History

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Two Journeys

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“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 
 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS! And Yes, we did one, too!)
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 
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146a6-lissa-bryanLissa Bryan is a delightful historian as well as being a wonderful writer. Her latest book, Dominionis a dystopian romance taking place at a time in the not-too-far-distant future.

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Lissa: This episode was entiled “Two Voyages” but it really was about three: Ragnar’s expedition to England, Björn’s voyage to Rome, and Lagertha’s journey to get Kattegat back from Aslaug.

Sandi: Ah, clever you! Yes. That last really was a journey as well, physically and psychologically. (I had a lot of “psychological moments” with this episode. Bear with me.)

Lissa: Ivar wakes on the beach with his father sprawled beside him. Wearily, Ragnar rises and scans the sea. He announces he doesn’t see his ships. Which makes sense, what with the sinking and all.

Sandi: It is rather barren there as we join Our Heroes on the beach. Still, one has to hand it to Ragnar; he got them across the sea. Barely, but there.

Lissa: Ivar tries to get to his feet with the aid of his braces and crutches. Impatiently, Ragnar knocks him down, straddles him, and rips the braces from his son’s legs. He tells Ivar to stop trying to pretend to be normal, because he’s not, and once he realizes that is when greatness will happen.

Sandi: This is, coming from the mom of a special needs son, a bit harsh. But then, the Viking world is not my warm and comfortable 21st Century world, and the truths that guide the lives of the Northmen are a harsher set.

Lissa: He flings the braces away and orders Ivar to crawl.

They meet up with a far-reduced crew, staggering down the beach. The men demand to know that they’re going to do now. Good question. They’re understandably upset, and they blame Ragnar for this misfortune.

Sandi: This is not a crew Ragnar would have chosen ten or twenty years ago. These are, if you recall, “the dregs” of the Kattegat adventurers. So, they didn’t get their longships to shore, it appears, and they are whining about their circumstances. These are not men of iron, but men of sand.

Lissa: Björn’s fleet approaches a harbor and Rollo peers out the window and sees the Viking sails. He’s wearing a luxurious, floor-length robe and his hair is just awesome.

As he watches, a genuinely happy smile crosses his face.

Sandi: Another of those “psychological moments” for me. Here is where a man who has lived a prosperous life realizes he’s displaced, to a degree. He’s pleased to see the signs of home.

Lissa: The English discover the washed-up remains of the shipwreck. Aethelwulf picks up a piece of tattered cloth and sees Ragnar’s raven insignia. He immediately identifies it and orders his men to find Ragnar Lothbrook.

Sandi: Like many, though, when I saw Aethelwulf I immediately wondered where Alfred was. Still, it was good to see Aethelwulf and I wonder what role he’ll play in this half of the season. I wonder what the man’s been doing, to have such an instant identification of Ragnar from a piece of tattered cloth, though. That speaks a bit of obsession, you know?

Lissa: Ragnar and his ragtag crew are staggering through the woods. Ragnar first tries dragging Ivar on a sledge. Ivar mocks him for having to tend to a cripple.

Sandi: The interactions between these two men during this episode is quite the study. A man whose son knows he tried to abandon him. A son who has to constantly poke at his father, with affection, to make sure he’s not being ignored or overlooked again.

Lissa: Rollo has Björn and his men brought in, surrounded by soldiers. Whenever Björn tries to approach, spears clash together in front of him to block his path. It’s not a warm family reunion, by any means. Rollo greets Björn in Frankish – pointedly emphasizing his change in national allegiance. He introduces Gisla and the three young children standing around her throne. William, Marcellus, and Celsa.

Sandi: The spear thing is very dramatic, as is the language. Rollo is still Rollo. Bigger than life and all about owning a room. The children are nondescript—at first—and even Gisla seems to have none of her usual spark as she sits on her throne. All the while, I am wondering when her father died. Or has he? If he was Charlemagne’s grandson (as he stated often when onscreen), that would make him Charles the Bald—but the man had a head of hair, so that’s likely out. It is more likely that the Charles in this show is Charles the Simple, who was a great-great-grandson of Charlemagne. But that would put him, historically, way out of our timeline. However! We’ll go with what we have. Or perhaps had. For we still haven’t seen the man.

Lissa: We’ve discussed before that Rollo never had children with Gisla – if she really existed, that is – and his descendants were from his wife Poppa/Popa. I’d speculated in our podcast [when we were interviewed by the No Ship Network – sl] that Poppa might be a plotline, as in maybe Gisla wasn’t able to have children, like Lagertha, and Rollo’s attention would turn to a woman who could give him heirs. But it seems they decided to make Gisla the mother of Duke Rollo’s progeny. William Longsword, Count of Rouen, was actually an adult when Rollo became a Christian and was baptized alongside him, but ended up being excommunicated later for attacking some holdings of another noble. He has a beautiful tomb in the cathedral in Rouen.

Sandi: Indeed, I do fear that Poppa is not happening in VIKINGS. At least, not in the current rendering of the duke’s family tree. Though, it is possible that the writers might bring in another woman for Rollo at some future point. One never knows!

Lissa: In any case, Floki is stunned to see Rollo’s family, but his shock turns to amusing acceptance when young William sticks his tongue out at him. He gives a little shrug, like “Okay, I can accept that.”

Sandi: I wonder if a younger Floki would have reciprocated? And I also wonder how William, there, is being trained/raised if he does this in the presence of possibly hostile foreigners in the Frankish court. Is no one teaching him how to Royal?

Lissa: Gisla “forgetting how to princess” again.You’re absolutely right – as cute as that scene is, Gisla’s children should be much better-behaved by this age.

Björn asks for safe passage through Rollo’s lands so he can continue his voyage to Rome. He shows Rollo the map, which Rollo takes from him. He sends Björn and his men off to the dungeon.

Björn shouts back at him that there are sixty Viking skips in the harbor and the men on them might get a bit testy if they don’t hear back from Björn soon, but Rollo ignores that. Floki shouts at Björn not to do anything stupid, and Björn retorts that he’s never in his life done anything stupid. To which I reply:

not-even-vikings

Sandi: This is clearly a lesson Björn needs to learn: Never relinquish a treasure to a head of state. He didn’t intend to give it over, of course, but he took his hands off of it, trusting Rollo to keep his hands off of it as well. Björn’s threats mean little as Rollo feels that he knows his own countrymen; even if he doesn’t, anymore.

Lissa: In the woods, Ragnar and his men pause when they hear a female voice singing. They quickly hide themselves behind the trees. A lovely young girl is picking mushrooms and singing a haunting song as she harvests, unaware of the danger only inches away. Ragnar and his men remain very still and silent, and escape her notice. And again, the ghost of Gyda pained my heart as I thought of Ragnar’s traditional gentleness with young women – Yidu notwithstanding.

Sandi: I wondered as to the plot-purpose of this scene. Was it there for character development to show Ragnar’s continued care for the innocent? Was it to show how the men obeyed him even if they weren’t happy with him, thus demonstrating Ragnar’s lasting legacy? Or was it to show the sense of ease of the locals as they allowed a young girl to go off by herself in the forest? We likely will never know.

And Yidu . . . Don’t get me started.

Lissa: When they see a contingent of soldiers on horseback, Ragnar decides it’s time for Ivar and himself to go their separate way. “We can no longer travel with our friends. It can only be you and me.” That night, they slink through the darkness, and slay the other warriors. Ivar kills two himself. One quick-thinking woman tries to offer Ivar her body, but he stabs her.

Sandi: Well, here’s yet another “moment” for me. Killing someone in the heat of battle is one thing, as any warrior will tell you. But the slaughter of the sleeping is a totally different experience. Ivar is still a young man, for all his charming sociopathy, and he’s not (to date, I don’t think?) had a lot of experience with wholesale murder. I wonder if the night will linger in his psyche or if he’ll just move past it.

Lissa: Ragnar and his son bicker good-naturedly as Ragnar hauls Ivar first in a fireman’s carry, then in a piggyback – at one point Ragnar making donkey noises to make Ivar laugh – but he says something very important. “I didn’t come here to go back.” And as we know from the Sagas and the foreshadowing, it’s not his fate to return to Kattegat.

Sandi: It’s easy to miss Ragnar’s stated intent in this scene. It’s delivered as just a part of a conversation. There are smiles and laughter and jokes. Ragnar has, though, spent two episodes saying farewell, so that he says it here as well is not surprising.

Lissa: Speaking of Kattegat, Lagertha is preparing to take it back. We see her walking through a contingent of training warriors on the way to her hall.

Sandi: Yes, the third “journey” in train here, as you mentioned at the outset. Where Ragnar had to bribe people to sail with him, Lagertha has a warband ready for combat. They’re young, enthusiastic, and tough.

Lissa: Much was said on Twitter about her ageless beauty in comparison to the somewhat more battered and grayed Ragnar.

Sandi: Of course, we give all due credit to the beautiful Katheryn Winnick, who is certifiably amazing in real life. Her fictional character’s gene pool is just as awesome, apparently.

lagerthathenaLissa: In the hall, Lagertha is doing her Athena thing again with the owl. She says that only two of Ragnar’s sons are left in Kattegat. Joan Jett asks if she’ll kill them and Lagertha doesn’t answer. Margrethe has arrived with Torvi. Joan Jett learns that Margrethe was “being used” by Ragnar’s sons. Joan Jett asks Margrethe if she hated them. Margrethe says she was afraid that Ivar would kill her. Lagertha says that’s enough questions – she needs to talk to Torvi. She asks Torvi how her son Guthram is. Lagertha, of course, cared for the boy when Torvi’s piece-of-work husband separated them. Torvi says he’s doing great. There was much speculation in our Twitter convo about why Lagertha hadn’t asked about her own grandchildren.

But that’s just a guess. We don’t see them, or any mention of Tovi’s kids with Björn.

Sandi: As soon as we heard Lagertha mention Ragnar’s sons, there was speculation as to what she planned to do with them, as she’s seeking to lead in Kattegat—or at least depose Aslaug. Since they are Ragnar’s sons, I speculated that she wouldn’t kill them; she loves Ragnar, even yet. My guess was she’d use sex on them in some way. Because, well, it clearly is a vulnerability for them, as Margrethe could witness.

Lissa: Burger King Ecbert appears, and he’s seated at a table, listening to Aethelwulf tell him that Ragnar has returned. All they’ve found of him, aside from the floaters on the beach, is a contingent of warriors, slaughtered in the woods for some unknown reason. Aethelwulf refers to Ragnar as a fearsome eternal wolf, sent to ravage the humble lambs of Christendom, but Ecbert is more realistic. He says that he knows Ragnar is just a man. Ecbert isn’t unduly alarmed by Ragnar’s return. He’s got a council meeting on his mind.

Sandi: Ah, Ecbert. Good to see you, too. I wonder if he’s been waiting with that tenterhook feeling for Ragnar to return, since the obliteration of the Wessex settlement. (I am also apparently wondering a lot this episode…)

Lissa: In the woods, Ragnar and his son are having a bit of a lighthearted bicker as they rest.

Sandi: This is very bittersweet, to me. It’s almost as if Ragnar is trying so hard to get all the Good Dad moments in here, at what he has determined will be the last leg of his life’s journey.

Lissa: But Ragnar turns serious after a moment. “I thought your legs were a weakness, and you wouldn’t survive. I was wrong. Your legs have given you a strength, a strength that even your brothers don’t have. You’re like a deaf man whose eyesight is sharper than anyone else’s. You are special, not in spite of your legs, but because of them.” The expressions that crossed Ivar’s face while Ragnar spoke were exquisite, and the camera lingered on him as a gamut of feelings flickered through his eyes. They were the words Ivar had wanted to hear his entire life.

He recovered after a moment, enough to tease his father that it’s the first time he’s ever heard Ragnar admit he was wrong. Ragnar tells him not to get used to it.

Sandi: This is in comparison to Aslaug’s farewell to him, I think. She has always wanted to protect him, shield him. Ragnar wants his son to be strong and has given him—just in his words and deeds over a shortish amount of time—the strength he will need for the rest of his life.

Lissa: In their jail cell, Halfdan and the other Vikings are chewing Björn out for getting them into this mess. They seem mostly bored and frustrated by the situation – you know, being imprisoned by a guy who’d slaughtered their kind and might be intending to do the same to them.

Sandi: I really do think that the quality of the raiding parties has gone down since the “old days”. 

Lissa: And it’s all Björn’s fault.

Sandi: I got nothing, here. @smidbeach said it all.

arab-ringLissa: Two guards come and collect Björn and strike off his irons. Halfdan yells after him, “You’d better not let us down, Ironsides!” Björn is taken to meet with Rollo in his hall, where a huge map has been spread over the table. He translates as a scholar explains the significance. The map Björn had was just a scrap of a much larger one which showed the entire Roman empire with its network of roads. To get to Rome, they’ll have to pass by Saracen Spain, currently Muslim territory. We speculated last night that the show might possibly incorporate the Allah ring found in the grave of a Viking woman.

 

over-the-mapSandi: Björn had to be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the world he was shown with the enlarged map, but his poker-face was in full view and he seemed to take it all in stride. You can imagine, though, that his ambitions likely shifted a bit within a heartbeat or two.

Lissa: Rollo and Gisla have a terrible fight about it. Gisla shouts that Rollo is no longer a Viking. He’s a Christian. Gisla says their children are not Vikings. They’re Christian. If she thought they were Vikings, she declares, she would kill them before she killed herself. Which made me want to remind her that’s sort of what happened with Sigurd and Brunhilde. Her daughter ended up stuffed in a harp. Do you want your kid in a harp, Gisla? ‘Cause that’s how your kid ends up stuffed in a harp.

Rollo charges forward and grabs her by the throat. There’s a bit of an Alice Kramden feel to this scene, because Gisla doesn’t even flinch or break eye contact when Rollo does his Viking version of “Wham, boom, straight to the moon!

go-for

Rollo tells her he is a Christian, but when he hears thunder, he still hears the beating of Thor’s hammer.

Gisla says, “Have you … you know … you tried not being a Viking?”

She says that if he goes – whether he lives or dies – it’s the end of their relationship.

Sandi: Gisla has apparently never learned how to Wife or Queen or even Mom. I get that she has standards, but a woman in her position has to watch what she says, for her words have power. They just don’t have enough power to keep Rollo home . . .

Lissa: But go he does. We next see him on the deck of a ship, being tied up by the rest of the crew. He’s taking it with considerable aplomb, I must say.

Sandi: The subtle moments between Björn and Floki got me all tense. What would they do to Christian Uncle Rollo? Well, they pulled a classic. 

Lissa: They tie him, hands and feet, and throw him into the water, but what’s a little keelhauling between friends? They don’t haul him up until he’s almost dead.

Sandi: A punishment/discipline/vengeance that is as old as sailing itself, what we call keelhauling has the advantage of being fairly easy to accomplish, doesn’t require extra equipment, can be done with few accomplices, and—unlike straight-out execution—can be nonfatal. I imagine Rollo learned a lot about his nephew without a word being said. Foremost being: Don’t Touch My Map.

Lissa: Lagertha is giving a dinner for Ubbe and Sigurd. Margrethe is there. Lagertha and Joan Jett tell the boys that Margrethe is in love with both of them and they’re all going to have to work it out amongst themselves who gets to be with her. Or… they could, you know, share.

Sandi: Sex. Yeah. And the young men, being who they are, walk right into the trap she laid for them.

Lissa: We’re next seein’ some lovin’ in the bedchamber, but surprise! It’s all a trick to get them caught with their pants down… literally. The boys are imprisoned safely while Lagertha leads her warriors toward Kattegat. Soldiers march and ships sail – all in her colors.

Lissa: When a woman sees them, she screams and flees into the town. The warriors attack, slaughtering those who fight back.

Sandi: Hey, if Lagertha was going for impact, she won before she ever sent her people in to fight. Psychological warfare in a most effective way. Her warriors are in their prime, by and large, and all of Kattegat’s best are off a-viking.

Lissa: The fighting is intense, especially in close quarters – two shield walls bashing against one another. At Lagertha’s signal, a horn blows and archers appear from their hiding places on the roofs and fire arrows down into the opposing side. After a few minutes of raining death from the skies, Lagertha shouts “Enough!”

Sandi: The question was raised on twitter as to how Lagertha would handle this attack on what had been (and still was in many ways) her own home. More psychological moments for Vikings! As she says here, “These are my people.” It was a harsh time and she had to make a point. A harsh one. But she didn’t wipe out everyone; just enough to get the job done. 

Lissa: In the great hall, Aslaug is preparing. She dons a luxurious furred robe and a pendant headdress, and her eyeliner is on fleek. She unveils a brilliant sword from its wrappings. Some online speculated that the sword was Gram, the one gifted to Aslaug’s gradfather Sigmund by Odin himself, “all decked with gold and gleaming bright.”

But it may simply be King Horik’s sword.

Whatever it is, it seems to be based on the Ulfberht sword. She marches outside to meet Lagertha, sword balanced her palms.An offering, not a threat.

sword-offer

Sandi: The sword of legend, indeed. I think, even if it isn’t an Ulfberht sword, it is certainly purposefully designed to make those who know of it to think of it. An allusion is a powerful communication tool.

Lissa: Ragnar pleads with Ivar to play up his disability as they approach a town. He’s recognized as they get closer to the gates, and archers come to line the wall. Ragnar slowly raises his hands.

Sandi: And we are gifted with lo, another cliffhanger! So we have Ragnar & Son, basically alone in the land they were supposedly going to raid for retribution or reward, approaching an armed town. Grandpa in a trenchcoat, his son dragging himself by his arms. Scary enough to warrant a complement of archers? 

Apparently! Looking forward to next week!

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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


6 replies »

  1. This episode was a mess. Too many non sense scenes, the battle was really guffy, too meny anachronism on this season, the clothes and dressing are gettin more and more incorrect season by season. i prefer the last kingdom right now. The first 3 seasons were great but they must have lost their minds with the Budget or something. i,m wainting for the russian movie Viking,looks really awesome. check the tráiler.

    • Hello, Solidus! This season has been different, to be sure. They got the 20-episode go-ahead and that affected the storytelling, I imagine. Anachronisms happen, sure, but I had to decide a while back to see this less as historical fact and more as an artistic rendering of a theme. I haven’t seen any references to the Russian movie Viking, but I’ll go look for it.

      Thank you for reading!

  2. And yet… Despite your complaints, Solidus… The episode received amazing reviews from

    Entertainment Weekly:

    http://www.ew.com/recap/vikings-season-4-episode-13

    IGN:

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/12/15/vikings-two-journeys-review

    AV Club:

    http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/ragnars-storm-tossed-journey-leads-his-enemys-door-247422

    Cartermatt:

    http://cartermatt.com/217357/vikings-season-4-episode-13-review-bjorn-faces-rollo-ragnar-and-ivar-bond-lagertha-invades/

    And many others.

    Please feel free to join the tiny audience of THE LAST KINGDOM… With block of wood Uhtred the half Viking half Saxon. I find it utterly BBC-boring. There’s like a billion fan made videos of Vikings on Youtube… And the Last Kingdom has like…2. Its a snooze. And its battles are weak sauce.

    I love the complaints about historic accuracy when Hirst is condensing 200 years into 2 generations… And the Sagas feature magic leather tar pants, murderous cows that must be killed and the like. I have read several people state that Hirst “got it wrong” with Ivar– when several historians have looked at the chronicles and the sagas and concluded thusly:

    “He was the oldest son of Ragnar Lodbrok by his second wife, who was reared in great poverty in Norway. Lodbrok took her to Denmark, and on proposing to share a bed with her he was asked to bide awhile to meet her fancies. Disobliging, he paid the forfeit of having a first-born son, Ivar, with cartilages where bones should have been. He could not walk on his legs, and he was carried around on shields or bars. yet his stature was such that he dwarfed all his contemporaries, and his wisdom was such that ‘it is doubtful if anyone has ever been wiser than he.” (Dr. Knut Hatteland)

    The Last Kingdom Vikings if anything, look EXACTLY like Hirst’s Vikings:

    Looks like a total stylistic ripoff to me down to the face tattoos, hipster hairstyles, and guyliner.

    Haters gonna hate, and people claim to “know” based on myth and Saxon chronicles (which suffer from historical bias, whatever).

    I enjoy reading the banter of the shieldgeeks. First time poster, longtime reader.

    • Hello, Cafe Joe!

      Glad you enjoy the banter. 🙂 Lissa Bryan and I enjoy it ourselves.

      I hadn’t seen the reviews for this episode! I think that Ragnar’s journey has been poignant this season and though it will be hard to see him go (Fimmel’s been great!), I look forward to how he manages it.

      I haven’t seen The Last Kingdom, though I believe it’s on Netflix. The costuming does look rather . . . familiar.

      Thank you for reading!

  3. Loved Rollo’s luxurious entrance, too! It’s a Normandy moment–which is why I think Gisla’s dad wasn’t around–must be back in Paris. Looking forward to Bjorn and Rollo’s adventures when they and the “Normans” get to Sicily and beyond.

    • Angelyn, hi! I thought for sure I’d answered you, sorry!

      I am wondering about Gisla’s dad, yeah. Hopefully he IS in Paris and still governing the Franks.

      The trip with Rollo playing Viking should be very interesing. Thank you for reading!