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.
Lissa: Heillr! I’m still on my long raid through the South, currently invading Bourbon Street in New Orleans for jazz and beignets, so our recap will again be a little more brief than usual. We’ll be back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming next week.
Sandi: Which is actually quite timely of you. I’m glad you’ll be home in time for the Season Finale! And your pics of the beignets would have made any Viking raid The Big Easy.
Lissa: In Kattegat, Torvi sees a group of men coming into town and her suspicions are immediately raised. She asks one of the local merchants and learns that these “traders” haven’t shown interest in buying or selling any goods. As she’s watching them, they signal for an attack. The Kattegat warriors take them down quickly, but they realize it’s the precursor to a bigger attack on the city. This raid was just intended to test their defenses.
Sandi: First, the local merchant (in screen time) hadn’t had more than a minute or five to observe the “traders” so that struck me as weird. I get the paranoia, but you’d think someone would give a group of newcomers at least an hour or so (in however they determine such) before going all suspicious.
Anyway . . . So it was a test of the defenses and we saw that the defenses were not foolproof. Okay. But what I want to know is if Lagertha had her people work on defending the fortifications or if they relied upon them to do the “heavy lifting”, as it were. The scene was chaotic and unprepared.
Lissa: The bishop who was with Aelle in the last episode is brought into Ecbert’s hall. He’s badly wounded, on the verge of death. Aethelwulf quickly tries to pump him for information. He asks if it was the sons of Ragnar, but doesn’t get an answer. He demands to know how many warriors there are in the Great Heathen Army (hereafter abbreviated as GHA). The bishop chokes out, “How many blades of grass are there in a field?” Aethelwulf tries to clarify. Does he mean hundreds? Thousands? But the bishop dies before he can say any more. “Damn you!” Aethelwulf shouts, then hastily corrects himself, realizing a man of God has just died in his presence. “May he rest in peace.”
— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) January 26, 2017
Sandi: That got a chuckle from the viewers, to be sure. It shows, though, the growth of the character and I send kudos to Moe Dunford for how he’s portrayed Aethelwulf.
Lissa: Young Alfred tells Aethelwulf that he wants to go fight, and Aethelwulf says there’s no way he will risk him. As we discussed last night, a boy of Alfred’s age and status would already have years of martial training. Young men who weren’t athletic by nature (like Prince Arthur Tudor) would be encouraged in archery. Princes would be training with sword, riding, and military tactics. (Studying Caesar was always a favorite.)
Sandi: Aethelred, Aethelwulf’s son by Judith, was a bit older than Alfred and he had likely had less Caesar and more swordplay in his education. I concur with Aethelwulf’s decision not to allow them to fight, but one can see that both young men will be fighting against that a bit more in a few years, should the show continue.
Lissa: Ecbert talks with Judith and tells her she needs to resume her place as Aethelwulf’s wife. He needs her keen mind working alongside him. Judith asks how Ecbert would take it if she declined his suggestion, and he says he would reframe it as a command from her king.
Sandi: This was interesting. We’ve seen how Judith’s relationship with Ecbert has evolved over the years. She genuinely cares for him but she will also bow to his will as her king, where she wouldn’t bow to her parents’.
Lissa: She goes to see Aethelwulf and finds him tucking Alfred into bed. Aethelwulf tells him that he compares favorably with his father. Alfred says that Aethelwulf is his father, and Aethelwulf smiles. He says to the boy that he surely knows by now that he was fathered by a man named Athelstan, a holy, wonderful man. The scene is full of warmth – there is not a hint of resentment in Aethelwulf’s voice. He is obviously deeply fond of Alfred, and wants him to think highly of his real father. It’s a mark of Aethelwulf’s maturity and grace. His character has experienced real growth over the seasons as he’s gone from the petulant, priggish prince he was when we met him.
Sandi: I loved this scene so much. As you say, another indicator of Aethelwulf’s growth and determination to do right by Alfred. Judith sees it all and is moved as well. Does this contribute to her apparent capitulation to Ecbert’s wish for her to “return” to her husband?
Lissa: Judith has a fond goodbye with Aethelwulf as he departs the next day, stroking his cheek and telling him he must “live, live, LIVE.” Aethelwulf chuckles and says he’s going to try. When the Saxon troops see Athelwulf joining their ranks, they stand and cheer him.
Sandi: It might not have been the warmest of farewells, but it is clear she was sincerely trying and Aethelwulf seemed to take it as such, without scorn. His leavetaking from his father was unusual. Ecbert was all “it’s a time for hate!” and that visibly disturbed Aethelwulf. He didn’t seem to shake it off until he was mounted and riding away.
Lissa: The Viking fleet advances up the river. Björn stands at the prowl with a “mad face” expression we all remarked on. The Saxon people flee and scream as they see the invaders. The Ragnarssons are a bit peeved by it. Ivar snarks that the people and their god flee before the power of the Vikings. But he can’t resist needling his brothers. He has suggestions, however, in between the jabs. Suggestions that make sense. He wants to use the terrain against the Saxons, to spread their lines out and attack from multiple fronts. Björn is a little testy to have his command challenged like this, but it turns out later that he took some of Ivar’s advice.
Sandi: The Viking longships were amazing in that they could successfully manage the open ocean as well as being shallow enough in draft to sail inland via the natural rivers of the many nations that they invaded. Such incursions surprised those whom they raided, at first. They’d thought fortifications were needed on the coast, but surely not inland! They learned quickly. The Vikings’ ability to make quick and accurate maps helped considerably as they raided and then settled all over Europe.
Regarding the battle advice: I maintain that everyone was right to doubt Ivar’s tactical sense. Dealing with a large army, a leader wouldn’t want to surprise them with a brand-new tactic from an untried warrior. And for all of Ivar’s apparently good instincts, he does not have Björn’s blood-won experience. The show is here invested in promoting Ivar as a conquering warrior, though, so things went as he said they would and he is shown to be brilliant in the field.
Lissa: Helga runs into the tent screaming, and Floki jumps up, knife held at the ready for battle. But that’s not why Helga is so upset – the Shiny New Kid has run away. At first, Floki gives a bit of a shrug. Perhaps it’s for the best. But Helga is so upset by the loss that he has to go looking for the girl. He finds her quite easily by the river when he sees her cloak floating in the current. She’s crouched behind a log. Floki sighs and crouches down to talk to her. The girl looks around for an escape but knows she’s caught. Floki says, “I know you hate us. I don’t know what to do about that.”
Sandi: I am thinking that Floki has come to see Tanaruz as a connection to the “new religion” he discovered while on the Spanish raid. This makes him, I think, more determined to see to her wellbeing rather than just pretend he didn’t see her. He could have. It is clear that Tanaruz made a deliberate effort to make it appear that she had drowned; she’s not stupid for all her silence. He handles her extremely well, here.
Lissa: Something in his tone – or perhaps in the words she’s learned of their language – seems to get through to her, and the Shiny New Kid is led back to the camp by him. When Helga runs out of the tent weeping in joy that her “baby” has been returned, the girl cringes away from her effusive embrace.
Sandi: Oh, I hated to see her cringe. She looked more confident with Floki, safe, comfortable. Upon seeing Helga, she drew back and her glance over her shoulder at Floki seemed to ask for him to rescue her. Now, I am confident Helga is not intentionally doing anything wrong, but she is not being wise in her dealings with her captive daughter. Tanaruz’s purpose, though, might be coming more clear. Maybe.
Lissa: In Kattegat, Lagertha is musing over a model of the city’s fortifications when they hear a horn, warning them of attack. It’s obviously what Lagertha has been expecting, because she says something along the lines of “They’re here.” She and Joan Jett run outside to help with the defense of the city. The battle is brutal and bloody – and very entertaining to watch. We felt “cheated” of a battle scene last episode. Hirst paid us back in spades.
Sandi: Watching Lagertha play with her blocks was kind of adorable. Did you see her face? She looked like she was about five. But adulthood returned with a vengeance when it was time to do battle. Still not convinced she had trained her people well in working with and around the fortifications, though.
Lissa: As you noted last night, Joan Jett showed some serious weaknesses as a warrior. Agile and quick she may be, but her shield game needs work. She left her body unprotected at several crucial points, and it was by sheer luck (or a thick coating plot armor) that she wasn’t stricken down.
— Sandi Layne (@sandyquill) January 26, 2017
Sandi: Much of what I saw in this battle was sloppy. I am thinking that this is due to the fact that Lagertha has her warriors and her tradesmen, and here, many of the latter were fighting in defense of their home. They just didn’t have the same practiced economy of movement we see in the more formal battles on this show.
Lissa: Lagertha directs the battle from atop a bridge, deflecting arrows with her shield. But she looks back over her shoulder and sees that another contingent of attackers, led by Egil the Bastard, has attacked the Great Hall. She shouts to Joan Jett to come with her, and tells Torvi to hold the wall.
Sandi: It is clear that these two women are her right and left arms, respectively. She trusts them and likely spends a lot of time with them, discussing her plans and strategies, so that they don’t require detailed instructions at such a circumstance as an invasion.
— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) January 26, 2017
Lissa: There was a really neat fire-trap effect. Lagertha had apparently laid down a flammable liquid on the path between two buildings prior to the attack. She lights it as the invaders charge toward the hall and the men are enveloped in flames, then easily picked off by arrows. The Bastard sees that his group has been defeated and seems to have a moment where he makes the decision to charge anyway, and perhaps go out in a blaze of glory and get his ticket to Valhalla. He gets a pike driven through his chest. He falls, wounded but not dead. Lagertha presses him down into the mud with her boot and orders he be kept alive.
Sandi: It was messy, but I understood it entirely. At this point, the battle is over and there is only the aftermath to see to, including the treatment of the dead and wounded, and the interrogation of the captive.
Lissa: We see at the end of the scene that Torvi has been wounded – severely. She was blinking when the scene ended, so she’s not dead, but it looked bad on the Björn homefront. What will happen to the Björnsons and Björndotters if she dies? (There was a collective rejoicing last night that Aslaug’s Daycare Center is permanently closed. *Pours a mead on the ground for poor little Siggy*)
Sandi: The “wounded in the shoulder/arm/side” thing is rather a recurring theme in many shows/movies that involve open warfare. It is serious, and death can happen, but such a wound is also survivable. I hope that Torvi does survive, and I’m sure the kids would also appreciate it!
I still haven’t forgiven the writers for abandoning Siglet.
Lissa: In Harald Finehair’s camp, he sits and talks with his brother. Their attack has failed, but Harald’s attention seems more focused on the Manic Pixie Dream Princess who turned him down and married a man who was his inferior in rank. The princess’s husband chats with her and her face is alight with love and happiness. Finehair grumbles that Halfdan was right – he shoulda killed her.
Sandi: There was a lot of talk about love and such and that made me roll my eyes. Again. I know I have a lot of issues with it, and this is television, but a king did not consider love in his marital relationship in this time. It would be seen as weak and the gods would not favor men who were led by their emotions over their good sense.
Lissa: He goes over to talk to the princess and her husband. He says he’s “forgiven” her. The princess’s husband acts like the apology is actually a valid thing. “Oh gosh, we’re really glad you’ve ‘forgiven’ her for having agency over her own life and all.” But guess what? Finehair’s forgiveness doesn’t extend to the husband. He chops him in the forehead with an ax. As the princess screams over the body of her dead husband, Finehair murmurs an apology and walks away.
Sandi: Surprised? No. Not for a moment. Harald will one day be king of Norway, yes, but he allows his personal life to overtake him in really weird ways in this show. [Forgive me, everyone. If you’ve been reading us for a while, you know I have issues.] One can only hope he’ll get over it once all the, er, stimulations to his strange obsession have been handled. And they will be. Whew.
Lissa: The Ragnarssons are leading their troops down the road, all of them dressed to the nines. (Björn was at one point wearing a cape covered with fox pelts, their tails dangling down to drag in the mud.) You mentioned last night that you wanted to talk about the decorative braiding on the leather armor. The Vikings were just like us – they liked to have stylish and pretty things, but decorative battle armor probably wasn’t as much of a “thing” as this show makes it out to be. After all, the purpose of armor is to protect the body, and some of the decorative touches we’ve seen would actually be a bit detrimental to that purpose, as well as collecting mud/blood and all manner of grossness that doesn’t clean well out of braided leather.
Sandi: The thing is, leather is a special commodity, requiring the death of a lot of animals to get just right. Also, leather is easily corroded by salt water, so a sea-faring folk would not have relied upon it so much. The Northmen, the common sort who would make up the bulk of any fighting force, would have worn layers and layers of woven garments to protect themselves. In a later century, leather and chain mail were a bit more common than they would have been in the 9th Century, but not at this point in the Vikings’ collective history.
All of it does make pretty pictures for the show, though.
Lissa: Riding in his chariot, Ivar tells Björn again about his ideas. He says his father wanted him to pay attention to the terrain for a reason. They can use it tactically.
Sandi: A good battle chief knows how to do this. It is all fine and well that Ivar is being framed in that role, here, for future reference. I still think that, realistically, such a frame is a presumption at this juncture.
Lissa: Manic Pixie Dream Princess goes to Finehair’s tent and says she wants to talk to him… in private. They go inside a building and she tells him she’s so sorry. She was led astray by the advice of others. She should have waited for him because he was the one she always wanted. They kiss passionately and fall into a bed together. Princess is on top. As things are progressing, she reaches behind her back and draws a knife. Just as she’s raising it, she’s sliced from behind by a blade – Halfdan is wielding it. He tells his brother that perhaps he knows women a bit better than Finehair did. Finehair curses as he sits up. Was he more upset about her drawing a knife on him, his brother killing her, or the fact that he didn’t get the thing he’s wanted for so many years?
Sandi: Oh yeah. We could see this coming, right? I personally think that Harald was most upset because his ideal was destroyed. His Dream Princess Barbie was conniving, and didn’t even have the wisdom to delay her revenge as a good Viking should, according to the proverbs that existed at that time. She didn’t love him. Was never going to love him. And he fell for her sudden sexual invitation with barely a thought. He felt foolish, I think, and that fueled anger as much as anything else did.
Lissa: In the Kattegat Great Hall, Lagertha is cooking Roasted Bastard. She has Egil bound to a spit, rotating over hot coals. He’s taking the torture with fortitude until Lagertha has his wife brought in. She’s a bit battered, but otherwise seems unharmed. Lagertha demands to know who paid for the ships and equipment to attack Kattegat. She says she will let The Bastard and his wife live if he tells her. If not… She tortures him with a red-hot iron. He screams but keeps his secrets. His wife pleads with him, and he finally surrenders. He says he’s doing it only for her because he knows he’s going to die anyway. (He’s probably right. He looked like he was pretty … cooked.) He tells Lagertha that it was Harald Finehair and the assembled people in the hall gasp.
Sandi: For the viewers, of course, this is no revelation at all. But I can imagine how it must be for Lagertha & Co. Harald’s been around for years, shmoozing and making nice with the family. Being given hospitality. Lending his arm to a battle and his remarks to…well, anyone and everyone. That he had paid to have someone betray them and lead an army against Kattegat—and its leading family—was a huge blow. Lagertha took it well, though, and on her feet.
Lissa: The Saxon troops meet on the battlefield and march toward the GHA. But as soon as they’re about to engage, the Vikings turn and walk away. They turn and there’s another group behind them. They start toward that battle, only to have those warriors retreat, as well. As they try to follow, Björn’s group begins to fire on them from the trees, raining arrows down on the Saxon soldiers.
Sandi: The headgame is half the battle, sometimes. In this kind of warfare, it is personal. You can see the individuals across a field. You might be able to see faces. Colors of tunics. Types of weapons. The Saxons had to feel superior as they arrived to defend their land. They knew what to expect . . . didn’t they? Turns out, no. Which was highly disconcerting and that disconcertion served as Weapon Number One.
Lissa: Aethelwulf gets off his horse and strides toward the trees with his sword drawn, ready to attack, only to find the Vikings have vanished AGAIN. In frustration, he asks one of his men where the Viking ships are. They’re in the nearby town. Aethelwulf says they’ll go there and torch the ships.
Sandi: For us, in our 21st Century world with more than a millennium of history between us and the era we’re watching, this kind of warfare is familiar. We’ve seen its effectiveness all over the world, from the Picts of Scotland defending against the Romans to present-day battles. Guerrilla warfare is a known factor. An expected strategy. But here, not even. These men expected to fight on open terrain, where they could see and be seen, where their identities were clear and their fields of retreat available. So Aethelwulf’s men were feeling as if they would make a noted difference if they cut off the Vikings’ method of retreat. It had to work, didn’t it?
Lissa: Floki sees the Saxons heading down the road toward the town and says, “They’re going for the boats!” For a moment, it seems like he’s almost panicked, but then he reacts with glee, hugging Ivar and telling him he was right. He’s a mad genius! They both laugh as they watch the Saxons head toward the town, only to be hit from an ambush of archers on the ridge above the road.
Sandi: These two are just adorable. I’m not a huge fan of either character, but they are a force to be reckoned with.
Lissa: It appears that Aethelwulf may have bitten off more than he expected! The Vikings aren’t behaving like an “army,” but instead a huge, sophisticated raiding party. It’s guerrilla warfare in proto-England, and Aethelwulf’s troops are not prepared for it.
It was a great episode in all. Amazing battle scenes, and the plot driven forward. If we were grading this, I would give it top numbers, because I enjoyed it immensely.
Sandi: So did I! All the stuff we tend to enjoy in our Vikings. Fierce warriors, plot, cool battle scenes, fraternal sniping, and Floki being a great foster father and mentor.
Next week, the finale! Will Ecbert survive? Will Aethelwulf? Will we find get our loose ends tied? I can’t wait to find out.
“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”
“These chicks are machines!”– Steve No Ship Network