclined to think not, for if that were the case, she’d have warriors at her back. This is a one-on-one sparring session, so she is preparing for a one-on-one bout of hand-to-hand combat. Gee, I wonder whom she is planning on fighting?

Lissa: Björn visits the Seer, who tells him that his father’s return bodes despair and bloodshed.

Sandi: This is classified in the “Captain Obvious” file. Which is sad, really, when one reflects on where Ragnar started in the first season. He wanted adventure and renown. But these can indeed breed chaos and death, given the opportunity.

Lissa: Björn asks him if this means he will die, and the Seer won’t answer that. All he will do is make vague predictions of doom. For all their glories, the gods will be filled with despair, the Seer says mournfully. He says Björn will curse the day Ragnar returned.

Sandi: Evil writers! The Seer is a great fellow for feeding lines, isn’t he? The “curse the day” statement is dramatic but a bit more specific than the “despairing gods” prediction. We are left to wonder why Björn would curse that day? He’s irritated, perhaps, but Björn has plans already in motion that, frankly, had nothing to do with Ragnar and everything to do with Floki and that map Björn’s had for so long. How will Ragnar’s presence affect that? Well, perhaps this is one of the reasons we have the dynamic of the brothers being presented . . .

Lissa: Björn goes into his bedroom and we see Torvi there, nursing a bitty BjörnBaby. She asks him why he’s not going to England to avenge the colony, and Björn tells her that the days of Ragnar’s missions being their priority are over.

Sandi: It was good to see Torvi, even if for just a moment, as we had no sense of where she was when we left Kattegat at the end of the prior episode. That he is claiming his own adventures as priority speaks of Björn’s disillusionment as well as his independence. I think, not too long ago, he was much more supportive of his father. But his reappearance and apparent utter lack of concern/regret about having been gone so long without word, has squashed much of the former good opinion Björn may have held.

Lissa: Instead of visiting his [former] wife, Ragnar goes to see Floki. He sneaks up on Helga and when she startles he teases her that she looks like she’s seen a ghost.

Sandi: This is a sweet scene. There has always been an interesting dynamic between Ragnar, Floki, and Helga throughout the series. Here, as they’re all older and (hopefully) wiser, we get to see the maturity of years and the comfort of long acquaintance. Humor, pathos, familiarity.

Lissa: He checks out the beautiful new ship Floki has built, but it’s not for him, it’s for Björn. Floki says he’s refined the design, learning from past mistakes, and now he’s designed a ship that can take them to the Mediterranean. Ragnar is a little wistful as he says it’s fitting – albeit annoying – that Floki’s skills have now passed to Björn’s command. Ragnar says he has a feeling if Floki doesn’t come with him, it’s the last he’ll ever see of him. Floki tells him that no matter what happens, they’ll meet again in Valhalla, where they will drink, and fight, and revel in the presence of the friends they’ve lost. Ragnar tells him he’s lost his faith in that. When he leaves, he turns and tells Floki that he loves him. The expression in Floki’s eyes at that moment made tears well up in my own.

Sandi: That really was gorgeously done. We speculated on twitter that the Ragnar-Floki relationship is one of the enduring ones that VIKINGS has shown us. From their wild and crazy youth, through trials and outright opposition, to this quieter time in their later years, we’ve seen a wide spectrum of a Viking Bromance.

Lissa: They were the words he always wanted to hear.  A tiny bit of a giggle bursts from him, a flash of the old “tetched” Floki that so enthralled me from the first season. He shouts joyfully at Ragnar’s retreating back that he loves him too. He always has.

Sandi: But even as Ragnar walked on his solitary way, I was feeling a foreboding. Ragnar was saying farewell. Which is a heavy thing.

Lissa: The slave girl who was groped by Ivar is Margrethe, but she looks just like Danaerys, Mother of Dragons.

She strolls into the arms of each of Ragnar’s sons while Ivar watches, creeping from spot to spot to peer through boards and bushes voyeur-ing as she lies with each of them. I speculated initially that Ivar was resentful that she was freely giving his brothers what he had to compel.

Sandi: This really was creepy. I am thinking all the brothers had to know she was not “exclusive” to any of them, but I wonder if they knew Ivar was watching? Don’t you get a sense of your siblings after a life spent in close association? And if so, why did they do it? Back to The Outsider theme again. An interesting portrayal.

Lissa: We next see the brothers sparring in the woods, practicing swordplay and shooting their bows.

There was a delightful nod to the Sagas when Ivar skillfully put two arrows right through the eyes of a deer carcass they’re using as a target.

He also shoots an arrow between his brothers and drives it deep into a log behind them. We also see him throw an ax with incredible strength when Ubbe playfully knocks his mug of mead from his hand with his blade.

Sandi: This is more of the Brother Bonding thing amongst Aslaug’s sons that I really enjoyed in this episode. Ivar may be an outsider, but his brothers have sought to see to his complete training in combat or at least self-defense. I wouldn’t want to take Ivar on, to be sure. And, of course, being good brothers, Ubbe, Hvitserk, and Sigurd all seek to make sure their brother achieves all milestones of manhood.

Lissa: But the issue with Margrethe, as it turns out from a conversation he has with his brothers after they’re worn out and laying in a semi-circle on the earth, is more than simple jealousy that she freely chooses to be with them. Ivar has never lain with a woman. His brothers gamely offer to ask her if she’d mind giving him a tumble. They remind him that Margrethe is more than “just a slave.” She’s a person. Ivar is torn between resentment that they have to ask her to sleep with a “cripple” and longing for the experience.

Sandi: They’re doing their best, to be sure! But they can’t control everything, can they?

Lissa: A tumble is duly arranged and there’s some real awkwardness in the initial stages. Things seem to be going well when suddenly Ivar freezes and falls to the bedding in shame.

impotence-tweet

Sandi: And, yeah. One of the historical suppositions regarding Ivar is that his nickname of “Boneless” has to do with his being impotent. There are no descendants of his body on record (and he has quite a reputation, so sons and/or daughters would have been noted) and no record of his having married. When his bones were recovered, a boar’s tusk was found in his pelvis, as if his men—who were devoted to him as a leader, for Ivar was apparently quite charismatic—wanted to make sure that there was no doubt whatsoever that Ivar was a Man Among Men.

Lissa: He flips Margrethe onto her belly and pulls her necklace tight around her throat. He says he has to kill her now to keep the secret that he’s impotent. (Jeeze, it’s the first time, Ivar. Give it another go before you declare it impossible! A little patience and gentleness, and perhaps a little blue pill…) He hisses that he likes killing as Margrethe pleads for her life. Margrethe is a quick-thinking girl. She tells him that she’ll keep his secret. Just because he can’t do this one thing doesn’t mean he’s not a man. Lots of men can have sex. Lots men can have children. Those things are easy. To be a son of Ragnar Lothbrok and to find greatness that is hard. I truly believe that.

Sandi: I was quite worried for Margarethe there, for a bit. Ivar does not, historically, have the most merciful reputation and he is likely carrying about a huge chip on his shoulder. She did incredibly well under pressure and I hope that her quick thinking continues to pay off. And I hope she keeps her mouth shut, too!

Lissa: Alex Høgh Andersen’s acting in this scene was absolutely superb. Ivar’s rage melts into doubt, grief, and shame. He begins to sob, and she lies down beside him quietly.

Sandi: The casting for this show is pretty much perfection. Alex has a hard role, but he’s making it work, compelling even the unsympathetic—namely me—to hop in his wagon. I couldn’t stand Ivar the Child, and I might not LIKE him as an adult, but I can’t fail to be impressed by him.

Lissa: Ragnar heads next to visit Lagertha. He meets with Joan Jett first who tells him that the woman who was her wet nurse told her tales of Ragnar Lothbrook, and she believes the woman was a bit in love with him. Ragnar teasingly asks how he can meet this woman.  He tells Joan he’s old enough to be her father, and he doesn’t remember her. Joan scoffs and Lagertha enters. Dressed in green, she has a tawny owl as a pet now.

Sandi: And here we see the huge differences that life has brought to my VIKINGS OTP. Ragnar looks ancient, in this scene. His eyes still twinkle, but dimly. His attire lacks . . . everything. He appears to be on a medieval mortification pilgrimage. And Lagertha looks like a manifestation of a classic goddess.

Lissa: She asks Ragnar why he’s come, why he left. Ragnar says he was simply uninterested in ruling any longer. Lagertha chides him that he had responsibilities. She asks why he never told her that the Wessex colony had been wiped out. Ragnar apologizes, quite humbly, I might add. He asks her about Joan Jett and what kind of relationship Lagertha has with her. Lagertha deflects that, and she also rejects his invitation to return to England on a new raid. Ragnar sighs as he sits back in his chair and tells her he made many mistakes, and has many regrets. One of his regrets is what happened between them.

Sandi: It was apology that was frightfully long in coming. With age comes wisdom but it can come too late for some of us. What if Ragnar had remained content as a farmer? What if he and Lagertha had been able to eventually have more children, quietly prosperous on their farm and with their fishing weirs? It is of course too late for speculation for Ragnar, but he can see that with great ambition comes great trouble and he’s been fully immersed in both.

Lissa: “No regrets… and every regret,” Lagertha says to him. They kiss… sweetly and tenderly. He walks away from her, and Lagertha’s face is filled with sorrow. We later see Lagertha and Joan in bed together. Joan says that Lagertha still loves Ragnar. Does she love Ragnar more than she loves Joan?

Sandi: Do we even have to ask? Ragnar is the love of Lagertha’s life, I think. Their relationship—another long one that VIKINGS has featured throughout—is a cornerstone for both of them.

Lissa: Lagertha says of course not, and they kiss.

Sandi: I have to wonder what larger purpose there is for Joan Jett, here. Will she have a plot-significant role or is she there to broaden Lagertha’s character?

Lissa: The sons meet one more time, and Ubbe, Hitsverk, and Sigurd all say they’re unwilling to go with Ragnar. Ivar spits that they are bastards, unworthy to be Ragnar’s sons.

Sandi: I am inclined to think that Ivar the Dramatic is overstating the case a bit. I think the other sons are merely abiding on principle: Dad Abandoned Us. We’re Not Supporting Dad.

lag-gifLissa: Lagertha watches as Ragnar rides off into the distance the following morning. Joan Jett asks her if she regrets she didn’t go with him. Lagertha says she was never really sure how she should feel about him, but then again, she wasn’t the only woman who felt that way. It’s a very poignant scene, and it made one of those watching with us wonder if it had a special significance.

Sandi: Will this be the last time she sees him? It is evident that Ragnar is, once again, saying farewell. His response to Lagertha’s kiss was probably far less that Lagertha herself was expecting; after all, she sent Joan Jett away. He is distancing himself from her. From everyone. Lagertha is not unaware of that.

Lissa: Ragnar rides off, alone. No one has agreed to come with him. He has no allies, no friends, no one to raid with him and avenge the settlement lost in Wessex.

He spots a tree, and eyes one of its limbs. He rides up below it and tosses a rope over the limb…

Sandi: It is at this point that I am reminded of Odin’s stint at the Hanged Man. Odin the All-Father, according to the tales, attained wisdom by hanging from Yggdrasil. It was a great sacrifice that he made and it is reflected in the standard Tarot card designs. I honestly saw Ragnar seeking to do likewise, here. At least at first. Until I saw how he did this.

Lissa: Then climbs his horse and digs his heels into its sides…

But as he hangs himself from the rope, a flock of ravens lights on the branch. One even perches on Ragnar’s shoulder and gives a peck at the knot slowly strangling him. They all take flight when the rope snaps and he falls to the earth. For a moment, he just sits there, coughing, and then he flops back, defeated, and the expression on his face is a little wry. The gods will not let him die. Not yet.

Sandi: Because I was. I was thinking that perhaps Odin’s presence—the Raven being a part of Ragnar’s spiritual life in Season One, to be sure—had intervened in this, his attempted suicide.

Lissa: Ragnar makes his way back to the great hall and sits down in his throne with a sigh. Ivar crawls along the floor and pulls himself up into the queen’s chair. He tells Ragnar that Aslaug would never let anyone sit in Ragnar’s throne, but at night, Ivar would creep to it and sit in it, brooding on how his father had abandoned him. Ivar asks why he hasn’t spoken to Aslaug, and why he abandoned them. Ragnar doesn’t look at him as he says that perhaps he’ll explain himself when they get to England. Ivar stares at him. England? Is Ragnar asking him to go? Just assuming he’ll come along? Fine, don’t come, Ragnar says. Ivar retorts that now he doesn’t want him to come? Fine, come, Ragnar says. Only if Ragnar asks him properly, like he asked his brothers, Ivar says.

Ragnar turns and begins to ask nicely, and Ivar interrupts him to say he’ll come. It’s a very cute scene, and it it seems like Ivar is going to grow on us, despite – or perhaps because of – his sociopath’s charm.

Sandi: And here, at the end of the episode, we can see that The Outsider might not refer solely to Ivar. It likely refers to Ragnar as well. Neither of them fit in with their people, precisely. Both of them want to be elsewhere.

 
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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

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!
 
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4


2 comments

  1. Angelyn · December 1

    I have been looking forward to this post since last night’s episode ended. The writers cannot be blamed for using other famous family feuds for inspiration–the dynamic between Ragnar and his sons reminds me of Susan Howatch’s mighty Wheel of Fortune saga, which in turn draws from Plantagenet family conflicts. I could go on–and Vikings will if Ragnar treats his sons like Henry II.

    Anyway, the relationship between beloved Lagertha and the aptly-named Joan Jett seems like a carbuncle that’s been glued on. Hopefully it will fall off. Without a hint of their backstory, their relationship doesn’t seem to add to the story–much.

    • Sandi · December 2

      Hello, Angelyn! So pleased that you were looking forward to reading our commentary. 🙂 I think history gave contemporary writers a LOT of family drama material. Henry II’s treatment of his sons was regrettable, to be sure. He was an able administrator but a selfish man personally.

      Glad you liked Lissa’s appellation for Joan Jett. I love it. Like you, I’m unclear as to the purpose of her presence. I hope she will either drop off or have a true story-significant purpose in the future.

      Thanks for reading!

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