Changes!

It’s been a bit of a busy time for me, of late!

Rights were released to me for the following: The Éire’s Viking Trilogy, An Unexpected Woman, and Justin’s Second Chance. They all have new covers!

new cover collage with label

They are being offered on several different platforms. More information can be found on my new home: www.sandilayne.com.

I know, it’s a stretch. 😉

The first book of the trilogy is now available as an eBook for only 99 cents, while the others can still be purchased for $4.99. An Unexpected Woman is now only $2.99.

Something that isn’t changing, though, is my commitment to watching, live-tweeting, and posting about History Channel’s awesome show VIKINGS. Lissa Bryan and I will continue to follow, comment, and go all nerdy fangirl as the show moves forward after the death of Ragnar Lo∂brok. The show’s creators have been sharing teasers and the cast has been tweeting about Season SIX! Filming has already started!

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If you’re looking for our posts on this show, do a search here on my site for #VIKINGS here after clicking the menu icon on the top right corner. (As I’ve just reworked this WordPress site, this might change in the future as I see what might work better for the purpose; please be patient with me.)

I can still be found on Twitter at @sandyquill and on Tumblr at sandyquill.tumblr.com.

 

 

I’ll be live!

Cate & Friends Sandi LayneThis is one of those things that makes me super nervous, but I am going to be LIVE tomorrow night.

Past my bedtime and everything!

Questions forwarded to me (thank you, Cate!) include which characters were the first I killed in one of my books . . . fun stuff, no? And just how did I get into writing anyway? Because you know? I never planned on doing this . . .

True story!

Check out the info in the graphic above and consider yourself invited. Cate will be moderating audience participation, too, which is very kind of her. And optimistic!

 

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: The Reckoning (S4 E20)

 

VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

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

lissabryan-authpicLissa 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.

(¯`•ღ•´¯)


Lissa: Hard to believe it’s the season finale already. This has been an action-packed season, with some pretty significant plot developments, and we’ve said goodbye to some important characters.

Sandi: I have a list of dead people that I saw in this episode. Named characters, I mean. I’ll add it to the end of this post. This has been a great second half of a season. So many were unhappy at the end of the first half of Season Four, but this half has really been very true to form, even if we aren’t always thrilled with the directions Michael Hirst and History Channel have gone.

Lissa: This episode begins with a frail Ecbert rocking in his throne, obviously in great distress. I think the implication was that he somehow knew the battle was going poorly.  We cut to the battle between Aethelwulf’s forces and the Great Heathen Army, right where we left off. The Vikings have ambushed Aethelwulf’s troops and after the bowmen pick off a large number of them from their position high on the ridge, the rest of the Vikings run in for melee combat. The battle was a feast for geeky eyes: muddy, chaotic, and brutal. The History Channel excels in this regard, because I think it’s pretty similar to how battle would have been for warriors of that era. Filthy, exhausting, a confusing, frantic tumult with the clash of steel and the screams of the dying piercing the chilly air…

Sandi: Ecbert’s frailty has been more evident with every episode in this half of the season. It’s as if he’s aged years in the course of these months. I don’t know exactly how long it’s been, story-wise, but it hasn’t been as long as his face and beard make it out to have been.

And, yeah. I really like how History Channel hosts a war. Even the clumsy fighting in Kattegat last week is indicative of how they understand the choreography necessary to make it work and work well.

Lissa: It’s obvious the Vikings have the upper hand. Aethelwulf, lying in the mud, looks up wearily to see one of his soldiers cut down by a Viking shieldmaiden. Aethelwulf frantically shouts for a retreat.

Sandi: A retreat is not a bad thing for a battle commander to order, by the way. Some people think it’s an indicator of cowardice, but Aethelwulf has proven himself already and his men clearly trust him. If he says to scoot, they scoot, and no one thinks ill of him as a result. After all, he’s saving lives. Some, anyway.

Lissa: He reaches the palace and orders an evacuation, but Ecbert refuses to go. He says staying behind is God’s will, and his own.

Sandi: Part of me sees this as part of the penance that Ecbert is planning for himself. As if by one great act of expiation, he can atone for all that he has done in his life.

Lissa: Aethelwulf is aghast. He can’t leave Ecbert, the King of Wessex, behind to die. Ecbert calmly tells Aethelwulf he’s going to abdicate. They both kneel before an altar and a bishop performs a brief ceremony, asking if Ecbert [long string of titles] intends to surrender the crown. It’s the crown, @smidbeach reminded us, that Ecbert took from the tomb of the kings and queens of Mercia when Wigstan abdicated. The crown and scepter are passed to Aethelwulf.

Sandi: It’s not Aethelwulf’s fault the crown looks a lot like the one on the Burger King fellow in the commercials!

But seriously, here we see Ecbert doing this noble thing and giving his crown to his son. Still, would you expect Ecbert to ever do the right thing when he gained nothing from it? Right.

Lissa: That finished, Ecbert tells his son, “I know I have placed my kingdom in the safest hands. You go now, save yourself and your family.” The phrase your family” wasn’t lost on me. Judith and Alfred aren’t really Aethelwulf’s – they’ve been Ecbert’s, and Aethelwulf has always revolved on the periphery, like a distant planet that eventually gets downgraded as being just one of the objects in the Kuiper Belt. But Ecbert hasn’t just handed over his kingdom. He’s handed over Judith and Alfred, the two people he cherished more than his own son. He tells Aethelwulf to gather his strength and come back to reclaim what is his one day.

Sandi: Thing is, even though these are the Last Words from a father to his son, I still don’t see them as sincere. The most sincere things he says are what he says to Alfred—Athelstan’s son. Because it is with the young man that Ecbert’s hope truly lie. He wants his name and influence to live on and Aethelwulf is not the man in whom Ecbert sees that happening.

Lissa: The palace is evacuated and the royal family climbs into a carriage. Ecbert gives his son a kiss. He leans into the carriage and gives some hurried words of wisdom to Alfred about a Christian king’s greatest virtue being humility.

Sandi: His words were hurried, reminding me of Bilbo Baggins giving Frodo advice before he set out to destroy The One Ring. Or of Polonius in Hamlet, giving his son Laertes the benefit of his wisdom. (And though we mock Polonius’s manner on occasion, he’s been an oft-quoted character through the centuries.)

Lissa: Judith thanks Ecbert for loving her, which struck me as a bit odd – and I wasn’t the only one.

Sandi: It really began poorly, yeah. But Judith was not blameless, either, so I guess she kind of came to a sense of balance in herself.

Lissa: But I imagine over the ten-plus years of their affair, Judith came to see it as the best thing that ever happened to her in terms of personal freedom. Her husband has evolved from the prim, priggish fellow he was when they first married, but it’s true that Judith was able to do much more in her life as Ecbert’s mistress than she ever would have as Aethelwulf’s wife.

Sandi: Very true. She had stepped from the confines her world and that freed her, even if she wasn’t seen as “proper” any longer. This does not mean I advocate for adultery by any means, but it does show how some bravery and brass can help propel a person into different spheres of influence.

Lissa: After the family and troops leave, Ecbert embraces the bishop who remained at his side. The men retreat back to the throne room where they sit in silence and drink. All of us had the reaction that Ecbert was wishing it was Ragnar sitting there, sipping his wine.

Sandi: It was interesting that the scene was silent, essentially. There was nothing here that could be said. One presumes the bishop at Ecbert’s side knows all his flaws so there is no coy conversation, no exploration of thought. Just two men who are facing the end of their lives. A silent drink is appropriate.

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Lissa: The Vikings arrive at the city and are at first wary to find no one there to defend it. After they confirm it’s empty, they run inside to pillage, cheering. In the crowd. Helga is tugging her Shiny New Kid along behind her as she runs to keep up.

Sandi: And we were sitting there, wondering how on earth Helga and Tanaruz (aka Shiny New Kid) had managed to get there. And we were still wondering why. There is a desperation to both of their faces, and one can’t blame them.

Lissa: Floki – may God have mercy on his soul because I cannot – finds Ecbert’s treasured library that Athelstan was translating and copying, and he… I’m having trouble typing it… He torches the scrolls.

Sandi: This was a wanton act of destruction, made for spite, because Floki knew what the scrolls were. He knew and despised Athelstan, but he wasn’t ignorant of the man’s work or anything. Floki was just abolishing something he wanted obliterated, though it posed no threat. Neither would it bring profit. And since he burned it then, it wasn’t even going to be useful as a fire-starter in the future. Just . . . a waste, really.

Lissa: I hated this scene. Hated it because I knew it was true to history. So much knowledge and learning was lost down through the centuries when libraries were encountered by cultures who didn’t appreciate the scholarship of those they’d conquered.

Sandi: And, our readers can ascertain, this kind of thing is a big deal to Lissa and me. The rampant destruction of such work just gets to us. Alas, it happened and cannot be undone!

Lissa: Helga leads the New Kid down a hallway in the palace while the fires rage and the murderin’ is still going on. A flaming beam falls in their path and the girl screams. Helga kneels to assure her that she’s safe and loved. The girl grabs Helga’s knife. She stabs Helga before turning the blade on herself, driving it into her own heart. The kid dies instantly, but Helga is still clinging to life when Floki finds her. She tells him he’s special, unique, and the world isn’t large enough for him. He pleads with her, but she goes limp in his arms.

Sandi: This was an entirely unexpected death. All of us went into this finale with, I suspect, a private Death List we expected to check off. (One of those, I will say, I didn’t check off, which surprised me.) At no point was Helga on my private list. (Cannot say the same about Shiny New Kid Tanaruz, however.)

Lissa: This was a terrible moment. When Helga was first injured, I was wryly joking about Helga needing to fnd herself a new kid, thinking she wasn’t seriously hurt because of the lack of visible blood. But by the time Floki found her, I realized that this might be the end of Helga’s story. It made me sorrowful, not only because I liked her so much – both her character and the skillful Maude Hirst who portrayed her – but because I felt it was an unworthy way for Helga to go. Helga was essentially felled by her ovaries — her unhinged (and abruptly introduced) longing for a child led her to kidnap a deeply traumatized girl from her homeland, like a tourist scooping up an exotic animal they have no idea how to care for.

Sandi: It really was a terrible way for Helga to go. Her devotion to Floki, to all that he is and all that he’s done (save for the murder of Athelstan), has been a hallmark of her character. If she had died for him, it would have been fitting, in my opinion. Or even dying for Ragnar or Björn. A sacrifice of herself for someone she loved/honored. But murdered by a child whom she had kidnapped and held captive? I don’t know. It just . . . sits poorly with me.

Though I will say that Vikings did have captives and those captives certainly plotted to kill their “owners”, I’m sure. At least, mine did! So, is this death a tribute to all those captives the Northmen acquired, perhaps? I rather think not, but one can wonder.

Lissa: We had previously speculated that the Shiny New Kid might introduce Floki to the Islamic faith, about which he’d shown curiosity and given a measure of respect. They seemed to be on their way to building a small rapport in the last episode. But the storyline was not destined to be so complex. Tanaruz was just the means to Helga’s death.

Sandi: This makes me wonder if Floki’s fascination with the Islamic faith will appear again in this show or if that, too, is abandoned like the light in the man’s eyes?

vikings-s4e20-floki-dead-helga

Lissa: Floki gives his beloved wife a lovely burial, laying her out on fine furs before surrounding her with beautiful grave goods. He lays a necklace on her chest and puts a stone in the hollow of her throat.

Sandi: This is a lovely example of the traditional burial. Such sites have been found in Great Britain, so it’s great that History Channel included one here.

Lissa: Later, Björn comes upon him and tells him he’s sorry about Helga’s death. He’d known her since he was a child. Floki says he’s dead, too. The first part of him died with Angrboða. The second part with Ragnar, and now Helga’s death has taken the last. He is an empty vessel that the gods may do with as they may. He will drift upon the current, rudderless, drawn by their winds. He tells Björn to take care of himself, rises to his feet and heads down the hallway. His silhouette fades away into the light, as Ragnar’s did when Ecbert said goodbye.

Sandi: I really want to hope that Floki will return to himself after a period of deep mourning.

floki-tweet-s4-e20

Lissa: As the fire nears the throne room, Ecbert decides he’s had enough. He leaves and heads out into the courtyard where Björn and the other Ragnarssons are watching the carnage. Björn recognizes Ecbert and stops anyone from harming him. The bishop doesn’t fare so well. He’s slain while he’s asking the Lord to forgive the Vikings because they know not what they do.

Sandi: Ecbert’s appearance must have surprised Björn a bit; he’s a far cry from the man he used to be. And he looks like he’s wearing a nightshirt or something. The bishop does not try to save himself, it seems. He and Ecbert had both accepted their fates and that was all he wrote.

Lissa: The brothers confer together while Ecbert hangs in a cage above. They’re not sure what to do with him. Ivar wants to give him the Aelle treatment. Björn says there are bigger political issues at play. Ubbe isn’t sure of the wisdom of killing Ecbert, either. He still wants to realize Ragnar’s dreams of a settlement, and Ecbert might be the key to that, though Hvitserk protests that Ragnar never ransomed a leader.

Sandi: The points of view expressed here are all valid, which is good. No one is completely off script; it’s just that making this a cohesive venture is looking less and less likely all the time. May I say, here, that having Ecbert in the dreadful cage is perfect, from my standpoint? I thought it apt for the circumstance and I believe Ecbert did himself.

Lissa: In his cage, Ecbert interjects and says he was able to understand most of their conversation, because he speaks a bit of their language.

Sandi: Awfully convenient, eh? No, I get it, because there’s no interpreter and I rather doubt any of Ragnar’s sons have taken the time to become fluent in Anglo-Saxon.

Lissa: He has an offer for them. He will give them legal title to lands they can settle. He leaves out the little fact that he’s no longer King of Wessex. In fact, he brags he is the “king of kings” and no one could question their title. They ask him what he wants in return, but Ecbert won’t tell them unless they agree. Once Björn decides to accept, Ecbert says he wants to choose the method of his death.

Sandi: And wow, didn’t our band of #ShieldGeeks go off on that! “Wait, wait! He’s not a king anymore!”

Lissa: Ecbert presents them with the document and pressed his seal to it.

Sandi: So, Ecbert the Crafty had one final trick up his sleeve. Historically, Ecbert was apparently obsessed with keeping the lands of the king in the hands of the king. He didn’t distribute his lands the way others in other places did. He kept it all together. It is entirely in keeping with that historical rendition that Ecbert first gives the kingship to Aethelwulf then pretends to give lands to the Northmen.

Lissa: I was hoping that the tale of the sheepskin (or ox hide, depending on the version of the tale) would be introduced, because it’s one of those charming little asides in the Sagas, but it seems that isn’t going to be introduced.

Sandi: That would have just taken more time that they could use to, you know, kill people, right? *sigh* Really, I have to hand it to History Channel for covering what they do in this show. Sometimes even to excess. [I’m just the girl who loves the really long A&E version of Pride and Prejudice because so much of the book is captured therein.]

Lissa: Ecbert is given his final wish. He goes into the hot spring baths with Björn who silently offers him a choice between two blades. Ecbert chooses the smaller of the two. Björn nods and leaves the room. Ecbert disrobes and climbs into the bath. Like Ragnar, he experiences echoes of the past. Ragnar, Lagertha, Judith… He then lowers his arm into the hot water and slices open his veins with the blade. And so passes another “father” of this series. Wily Ecbert who always had layers of intrigues and manipulations, possibly so many that he got lost in his own webs.

Sandi: Björn was so merciful, here. So many things that could have happened to Ecbert, but he goes out in a manner of his own choosing, without even an audience to make sure he’s actually dying. Trust? Foolishness? I don’t know. But it was nice for us to get to hear Ecbert’s Greatest Hits in his memories, even if we didn’t get to see them as we did Ragnar’s. A nice echo back to Ragnar as the episode and season was wrapping up.

Lissa: The Ragnarssons are outside in the burned-out courtyard, enjoying a feast. They’re celebrating the fact that they now have farmland and can bring new settlers. Björn announces that now Ragnar has been avenged, his destiny leads him elsewhere. He wants to go back to the Mediterranean.

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Sandi: This is actually a great way to wrap up the season. We get a victory party, the sons declaring their future intentions (for when/if we have a time jump before Season Five), and a summation of their goals and aspirations . . . and loyalties.

Lissa: Halfdan surprises his brother by electing to join Björn. Ivar wants to continue their push through proto-England.  There’s no one who can stand up against them. They will do it for the glory of battle and Odin All-Father.

Sandi: This must have been a surprise to Harald Finehair. He’s got Norway in his sights and his brother has been his right arm for as long as we’ve known them. If Halfdan is wanting to split, what does that mean for his support of Harald’s kingship. Historically, Harald does become king, so . . . what is this going to do to the Die-Namic Duo? (Sorry. It was just there.)

Lissa: Sigurd wants to fight onward, too, but he doesn’t want to follow Ivar as their leader. He snaps Ivar is not even really a man, but a mama’s boy, a snake that crawls on the ground. Ivar retorts that he’s not even sure if Sigurd is Ragnar’s son, given his penchant for music, and (ahem) enjoyment of male company.

Sandi: Yeah, because the whole End-Of-Season Victory Party wouldn’t be complete without fraternal sniping. And hey, the Ragnarssons have given us that in abundance, so it’s almost fun to watch. Bring popcorn.

vikings-s4e20-axe-throwLissa: Sigurd bites back that Aslaug was the only one who ever loved Ivar. Despite Ubbe’s efforts at peacemaking, the quarrel heats up and Ivar grabs an ax, which he hurls at Sigurd’s chest. Sigurd pulls it out and staggers toward his brother, but he doesn’t make it far enough to deliver a return blow. He collapses at Ivar’s feet, apparently dead. I mean, we’ll have to wait until next season to be certain, but he looked pretty-darn-dead to me.

Sandi: I’m sure I wasn’t the only one watching to see if Sigurd blinked. I didn’t see a blink, though. I’m thinking he’s gone. Years ago, Ivar’s first kill was with a thrown axe, so it is not surprising that he does it again. I don’t have the sense that it was something Ivar planned to do—much as he didn’t like his brother, they were brothers and I don’t see fratricide as high on his To-Do List.

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Lissa: This is another departure from history, because Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye married one of Aelle’s daughters. His granddaughter married Halfdan the Black after he kidnapped her from her first kidnapper. (The fate of a blue-blooded woman in that era was never an easy one.) They were the parents of Harald Finehair.

Sandi: Well, of course, Harald Finehair is already with us, so it’s possible that Sigurd was seen as expendable in this particular bit of historical fiction.

And yeah, no. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a woman of noble birth in this era. They were chess pieces and that’s not a fate I’d want for myself.

vikings-s4-e20-jrm-sightingLissa: We next see a priest, conducting burial rites while Saxons look on and weep. It’s our first sighting of Jonathan Rhys Meyer, who has joined the cast.

Sandi: Okay, to be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with this conclusion of the season. A more natural end would have been the fight amongst the brothers and the death of Sigurd. Sad, but organic. Introducing Bishop Heahmund is sensible from an entertainment standpoint, yes (new big name actor! new character! intriguing possibilities!) but it ended the episode off-key, for me.

Lissa: The widow comes up to thank him. She’s wearing an intricate machine-woven black lace veil. Lace, of course, wasn’t invented until the fifteenth century or so, and even then, the English were stuck with needle lace for at least another cent— Ah, never mind. #BootSoleFile

Sandi: …yeah. Her veil reminded me a bit of a Spanish mantilla, without the height of the hair comb. Anyway…

Lissa: Anyway, she thanks the priest for the ceremony and says her husband is in a better place. The priest has his own idea of how to offer her comfort, and we next see the two of them together in bed. Beside the bed is a set of armor and a gleaming sword with something etched into the crossguard.

Sandi: You found it, too!

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ANANYZAPATA
Lissa: From what I found online, it was an early medieval inscription/spell that was supposed to prevent poisoning, an acronym of the words, Antidotum Nazareni Auferat Necem Intoxicationis Sanctificet Alimenta Pocula Trinitas Alma‘ (May the antidote of Jesus avert death by poisioning and the Holy Trinity sanctify my food and drink). It’s found on a 9th Century ring at the British Museum.

Sandi: This is an extremely cool detail from History Channel. Lissa loves finding the smallt truths often hidden, so I imagine, my friend, that you were very happy to find that.

Lissa: So, what’s next for our heathen horde? Will Ivar face any consequences killing his brother? Where is Floki bound, and how will he fare without his beloved Helga? Will Judith and Aethelwulf build a good life together while he seeks to reclaim his throne? Where’s Rollo and how’s he doing with I-Forgot-How-To-Princess? And how is Lagertha now that the Finehair twins are out of her own artistically-braided hair for a while? I guess we’ll have to wait until season 5 to find out!

Sandi: Indeed!

Lissa: Until then, ShieldGeeks, keep those axes sharp, and your hair braided for battle!

Sandi: And if you have any thoughts on this episode or predictions for next season, let us know!

And raise a horn of mead to honor the fallen in this episode:

Ecbert’s Bishop

Helga

Tanaruz

King Ecbert

Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye



Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4


.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network

(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)

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!

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: On the Eve

 

VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

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

lissabryan-authpicLissa 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.

(¯`•ღ•´¯)


LissaHeillr! 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.

j-vikings-s4-e19-testing-defense

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.”

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’.

j-vikings-bedtimeLissa: 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.

deer-head-bjornLissa: 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.

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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.

j-vikings-s4-e19-lag-and-blocksSandi: 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: 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.

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.

j-vikings-s4-e19-princess-and-hubsLissa: 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.

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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.

j-vikings-s4-e19-aethelwhatLissa: 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?

ivar-and-floki-gigglingLissa: 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.

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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.


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


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 Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for the SEASON FINALE!

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network

(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)

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!

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: Revenge S4 E18

 

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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

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

lissabryan-authpicLissa 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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[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!

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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!

princessLissa: 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.

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.

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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.

helga and daughter final.jpgSandi: 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. 

egilLissa: 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.

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.

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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?”

bye-momLissa: 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.

aelle-is-about-to-receive-the-heathen-army

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.

did-you-love-me-capSandi: 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.

ivar-and-chariot-capWhich 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.”

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.

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


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

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network

(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)

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!

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: The Great Army

 

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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 
 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you to our ongoing series on the History Channel show Vikings. 
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lissabryan-authpicLissa 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.




Lissa: This episode had me excited. I couldn’t wait to see the Great Heathen Army, the scourge of the Anglo-Saxons. Though the actual size of the GHA is in dispute among scholars, it was undoubtedly the largest Viking force to attack the British aisles and it left a lasting mark on the history of the realm. Not only in regards to DNA, but the Danelaw… and Oh, I could go on! It was a formative time, to say the least.

Sandi: Now, now, it was likely King Aelle who said it was the Great Heathen Army. Floki would likely just say it was a Great Army. Aelle was biased, as we know. I am very eager to see this army on the move, no matter what we call it, however. This time, as you say, was formative and so much of what our society currently holds to be bedrock found its beginnings in this era.

Lissa: We started the episode in the Ragnarssons household. Ivar is doing what he does best, needling his kin. He gripes that Sigurd is using his knife. It belonged to his father, and he intends to use it to kill Lagertha. Ivar mocks him about it and the dispute ends in a scuffle, but Ubbe breaks it up with no harm done. The discussion turns to their more pressing concern: avenging Ragnar. While Aelle was primarily the instrument of Ragnar’s death, none can forget that it was Ecbert who betrayed him, and besides, Ecbert’s kingdom is far larger and richer than Aelle’s. They decide that it’s time to raise an army, the greatest army ever assembled. They’ll call in every favor, summon every ally they can to their side. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” Ivar declares. Little sociopath looks kinda cute when he’s genuinely smiling.

ragnarssonsSandi: History Channel has done a pretty good job at giving us a look at all the brothers here. Their familial dynamics are likely going to continue to be important. Ubbe is the Big Brother, who looks (I am sure intentionally) the most like their sire. We have established the hashtag #UbbesLunchNotes because we see him giving advice and soothing the waters. But though the boys squabble, they are basically united in their wish to avenge their father’s death and Ivar will make sure that both Aelle and Ecbert pay. It is interesting to note, here, that the young men seem to have no doubt that they will be able to gather a mighty force in their quest for vengeance. They have the supreme confidence of their breeding, I think, and that tells. I can’t see some random fisherman’s progeny having that kind of assurance. But then, Aslaug’s sons only know of being the sons of King Ragnar. They have no memory of his more humble beginnings, as Björn does.

Lissa: Their plan means someone needs to talk to Lagertha. The Queen of Kattegat is working alongside her people on the fortifications, covered in mud when Ubbe goes to speak with her. She’s reluctant to leave. Kattegat has become too prosperous to leave undefended. One of the people on Tumblr mentioned a good point: Lagertha implied that Aslaug sort of let things go to the dogs, but Aslaug had to be doing something right if Kattegat became the most important trading post in Norway. “[W]e’re supposed to believe Aslaug, the REASON Kattegat grew and became the major center of trade, was SUCH a [poor] ruler for not building a wall. … Did she tax the [heck] out of her people? Seize public land for private use? Be unnecessarily cruel to slaves or smallfolk? Elect a horse to the Senate??

Sandi: Lagertha is a good worker, and nothing is beneath her notice. She, too, remembers her humble beginnings. Later in history, it was said that the lady of a manor had to know how to do all the different chores on the estate, so that she could see that they were done properly. I see Lagertha as being like-minded. LadyAslaug on Tumblr implies, though, Lagertha doesn’t give her predecessor her due, nor her people. All that growth didn’t just come from the hands of one person.

s4-e17-pic-oneLissa: Lagertha tells Ubbe she remembers Kattegat when it was just a small cluster of houses. Ubbe smiles, and reminds her that he was born in Kattegat, so he knows how much it’s changed.

Sandi: There is an undercurrent of one-upmanship between Ubbe and Lagertha. Could the undercurrent be about more than Who Knows What? Is there some kind of odd chemistry? Only time will tell; neither of these two is at all attached to chastity as far as I can ascertain. Ubbe, though, cannot have Lagertha’s perspective and it is rather prideful of him to think he can. However, out of all of Aslaug’s sons, his memory will stretch back further, so he is the only one of them who can meet her even halfway on such a matter.

Lissa: Ubbe starts to tell her that Ragnar would have wanted them to avenge him, but Lagertha shakes that off. She, more than anyone, knows what Ragnar would have wanted. Ragnar wanted to build something that would last.

Sandi: Well, it’s true that Ragnar wanted to build something, but I think Lagertha is a bit behind the times as far as the Psychology of Ragnar Lo∂brok is concerned. Ragnar expected to have his sons join him with tales of great adventures. He expected Ivar to avenge his death. Ragnar wanted that, probably even more than he wanted to see greatness come to Kattegat.

freeing-the-slave-girlLissa: After their conversation ends, Ubbe talks with Margrethe. He tells her she is no longer a slave. She asks if he can do that, and he makes a bold statement about being able to do as he likes because he’s the son of Ragnar Lothbrook. He holds out a hand and Margrethe sticks her muddy palm into it. Off they go, a royal prince and a slave girl. It must run in their blood or something.

Sandi: Now, when Big Brother Bear (Björn) wanted to make nice with Porunn, she seemed to be amenable to being with him. Margrethe, however, seems more confused and resigned than anything. I do not have happy feelings about these two. One, I can’t trust the girl, and neither can Ubbe, really. And he knows it. I feel that part of this is a one-upmanship thing, again, with Lagertha. “See? I can free the slave because my mum got her for our family. So, dibs!” Or something.

Lissa: Speaking of dudes who made the bad choice of marrying a slave girl, we next go to Björn’s fleet. They’re on their way back to Frankia. Rollo doesn’t look terribly stoked about the idea of going home. Helga has her Shiny New Kid perched beside her, but there’s something badly wrong with the girl. She stares blankly into space, despite Helga’s attempts at mothering.

Sandi: Rollo feels much more true to himself when he’s out a-viking, I daresay, and coming home to a wife who said, basically said, “We are SO over if you go out raiding with your boys” is not something he’s looking forward to. And Helga and her “adopted daughter”? I am still weirded out by this. The girl has likely withdrawn—a not-uncommon response for people who are abducted and separated from all they know. It’s like Helga doesn’t even care, which is not like the Helga we have come to know and love over the years. The Northmen did take slaves from other cultures, and they made it a practice to compel the slave to accept a new name, new clothes, etc. But one does not hear of the Northmen adopting people into their families. There’s a lot of obligation there, and I’m still baffled as to why Helga did it.

Lissa: Torvi and Joan Jett tell Lagertha that they don’t trust Ubbe. They urge Lagertha to increase her personal security. But the Seer’s prophecy that one of Ragnar’s sons would kill her seems to have freed Lagertha from her anxiety about it. She shrugs and says if the gods can’t protect her, who can?

Sandi: Lagertha seems to give herself over to her fate again and again. In terms of having more children, in terms of her eventual death. But it’s as if she has to keep checking. She has faith, but she doesn’t keep it as a firm floor. It’s more of a floating carpet she has to catch up and check out again and again.

Lissa: Ivar is in the blacksmith shop, sharpening weapons with his brothers. He says that Sigurd isn’t all that enthused about the plan to kill Lagertha, and Sigurd says it’s because he and Ivar had a much different relationship with their mother. She adored Ivar, but with Sigurd, she was cold and distant. Ivar mocks him again, saying Sigurd was a bad son, and Sigurd calls him a momma’s boy. Ivar slings an ax at Sigurd’s throat but another blacksmith blocks the blade before it can strike. The blacksmith says no one would guess that they were brothers from the way they act.

Sandi: Well . . . I’d have to disagree with the smith, though I honor that craft as a rule. I think brothers act like this a lot. Thing is, Sigurd was ignored by Aslaug compared to Ivar. And Ivar was a “momma’s boy”. And siblings have been known to throw dangerous weapons at one another. No, really. Happened in my family and we grew up very happy and well-adjusted.

judith-family-dinnerLissa: In Northumbria, Judith has come home for dinner. Neither of her parents are particularly welcoming. Judith tells them she’s come with a warning about the vengeance of Ragnar’s sons. Aelle is dismissive. He assures her that Northumbria is prepared for any invasion. Judith gives a humorless laugh and says she doesn’t think he realizes how big this incursion might be. Mrs. Aelle, a sad and dour woman, covered in a wimple (topped with a ubiquitous crown – in case we forgot, you know, that she’s a queen) says to her daughter that they pray every day that she turns away from her sinful affair with Ecbert and returns to her husband as a decent Christian wife. If she doesn’t, she’ll burn in hell. Judith chortles again and says, “As for you, Father, you may enjoy the erudities of heaven without my discomforting presence, and that of every other woman whose only crime was a desire to be free.” In any case, she has something she needs to tell them.

Sandi: Judith, I believe, is doing two things here. She’s actively trying to get her father, a powerful king, to see sense. And she’s reminding her family that she’s in a position to know what IS sense because of the family she’s married into and the man with whom she sleeps. She has no shame for her position as Princess Concubine; she is content with that part of her life, it would seem. As viewers, we tend to have no sympathy for King Aelle (he killed Ragnar!) and that relative apathy extends to Queen WimpleCrown. Her marriage to Aethelwulf would have originally been arranged for just such an exchange of needed political and military information, as well as having an ear in a neighboring court, but it seems that Judith has lost her value in that regard due to her personal choices. Which, honestly, doesn’t make a lot of practical sense.

s4-e17-pic-threeLissa: Duke-Viking Rollo  is on the ship with Björn’s crew. they tell him they can drop him off at home, or he can come back with them to Kattegat. Of course, he’ll be killed the second he steps off the ship in Kattegat, so… They head for the port of Frankia and there Rollo extends an offer to his fellow Vikings.

Sandi: See? He’d really rather NOT go back. But historically, of course, he does, so . . .

Lissa: Any of them who wish to settle in Frankia and farm its rich lands are welcome in his duchy. He tells them that he is now a part of Frankia, and Frankia is now a part of the Viking people. Floki scoffs and tells Rollo that he’s no longer one of them. Rollo replies that what they are is changing. Floki is the one who can’t accept that. Björn says that once a betrayer, always a betrayer. As Rollo gets off the ship, Floki spits and tells Björn that they should have killed Rollo. He he has a bad feeling that Rollo will achieve more fame than any of them. He’s right, to a certain extent. Duke Rollo is remembered as an inportant part of Normandy’s history, the founder of a dynasty.

Sandi: Indeed. Rollo was the first Duke of Normandy (b. c. 860, d. c.932) and gave his duchy over to his son William (who greets him in the Frankish harbor) in 927. Though Rollo was baptized as a Christian, he is said to have died a pagan. Though History Channel is not holding true to the historical timeline, they sure seem to have Rollo’s character down, yeah?

Lissa:Rollo strides into his hall and finds Gisla with the children. She praises God that he’s returned to them and kneels to kiss his hand. She dismisses everyone from the chamber.

Sandi: All sweetness and light she is in front of the family and any retainers… but then…

Lissa: Gisla whacks Rollo multiple times while cursing him a blue streak in French. Welcome home, honey! But, on the upside, it does appear she’s learned a small bit about princessing during his absence. She at least dismissed the witnesses before losing her royal wits.

Sandi: It was quite a horrid display, really. We know she was angry and she certainly has the courage of her convictions, but she really went far beyond the boundaries of her rank and breeding. I don’t think, Lissa, that she really ever did learn to princess.

Lissa: We shift to Wessex, where Ecbert is giving sweet Alfred lessons in… well, books, and drinking and philosophy, I suppose. He starts off by showing Alfred a book writen by Gregory the Great (540-604) a pope, saint, and educational philosopher.  He urges Alfred to drink more wine, which doesn’t sit well with the young man. Ecbert then chuckles and says it was a trick – he was drinking water while urging wine on Alfred.

Sandi: I didn’t trust Ecbert during that whole thing. He is corrupt. He will always be corrupt. And he teaches via not-entirely-beneficent means.

Lissa: It’s supposed to be a lesson about keeping one’s wits, but it comes off as a somewhat sad call-back to conversations that Ecbert once greatly enjoyed, but now can never have again.

Sandi: Well, yeah, but how much of that is by design, I wonder? Part of me thinks that Ecbert is in no way broken, but he wants folks to think he is diminished, you know?

Lissa: We’re back at Ragnar’s grave site. The pit is gaping just a bit at the top. Judith peers inside, and asks if this is where Ragnar met his end. Aelle says it is, and Judith declares a monument should be built here, scandalizing her family. Judith rises and warns them again about the danger coming. She turns to her sister and tells her if she cares about the welfare of her soul, she needs to learn to read. She departs, having probably not convinced anyone of anything.

Sandi: And that, what you said right there, is what has me wondering why she is in there. The crew at No Ship Network have also speculated on Judith’s role at this point in the story. Why is she here? What is her purpose?

s4-e17-pic-fourLissa: Back in Kattegat, Lagertha is holding court for all of the earls who have gathered with their forces to join the Great Army. She’s wearing that awful, awful high collar again. One of the earl’s ambassadors presents Lagertha with a sword. He tells her that there were many tiresome poems he’s heard detailing her exploits. She smiles and says she wishes she’d been more interesting, and he insists it was the fault of the poets, not her.

Sandi: We’re still griping about her collar. I grant you, the construction of such a collar was not beyond the capabilities of the people of this time and place, but that they would actually make something so intricate, with so much metal involved, that wasn’t explicitly battle armor is highly unlikely. Which makes me think that it is possible that Lagertha is indeed armored at all times.

Lissa: Across the room, Sigurd is regaling the hall with tunes.

sigurd-on-the-strings

Sandi: Had we seen him at all musically oriented before this time? I can’t recall.

s4-e17-pic-fiveLissa: Ubbe  strolls through the hall and greets one of the men. The guy doesn’t recognize him and asks his name, and as soon as he hears it, his demeanor completely changes. He compliments Ragnar’s legacy. Ivar crawls toward him and the men mock him. Ubbe says that’s his brother and they should stop laughing if they want to live. He gives Ivar a drink in full view of the hall and they tap cups. Next Ubbe chats with Margrethe. When Lagertha comes up behind him, he gives her a quick kiss. Lagertha tells Ubbe she is a little irked that Ubbe freed her slave without asking, but she doesn’t challenge the legitimacy of him doing so.

Sandi: That’s the competition between them, again. I wonder if Margrethe is part of that interpersonal friction or if Ubbe does have genuine feeling for the girl.

Lissa: Ubbe retorts that she had no right to kill his mother, and Lagertha replies that was different. Which kinda goes without saying. Murderin’ someone ≠ freeing someone else’s slave.

Sandi: Well, yeah. And the constant threat of “We ARE going to avenge our mother” is a repeated reminder of that. But really, Lagertha doesn’t have a lot else she can hold up on her end at this juncture. She’s on the throne, but the Ragnarssons don’t seem enamored of ruling anybody, at this point. All she has is this “You took MY person” thing that she can pretend to be all gracious about. I’m not sure where she’s focusing right now. She’s got a lot of plates to spin, I think.

s4-e17-pic-sixLissa: Halfdan and Finehair meet an interesting new fellow in Lagertha’s hall. Egil, the illegitimate son of an earl, sports a facial scar and is, as Halfdan describes him, “ambitious.” And we all know how much trouble ambitious bastards have caused throughout history.

Sandi: Oh, history is rife with them. William the Conqueror being one notable one that shows up sooner rather than later. William was previously known as William the Bastard and he was a direct descendent of our Duke Rollo, here.

LissaRachel Tsoumbakos speculated in her recap that this character may be based on Egill Skallagrimsson, who wrote Egil’s Saga. He seems to have suffered from Paget’s disease, given the description of his physical issues.

Sandi: I don’t know about Paget’s disease (not being medically educated) but if his appearance was due to an ailment as opposed to a battle wound, that would definitely affect his character, I think, due to the mores of the day.

Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan note that they have need of ambitious men if they’re to fulfil Finehair’s dream of being king of Norway.

Sandi: Harald is certainly dedicated to this and he’s playing the long game, here. Befriending those he’d likely oust given the opportunity, making allies amongst the influential, gathering spies and intelligence. A sound strategy that, it seems, will pay off eventually.

s4-e17-pic-sevenLissa: Ubbe and Ivar decide to move on Lagertha. At a signal, Lagertha’s shieldmaidens are all frozen in place with knives at their throats. Ivar makes his way down the hall, driving pikes into the floor to pull himself along toward his target. It’s a striking scene. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Sandi: That really was highly effective. Twitter buzzed for a moment over that moment. Now, Ivar being developed as “wise” and canny in battle, I am thinking that he knew exactly how he’d sound, bringing himself forward as he did. It was very well done.

Lissa: Lagertha stares them down without an iota of fear, rising from her throne with lethal grace. She picks up the newly gifted sword to defend herself, but just as the action is about to go down, the door opens and Björn strides inside. He’s either gotten wind of the plot, or he’s taken appraisal of the situation quickly. He tells his brothers if they’re going to kill Lagertha, they’ll have to kill him, too.

s4-e17-pic-eight-as4-e17-pic-8b

Sandi: The timing, of course, is perfect. Drama, enter the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood character who will save his mother, etc.  Björn actually has an odd role in the family and he probably has to weigh all of his actions if he wants to be best understood and—of course—obeyed. He is a son of Ragnar with all that that entails. He is the son of Lagertha the Legendary and though she is capable, he IS her son and thus is bound to defend her. Yet his brothers have a righteous claim of their own against his mother that he can’t deny, exactly . . . still, he must defend her, stand beside her, for she is his mum. It can be complicated, being the firstborn.

Lissa: They seem amenable to that notion until Björn mentions they have an invasion looming. Ubbe backs down. Ivar slams his pike into the floor in frustration, but he leaves, too.

Sandi: Complicated. But Björn is not to be gainsaid, here. He’s 100% right, and no one can deny it. I imagine, though, that more than one person in the Great Hall was ready to lay odds on the outcome of Lagertha v. Lads.

Lissa: Soon afterward, we see Björn at the dinner table with Torvi. Torvi complains about something, and Björn loses his temper. He shouts at her that he didn’t come back here to be told what to do. He flings his plate off the table and their three children begin screaming hysterically.

Sandi: This is another one of those scenes that I don’t quite get. That Björn is having temper issues, maybe? That all is not sunshine and rainbows in La Casa de Oso? That even Viking kids freak out during a domestic squabble? No clue. With the season having only three more episodes to go, I’m wondering if this unrest portends a break-up of housekeeping, death, or some other tragedy to befall Björn.

s4-e17-pic-nineLissa: Ivar is out on the docks looking out at the gathering of ships in the bay. The Great Heathen Army is coming together. This scene, visually, wasn’t quite as striking as a quick scene we saw of Kattegat surrounded by tents and campfires, showing the huge number of warriors gathered. Ubbe ruffles his brother’s hair and they both look satisfied as they talk about the force they’re building.

Sandi: More of the Fraternal Dynamic thing happening here. We see how the men relate as equals. There is no “looking down” at Ivar, for all the difference in height. There is no sense of inadequacy or envy. Just brothers being brothers. There isn’t the resentment between these two that there is between Ivar and Sigurd. I wonder how big a role that will play in the future?

Lissa: Ivar goes to Helga and Floki’s house. Helga is trying to feed her Shiny New Kid, but the girl won’t open her mouth for the bite of stew Helga offers her.

Sandi: I have nothing, here. I still don’t see the rationale in this either for the writers or for the characters. Floki being an indulgent husband, okay. But he’s always loved Helga. Forever. So that’s not a big revelation. Plus, the girl is part of the religious system he seemed to find fascinating in the warmer south. Okay. But otherwise? I’m clueless.

Lissa: Ivar asks who she is and Helga introduces her. Ivar says, “nice new slave,” and Helga reacts vehemently. She is not a slave! They’re adopting her. “Yeah. Adopting her.” Floki says with a shrug and an air of tired resignation. Ivar sticks out his hand and the girl reacts in terror, shrinking back and screaming. Helga hurriedly leads her away.

Sandi: Can’t blame the girl one iota. Not even. That Ivar roused her from her withdrawal may be significant, though.

s4-e17-pic-tenLissa: Ivar tells Floki that he’s here for help with something that will allow him to fight. The two of them have great chemistry, giggling like the madmen they are, though Ivar always has that edge of menace.

Sandi: This was cute. Badmouthing each other with apparent derision only to break down into the giggles that Lissa says sound a bit “tetched”. Floki did spend a long time teaching Ivar in the younger man’s childhood. He was there when Ivar murdered his first innocent and all that. There’s a bond.

Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan meet on top of Lagertha’s new fortification. Egil the Bastard is with them. The brothers are a bit nervous about their plans for conquering Kattegat with the fortifications in place, but Egil says a clever leader can always get around walls and barriers. And yes, he is a clever man.

Sandi: This reinforces Harald’s goal of taking over Kattegat and, thus, Norway. It also lets us know that yes, we have a definite alliance happening, here.

Lissa: Björn heads inside the throne room to talk to his mom, but Lagertha is nowhere to be found. He asks Joan Jett, who is weaving, where Lagertha is, and Joan says Lagertha doesn’t tell her everything. As the episode closes, Björn and Joan kiss passionately.

Sandi: We get the lovely view of a drop-weight loom again. Yay, History Channel! But then, we are all . . . WHAT? Okay, so Joan Jett has seemed to have an unusual attitude with some of the men around Lagertha, but this? This seemed to be a kiss between people who’d definitely done that before. Together. And though Björn is bigger and all that, the scene was careful to demonstrate that Joan Jett took the final move to make the kiss actually happen. So, consent is assured. But how long has this been going on?

Lissa: First of all, Björn… Gross. I mean, like, really gross. That’s your momma’s girl, and she is going to be wicked chapped to have her girlfriend cheating on her with her own baby bear.

Sandi: But will she? Hard to say with Lagertha. She and Björn have a strong bond that is multilayered and flexible, I think. And Joan Jett hasn’t struck any of us as particularly necessary to Lagertha, has she? Great at hand-to-hand combat. Awesome sparring partner. Makes the Lady of Legend smile. But necessary? No.

Lissa: Floki carries Ivar out to the snowy forest to show him his newest creation.

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There stands a sleek war chariot. Sort of Romanesque in construction, not what I would expect from Floki’s design studio. There isn’t even a dragon’s head prow mounted on it. I tried to think of where Floki might have seen such a design… one of Athelstan’s manuscripts… But I got nuthin’.

Sandi: The war chariot was not unknown in this part of the world. In Ireland, indeed, the Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, rode a chariot into battle.

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By Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874 – 1951) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I saw the chariot in previews for this show, I thought immediately of the Irish legend, as I’d read it as a little girl and the image stayed with me.

Lissa: It’s been designed with his needs in mind, to hold Ivar upright. Ivar reacts with boyish glee, and after Floki hooks a horse to it, Ivar flies around the roads, cheering and shouting while Floki claps in delight. From behind a tree, Björn watches grimly.

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Sandi: Why so grim, Brother Bear? Is he thinking of how dangerous Ivar might truly be once given this era’s equivalent of a new car? Perhaps. Perhaps in the future, he and his brother will come to blows over the death of Aslaug and this troubles Björn. Perhaps he is just thinking that no one else has such a cool chariot. I hope we find out 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


The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: S4 E16 Crossings

 

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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 
 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you to our ongoing series on the History Channel show Vikings. 
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Lissa 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.




Lissa: I think we’re both still a bit shaken by the last episode and wondering how the show will continue with the loss of such an incredible presence.

Sandi: Perhaps, and I could see that in some of the tone of the commentary last night. There was a lot of humor and poking fun. Like folks do at a wake, in some respects. I don’t imagine it was just us, either.

Lissa: We opened with a cold, desolate shot of the place where Ragnar lies, the cage still creaking as it dangles from the trees.

Sandi: An appropriate opening, I feel, as we move on from where we were last week to the new directions and foci of this week. The cage is there, a visible reminder and, if I may say it, grave/site marker, after a fashion, for Ragnar’s final resting place. His death has placed an onus on his sons, left feelings behind in his ex-wife, and renewed ambition in a man who would take his place.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Lagertha can’t believe Ragnar is dead. She insists to Joan Jett that Ivar didn’t actually see him die, and so it’s possible he’s still alive. But all she can do is continue to rule. She tells Joan Jett that Ragnar hated ruling – it might have been what killed him. And that seems to be true, or at least what drove him to abdicate his responsibilities for so long. Ragnar was a warrior, one who fought until he found himself at the top, and at the top when there were no more enemies to battle, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. That’s why all of his happy memories were of simpler times when he was raiding and fighting, and living the simple life of a farmer. Lagertha says Ragnar is watching her, and so are all of the men and women who have fought at her side. She cannot let them down. How would she explain herself to them in Valhalla?

Sandi: This is so true. Not all leaders of men in battle can lead others in peace or in civil manners. In Éire’s Devil King, Tuirgeis (the first Norse high king of Ireland) has to learn that conquering a village is a far different thing from ruling a people. Ragnar’s backside was less suited to that wooden throne than it was to riding a horse or sailing in a skipniu.

Lissa: We next go to Wessex, where King Ecbert is dining with his son and Judith. Aethelwulf tells his father it was a mistake to release Ivar.

Sandi: It’s interesting, to me, to see the lessening of pomp and circumstance in this scene. The room is dark. There are few servants. Burger King is looking far less self-aware than normal… We discussed a bit about this on twitter and one theory is that Ecbert is in mourning for Ragnar and has had a shift in self-perception as a result.

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Lissa: Judith primly tells Aethelwulf he shouldn’t contradict his father’s judgment like that. She puts a hand over Ecbert’s and says she trusts him and believes in him. Ecbert tells Aethelwulf he’s right to worry about Ragnar’s sons taking revenge, and in fact, Aethelwulf is just the guy who should go meet this challenge head-on and fight for his Christian homeland.  Aethelwulf asks what his dad is going to be doing in the meantime, and Ecbert says he’s going to stay put, teaching Alfred how to govern.

Sandi: Because of course, King Ecbert is still obsessing over Athelstan, though he, too, is gone from the world. This devotion to dead men is eerie, as is Ecbert’s overall demeanor. Linus Roache plays him brilliantly. I felt rather bad for Judith, though. She has long since learned who butters her bread, and she goes out of her way to verbally support her father-in-law/lover against her husband (which is all kinds of weird to type, by the way) and is verbally shunted aside even so. So she gets nothing from her input. Is this to show us that Judith is still trying to figure out the power dynamic or that Ecbert is clearly changing in some manner?

Lissa: Ubbe and Sigurd are bathing in the river as Ivar… watches from the bank. Seriously, he looks uber-creepy lurking up there, cloaked in black, staring at his bathing brothers. The two in the water are discussing what to do about their father and mother.

Sandi: Ivar really is a creepy stalker kind of guy. He needs to develop a spy network. He could use, for example, a good Thomas Cromwell. (Don’t shoot me, Lissa!)

Lissa: Ubbe says that if Lagertha isn’t going to kill them, they can take their revenge later, when the right opportunity presents itself. But what to do about controlling Ivar, who might decide to strike before the time is right?

Sandi: Ubbe is not now the great adventurer in this story. He’s the farmer. The elder brother. The one who feels the responsibility to keep tabs on everyone. He has his more violent/passionate moments, but I see him as wanting to establish a peaceful existence for himself and his brothers, and to keep his status in the process. So controlling Ivar’s more violent/rash tendencies would feel like it was in his purview, I think. Ubbe seems, for all his conventionalities, to acknowledge Ivar’s more volatile qualities.

Lissa: On the hill above Kattegat, Ivar sits on a rock and weeps. He throws back his head and screams in grief and rage at the sky. We soon see him at a blacksmith’s forge, making a weapon.

Sandi: It’s interesting to see Ivar and all the skills he has acquired, for all he is disabled. It’s a positive to see that he’s been persistent and encouraged to excel. I imagine it startles the locals, too. After all, he was exposed at birth and has nevertheless managed to make a name for himself, even if he has mobility issues. I wonder if his very life will have a longterm effect on his people?

vikings-s4-e-16-pic-oneLissa: Lagertha enters the hall to thunderous applause and takes a seat in her throne.

Sandi: She certainly has a way. I think she’s come to wear a leadership mantle like a heavy cloak over the time jump. She wears it ponderously, I think, though she continues to command the room.

Lissa: Her owl is on a perch right beside it, and the throne room has been re-designed to have a pattern of carved wood stakes in the shape of spread wings behind it. Her banners hang from the ceiling.

vikings-s4-e6-pic-twoSandi: She has certainly made her mark.  This woman is quite a far cry from the younger farmer’s wife and mom—and legendary shieldmaiden!—we met in the first season. The weight of her words is apparent to others as well as to herself.

Lissa: She tells the gathered people that they’ve suffered too long without a real ruler. Her first plan of action is to fortify Kattegat, lest someone become jealous of their prosperous little city and try to take it. She asks the people if they consent, and they all shout “Aye!” in response.

Sandi: She is clearly taking the reins, making commentary as to her superiority over the “prior administration” and showing the people that she can be a good and fair leader. Taking the throne should, in effect, make her a queen of her people. None of Ragnar’s sons have claimed leadership for themselves.

vikings-s4-e16-pic-threeLissa: Ivar speaks up from a chair at the front of the room. He demands justice, for Lagertha killed his mother in cold blood for no reason.

Sandi: Well, he says for no reason, here, and for all administrative purposes this is so. But I’m pretty sure Ivar knows the backstories. That he’s confronting her in front of everyone is pretty brave of him; Lagertha is popular and her actions were not vilified by their community.

Lissa: Ubbe tries to stop him, but Ivar brushes him aside. He challenges her to single combat. Lagertha says that Ubbe perhaps understands the situation a bit better than Ivar does. Lagertha is gentle in her refusal, but she says she doesn’t want to kill Ivar, and will not fight him. Ivar tells her that one day, he will kill her. Her fate is sealed.

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Sandi: For the record, the above picture does a great job showcasing the differences in the Great Hall. The wings behind the throne, the new red-V shields held by the shieldmaidens, the open floor. Also visible is the wear of years; reminders of a the time that has passed in this hall.

Lissa: Björn’s ships are becalmed in a fog, and the Vikings are muttering. Björn keeps checking his scrap of map. (Perhaps he should have brought the bigger one that Rollo showed him back in France. Just sayin’.) Anyway, he’s not exactly sure where they are.

Sandi: Even the greatest navigators have their off days…

Lissa: Halfdan says he wonders if Björn is cursed like his father. Harald tells him that one day, he must overthrow the Ragnarssons (he calls them the Lothbrooks, but that’s not how they would have been known.) How else can he fulfill his destiny to become King of Norway? Halfdan says perhaps the time is now, but Harald prefers to wait for a sign from the gods. He says the gods love them.

Sandi: These guys are either doubting or nearly fanboying over someone. Halfdan is giving the impression of being the less restrained, Harald is more level-headed. Which is good, considering he will historically be king one day.

vikings-s4-e16-pic-fiveLissa: Helga asks Floki if he thinks they’re lost, and Floki takes this as an opening for an existential monologue. He feels lost, himself.  “I no longer know who I am. Why I am here? What is my purpose? … I feel like an empty vessel. I’m all alone. I need something to fill me up.” @DeeDonuts speculated last night that perhaps Floki somehow sensed Ragnar’s death.

Sandi: I believe he did sense it. I was rather surprised by this turn in Floki’s expressed consciousness, because he’s always relied on the gods, promoting their authority over everything, even when others were not as on board with them as he was.

Lissa: Helga recalls an illness she had a while back which was so severe she thought she was going to die and it made her think about what she  wants out of life. She wants to have another baby, but Floki refuses.

Sandi: Now, the man who says and believes in the inevitability of Fate would not be inclined to kick up a fuss, here. The man who is conflicted about what the world will present, though, is. So it is possible that it isn’t just Ecbert who was thrown by the death of Ragnar, but also Floki and everyone else so closely connected to Ragnar. Helga’s wish, after all, is perfectly natural in the scheme of things, even if she is “getting up there” in terms of reproductive lifespan for her time.

Lissa: Rollo is also on the ship, wearing a sleeveless leather tunic, and those guns are lookin’ fiiiiiine.

Sandi: Yeah, I confess, it was nice to see Rollo looking all Viking again. Especially after his stint of keelhauling. As he told his wife, he is Viking. It’s his heart, his soul. Rollo is the First Duke of Normandy, but he’s also an adventurer, a warrior, and that was quite evident in the episode.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Lagertha is getting ready for bed, unbraiding her hair. Joan Jett asks her if she thinks Ragnar’s sons will try to kill Lagertha and vows that she won’t let it happen. She will protect Lagertha. Lagertha replies that if the boys are determined to kill her, there’s no way to stop them. She lies back on the bed and tells Joan Jett that she used to sleep in this very bed with Ragnar. She is home.

Sandi: I’m really not buying into the Joan Jett character, though it’s been a few episodes that she’s been around. Is she there for Lagertha to have a sounding board for character building purposes? She’s good with hand-to-hand combat, but Lagertha has a phalanx of shieldmaidens and a highly trained army of her own; why the bodyguard? Is it to give Lagertha an expression of sexual freedom for the series? I’m still shaking my head. I do hope there is a plot-significant reason for Joan Jett to be lurking about as she is.

vikings-s4-e16-pic-sixLissa: Meanwhile, Ivar is still pounding away at the blacksmith’s forge. He has a fantasy about approaching Lagertha and sticking a knife in her eye.

Sandi: Okay, the way this was shown? Scary and awesome in the way the knife is imagined bending Lagertha’s cornea. It is, of course, a fantasy, but wow. Nice cinematography in such a tight focus. The fantasy is indicative of Ivar’s frame of mind, certainly, but he is not in a position at that moment to enact it. I am wondering if he’ll have to work on his stalking to get her alone to attempt to avenge his mother’s death.

Lissa: Outside, Ubbe runs into Margrethe and asks how she’s doing. Margrethe asks him where Ivar is and Ubbe tells her not to worry about that. Ivar has other things on his mind. Other chicks to murder. That sort of thing. Margrethe apologizes for tricking him into going to Hedeby, however the hell that happened, and Ubbe says not to worry about that, either. He has bigger betrayals to worry about. Margrethe says she has to get back to work, and Ubbe tells her he needs to see her again.

Sandi: Back to Ubbe-the-homebody, here. He seems—as Björn was before him—to be perhaps inappropriately attached to a slave girl. A pretty one, true, but one who is known and well known by his brothers. Is he just seeking to have her warm his bed again or is he wanting something more? And yes, Margrethe is a slave, but she was not Lagertha’s slave; she was Aslaug’s—or the slave of Aslaug’s family, including the sons of Ragnar. That Margrethe was co-opted to serve to the detriment of her owners would not reflect well on her, no matter how many other betrayals are worrying Ubbe.

Lissa: The Spanish coast appears and the Vikings land at Algeciras. That night, they invade, crushing aside the small fishing boats as they pull up to the docks. Inside the city walls, a market is being held. At night.

Sandi: The Spanish coast—and rich Moorish resources—were not unknown to the Vikings as they raided and traded during this time. Slaves could be traded for rare spices, gold for fabrics and other items that would have been treasured in the northern climates. In addition, slaves could and were acquired in these stopovers. Sometimes, the Vikings had civil trading encounters, but not always.

Lissa: But anyway… In they go, slaying the unarmed men as they pass through. Helga pauses to sniff an orange. The Halfdan/Finehair duo do some fancy slaughterin’ and leave a young girl an orphan. But they don’t try to harm her. Helga spots the girl as she turns and runs off, and gives chase.

Sandi: That Harald and his brother do not violate the nubile women surprised me. Their prior behavior seems to indicate that such restraint is not their norm. I am thinking that Hirst is doing a nice job of characterization for the future King of Norway, here.

Lissa: Floki hears the call to prayer and he stops in his tracks, tilting his head as he drinks in the sound. He looks up and sees the roof of the mosque and heads toward it.

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Sandi: And here is where we see Floki’s perspective shift a bit more. He’s moving, physically and perhaps metaphorically, away from the beliefs he’s held closest since his youth.

Lissa: When he finds the door where the chant is coming from, he picks the lock and slips inside.

Sandi: When he and the younger Ragnar raided monasteries years before, there was none of this skulking about. Floki believed the right of conquest was his, under the eye of Odin the All Father. So seeing him acting in such a different way was surprising.

Lissa: The young girl is still fleeing from Helga. She pounds on the door of a building and they admit her, shutting it firmly behind her. Helga pounds on it, but they don’t open it for her. And there’s Helga without an ax or anything.

Sandi: One doesn’t customarily bring an axe to an adoption interview, Lissa… So, I’m guessing that the girl told those who brought her out of danger that she was being chased by a Northman and they didn’t let Helga in. I am not sure why Helga is suddenly fixated on adopting a girl utterly out of their culture, unless she’s kind of losing it somewhere. It happens.

Lissa: Floki enters the mosque and watches the worshippers. They don’t pause in their prayers as he wanders around the edges of the room. He reaches the front of it and looks around, trying to spot the god they’re worshiping. He touches the wall the praying men are facing as if it may give answers to this puzzling mystery. Halfdan and Finehair enter and ask him what he’s doing. What is this place? Floki tells them it’s a temple. One of the brothers says the noise of the prayers is annoying and decapitates the imam. Floki immediately stops him from slaying any more of the worshippers, “No more killing. Not in here, not in this place. I forbid it. If you want to kill these people, you have to kill me first.” The brothers exchange a look, but decide to leave.

Sandi: Was I the only one gaping at the screen when this happened? Again, we see the character shift in Floki. This is the same man that was all for using a priest for target practice, once upon a time. And now, he’s all “No Killing, I Mean It!” What’s more, Harald heeded him and directed his men to do so as well. So this is setting up an interesting dynamic that I wonder how Hirst will develop in the future.

Lissa: The Vikings catch up with Helga, lingering by the door as though she’s waiting to sell Girl Scout Cookies. They bash the door down and she runs inside, still hunting for the little girl. We see flashes of the child as she ducks behind pillars and furniture. Björn has a moment where he turns and is startled by his own reflection on a mirror-covered wall. As I said last night, the Moors had mirrors, but they were small and expensive in this era. No one was using them for wallpaper.

Sandi: The reception to Helga’s sudden, passionate daughter-hunt was mixed, online. Some felt sorry for her, others felt that this was a cheap excuse for drama—linking a female character’s motivations to her womb (or children or lack thereof).

And our #BootSoleFile got to add the tall mirrors. It is conjectured that glass mirrors weren’t made until the 12th or 13th Century. Though mirrors have been around for thousands of years, they were often created from highly polished ground stone, ceramic, and bronze or copper. Glass mirrors would have been largely made from volcanic glass, or obsidian. Certainly not conventional mirrors as we have in our times.

Lissa: The Vikings find the corpse of a man who killed himself, apparently by sticking a pin or a very thin dagger through his heart. Rollo searches him and finds a key.

Lissa: Inside of the locked room, the women of the house are hiding. Rollo looks at them, exchanges a look with Hvitserk, his brows arched and a small smile tugging his lips.

Sandi: That man! I don’t see Rollo promoting rapine, here, but I think he was exchanging a moment of appreciation with his nephew, nothing more.

vikings-s4-e16-pic-eightLissa: In Kattegat, Lagertha awakes to a sound. She calls out to ask who it is. Beside her, Joan Jett snoozes on. In a previous scene, she had vowed to Lagertha that she wold protect her from the Ragnarssons. So much for this perky little bodyguard. Sleeps like the dead, apparently. She doesn’t even wake as Lagertha gets out of the bed to go track down the source of the noise. It’s Ragnar’s ghost, lingering in the shadows. Tears roll down Lagertha’s cheeks as she tells him to enjoy Valhalla, because he has earned it, but begs him to haunt her, not to leave her. He fades away as she calls his name.

Sandi: I did a bit of research regarding the Vikings and ghosts. There are a few different varieties, from the aptrganger—the “walker again”—who had a more physical aspect to it, to the Einherjar, who were considered the noble dead and were gathered by Odin or the Valkyries for future heavenly battles. I think that Ragnar would be seen as one of the Einherjar, here, if he manifested at all outside of Lagertha’s sleeping desire for him.

Lissa: She goes to see the Seer the next day. He tells her that he saw Ragnar on his way to Valhalla, and Ragnar was happy. Lagertha gets right to the point. She asks if she will be killed by a son of Ragnar, and the Seer says, “Yes.”

Sandi: Lagertha is awfully pushy on this topic; we know she’s asked the Seer about her death before. I was intrigued to hear that the Seer said he saw Ragnar on his way to Valhalla. Whether he is saying so to comfort the reigning queen of Kattegat or because it was truth, I couldn’t tell you.

Lissa: The Vikings are singing as they lead away a line of captives and carry off their loot. Helga finally spots the little girl and pulls her out of the group, into her arms. She tells the crying, struggling child that she’s safe now, words the little girl doesn’t understand. Floki asks her what she’s doing and Helga says she wants to keep the girl. She is around the same age as their Angrboða would be. Floki argues with her, telling her the girl has to stay here, but Helga insists she’s keeping her.

Sandi: This was . . . a mess, in my opinion. Now, if they’ve got a purpose for this fish-out-of-water-addition in terms of the story? Fine. But if she’s there just to give a focus to Helga’s yearning for motherhood? I’m not on board.

Lissa: I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like this scene. I was all for Helga and Floki having another baby together, but this just seems … unhinged. “Let’s have another baby! Or, I’ll just grab the next one I see. No diff.”And Helga has always been the sane one in their relationship. She has gone through terrible grief and suffering, but she doesn’t seem the type to decide that a “replacement Angrboða” will do. The Vikings commonly took slaves, and yes, in the 9th century, adoption was also common, but the way it’s presented is as though Helga is so mad for a baby she’ll stuff this struggling, terrified child into her household whether the girl likes it or not.

vikings-s4-e16-pic-nineLissa: The next day, the Ragnarssons, Halfdan, Finehair, and  Rollo stand on a cliff overlooking the sea.  Mind you, this is the southern coast of Spain, and they’re all dressed in long, furred cloaks. (This week, the weather in Algeciras will be in the 60s, and it’s January.) SMH.

Sandi: Hey, they all looked awesome! 🙂 It was interesting to see the line-up, here. You’ve got Ragnar’s brother, Ragnar’s son by Lagertha, another son of Ragnar by Aslaug, and the man who would take over Ragnar’s kingdom. All lined up and grinning at the Med. It’s a nice picture. With or without fur.

Lissa: Anyway, Björn says to his brother that they’ve now traveled further than their father ever imagined. Harald says it’s beautiful. Björn and Hvitserk see a large flock of ravens, and hear their father’s words about how the young pigs would squeal if they knew how the old boar suffered. Björn asks his brother if he heard it, and Hvitserk replies that he did.

Sandi: Yep, Ragnar’s words have traveled far indeed. It’s interesting how the supernatural comes into subtle and not-so-subtle play at this point in the episode.

Lissa: Ivar is still working at the forge. The Odin-man appears and tells Ivar that his father was killed by serpents and now lies in the cold ground.

Sandi: History Channel apparently says this is Odin.

Lissa: Ubbe sees him next. When he goes to see Sigurd, he can tell by the look on his face that Sigurd already knows. There is a last image of rolling storm clouds as we hear Ragnar’s final words about going to Valhalla.

Sandi: As the first post-Ragnar episode, I think this was a good one. We get to see his sons moving on in their various places, we see a new throne design, continuing alliances, a new body of water, and so on. It was a time of Crossings, as the episode title indicates. I look 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


The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: All His Angels

 

VIKINGS banner

This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.

“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 ongoing series on the History Channel show Vikings. 
(¯`•ღ•´¯)

146a6-lissa-bryan

Lissa 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.




Lissa: This episode was the end of an era, and I’m still “all the feels” as I type this.

Sandi: It really is the end of an era, but you and I both knew it was coming. That “foreboding feeling” has been haunting us since probably the middle of Season Three.

Lissa: Ecbert is struggling with the idea of turning Ragnar over to Aelle for execution. He agrees to send Ivar home, and Ragnar says he needs to talk with him one last time.

Sandi: Though I was highly skeptical of this, I was glad to see this was said (and later carried out) in good faith. I was worried that Ivar’s safe departure would be used as a carrot (or its opposite as a bludgeon) for Ragnar regarding a level of performance or something.

Lissa: In the meantime, Ivar is making friends with young Alfred. I really like this character and the actor who portrays him. He has such a peaceful and gentle demeanor. He and Ivar are playing chess, and it looked like to me they were playing with a replica of the Lewis Chessmen, a famous 12 century Norwegian artifact.

pic-one-h-chessmengroup

Sandi: This is, to me, quite intriguing. We know that Alfred takes a firm stand against the Northmen in the future, but I wonder if Hirst has plans for this quiet, gentle moment to play into future international relations.

Lissa: Ragnar and Ivar meet and Ragnar tells him that he’s going to be executed. Ivar insists at first he’s going to stay and die too, and says flippantly he wants to be burned alive. Ragnar tells him that he must survive.  “It is far more important that you stay alive. People think that you are not a threat, but I know differently.”

Sandi: You have to figure that Ragnar knows these are his Last Words. And words said before dying are important (as we will learn later in the episode), so Ivar will carry these closest to him, perhaps, as he goes on in the world.

Lissa: He predicts that one day, the world will fear the name of Ivar the Boneless.

Sandi: And though Ragnar has never claimed to be a Seer, he does remember what the Seer said, long years before.

ragnar-seer-pic

“The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok will be spoken of as long as men have tongues to speak.”

Lissa: He says that Ivar is the son he wanted to bring with him on this journey. Ivar confesses to his father that he wishes he didn’t feel angry all the time, and wishes he could be happy. Ragnar scoffs at the idea of happiness and tells Ivar that without that anger he is nothing. Ivar tries to retract it by saying he was joking and Ragnar gives him a slap. He tells Ivar to be ruthless.

Sandi: It seems odd, here, for Ivar to mention that he doesn’t like feeling the way he does all the time. We have here a conflicted young sociopath, as we’ve mentioned before. He isn’t truly “joking”, I don’t think, but I also think Ragnar is aware of this. There is quite a strong bond between them, here at the end of their relationship.

Lissa: Before they part, Ragnar takes off his torc and presses it into Ivar’s hand. It’s a significant moment, considering what the torc represented to a Viking man. (We never saw Ivar get one of his own.) Ragnar is passing on so much to his son, represented by this simple, twisted band of metal. Ivar – rightfully – hesitates before he puts it on. Ragnar leans in before he is drawn away and whispers in his ear that Ivar must take vengeance … against Ecbert.

ivar-torc-pic

Sandi: This really is another good moment. Having his king—his father, yes, but his king—give him a torc is huge. Ivar is a fine marksman, for all he cannot stand on his own, but he has perhaps not been officially recognized as attaining his manhood. Here, he is not only being given an heirloom, but also a mark of faith and honor. And then to be given what is, in effect, a secret mission? Wow. So, yes, get vengeance, Ragnar says. But also, avenge me against Ecbert, who cannot know I’m saying this or he might not let you go home.

Lissa: When Ivar boards the wagon to leave, Judith urges her son forward and Alfred goes over to offer one of the chessmen to Ivar. I mentioned on Twitter last night that Judith was being quite clever to encourage her son to build a bond of friendship – or at least cordial relations – with Ivar. Ivar looks down at the chessman in his hand for a moment and then closes his fingers around it.

Sandi: And though it has no real basis in anything, I was reminded of the interplay in the 2002 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo, where the protagonist, Dantes (played by Jim Caviezel), and his antagonist, Mondego (played by Guy Pearce), exchange a chess piece back and forth during the movie as an indicator of which of them is enjoying the most favor. I know, it makes no sense, but I still thought of it. I guess I see it as a wish for future favor between the two men; though who knows how that will play out here.

Lissa: Judith is visited by Ecbert that night, and Ecbert says he feels like Pontius Pilate in handing Ragnar over to Aella. He feels like he’s sending a friend to his death. Judith says he has no choice and Ecbert scoffs at that. “Do I not?” he asks her repeatedly.

Sandi: I see this in direct contradiction to what is written in the Bible, when Pontius Pilate—whom Ecbert is equating himself to—is begged by his wife:

“Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matthew 27:19 ESV)

So does Ecbert have a choice? Of course he does, as did Pilate himself. But still, he follows through with what he thinks he has to do.

Lissa: He visits Ragnar and tells him Aelle will make his death a huge spectacle. Ragnar is expecting it. He says he’ll make a profession of his faith in the gods. Ecbert retorts that Ragnar doesn’t really believe it any more, but Ragnar says his people do… His words are for them, in the end. Ragnar walks away, down a gauntlet of armed soldiers, the bright outdoors light shining around his dark, shuffling form. Walking towards the light.

Sandi: It is interesting, how he is set in what he’ll say at this juncture. We need to remember this conversation as he has a couple more on the way to King Aelle. He knows that his words will be remembered and he has every intention of claiming his place in Valhalla, for though he goes out as a captive, he is fighting for the future, I think.

Lissa: Ragnar is led out to a wagon with an iron cage in the back. The rain is pouring down, and the soldiers around him have their spears drawn as if Ragnar is in berserker mode.

Sandi: This is all theater. Every bit of it. From the moment Ragnar appeared at the village gates to the time of his death, he went forward with complete self-determination, knowing what would happen and welcoming it, really, for there is a purpose to him. Travis Fimmel always manages to make Ragnar look purposeful, here, even if it seems the man is in the control of others, he never is. Not really.

Lissa: Alfred and Ecbert watch as he climbs onto the wagon. Ecbert walks toward him, the train of his luxurious robe trailing in the thick mud. He motions Alfred over and Ragnar turns to the boy with a gift. It’s Athelstan’s cross. He tells Alfred it once belonged to his father, and as he’s climbing into the cage, he says if it brings him any comfort, Athelstan returned to the Christian God at the end of his life. Alfred tells Ragnar he’ll never forget him.

Sandi: I wonder if this is the last time we’ll see Young Alfred? Likely, but I feel a bit bad, you know, as I can’t remember if the lad had any lines of significance, for all that he will be a man of significance.

Lissa: The wagon rumbles down the road, and the driver starts chatting with Ragnar. I really liked the driver’s character. A charming, affable fellow.

Sandi: And Ragnar is apparently entirely at his ease. This is a man who is going on a path he himself has chosen. Again, I just adore how Fimmel has brought us Ragnar Lo∂brok.

pic-three-ragnar-daylightLissa: It soon becomes apparent that the coachman is blind. He says he’s heard of Ragnar – that he’s eight feet tall, has killed thousands, and eats children. Ragnar smiles and says that the last one isn’t true. The coachman isn’t sure if any of it is true, but he can smell the fear of the soldiers around him. He asks Ragnar how he intends to make his escape. Ragnar tells him he doesn’t intend to try.

Sandi: And during the show last night, we all reminded ourselves of the prophecy quoted to Ragnar:

 

“You will die on the day that the blind man sees you.” – The Seer, Season 4, Episode 6

Lissa: That night, the soldiers stand in a tight ring around the cage as Ragnar sleeps. They start daring one another to get close, and one soldier sticks out a trembling finger to touch him. Ragnar suddenly lunges toward him, grabs his arm, and gives him a pretend bite. The soldier staggers back, screaming, and Ragnar looks up toward the night sky.

Sandi: This was just so . . . third grade. “C’mon! Let’s poke the lion in his cage and see if he notices! Hey, I’m not scared. Are you scared? Well, go on, then!”

Just . . . stupid. Not for the episode, but just in terms of human behavior. And see, people still do this.

Lissa: Back in Wessex, Judith awakens as Ecbert comes into her room and gives her a tender kiss on the lips. Startled, she sits up and presses her fingers to her mouth. “Ecbert?” she calls, but he leaves the room. He goes into what looks like Athelstan’s old study and opens the lectern. From it, he draws a monk’s robe.

Sandi: So, Ecbert—sometimes called Cream of Wheat on the No Ship Network, and sometimes Creep of Wheat, depending upon what’s going on—has kept a souvenir from his dear friend, Athelstan. Monk’s robes. Likely from that time when Athelstan first joined him in Wessex, before he was gifted with nicer raiment. Ecbert’s kept the robes for years, apparently. I am thinking maybe he had some kind of moth-repellent in the wraps. It was common, then, to use wormwood as a deterrent, or bay leaves, or resin from a cypress tree. So, he’s kept the old clothes for some unknown reason and now he brings them out.

Lissa: The next day, the wagon continues its journey. Ragnar realizes the driver is blind. But the driver says not to worry – the horses know where they’re going, and though he’s blind,  he can see Ragnar. Ragnar has a vision of the Seer in his place, and Ragnar recalls the Seer telling him he would die on the day the blind man saw him. He tells the Seer that it will be at least another day before he dies, so the Seer was wrong in his prophecy, and that he, Ragnar, directed his fate, not the gods, in whom he no longer believes.  The Seer tells him he has walked among the dead, and has struggled with the meaning of what he sees. Perhaps he was wrong. Ragnar urgently asks him what he saw, and reality reasserts itself. The blind driver tells him he didn’t see anything at all.

Sandi: The prophecy in question was shown in the first half of this season, in episode six, for those who are looking for it. So, as much as Ragnar would like to believe he has escaped the gods and their machinations, it seems clear that they still have a hand on his life. The blind driver, after all, is still there and Ragnar knows he’s going to his death.

Lissa: Ecbert is walking along the road, dressed in a monk’s robe, his feet bare. He looks … rough. I mean, like seriously rough. His feet are bleeding, his face is filthy, and his hair is stringy. It’s only been like eight hours, and dude looks like he’s on the back end of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Sandi: He really does. This speaks, undoubtedly, to his intense mental turmoil. Intense as it is, though, he does nothing to stop the upcoming events from unfolding. Also, I think that he looks worse here than he does later in the day.

Lissa: The prison wagon is greeted by Aelle and his men.

Sandi: And . . . we have more posturing, more theater, more of “Watch me, a great and mighty king, subdue the terror of the seas, Ragnar Lo∂brok.”

pic-four-ragnar-boundLissa: Pushed to his knees in front of Aelle, he has to listen to another round of exhortations by King Aelle about paying for his sins against Christians, and that the souls of those Ragnar killed will be released from Purgatory this day, with a Hallelujah on their lips. God chose Aella as the instrument of his justice and he’s about God’s work and blah blah blah I dunno I think I fell asleep for a minute there. He’s laying it on thick.

Sandi: Oh gads, it was so very, very tiresome. You have to know that Aelle has likely been ranting on this very topic for a full decade at the very least. Everyone in his kingdom knows how he feels. And they’re likely as tired of it as we are. But then, we are led, in this show, to see King Aelle as a man without finesse. Class. He is uncouth, for all the wealth he may have and the power he may flaunt. He is still just a man. A frightened man who has to strut like a peacock to make a point.

Lissa: He demands Ragnar plead for absolution and punches him when Ragnar refuses. He repeats the demand and Ragnar stays silent again despite another punch.

Sandi: I have a really hard time watching this kind of thing. The Blood Eagle was artistic, of course, and masterfully filmed. This, though, is just dirty. And gross. But it shows Ragnar as a true Viking, ready for Valhalla, as he takes the scorn of his enemy without a sound.

Lissa: Aelle then draws out a red-hot poker and presses it to Ragnar’s stomach. Ragnar gives a small grunt, but otherwise remains silent while Aelle repeats his demand. Aella looks genuinely frightened when he takes the poker away.

Lissa: I speculated that the show may be saying that this is where the legend of Ragnar’s “enchanted shirt” came from. In the Sagas, the shirt was given to Ragnar by Aslaug when he ignored her prophecies he’d come to doom. The shirt protected him from harm (the snakes) until it was removed. They may be implying that the legend came from Ragnar’s seemingly supernatural “protection” from the agony.

Sandi: I tend to see it as Ragnar’s fully human wish to maintain control over himself no matter what provocation there is to do otherwise. He will meet his wyrd with strength and not falter. What I also found interesting was that Ragnar’s baldness works for him in a significant manner: Aelle cannot grab his hair to compel any kind of physical obedience. He just can’t. Ragnar has even more self-control as demonstrated here.

Lissa: Aelle then produces a knife and carves a cross on Ragnar’s face, blinding him in one eye. Ragnar barely makes a sound. When Aelle has finished, Ragnar indicates he wants to speak and the ropes are loosened. His line is a slightly modified version of what he’s reported to have said in the Sagas as he was dying, “How the young pigs would squeal if they knew what the old boar suffers!

Sandi: He is basically informing his captors that his sons will have something to say about this. They might not be there at the moment, but they will come to know that Ragnar died at Aelle’s hands. And Ecbert’s. Even if they do not find out how he suffered, precisely.

Lissa: Aelle steps back and his soldiers beat Ragnar before they shove him back in his cage. But that night, they don’t harass him any further. I got the feeling they were in awe, or slightly frightened of this man with his preternatural tolerance for pain. Or perhaps torture loses its fun if the subject reacts like they’re impervious to it.

Sandi: Oh, it really does. An impassive victim loses his flavor for the average soldier. But I also believe, as you said, that the men might indeed be more frightened of him than they were before. Even if he was likely very hungry, hadn’t been given food or drink in more than a day, and they knew that he would then be weak. He is still seen as stronger than they are, which is why they keep him caged.

Lissa: As Ragnar dozes in his cage, he flashes back over his life. Kissing his young wife, Lagertha … meeting Athelstan … teaching the young Björn swordplay … Lagertha divorcing him … Floki giggling and then tied to the pole in the center of Kattegat … Rollo calling him “brother” before their final battle on the river … and Athelstan teaching him the Lord’s Prayer in front of the waterfall.

Sandi: “I saw my life flash before my eyes…” Ragnar, I feel, welcomes these flashes. They remind him of the most significant times of his life and are what he will take with him, nearest to his heart, to keep him strong in the coming final trial. 

Lissa: He snaps awake hearing the crowd reciting the same prayer and spots Ecbert weaving his way through the crowd, still disguised in his monk’s robe. Ecbert looks considerably better. Got a good night’s sleep at a Holiday Inn, perhaps.

pic-five-monkbertSandi: Or something! Perhaps his inner torment is over, now that he’s here and it’s happening and there really isn’t any struggle for him. The slaying of Ragnar is in the hands of another and Ecbert, the pragmatist that he always will be, lets it go and just . . . watches.

Lissa: The men pull ropes and drag apart a pair of doors on the ground beneath Ragnar’s cage. A square pit is revealed, lined with logs. Does Aelle keep one of these on standby, or did he have time to build it in the 24 hours since Ragnar left Wessex?

Sandi: “Many hands make light work?” Or it could be that Aelle has had a pit in place forEVer. A multipurpose destination for those whom he wished to end. Torture? Captivity? Basic humiliation? Here, it will be a site of death.

Lissa: Men stand by, holding snakes aloft, which they toss into the pit. I noted last night that handsome portion of those snakes were of the nonvenomous type.

Lissa: But, as Sandi said, St. Patrick did a number on the amount of venomous serpents in the British isles, so one does what one must, even if that means padding the amount of snakes with the likes of the boa constrictor, which is only found in the Americas, which technically hadn’t been discovered yet and… I’m digressing, aren’t I?

#BootSoleFile

Sandi: Always a good place for the random extraneous boa constrictor.

ragnar-death-speechLissa: Anyway, it suddenly seems very cold. You can see the breath of the people as they speak. When the prayer is finished, Ragnar stands, and after exchanging a smile with Ecbert, he suddenly has back his energy and defiance. He shouts out his final words. “It gladdens me to know that Odin prepares for a feast! Soon I shall be drinking ale from curved horns. This hero that comes into Valhalla does not lament his death. I shall not enter Odin’s hall with fear. There, I shall wait for my sons to join me. And when they do, I will bask in their tales of triumph. The Aesir will welcome me. My death comes without apology. And I welcome the Valkyries to summon me home!”

Sandi: This is the moment he’s been preparing for. This is the Viking King. The explorer. The adventurer. The mighty warrior. This is Ragnar Lo∂brok and he is making sure that no one would leave that place without knowing exactly what he stands for. He wants his words to be remembered, to fly back to Kattegat where his sons are, to call them to action. It’s a strong speech, for all its made from a cage, and he makes it without hesitation on any front, despite all the sufferings and deprivations he’s recently experienced.

Was I the only one that was applauding as I watched? I mean, Ragnar is unconquerable.

Lissa: Aelle shouts, “Lord, deliver me from mine enemies!” The soldiers pull the ropes attached to Ragnar’s cage, and the bottom drops out. He plunges into the pit.

Sandi: As a closing line, King Aelle’s lacks all that Ragnar’s delivered. Oh yes, your enemy, great king. Beaten up, bloodied, caged, hanging over a pit of snakes. So very, very terrifying.

Lissa: Ecbert shuffles forward with the rest of the audience, peering down into the pit. Ragnar is covered in snakes.

pic-six-ragnar-snakes

Sandi: And still, Ragnar says nothing. He doesn’t cry out, though we see him grimace and jerk with the different bites he is receiving. He meets his fate with his eyes as open as they can be until he can do so no longer.

Lissa: He looks up at Ecbert and their eyes meet. Ecbert gives him a genuine smile, and Ragnar closes his eyes. He is gone, and an era has ended. But he never once screamed or begged. Like Jarl Borg and the Blood Eagle, Ragnar endured his torture silently, and thus earned a place in Valhalla.

Sandi: And because it has to be said again, many kudos to Travis Fimmel. The man deserves all the awards for his portrayal of a legend. I didn’t know who he was when the show started, but now? I’ll watch him in just about anything. Maybe it’s the eyes?

Lissa: The pit is covered over again. It becomes the tomb of Ragnar Loðbrók and the hundreds of non-native, innocent snakes.

Sandi: Well, if he is so careless with his snakes, it is no wonder that Aelle has to use nonvenomous ones for his executions. Terrible treatment of the reptiles.

Lissa: Ecbert remains after everyone is gone. The empty cage remains above, swaying in the cold wind. He pauses for another long moment, and then drifts away.

Sandi: It is an odd image to have, of the last place where Ragnar drew breath. But it is also a reminder of mortality that even the Seer might appreciate. Our lives are short and sharp, ending in violence (if one is a splendid Viking), or otherwise, and we leave the world. It is only our reputation that will live on afterward. Our words. And Ragnar’s words will travel far.

pic-seven-lagerthaLissa: Ivar lands in Kattegat and is carried off the ship. Lagertha exchanges a look with Joan Jett. Lagertha has to see the significance in the fact that Ragnar isn’t there.

Sandi: But still, she’s troubled.

And I’d like to take a moment to appreciate this episode. Until this point, this episode has kept its focus tight on Ragnar and his end. No cut-aways to Kattegat or even Frankia. Just Ragnar. If we have to say goodbye to the man, we got to do it with respect and consideration. Thank you, History Channel.

Lissa: Ivar’s taken to his brothers’ house, and they ask him where Ragnar is. He tells them that Ragnar is likely dead now, and that King Ecbert turned him over to King Aelle. They must get their revenge. Sigurd tells Ivar that Aslaug is also dead, killed by Lagertha. The last thing we see is Ivar squeezing the chess piece that Alfred gave him so tightly that his hand bleeds. His eyes are glowing blue again.

Sandi: So, the Ragnarssons are orphaned in a very big world, with many expectations set before them. We have been guided, as an audience, to heed the future of Ivar over his brothers, and I am eager to see where this will take us.

The Vikings were around a long time, historically. The Viking Age is generally seen to be from the late 8th Century all the way into the 11th Century, before they ceased to raid as their primary objective and instead settled down all over Europe.

Next week, I imagine we’ll take steps on this new road. Perhaps more than one road. Should be interesting!

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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


The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Uncertain Hour

 

vikings-s4-head-pic-for-posts
“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 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.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks, where and Lissa and I live-tweet during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One.


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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Sandi: For reasons that will become obvious, I am half-inclined to add “In vino, veritas” to this week’s episode.

Lissa: This episode had a lot of… strange moments for me.

Sandi: Oh, it really did. On some of them I concur, even. Some humor, some pathos, some awkwardness, and some boot soles. It was a strange night.

Lissa: Lagertha is cheered as she walks through Kattegat’s main street toward Aslaug. Aslaug, adorned in her queenly robes, is standing there with the Shiny Sword on her palms. Even the Seer has come out to watch. Aslaug starts out by playing the victim. “How strange, Lagertha, that you should play the usurper. One woman against another.”

pic-one-epi-14

Sandi: Even from the initial words, it was plain that his was not the showdown that had been hinted at in previews. History Channel VIKINGS previews are, though, notoriously misleading. Seeing the Seer out of his ritual space was a surprise. He’s taller when he’s upright than one is accustomed to seeing.

pic-two-epi-14Lissa: Lagertha sheathes her sword. “I was never the usurper. Always the usurped.”

Sandi: Now, that’s a lie, really. Lagertha could be said to have usurped her own demesne of Hedeby, back in the day. She provoked her husband into hurting her badly enough in public that she was able to strike him down and usurp his power and authority. This would be well known by each and every one of her listeners, as well. I think that here, she is laying a case for her vengeance in Kattegat alone, by saying she’d been wronged. In public. Which would be the right thing to do in terms of the law.

Lissa: Lagertha says that Aslaug stole her husband, her home, and her happiness. Aslaug retorts that Ragnar wanted to be with her, and Lagertha accuses Aslaug of bewitching him. Aslaug says that women have power over men sometimes, but she didn’t use any magic on him. Aslaug tells Lagertha that Ragnar is dead. Lagertha doesn’t want to believe it. Aslaug tells her she saw it in a dream. Lagertha retorts that she doesn’t KNOW for sure he’s dead. Aslaug doesn’t try to defend her völva powers. She smiles and says that Lagertha may be right. It was only a dream. In any case, Lagertha can have her home back. She will not fight. She’s not her mother, or her father. “I have fulfilled my destiny. The gods foretold Ragnar would have many sons. I have given him those sons. I am as much a part of his saga, Lagertha, as you are.” She tosses the sword at Lagertha’s feet. All she asks is that Lagertha give her safe passage to go wherever she wishes. Her sons, she says, will be grateful to Lagertha for it.

Sandi: I see in their exchange the equivalent of a courtroom proceeding, ending with an abrupt acceptance of the verdict as Aslaug tosses the sword at Lagertha’s feet. And then, we were expecting, perhaps, a cheer or a farewell scenario or something.

Lissa: Lagertha agrees and Aslaug struts away, her lips curved in a triumphant smile.

Lissa: She pauses at the end of the street, and her smile freezes. She starts to tilt forward and we see an arrow protruding from between her shoulder blades. As she falls, we see Lagertha standing behind her with a bow in hand.

pic-three-epi-14

Sandi: I confess I was startled that Lagertha had done this herself. When I saw the arrow, I assumed that Lagertha had set up someone on a rooftop as she had done in the battle prior, someone who was ready to handle things if the legal proceedings got ugly. But that’s clearly not how it went down.

Lissa: I was shocked by this. It honestly didn’t seem to be Lagertha’s “style” to give safe passage and then shoot an enemy in the back. Every revenge slaying she’s ever done has been face-to-face and she’s kept her word about it. I could see her killing Aslaug on the spot, or even hunting her down afterward and making her life a misery, but this just didn’t seem “Lagertha” to me.

Sandi: Though I was startled, I was not put off by Lagertha’s action, here. I don’t believe it was the wisest thing she could have done (LagerthAthena she isn’t, apparently, owl companion not withstanding), but I got it. She had waited. She had bided her time. She had arranged her people and provided an appropriate venue, and she took her revenge on the woman who had basically been the impetus for upending her entire life.

That Ragnar is the ultimate guilty party is a given, but Lagertha will always love that man so she took her vengeance on the other woman.

Lissa: Aslaug is given the cinematic version of a Viking funeral – the boats and flaming arrows thing. Here’s where I wish they would have inserted one of those little historical nods and had Aslaug’s interment be the Oseberg ship burial.  The chanting was beautiful, though, as the Viking ladies add jewelry and other items to her pyre boat.

Sandi: Notice the absolute lack of horror at Aslaug’s public murder. Notice the apparent acceptance of Lagertha’s actions. This is, as Hirst is showing again, the 9th Century and the world was a different place back then.

Lissa: It was sort of an anti-climactic end to the queen people loved to hate. As I’d mentioned in our podcast, I was hoping they would continue with the Sagas, and Aslaug leading an army to avenge Ragnar’s death (in the Sagas, her sons, but since they didn’t die and Ragnar seems destined to…) I was hoping Aslaug and Lagertha could come to a truce and work together to avenge the man they both loved. What a journey that could have been! But, alas, it shall have to be explored only in fanfic now…

Sandi: Anti-climactic indeed, and a bit disappointing for that. But as you say, there’s always fan fiction! If History Channel had chosen to follow the female lines, this could have been an epic tale, but it is evident that the future story will follow the males and the legends and histories told of them. It is best that the show focus more tightly; exploring everything can be confusing.

Lissa: Ragnar tells the soldiers at the city gates to take him to Ecbert, and they will be rewarded for treating one of his friends well. He is soundly thrashed while Ivar watches. We next see him in a small iron cage, suspended off the ground a few inches. I couldn’t figure out why they’d bother with suspending the cage such a small distance off the ground, and Sandi swooped in to offer the answer:

Sandi: The imprisonment is clearly a petty (and effective) treatment, here. Ragnar’s entire demeanor is quiescent. The beating he received was vastly overdone under the circumstances and the imprisonment unnecessary except as a means to humiliate and unman him.

Lissa: Aethelwulf questions Ragnar, demanding to know where the rest of his men are. Ragnar says he killed them. He asks Aethelwulf to be kind to Ivar and appeals to Aethelwulf as a father himself. Aethelwulf snaps that Ragnar is an animal who deserves to be in a cage.

Sandi: Aethelwulf is suffering from an inferiority complex, and I can’t really blame him. Even beaten, filthy, locked up, and at the mercy of his captors, Ragnar exudes serenity and confidence as to his position. Aethelwulf has never had that kind of personal strength; he’s been held back for too long in his life.

historys-vikings-season-4-part-2-episode-14-ragnar-lothbrok-in-a-cageLissa: Ecbert has Ragnar, and his cage, brought into his hall. He wants to chat. Ragnar pleads to see Ivar, because he doesn’t know if his son is alive or dead. Ecbert nods, and two soldiers carry Ivar in and deposit him in a chair. He’s well-dressed and clean, and has no visible wounds. Ragnar asks him how he is, and Ivar tells him he’s fine. Ecbert offers Ivar some food and says that Ivar is his guest. He orders the soldiers to have Ivar treated well. Ivar is taken from the room. He calls over his shoulder to his father as he is carried away, “Don’t [mess] with them.” (The Viking wording might have been a little rougher, but both of our blogs are PG.) Ecbert asks what Ivar said and Ragnar replies that Ivar said “Thank you.”

Sandi: This was a nice little scene that did a few things. One, it reinforced Ragnar’s purposeful projection of his son being weak and unable to handle himself, which Ragnar is keen on making the public perception as we the viewers are aware. Ivar plays along, but only on the surface, as his native tongue conveys his true feelings. In a non-PG manner. 😉 This father and son are contrasted definitively with Ecbert and Aethelwulf. Ragnar might be the dominant figure, but he respects his son and works with him.

Lissa: Ecbert tells Ragnar that he’s sorry the Wessex settlement was destroyed by Aethelwulf, but it was, of course, done on Ecbert’s orders. He regrets it now. “Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.” But it was part of a much larger, long-term strategy.

b-historys-vikings-season-4-part-2-episode-14-ragnar-lothbrok-and-king-ecbert-670x447Sandi: His sincerity is as ersatz as Splenda® in my coffee. Which is to say, not at all effective or believable in place of the genuine article. And Ecbert knows Ragnar will feel this way (with appropriate, 9th Century equivalents) but he says so regardless because he also knows that Ragnar is a self-confessed corrupt fellow. Just like Ecbert himself. They understand one another so the words can be said for form without belief and, somehow, this works for them as a means of communication.

Lissa: He has Magnus brought in to meet Ragnar. The boy’s eyes are full of wonderment. Magnus tells Ragnar that his mother told him stories of his amazing father, and he can see now that the stories are true. Ragnar tells Magnus that his birth was truly a miracle, since he never had sex with Kwenthrith. After the boy leaves, Ecbert says he always had his doubts about the boy’s paternity. He asks Ragnar why it took him so long to return, and why he’s here now. Ragnar replies with Ecbert’s own words from earlier: it’s part of a larger, long-term strategy. Ecbert cracks up.

Sandi: Well, Magnus certainly looked as if he could have been lo, another Ragnarsson, but no! I wonder if the wonderful Amy Bailey knew that Kwenthrith hadn’t had sex with Ragnar in that memorable, erm, healing scene? I felt dreadful for Magnus here, as he was confronted with a fat lie. Ecbert, unsurprisingly, appears to have not a care in the world for how his charge-to-date might be handling the abrupt disclosure.

pic-four-epi-fourteenLissa: In Hedeby, Margrethe opens the door to Ubbe and Sigurd’s prison. She tells the boys they need to get back to Kattegat. The boys ride there and find Lagertha sitting in the great hall. She is wearing a red dress with a high black collar that immediately went into our “Boot Sole File” of anachronistic costumes. History Channel… There is just no excuse, man. No excuse.

Sandi: Yeah . . . No. The official title for this episode is An Uncertain Hour Before Morning, and I really feel the “uncertain” refers, in large part, to Lagertha. Or at least our perception of her. I wonder where her character’s arc is heading?

Lissa: They demand to know where their mother is and Lagertha is simple and direct: “I killed her. She took Kattegat from me. I wanted it back.” The boys ask why she didn’t kill them too, and she tells them that it’s not their fault their mother bewitched their father. Ubbe says it was a mistake not killing them. The enraged boys start fighting their way through Lagertha’s guards.

Sandi: One has to believe that Lagertha had known this confrontation was inevitable, hence her utterly calm demeanor as it went on. She had her defenses in place, as it were, from the implacable gaze to the bodyguard. Ubbe taking the lead in the attack, going so far as to shove his younger brother aside, did surprise me. Why not take the extra pair of arms? I think perhaps that Ubbe was just furious and he wanted to be uninhibited, not thinking about the defense of anyone else as he went on the attack.

Lissa: But they’re eventually taken down, and dragged out of the hall, unharmed except for some bruises. They lick their wounds with some mead by the fire. Ubbe wants to attack Lagertha. Go into the hall and finish her off. Sigurd scoffs. Aslaug wouldn’t have done the same for them. Her favorite was Ivar. And Harbard. He reminisces – or rather bitterly recollects – what a fool she made of herself over Harbard. Ubbe says that Lagertha should be made to pay for killing their mother, and Sigurd says Ivar will do it… If he’s still alive. They both heard what Aslaug said about the ship sinking and Ragnar and Ivar being killed. Sigurd laughs at that.

Sandi: This is part of the “in vino, veritas” theme that I found in this episode. Okay, so they’re drinking mead (have I mentioned before that it’s a favorite of mine?), but still. The young men are coming down off the adrenal rush of combat, imbibing alcohol, and they’ve a common enemy. Of course they’re talking rather more freely than usual and of course past experiences color everything. Sigurd carries a grudge against Ivar and his mother, having lived with the inequality of the various mother-son relationships in a more intense way than Ubbe did. He saw what Harbard did to Kattegat as a whole and in his own house in particular. Resentment will linger always, I think, though he knows that Ivar would be better at making anyone pay for wrongs against the family. Ivar has, after all, killed before. But he doesn’t believe his legendary father would die. And he likely believes that if Ragnar lives, so does Ivar.

Lissa: Back in Wessex, Ecbert is justifying himself. He says he’s united all of the small warring kingdoms in England. Which… he didn’t. And using “England” itself is kind of an anachronism, but we’ll just roll with it, because it’s that kind of episode. He tells Ragnar that he’s considered by the people to be the most dangerous man in the world. . He shares some food with the ravenous Ragnar, and some wine, and then unlocks the cage. Ragnar collapses to the floor when he tries to straighten up after several days in such cramped accommodations. It’s a reminder that they’re both older men, beset by bodily infirmity. Ecbert says he has to decide what to do with him. From his position on the floor, Ragnar says that the Seer prophesied he would die on the day that the blind man could see him. That means Ecbert must kill him.

Sandi: More of Ersatz Ecbert, here. Met by Realistic Ragnar. They are older, though, so there’s no invitation to bathe in the communal Roman pool. (Though I really wish Ragnar could get cleaned up a bit!) There’s merely the testing of weapons, verbal only, on the familiar foe.

Lissa: Aethelwulf escorts young Magnus out the gate of the city and hands him a small leather satchel. He tells Magnus it’s time for him to go off and learn to be a man.

Sandi: This scene, to me, is the most heartbreaking and troubling of the whole episode. The young man—boy, really—had been raised by a king, told he was the son of a legendary king, and he was innocent of harsh realities. Soft in feature and manner, his aspect also spoke of elegance of condition. He was a pampered scion. Until he wasn’t. And then he ws kicked out on his own without warning or any preparation whatsoever. This was deplorable, in my view, as the lad had done nothing wrong.

Lissa: Magnus is understandably bewildered. He asks where he’s supposed to go. Athelwulf essentially tells him that’s his job to figure out, and if anyone troubles him, to tell them that he’s Magnus, son of Ragnar Lothbrook, and everything will be fine.

Sandi: Really, I was speechless. My whole mind, as the mother of sons, was occupied with all the many ways in which Magnus could be hurt out there in the 9th Century.

Lissa: Magnus is like a dog dumped beside the road, with the owner blithely saying it will be fine, hunting rabbits and such, and driving away. He stands there sobbing in the rain, clutching his only earthly possessions, wearing clothes on his back worth more than the average highwayman will see in a lifetime.

Kid is frickin’ doomed.

Lissa: Aside from the cruelty of the situation, it doesn’t make much sense. He may not be the son of Ragnar, but he’s the son of Princess Kwenthrith of Mercia, and no one aside from Ecbert knows Ragnar disavowed his parentage. They can say whatever they like. And if they want the kid dead, why not kill him right there? After all, he could later return with an army at his back and press for his birthright from his mother’s line. Stranger things have happened throughout history. (Perkin Warbeck, anyone?)

Sandi: As you say, this makes no sense plot-wise (after all, Magnus was basically a non-entity before, so forgetting about him again in the show would work) or character development-wise unless it’s to show how heartless King Ecbert is. But we already knew that, right?

Lissa: Ragnar and Ecbert are drunk and having an existential debate about religious faith and our purpose here on earth. Ragnar says, in essence, that he’s come to Wessex to die. Ecbert throws up his hands. “You Vikings are incorrigible. You emerge from the womb with only one thing on your mind: How to die!”

Sandi: And here we have the beginning of another “in vino” scene!

Lissa: As we discussed last night, preparing for death was an important aspect of life in both cultures, especially in an era in which death was omnipresent, and could strike for seemingly no reason at all.

Sandi: Basically, it’s true. Ragnar made the point about the Christians being obsessed with death and the afterlife in this time as well, so the men are, once again, on par. Which they knew in advance of this part of the discussion. Their verbal fencing seems endless.

Lissa: The conversation turns to Athelstan, whom both of them loved. Ragnar says that Floki killed him for jealousy’s sake – because Ragnar loved Athelstan more. Ecbert says he, too, felt jealous, when Athelstan chose to leave with Ragnar instead of stay with Ecbert.

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Lissa: Ecbert brings in someone special, and he doesn’t need to identify him, because Ragnar instantly recognizes Alfred. The scene is incredibly tender, a moment of genuine emotion so rarely found in movies and television. Ragnar embraces the boy. It was a wholly unexpected kindness that Ecbert would share Alfred with Ragnar, giving him a living glimpse of the man they both loved and lost.

Sandi: I loved this scene. I had real tears and everything. Casting for Alfred was well done; the lad could indeed have sprung from Athelstan and Judith. We don’t know what the future Great King might have thought, for this moment was—unlike Magnus’s—not for his benefit. It was all for Ragnar.

Lissa: That night, Ragnar sits at the foot of his bed sleepless and we see visions of the sunlight sparkling on waves. Ecbert, too, is sleepless, kneeling before an altar and quoting Ecclesiastes. The King James Version, I might add. History Channel… We need to talk.

Sandi: I am wondering if the intent was not to have him quoting the KJV but a Latin translation from the Greek—which would have come from the Hebrew, in all likelihood. It would have been far less of a History Channel faux pas if they had had Ecbert at least begin quoting in Latin, transitioning to English for those of us who watch VIKINGS in that language.

joan-jett-epi-14Lissa: Ubbe and Sigurd wake up, probably with severe hangovers, and see Joan Jett perched on the edge of the bed they didn’t sleep in. She’s perky and resplendent in a gorgeously woven tunic. She tells them if they harm a hair on Lagertha’s head, they’re dead men. Ubbe replies that if they don’t fear Lagertha, why would they fear her? Joan Jett smiles slightly and flounces out.

Sandi: I’m still trying to get a handle on Joan Jett, here. Lagertha certainly hasn’t demonstrated a need for a bodyguard, but it seems Joan Jett is thus appointed. Her woven garment was indeed intricate and well made, but I took exception to the extraneous fabric on her left arm. It served no purpose other than for show, unless Joan Jett was trying to make an impression on Ubbe and Sigurd beyond the threat of violence.

Lissa: Ecbert tells Ragnar that he can’t kill him. He can’t let him live, but he can’t kill him, either. He just can’t. Ragnar suggests that Ecbert hand him over to Aella, and “wash his hands” of Ragnar’s death. More Christian anachronisms in my Vikings. Ragnar tells Ecbert to send Ivar home with a message for Ragnar’s other sons: that Ecbert did everything he could to stop Aella from harming Ragnar. Then the boys will focus their vengeance on Aella. You can see the wheels turning in Ecbert’s brain. What a lovely, convenient way to destroy Aella, and get rid of Ragnar, too.

no-ship-logoSandi: There is also a reference to lung ripping, and I am reminded that in legend, Ivar performs a blood eagle on Aelle. We discussed it a bit on the podcast we did with the awesome folks at No Ship Network. And Ragnar did use what we see as a Christian reference but the washing of the hands would have been a Jewish phrase in its initial use and, it is possible that Athelstan had used the phrase in the time that Ragnar had known him, so I’m leaning toward Ragnar’s using the phrase on purpose. Part of a larger, long-term strategy.

Lissa: He leans forward and says to Ecbert, “Do not be afraid.”

Sandi: And if we’re thinking of Christian phrases used out of place, this might be another one. Almost whenever an angel appears to people in the Bible, the angel says, “Do not be afraid.” This is often a harbinger for news from on high, but here . . .why does Ragnar say this? His aspect as seen below is hardly angelic.

 Season’s Greetings to all!


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


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.

  .¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

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!

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