Lissa 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.
[Ahem: Edited for corrections.]
Lissa: Here we are with a new episode! And I apologize in advance for my brevity, but I’ve been off a-viking in the wilds of Florida. I shot about a dozen manatees with my fearsome camera today, and looted many gift shops for t-shirts, and so I am exhausted. I hope our friends will understand.
Sandi: Enjoy Florida! I lived there for seven years and know that January is a great time to visit. My welcomes to all who have popped in from LissaBryan.com. 🙂
Lissa: We started off the episode with Lagertha talking to Joan Jett about the upcoming invasion. There was a gorgeous pan-shot over the roofs of Kattegat, and we saw how large the settlement has become. It’s a proper city now!
Sandi: It really is. I looked up Kattegat last night and inadvertently tweeted a link to THE Kattegat, which is a strait. Oops? Sorry. According to the Vikings Wikia, Kattegat is located on the shores of a fjørd in Southern Norway. (My Vikings are from Balestrand, located on the coast of a fjørd in Western Norway.) The implications I am getting from the show, though, lead to the notion that Ragnar rules over what would have been Denmark (King Horik was King of the Danes), so that’s across what I believe is the Skaggerack Strait from a Norwegian Kattegat. Norway didn’t have a king, as I’ve said here before, until Harald Finehair.
Sorry for the digression. Kattegat is a thriving town in this show. It is well that Lagertha is setting the people to a proper job of fortifying the perimeter.
Lissa: Lagertha tells Joan that the upcoming war is the greatest their people have ever undertaken, and if it fails, the Northmen may never recover from the loss. She suggests to Joan that an appropriate sacrifice must be made. Joan asks what they should sacrifice, and Torvi tells her the proper question should be WHOM.
Sandi: Torvi is not a blind woman; she knows Björn’s been giving Joan Jett rather more attention than appropriate for a man to give his mother’s companion.
After this, Ivar and Ubbe are speaking and Ivar tells Ubbe–just between the two of them–what Ragnar said about Ivar needing to learn about the enemy. Ubbe, not being altogether foolish, doesn’t oppose Ivar at this moment. What I liked most about this scene, though, was how Alex Høgh (Ivar) managed to show Ragnar’s mannerisms as he spoke. Fidgeting, facial quirks, and so on. It was very well done to show how the time Ivar and Ragnar had spent together had “rubbed off” on the younger man. Nice work!
Lissa: Harald Finehair is in the street with his brother when he sees a woman walking toward them. He tells Halfdan that she is the princess he wanted to marry, but she’d told him he wasn’t powerful enough to deserve her hand. It was for her that he desired to become king of all Norway so he would be worthy of taking her to wife. Halfan urges him to go talk to her. But when he meets her in the great hall, the princess tells him she is already married. She’s wed to an earl. Harald, trembling with repressed rage, says he was a king when she refused his suit, and he finds she has married a mere earl? The woman is clearly uncomfortable and it’s obvious she had tried to let him down easily when she refused his proposal. She is terrified when he draws a dagger.
Sandi: Harald clearly didn’t comprehend a “brush-off” when he got one, once upon a time. He was quite frightening in his confrontation. And can we take a moment and check out the princess’s hat? It was very pretty, but not what I can find in “Scandinavian women’s head coverings” for this time period. Most women, even well-born women, wore cloth head-covers at this time. Embroidery would make it elaborate. Perhaps even brooches, or gold chains to ornament the cloth. This type of hat doesn’t really come into play in Scandinavia. In winter.
Lissa: Halfdan later suggests Harald should have slain her for dishonoring him, but Harald says there are two people on earth that he loves: his brother and this princess.
Ubbe spots Hvitserk with Margrethe on the street. He kisses her. When he meets up with Ubbe, Ubbe asks what he was saying to Margrethe. Hvitserk is honest. He tells him that he had told Margrethe that he loved her, but he recognizes that Ubbe has the superior claim.
Sandi: Note: It’s snowing in the scene. Very lightly. It is wintery, which was not the usual time to hie off and invade, raid, or make war. I can only guess that the timing for this is due to the fact that it is warmer in Britain, and it will be more of a surprise to arrive at this point in the year.) Ubbe shares that Ivar thinks he should lead; Hvitserk thinks that’s not an option and the brothers agree to support Björn’s leadership in the coming war.
Lissa: Ubbe and Margrethe marry in an odd ceremony. Their wedding rings are handed to them in a palm filled with blood. After they finish with the vows, there’s a wedding race over an anachronistic obstacle course to see who has to host and serve the wedding feast.
— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) January 19, 2017
While they’re eating – apparently just the brothers and the new bride, not the village – Ubbe says to Hvitserk that he knows how he and Margrethe feel about one another, and so he suggests they share Margrethe. Hvitserk is amenable to the idea but wants to know how Ubbe and his brother can share without jealousy. Ubbe laughs and tells her they’re Vikings. Which makes no sense, to be honest. Vikings were a bit more flexible than Christians when it came to sexuality, and couples could agree to add another party to their bed for a bit of fun, but it wasn’t a common practice for brothers to share a wife.
Sandi: This whole thing was just . . . weird, to be honest. I used that term a lot on twitter last night, I think. First, of course, is that Ubbe freed a slave to marry her. Which did happen, yes, but not for the son of a king. Marriages were not generally for love among the nobility of Scandinavia. Then, there’s the “sharing”. One major reason for marriage for men of rank was to produce heirs. Blood counts, etc. A man had to know/believe that the children his wife bore were his, for legal/social reasons. Sharing, with full consent even, did not do this. And another thing: Margrethe has been sullen, passively compliant overall, and not apparently pleased with her fate, even once she was freed. Yet suddenly she is smiling and coy and all that fun stuff. Does she have something up her sleeve? Is there a nefarious plot happening that will ignite and be resolved in the next two episodes? Or is it just a misplaced direction for the actors involved? I am uneasy. If it’s merely gratuitous polyamory, that cheapens the relationship. So I’m not sure what History Channel is doing with this.
Lissa: Ivar tells his brothers that he feels their father wanted him to lead the invasion. He says that Ragnar brought him along to England so he could see it first-hand and learn its defenses. Realistically, Ivar saw very little of the kingdom, but as Björn later tells his brothers, Ivar has never been battle-tested. He’s never had any victories… or losses, which teach a warrior even more.
Sandi: It is Björn’s manner, here, that feels out of character. His blow-up at home last week, his aggressive assertion of rights already pretty much yielded to him, his nearly dour presence at the wedding… He was disturbed by Ragnar’s death and I think his grief is playing out in these lapses.
Ivar does not oppose Björn, even though Björn insults him. To his face. This is likely a credit to Ivar’s legendary wisdom; he has to acquire it somewhere, yeah? “I didn’t say anything,” he says when challenged. Thus, Ragnar’s sons remain united as they join to seek vengeance for their father.
Lissa: Helga talks to Floki and tells him she intends to bring her Shiny New Kid along with them to attack England. Floki tries to talk her out of it. The girl still isn’t speaking or eating, but Helga insist they’re a family and families do everything together.
Sandi: This makes absolutely no sense. One doesn’t take one’s children—especially one’s out-of-culture and vulnerable daughters—on a campaign. Even if it’s for revenge. I could see Ragnar’s own daughter (sigh, Gyda) warring, but Helga’s adoptive child? No. This makes no sense culturally, but then I think Helga’s slipped a gear as well. Floki actually makes sense to me, here, and it would have been nice if he’d managed to stick to his metaphorical guns and get her to stay home. A Viking woman had a lot of say for herself, but her sphere of strongest influence was in the home, regarding household manners such as finance, servants, children, etc. Wars and such were the man’s purview traditionally.
So what is Helga’s thing, now? I still have no idea and the girl is another head-scratcher regarding the choices History Channel is making for this season.
Lissa: Harald and Halfdan meet up with The Bastard. They ask him if he’s had time to study Kattegat’s defenses, and The Bastard replies that the people of the city are not as safe as they think they are. He gets on a ship and departs, presumably to gather more forces for an attack.
Sandi: Will he do so or is he planning on further betrayal?
Lissa: The sacrifice for good fortune during the great invasion is made, and it’s the young, handsome earl we met last episode. He’s ready to meet the gods and his brother tells him he’s envious that the young earl will be dining with Odin that evening.
Sandi: He doesn’t even appear to have been drugged into any kind of passivity. This is a fully intentional sacrifice, here. I wonder where the officiating priest (?) is when he’s not performing such a ritual, though. It’s like we never see him otherwise. Butcher? Baker? Candlestick maker? I have no idea.
Lissa: Lagertha enters with her owl perched on her shoulder. Her hair is a birds’ nest. Not meaning a mess – a literal birds’ nest has been woven in her locks. She pulls out a bizarre scimitar-like sword. As you noted last night, the Vikings weren’t known for their fancy ironwork.
— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) January 19, 2017
Sandi: Wasting such a valuable commodity on unnecessary curves was just not done. Straight lines, hard edges. Swords were rare anyway, so this just . . . didn’t quite work for me here.
Lissa: There was also something in the sky I couldn’t make out. Something floating or hovering that made the assembled crowd gasp when they saw it. Something dark and shiny – a raven perhaps, marking Odin’s favor?
Sandi: That would make sense. I didn’t see anything myself but I trust your eyes.
Lissa: Lagertha impales the young man through the stomach with the blade and he grasps her shoulders to draw her closer and plunge the blade deeper. As this is happening, we cut to scenes of Björn making love to Joan Jett. The crude allusion to being “impaled” was underscored multiple times. Helga covers the eyes of her Shiny New Kid. One wonders how she’s going to manage to block all of the horrors of war from her eyes while they’re avenging Ragnar’s death.
Sandi: The juxtaposition is an old one, tired with overuse. I am (again, still) wondering about Joan Jett’s purpose. As a bodyguard? She’s mediocre. There to stir up dissension between Lagertha and Björn? Hard to say. Lagertha has her eyes on a big, big picture right now.
Will Joan Jett be a catalyst in fulfilling the “death by one of Ragnar’s sons” prophecy given to Lagertha by the Seer? Maybe?
Lissa: Later that night, Lagertha is in bed with Joan and she rolls over, asking her if she enjoyed it, because there’s no point in doing it if it’s not enjoyable. It’s not totally clear what she’s referring to – her relationship with Joan, or a pointed remark about her affair with Björn.
Sandi: Joan Jett makes absolutely no response. Her expression remains impassive and she utters not one word. So . . . as a writer, I have to ask, “What plot or characterization purpose is this scene accomplishing?”
Lissa: Björn goes to the hall to say goodbye to his mother. He hugs Lagertha and she tells him he’s in the gods’ hands. He gives Joan Jett an awkward hug and tells her to take care of Lagertha and that his mother needs her. Then he turns to Torvi, “the mother of my children.” They share a very cool and formal goodbye. She’s the only woman he didn’t hug out of the three present.
Sandi: Lagertha and Björn have a long, close relationship. I think that no matter what her son does, Lagertha will draw upon that relationship to remain close to him. Her farewell is formal-ish, but not stiff or wary. Björn’s relationship with Torvi, though, is clearly on the outs. “There are no ‘ifs’, Björn Ironside. We shall
not see you again.” Either Torvi is having a prophetic moment or she’s telling him, right there in front of Lagertha and Joan Jett, that she is SO over him and she’s taking the children. Reliably informed by @DeeDonuts at @ProjectFandom that Torvi did not say she wouldn’t see Björn again (DeeDonuts has Closed Captioning!). But I still think, with my preoccupation for facial cues, that Torvi was kicking Björn to the curb, even if her words weren’t so conclusive.
It’s almost a proclamation of divorce, except that they were apparently never wed. Why was he not married off to someone in the years of the time-jump?
Lissa: The ships sail for England. Aelle is informed of their arrival while he’s at mass. He scolds the messenger for interrupting him right before he was to receive communion.
Sandi: I like the detail with all the extra folk and their traveling gear. We don’t have just the locals mingling in Kattegat; there are travelers with bedrolls, etc. Good job on the directors and all the assistants to set this up. Details for the win!
And with Aelle, viewers everywhere seemed to enjoy the interrupted mass he was participating in.
“Sacrilege! I was about to receive the body and blood of Christ, our Savior!”
“You’re also about to receive the Great Heathen Army,” he is told.
But Aelle, for all he is not popular, is determined to follow the dictates of his faith and conscience and he finishes the mass before he prepares for war. His expression is one of calm as he does so, indicating a man who is, however strange it may seem, at peace with himself.
Lissa: In Wessex, Judith stands over Ecbert at the dinner table, cutting up his food for him. Aethelwulf tells him that the Great Heathen Army has arrived, and that Ecbert doesn’t seem like himself. He’s indecisive, weak, and distracted when he used to seem so confident and strong. Ecbert tells him he was full of doubts and that the strength was all an illusion. He says that he’s sent Aethelwulf to deal with the invasion, to be a strong leader. Aethelwulf wonders what kind of a father Ecbert has been. He’s made Athelwulf accept a bastard as his son, accept his wife as his father’s lover… He knows Ecbert loved Athelstan (didn’t we all?) and that he loved Ragnar, but he wonders if his father ever loved him, and the old crafty wheels turn in Ecbert’s head.
Sandi: It was a beautiful scene, really. Aethelwulf confronts his father, to his face. It’s as if, all at once, Aethelwulf decides to man up and tackle a multitude of issues. His father’s ambition. His wife’s infidelity. The father-son relationship. Et cetera. Yet even so, Aethelwulf wants his father’s love . . . and we can see Ecbert’s mind hare off as the conversation concludes. Will this season see the end of King Ecbert?
Lissa: Aelle rides out to meet the Great Heathen Army. A bishop rides with him, quoting scripture about warriors as they ride. Aelle laughs at the first sight of the small group assembled of invaders on the opposite hill, but his laughter turns to terror as more and more Vikings appear to join them. “God help us,” the bishop whispers, and Aelle says he doesn’t think God can. With an excited roar, the Vikings charge.
Sandi: And there’s a huge number of warriors in the Great Army. They’ve likely sailed four to five days to get to Aelle in Northumbria. It’s cold, but there’s no snow in Britain at this juncture, just clear skies and the weather wouldn’t be daunting to the Northmen. They’re totally ready to fight.
Which is great. Except for us, the viewers. There is a lot of cinematic posturing. Weapons. Roaring. Dismayed Britons. Ivar and his chariot get a few seconds of screen time and then…
Lissa: Without any of the battle scenes we’d been waiting ALL EPISODE FOR (clears throat) we cut to the aftermath of what was apparently a huge Viking victory.
Sandi: And this is, odd as it may seem, where I realized that I didn’t know what the title for this episode was. It’s “Revenge”. Not “War”. This is all about revenge, which is why the battle was not shown. (Though I will say that with all the build up to it? It did feel a bit odd to not see The Great [Heathen] Army actually clash with Aelle’s.)
Lissa: Aelle is being dragged down the road behind Ivar’s war chariot. Björn demands they be taken to where Ragnar was killed. Here was a lovely historical touch as we heard Saxon English from the pleading Aelle, and Norse from the Vikings. Aelle shows them the snake pit, and they drag the doors back to peer into it, empty and cold in the rain. Floki bends down to speak to the terrified king. He says, “I’m told your god was a carpenter. So am I.”
— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) January 19, 2017
Sandi: And here, we have “Revenge” as promised.
Lissa: We next see Floki nailing Aelle face-down to a log, driving spikes through the king’s wrists in a gross parody of the crucifixion. Björn walks up behind Aelle with a red-hot iron blade. We see him slice open Aelle’s back and hack at his ribs with an ax while Aelle screams in agony. As we feared, there was no artistry in this. No respect given or gained. It was brutal and ugly. Blood and gore spatter the faces of Ragnar’s sons. Ubbe smiles slightly and Ivar drags himself forward, his face slack with a sort of ecstatic trance. They hang Aelle from a tree, his skin and bones spread out like wings at his sides.
Sandi: It was just . . . awful. The treatment Jarl Borg received when Ragnar performed the blood eagle was miles above. There had been respect and honor shown on both sides. Here, there’s nothing. Dissimilar cultures. No regard for anything other than the exacting of as much pain as possible, here. The atmosphere is dark, thick, quiet. Heavy with pain and bloodlust, really. Aelle’s screams seem to echo to the other main characters not present: Lagertha and Ecbert both “hear” him—or the sounds of their own thoughts—as Aelle is killed. And as much as I can’t bear to watch torture, I have to give credit to the cinematographers again; this was done and well done for the purpose and atmosphere. Violent? Yes. But it was meant to be. The Vikings often had brutal practices. Cathartic? I think it was. Björn’s blood-spattered face seemed to indicate it, anyway.
So what is next for Vikings? How will the season end within the next two episodes? Revenge has been handled, but what of the loose ends? Did Helga’s daughter, Tanaruz, see the blood eagle happen? What will be next for Lagertha? How will Harald Finehair make Norway his own? I think a lot happened this week that was gratuitous in one way or another and I hope that next week I’ll be proven wrong.
“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”
“These chicks are machines!”– Steve No Ship Network