The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: On the Eve

 

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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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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.

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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.

vikings-floki-foster-dad

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!

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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!

kattegat-aerial

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.

ragnarssons-whos-in-charge

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.

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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: 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.

dd-ecbert-tweet

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

 

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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 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. 
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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: 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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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

 

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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 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.”

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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.

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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 s4, E12: The Vision

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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 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. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fourth (point five) season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

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

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

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

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Lissa: This episode wasn’t quite as strong as the one before it. It was sort of a “getting ready” episode, like packing for a vacation, turning off all the lights, getting the pets to the kennel… that sort of thing.

We begin with Ragnar in Kattegat, walking through the marketplace. The hustle and bustle reminds us what a busy place it is. One of the traders drives a cart through the streets. Its cargo is a live emu.

 

Sandi: Yes, you rather liked the emu! Really, it spoke well to the internationality of Kattegat, but then we’d also seen that before, with a host of culturally diverse people selling their wares in the market square.

Lissa: Ragnar stops to speak to a man he knows. He tells him he’s getting a crew together to go back to raid in England. The man draws back with a smile and says he’s a farmer. Just like his brother was, and his brother went to England to live in one of Ragnar’s settlements. He found out that his brother had been slaughtered years after it happened, but Ragnar had known all along, hadn’t he? He leans forward and spits in Ragnar’s face.

Ragnar stands there for a moment, and a small smile ghosts across his lips. He thanks the man for his time and walks away. At his back, the man shouts that no one loves Ragnar any longer, not even the gods.

Sandi: That was expected. We needed to see this kind of response. The interesting thing, to me, is that there weren’t more Kattegatians (I can’t call them villagers anymore, can I?) who were up in Ragnar’s face about the Wessex slaughter/failure/tragedy. But still, note that Ragnar can walk about in Kattegat without being on the defensive. He isn’t otherwise assaulted, and people make way for him. He is still Ragnar, and that name means something. Even his sons, who might not all appreciate him entirely, nor agree with him, bank on that name.

Lissa: Ragnar speaks with Björn about his plans. It’s a sad exchange, in a way, because Ragnar can see how the Seer’s prophecy is coming true before his eyes… Björn has a great destiny before him, and seems destined to go on to greater things than Ragnar ever achieved. Ragnar tells him he needs ships. Björn agrees to give him some of the fleet he’s assembled to go to the Mediterranean. It had to be very galling for Ragnar to have to go to his son – hat in hand, so to speak – and ask for ships that were built by the man who used to craft ships for Ragnar.

Björn mentions having to pass by Rollo’s lands, and says he intends to see how much of a Viking his uncle still is.

Sandi: Galling, yes, but I think too that Ragnar is proud. I mean, he raised Björn until Björn was granted his armband. He and Lagertha created a strong son who is now doing what men do: make their own way. And even if he does become bigger and better than his father, Björn is also carrying Ragnar’s name with him as he does so. It’s hard for the older generation, too, to make way for the younger, but it is the natural way of things and a Viking will bow to that. They’ll all meet in Valhalla and share stories one day, would be a way to acclimate himself to that.

Lissa:  At the midday meal, Aslaug tells Ivar she’s happy to see him with Margrethe. She tells all her boys they should be having children.

Sandi: Odd, but I don’t really see Aslaug as a grandmother. She might be!



Lissa: Ubbe blithely says he probably already has a few and the boys laugh. But Aslaug insists they should marry and father legitimate heirs. Sigurd asks his mother if she married Ragnar because she loved him.

Aslaug replies tartly that love has little to do with it, but when he presses, she snaps that she did love him.

Sandi: This is odd, in the cultural context. A marriage in this society would not be based upon love, as a rule. A marriage was most often an arrangement between families, for the better fortune of them all in terms of land, influence, wealth, or all of the above. Marrying for love would be a foreign notion. Why would her sons even inquire about it? I could just slide this into the Boot Sole File.

And Aslaug married Ragnar because she was bearing his child. I mean, it’s not a romantic story at that point, not really. Perhaps, though, Aslaug is trying to keep a legend alive with her sons. They are her closest companions at this juncture.

Lissa:  He then brings up the rumor that Aslaug bewitched Ragnar into marrying her.

Ivar starts to defend her, Sigurd wonders aloud if she loved anyone except for Harbard. Ivar says he knows Aslaug always loved him. Sigurd retorts that Aslaug felt pity for him – like the rest of them do, but sometimes they wish that she’d left Ivar to the wolves.

Sandi: Sigurd really takes the proverbial bull by the horns, here. Ivar is defensive of Aslaug—for good reason—and the sequence is indicative of the long-festering unease/antipathy that has developed between the two brothers over the years they’ve lived together.

Lissa: Ivar tries to attack him, but he has to drag himself along the furniture to reach him. He finally gets close, and Sigurd jerks away the chair he’s using for balance. Ivar falls to the floor as Sigurd walks away. He crawls after his brother crying out in rage as Aslaug tries to soothe him.

Sandi: Sigurd was not playing fair, but then I imagine he’s seen Ivar favored during his whole life. And Ivar really let his guard down, or was overwhelmed by his feelings, here. To show so much emotion, genuine emotion, makes him vulnerable.

Lissa: That evening, there’s a feast in the great hall.

Sandi: Gotta say I enjoyed seeing that. This is a different kind of feast than we’ve perhaps seen in a while. Good to see all the Northmen in their fantastic costumes (History Channel continues to impress in the wardrobe department) and to have a feel for the atmosphere of the Great Hall.

Lissa: Harald and his brother Halfdan are in attendance – they’re going on Björn’s journey.

Björn mentions Harald’s old ambition to become King of Norway, but Harald says he doesn’t think it’s possible to depose Ragnar. Which is a bit odd, since Ragnar is obviously reduced to begging his own child for the boats he needs for a small raid, but perhaps Harald was just being diplomatic, considering his current plans.

He mentions how tall the Ragnarssons are, and Ivar says he’s tall when he stands up. Harald is a bit – well a lot – patronizing when he says that he bets Ivar wishes he could go with them. Ivar tells him to go to hell.

Sandi: Ivar has to be seething, here. Regarding Harald, I think he might be a bit behind the times, perhaps, in terms of the current political climate. Unless he has spies?

Lissa: Lagertha enters with Joan Jett at her side.

Joan seems very popular amongst the people of Kattegat.

Sandi: This is a bit surprising. Lagertha resides in Hedeby, does she not? But Lagertha is a woman of substance, a jarl, and if Joan Jett is seen as her Current S.O., then it is likely that others court her for her favor. Even those who aren’t beholden to Hedeby in any way.

Lissa: Aslaug makes her way over and Lagertha tells her that since their sons are going on a journey together, they should both ask the gods for their blessing.

Aslaug says they should make a sacrifice. Jointly, Lagertha tells her. Aslaug reminds her that she is the queen of Kattegat. Lagertha replies she never forgets anything.

Sandi: Aren’t they so polite, here? slanted smile I like the edge that the actresses gave the scene. The time was short, but the animosity was well-played.

Lissa: After the feast, Margrethe runs outside and pleads with Sigurd for protection from Ivar. She tells him that Ivar tried to kill her, and she tells him Ivar’s terrible secret, that he cannot pleasure a woman. She begs Sigurd not to tell anyone. Suuure he won’t.

He tells his brothers immediately, of course.

Sandi: I was making all kinds of rude sounds during this sequence. What was she thinking? Here I thought Margrethe (Hey, I went to the IMDb page to make sure I spelled it properly!) had a sense of self-preservation. She had taken time to connect (cough!) with each of Aslaug’s sons. And she had used her wits to save her life when it seemed certain Ivar would kill her. So why on earth did she go to the one brother she knew had a serious hate-on for Ivar? She acknowledged that Ivar was crazy, we all know he’s murderous (has been since childhood), so why do this? I was flummoxed. It does, though, make for more drama.

Lissa: The sacrifice ceremony begins. As with the other Viking ceremonies we’ve seen, this one is beautifully – reverentially – cinematic. Aslaug’s face is painted red and black. She slices each of the animal sacrifices and drains their blood into a basin.

As Floki did long ago, Ivar approaches the basin and strokes the blood over his face.

Sandi: They really do give good ceremony on this show. This one is darker than previous sacrifices we’ve seen, merely in terms of the time of day and such. It makes everything smoky, more potently ominous.

Lissa: Aslaug appears to be as high as a kite, her eyes rolling back into her head and her lashes fluttering, but Lagertha leans down to whisper in her ear. “I want you to know that I can never forgive you for taking away my husband and my world. Look what you’ve done with it. You call yourself Queen, but you will never be Queen in Kattegat.” She flicks some of the blood in a dismissive manner in Aslaug’s face.

Sandi: I honestly thought Lagertha had sliced off a piece of Aslaug’s ear, there. It would have worked for me.
 
Lissa: Ivar follows his father out into the hills where Ragnar digs up his hoard of treasure from the earth, intending to use it as a way of buying himself men for the voyage since no one seems willing to volunteer.

Sandi: Ragnar teases his son in a not-too-kind manner, calling him his “crippled son” and so on, but Ivar seems to find this as a form of affection. And, to be honest, it likely is. Ragnar loves his children. It is one of the defining characteristics that continues to endear him to us even when he’s making us crazy.

Lissa: Ivar picks up a coin and turns it in his fingers. He points to the face on the front. “Who is this?” Ragnar tells him its King Ecbert, and Ivar asks if he can keep the coin. Ragnar closes Ivar’s fingers over it.

Sandi: And here we have more from the Wisdom of Ivar, for which he will become famous. Again, kudos to the History Channel for their attention to detail.

Lissa: Ivar warns him that buying men will only get him the dregs.

In town, Ragnar sits at a table, handing out his treasure to a long line of people who’ve come to take it.

Ubbe tries to stop him, says he’s embarrassing himself, but Ragnar flings it out into the crowd, saying he doesn’t care.

Sandi: A king is expected to share from his wealth, but it is tradition that the sharing is done amongst those who have shared in the work. All those on a raid, from the warriors to the navigators to the shipwrights, get gold. But here? These men haven’t worked with Ragnar. He hasn’t chosen them. It is a lowering thing for Ragnar to give his gold away. “Embarrassing” indeed.

Lissa: In preparation for the voyage, Ivar has iron crutches made. He’s able to “walk” with his arms alone, dragging his legs along.

Sandi: I discussed this with my spouse, as I thought iron was not perhaps the best choice for a seafarer. But Spousal Unit is a craftsman and he reminded me that the Vikings would have known that regular wooden crutches would be soaked repeatedly and swell and become unusable unless they were coated in pitch—at which point they would become flammable.

Lissa: The swelling of the wood is an excellent point. Iron really would be more durable and easier to maintain in sea-faring conditions. If he kept the metal well-greased and used a pumice stone to remove any rust that began to build, he could probably keep them in good condition for years.

Sandi: It pays to have to connections, for those iron crutches would have been costly.

Lissa: He trips and falls at one point, and his brothers start over to help him up. Aslaug – very correctly – stops them, and Ivar pulls his own way up.

Ragnar smacks him on the shoulder and tells him nonchalantly that they have a ship to board.

Sandi: I appreciate that Ragnar handled this so casually. It could have been a lot uglier.

Lissa: That night, Ivar creeps to Margrethe’s bed. She cries out in terror when he puts a hand over her mouth. He tells her he knows she told his brothers. She swears she didn’t and pleads for her life. Ivar tells her he believes her, and he just wants to lie next to her.

Sandi: Ha! I bet she didn’t get any sleep that night . . .

Ragnar comes to visit Aslaug as she’s removing her hairpins to go to bed. He gently caresses her neck as he speaks. “Love was not what brought us together. But you endured me. You suffered my words and my neglect. And you never turned our sons against me.” He’s grateful for that. Aslaug’s eyes fill with tears.

Sandi: Ivar asked when Ragnar was going to see Aslaug, and here he does. The “farewell” visit such as he made to the other people in his life.

Lissa: In her own bed, Aslaug has a vision of Ivar floating over the sea, and his limp form swept up by a tornado of water. She tries to run into the sea and save him.

In the morning, she warns him if he goes on this journey, he will drown.

He tells her he finally has a chance to prove himself to the gods, and that one day at his father’s side – as a true Viking man – is worth a lifetime of pity. She cannot tell him what to do. He’s going and doesn’t care if he dies. Aslaug kisses his head and tells him to go.

Sandi: This was a GREAT scene. The episode is titled “The Vision” but I think this moment is more indicative.

Lissa: At the docks, Lagertha has a tender goodbye with Björn.

 

Torvi tells Björn that he cannot come back without winning glory because what will she tell their children of him, the great Björn Ironsides? “Tell them I loved them,” Björn says.

Sandi: Torvi seems to really lay it out for him, here. I don’t know how much was spousal-teasing and how much was sincere “With your shield or on it!” Spartan-wife/mom thing, but she seemed quite determined.

Lissa: The small fleet sails, only a handful of boats with Ragnar, the rest with Björn.

Sandi: It really is a small fleet, as well. Not an impressive flotilla, but just a few ships. Well, that is what was requested, no?

Lissa: As they sail away, Ragnar notices Ivar clinging to the side of the ship. Ivar confesses that he’s terrified of water. Ragnar sits down beside him and tells him there’s worse ways to die than drowning. Ivar retches over the side, apparently seasick as well as afraid.

Sandi: Being terrified of the water makes sense for a man that would have to rely solely on his arms to keep himself safe in the ocean. Ivar is, though, determined to win his sea-legs and Ragnar lets him.

Lissa: Ragnar’s new men are obviously not sailors. Their oars only shallowly dip into the water as they head out to sea. It’s gonna be a long voyage, it seems!



Sandi: This was a great detail. As Ivar predicted, Ragnar got the dregs to crew his longships. Older men. Weaker. Perhaps even a bit lazy. Not determined warriors. Even in Season One, the older warriors had more to them than this bunch.

Lissa: They’re beset by a storm, as Aslaug predicted. The men are being thrown from the vessel by the massive waves. Ragnar grabs Ivar and tosses him over his shoulder as he struggles toward the mast. He lashes Ivar to the mast with rope, and as Ivar roars in fear, Ragnar puts his hand over his mouth. He meets Ivar’s eyes, and Ivar calms.

Sandi: Ragnar saves his son here, and it’s another good moment. Ivar will have learned much, I’m thinking, during this part of his life.

Lissa: While this is happening, Aslaug is rocking in her room, her face contorted in agony. Her lap is soaked with blood. We had a lot of discussion last night over what we were seeing. In the Sagas, aslaug has a vision of her sons dying and is so agonized that she weeps blood, but this appeared to be more along the lines of a miscarriage. But we haven’t seen Aslaug with a lover since the time jump, or any indications that she’s pregnant.

A massive wave overturns their ship. Ragnar struggles through the water to try to untie his son. The last scene we see is Ivar going limp.

Sandi: We know, though, that Ivar lives a long life, and is a warrior of renown. So one can only imagine here that Ragnar saves his son again and brings him to safety in some way. Unless a supernatural agent steps in, that is likely to be the case.



It is somehow fitting that here, Ragnar is saving the life that he was prepared to let end when the lad was an infant. And that the mighty king is struggling in a storm on the way back to a village that he’s known has been gone for a long time, with only a ragtag crew.



As you said, Lissa, a “preparing to go” episode. I am hoping the next one, “Two Journeys” according to IMDb, will have a landing in Wessex and a journey for Björn. 

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.


 


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: The Outsider

 

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 back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

impotence-tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


I am thankful for . . . VIKINGS

Sorry for not being here yesterday. It was a day in which I typed nothing. All better now, though. 🙂

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All images from VIKINGS are the property of History Channel and are used solely for illustrative purposes.

I am continuing my Favorite Episodes of History Channel’s VIKINGS show leading up to the continuation of  Season Four, which begins next week! Lissa Bryan and I will be back on Twitter with our running commentary and I look forward to having many of YOU join us if you can!

Today is Thanksgiving here in the States, and we give thanks for many things. One thing I give thanks for, sincerely, is this show. Not only has it been an amazing adventure so far, but I have met people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and had the opportunity to learn many new things.

So today, if you’re in a thankful mood as well, check out Season Two’s Finale: The Lord’s Prayer. And if you’ve got the series on DVD, watch it again.

And if you’re looking for more Vikings, check out my Éire’s Viking Trilogy. 🙂 Taking place in the 9th Century, this story tells of Norse raiders who raided—and then settled in—Éire.

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One More Week ’til VIKINGS returns

Heillir, warriors and shieldmaidens, pilgrims and nobility. History Channel’s epic show, VIKINGS, returns next Wednesday at 9p. Eastern/8p. Central.

FACEBOOK vikings

Click here to go to the VIKINGS page at The History Channel.

As a warm up before we find ourselves in Kattegat, possibly embroiled in succession issues—or on a longship with Floki bound for the Mediterranean—I thought I’d share some of the commentary/discussion posts author Lissa Bryan and I have done over the years.

Yes, years! Imagine!

Lissa Bryan has a new novel out but she and I will be back to live-tweeting each episode of the season (as far as I know!) once it commences.


One of my favorite episodes from VIKINGS in its first season back in 2013 was Episode 2: Wrath of the Northmen.

146a6-lissa-bryanThe link to the discussion Lissa and I had on this episode is HERE. You might check it out, if only to find out what Lissa and I mean when we reference the Boot Sole File, as we do often over the years. 😉

If you have not found yourself immersed in all things VIKINGS, then please consider using this episode (or even the first one!) as a good starting place. I have, here on this website, all the commentary from each episode for all the seasons to date, as Lissa and I have been very diligent in our observations.

no-ship-logoI also encourage you to check out the preview podcast Lissa and I did with Em and Steve of the No Ship Network. We dove into history, writing, Vikings, and even George Washington.

I am so serious!

Questions? Comments? Speculations? Your favorite episode? Let me know!

Tomorrow: my favorite episode from Season Two!

 

 

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: The Last Ship

“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
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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.

146a6-lissa-bryanHeillir!

Lissa Bryan and I like to call ourselves the Shieldmaidens of History: Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms. We’re excited to bring you our recap and discussion of each episode of History Channel’s series VIKINGS.

Lissa Bryan is an awesome historian as well as a writer of historical and End of the World as We Know It romantic fiction. Check out the review I wrote for her book, The End of All Things here.


Lissa: I hate to start this review off with a concluding statement, but I’ve got to get this off my chest: for me, this is the lowest-rated Vikings episode in … well… ever, I think. I was left deeply dissatisfied, confused, and irritated, not feelings I want to associate with a favorite show.

Sandi: Believe me when I say, “I hear you!” I think there will be considerable backlash from this episode. But. I am going to try to keep faith, grateful that the second half of the season will be happening in 2016, not 2017.

Lissa: The episode started right where we left off, with Floki’s ingenious floating platforms heading up river. Rollo, as we see, is on a ship of his own, floating down to meet his brother. Floki shouts to Rollo: “Rollo! Betrayer of the gods and of all the sacred things in Midgard! Come here you snake—come my way and let my axe slake its thirst on your blood. Come to Floki.”

Sandi: It was one of those wonderful shots this show does so well. The wide expanse of the fleets with more personal views of individuals. Rollo invokes the name of God, here, and I was surprised by that. Though he had technically “converted” to Christianity, one doesn’t see him sounding like a Christian before this episode. He is paying lip-service, here, if nothing else. But that’s more than he’s done before, unbidden. This could be seen as an indirect response to Floki’s challenge, actually.

Lissa: In the streets of Paris, we see a priest walking through the crowds, giving them blessings and absolution before the battle. Gisla is in church, praying before a statue of the Virgin Mary, begging her to save her husband and the city. As she weeps, the statue of the Virgin appears to weep as well. Gisla later offers Rollo’s torc, placing it on the Virgin’s feet.

Sandi: This is a nice continuation from last episode, in which we discussed the exploitation of relics, real or invented, in this era. Did the statue of the Virgin Mary really cry? History shows that there are examples where statues were made to show tears to garner awe—and monetary gifts—from the faithful. I believe Gisla’s prayers to be sincere, here, as definite affection has developed between her and Rollo. It might be considered odd, though, that Gisla is making an offering that she herself might see as “pagan” in origin.

Lissa: Ragnar pops the last of his “Chinese medicine,” and drops Yidu’s empty pouch at his feet. Rollo gives his own men a stirring speech to inspire them to victory.

“All of my life. And all of your lives have come to this point. There is nowhere else to be but here. Nowhere else to live or die but here. To be here now is the only thing that matters. So gather yourselves, gather all of your strength, and all of your sweetness into an iron ball, for we will attack again and again until we reach and overcome their king or we die in the attempt.” 

Sandi: It’s a great speech. Very much along the lines of what Henry V said in the eponymous play. Interesting, though, that Ragnar’s use of the last of the Yidu-brand, there, was also considered inspiring. At least to his son Björn. And Lagertha was waiting to  hear if Ragnar thought the gods were with them. So, even speech-less, as it were, Ragnar was a source of inspiration to those who knew him best, even if not to Rollo’s wider audience.

Lissa: The ships collide in the water, and the battle ensues. It’s wonderfully shot, as most Vikings battle scenes are, but most of the action is confined to the main platform where Lagertha, Ragnar, and Floki are.

Sandi: This is calculated for effect, I’m sure. The focus gives a more obvious purpose as to the benefit of the battle platforms, as well as letting the viewers focus on those who have become most important to many of us. You can see, though, the clear advantages to having the stable platforms amidst a naval fleet. It’s not an aircraft carrier of modern times, but the room to launch arrows rather than airplanes is invaluable.

Lissa: In the midst of the carnage, we see Simple Chuck with Roland and Therese at the dining table. He says that even as they speak, Count Rollo is fighting to save Paris. Roland tells him that He’s made alternative plans for the defense of the city if Rollo happens to fail. Roland doesn’t think Chuck should put all of his faith into a pagan. Chuck says that Rollo has not only his faith but his heart. Therese gives a small laugh and tells him that’s stupid.

Sandi: This was rather baffling. Clearly, the Bobbsy Twins have seriously underestimated their ruler or overestimated their importance to him. Or both.

Lissa: Chuck orders dessert, which turns out to be Roland and Therese being garroted by the guards. Chuck nibbles on a bit of chicken and smiles as he watches them die.

Sandi: Ew. But. What stands out to me is the new aspect to the Emperor Chuck’s demeanor seen in the last couple of episodes. He’s more defined, now. Stronger. Seeming more aware of power nuances than he had demonstrated before. Kudos to Lothaire Bluteau, who plays Charles in the show.

Lissa: We see Halfdan take an arrow, and Floki is stabbed in the side. as the Seer in Kattegat lets out a roar of agony. We see Lagertha battling, using her shield as a shieldmaiden would have, using it as an edged weapon and as a block. It was a delightful little historical touch in an episode that – frankly – didn’t have many.

Sandi: Those that enjoy battle scenes would have enjoyed this one. A lot of hand to hand. Plenty of arrows. There are men overboard, and no one is a clear victor as the donnybrook—or should we say mêlée—continues.

Lissa: Rollo and Ragnar finally meet in battle. Ragnar taunts him, telling Rollo that he looks like a bitch. Considering that many scholars think the English word “bitch” comes from the old Norse bikkjuna, meaning female dog, it might be a period-accurate insult.

Sandi: I think that’s a fair assessment. And many kudos to you, ma’am, for going all Norse!

Lissa: “One of us will die today,” Ragnar promises him. The two brothers fight, and it’s a harsh and brutal struggle that doesn’t have a clear winner. Lagertha sees Rollo pin Ragnar against the side of the ship and hammer his face with his bare fists. (Interesting that neither brother pulled a secondary weapon, isn’t it?) She fights her way toward them, but falls when she’s stabbed through the shoulder.

Sandi: The fight between the brothers really did surprise me. As you said, no secondary weapons were used. But then, this was a personal struggle more than a martial one, in my estimation. Their whole lives, they’ve struggled with one another. Alongside or in opposition, Ragnar and Rollo have not had an easy time of it. That two mighty warriors,  both of whom are more than proficient with axe and sword, find it needful to slug it out in a brawl involving fists and elbows, is quite eloquent on its own. No flashy statements. It’s about proving themselves on a visceral level.

Lissa: This [Lagertha’s involvement] breaks up the fight between Ragnar and Rollo. Ragnar orders his men to get her into the boat and shove off. He tries to charge Rollo again, but his men grab him and throw him into the ship with the wounded. They row away, the battle lost. Both men look horribly depressed in the aftermath.

Sandi: So, no death for Rollo that day. No resolution to a long and troubled relationship. I have to believe, though, that neither of them truly desired death to come to their brother. A beating, yes. Humiliation? Certainly. But death? Not so much, or either of them could have made it happen.

Lissa: Rollo returns to Paris and he’s cheered as soon as he stumbles off of his horse to stagger down the street. The people clap and scream his name, and some rather insensitive types slap the injured man on the back.

Sandi: Yeah. Not quite a ticker tape parade, is it? But this is a culture of personal contact, whether that be meeting with a king, fighting face to face, or welcoming home a battle-chief.

rollo tickertape

Lissa: Gisla runs down to greet him, kissing his bloodied mouth passionately. Simple Chuck kisses him too, on both cheeks. Rollo calls out “God bless Paris!” Either his faith really has changed, or he’s being very clever in pretending it has to appease his new people. Chuck crowns him with a golden laurel and proclaims him Caesar.

Sandi: I am thinking that, for the present, Rollo’s place in the Frankish pantheon is holding steady. No garroting wire in sight.

Lissa: I saw an interesting comment on Tumblr this morning… That it would have been interesting to have Gisla place the golden laurel on Rollo’s head, fulfilling the prophecy that a princess will crown the bear. Is the fact Hirst chose not to do it evidence that Rollo isn’t the “bear” that was prophesied to receive the crown?

We see one last scene of the battered and depressed Ragnar in the ship. His eyes are swollen shut.

Sandi: It’s a sad scene, really. I wonder what’s going through Ragnar’s head, here? He only stopped his fight with Rollo, it seemed, because Lagertha was grievously wounded. “Get her on the boat!” he shouted. And then, he directs them to get the boat she’s on away. “Get her out of here” before turning—with a weapon—to confront Rollo once again. And his men pushed him into one as well, as he needed the respite from his slugfest with Rollo. I do believe this happens against his express wishes.

Lissa: … And then…

Sandi: . . . Yeah . . .

Lissa: Björn is standing in the water in Kattegat, fishing. Everyone immediately started Tweeting, saying, “What? Huh? What did I miss?” It was a moment of collective bewilderment.

Sandi: It was weird. And not in the Norse “wyrd” sense. We were all displaced. Seeing Björn in Kattegat was one thing. I had hoped to get resolution about his daughter (Siglet!) and so on, but times had clearly changed. The village is clearly more populous than it was last time we saw it. Prosperity is sure, based upon the clothing we can see and the barrels on the dock.

prosperous kattegat aslaugLissa: Aslaug comes out of the hall and calls to him to say he needs to see something.

Sandi:  And this is where this viewer, anyway, was studying her and then studying the environment, to see the changes that would give us clues as to how long a gap we’ve had since we saw battle-sore Ragnar. And boy, were we surprised!

Lissa: A messenger is standing in the hall. He tells Björn that he’s come to see Ragnar. Aslaug says that no one has seen Ragnar for years, not since his defeat in Paris. “How could such a man disappear?” the messenger asks. The messenger says he has word that Ragnar has a son by Queen Kwenthrith in Wessex, and the boy is about twelve now. (Which means we’ve skipped ahead in time about five or six years by my reckoning.) Aslaug gulps wine throughout the chat. Moreover, the messenger has found out that the settlement in Wessex has been destroyed, and that Ragnar knew about it soon after it happened. Aslaug smirks as she tells the messenger she’s glad he came.

Sandi: Story-wise, this gives all of us who are puzzled by the circumstances a solid reason as to why so much seems to be missing from this section of the story. Much of what we expected to see has already (hopefully) happened, years past. Did Hirst do this to get us to the next level in this story or because he felt there were too many threads to tie off to fit into that final twenty minutes (for American audiences)? On the positive side, the way that facial expressions communicated Björn’s dominance in the scene between himself and messenger was very well done. The messenger thinks to make a joke about something Björn takes quite seriously, and in next to no time, Björn’s demeanor has the messenger nonverbally backing down.

Lissa: Björn says he needs to tell his brothers about this. Aslaug tells him they’re at a hunting cabin. It’s not the “cabin in the Smoky Mountains” that Björn used. This is a more traditional sod-house with a slanted roof. Ragnar’s grown sons are lounging around outside. Ivar has some very strange eyes. The whites are blue-toned.

ivar blue eyesSandi: His eyes reminded me a bit of the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. Was Ivar eating some spice? No, I’m fairly certain this is meant to remind us he’s been touched by Harbard, whom some might say is an incarnation of Odin himself. That was a bit weird in a scene that was otherwise well structured in terms of historical niceties.

Lissa: The boys are furious when Björn tells them that Ragnar lied to the people of Kattegat. All of the boys feel abandoned by him, except for Ivar.  Ivar scoffs and says it would have been a waste of time to tell the people of Kattegat, who would get all fired up and want revenge. That,” says Ivar, “is why he didn’t tell them. They were dead. Ragnar wanted to sail to Paris. He wanted to be famous. Isn’t that more important?” Ivar says he feels Ragnar did nothing wrong. He spits out scornfully that Hvitserk, Ubbe and Sigurd sound like a bunch of Christians.

Sandi: Sigurd, sorry, reminded me of Erlandur. Now, I’m prepared to like Sigurd, but the physical resemblance was a bit unnerving. Ivar’s position is clear, here. He’s very Old School. Having been—one presumes—continually tutored by Floki during his younger years, this is not surprising.

Lissa: Björn says he doesn’t think Ragnar is coming back. He thinks the loss in Paris finally broke him. He is just a man, after all, not a god. A deeply flawed man. But despite everything, Ragnar is still his father, and he loves him.

Lissa: But the boys’ conversation is enlightening in one respect.

Lissa: We find that Ubbe is the more thoughtful one among them. He says Ragnar’s power isn’t what interests him, it’s what he does with that power. Ivar has the blunt, pragmatic (and somewhat sociopathic) train of thought that Ragnar acted as a true Viking in what he did. Hvitserk and Sigurd say they’ll kill him themselves when they see him. Ubbe speaks of fatherly love.

Sandi: It’s interesting. The younger men haven’t had the time with Ragnar that their eldest brother has, so their impressions of Ragnar are largely academic, I think. They discuss Ragnar as if he’s more of an idea than a person. A point to be pondered rather than their father.

floki little boatsLissa: Björn goes to talk to Floki. He and Helga are at the water’s edge, sailing model ships. Helga tells Björn that his ships are almost ready and soon he’ll be able to sail to the Mediterranean. Floki is still skeptical that it actually exists. He says the map could be fictional, drawn by a child, for all Björn knows. Björn asks Floki if he’ll go, and Floki chuckles. A journey to a mythical land that may not exist? Sure, Floki is down for that.

Sandi: Björn’s actions in this segment strike me as much more regal than otherwise. He’s keeping tabs on his fellow “princes”—such as they might be—as well as with Floki, to see how future naval preparations are going. But we don’t sense a wartime effort, here. Kattegat is a peaceful and prosperous place, and what Björn wants to do is explore. Björn isn’t king, per se, but he is likely considered the highest ranking man in the kingdom.

Lissa: Helga smiles and says that if Floki is made enough to go, she will as well. Their skepticism that the Mediterranean Sea is really there strikes me as odd, especially in light of the next scene which shows people from many far-off lands have joined Kattegat, including what appear to be Arab traders that presumably sailed it personally in their voyage to the land of the Norse.

older flokiSandi: Maybe the term “Mediterranean Sea” is a nebulous term, here. A far off place that holds dreams and ideals, but without any real idea as to what it is. I enjoyed the body language between Floki and Björn. An initial hesitation, as if they are deciding how to approach a topic one knows, one suspects, might be hard. But then, they are in accord and it’s arms about shoulders and we’ve-been-friends-forever. With Floki as the older man, now, rather than the young genius.

Lissa: We next see Ragnar sitting at the edge of a large and prosperous village. He rises and walks down the street, people stop to turn and stare at him. Some follow him as he walks. We also see people from many different nationalities trading in the market. When he reaches the center of town, we see that it’s Kattegat. Ragnar’s sons come out to the edge of the group surrounding him. Oddly, Ivar crawls on the ground on his stomach, pulling himself by his elbows.  Did he outgrow the cart and they simply never made him another?

Sandi: The size of the place shocked me, once I understood where we were. Gone is the simple fishing and farming village from Season One. This is a major trading center, as much of a city as one might expect to find in this time and place. Not everyone who followed Ragnar to the center of town would have known him by sight; so many would be following only due to the whispers that were passed along as he made his way to his sons.

Lissa: They’re glaring at Ragnar. Ragnar says he understands their anger. What kind of a king abandons his people? What kind of father abandons his sons? He shouts at the boys to kill him. The only way for someone else to become king is to kill him. He offers his sword to all of the people standing around the edge of the circle. No one will take it. Ragnar drives his sword into the earth and shouts at them all, demanding to know who would be king.

Sandi: Ivar, from his position low to the ground, lifts his chin as if in answer, but then he has to duck his head a bit; he knows he couldn’t challenge Ragnar on his own. And really, would he want to?  Hvitserk, when confronted face to face, refuses to kill Ragnar, though he had said he would, were his father to return. Ubbe is watching, studying, but not preparing a response. I think that Sigurd looks most betrayed. Like, “I waited for you. I watched for you. And you never came to hear what I had to tell you.” But no matter what their facial expressions communicate, their lack of acceptance of Ragnar’s challenge appears unified. No one. No one wants to try to claim the kingship. Not one of them.

Lissa: And that’s where it ends.

Sandi: It was something I would expect to see in a young adult trilogy, perhaps. The end of book two before book three. Unsatisfying. Unresolved.

rollo ragnar aerial fight

Lissa: I was flummoxed. I was irritated. I was disappointed. I felt like I was expecting to see the Battle of Waterloo, and instead ended up watching a short man beat a mall security guard with a Nerf bat.

Sandi: The transition was, in my view, too abrupt. I felt that the ending was supposed to provide suspense and excitement, but instead, it left so many unanswered issues as to be disappointing.

Lissa: There were some glaring questions left unanswered. Who, in Ragnar’s absence, ruled Kattegat? It seems to be Aslaug, because she takes a seat on the chair in the king’s hall. Presumably, she’s been kept as regent by the claim of Björn or that of her own sons. But that makes little sense, given how Harald Finehair was angling for the throne – it was the only reason he went on the Paris raid, after all. Did he just say, “My brother has been killed. I think I’ll give up on this monarchy bid.”

bjorn eyeing aslaug.gifSandi: On twitter, @US_TV_Addict suggested that perhaps flashbacks might be utilized when the season recommences. This would be undeniably helpful in determining how things got to where they are, but will they resolve our abandonment issues? Maybe? Aslaug was ruling in Kattegat, as perhaps per the Seer’s words some time before. I sense that Björn hasn’t supplanted her because he wants to keep an eye on her. He is the one whom many likely look to. Notice that he was not grouped with the other sons to meet Ragnar. Björn has his own place and no one challenges it. Not even Aslaug.

But the reason for abandoning Paris escapes me. Historically, Björn is made famous for his trip to the Mediterranean, so it is possible that Paris will be sidelined in the future. But what of Rollo and his transition to being the Duke of Normandy (Northman’s Land)? Will we see this?

Lissa: Why didn’t Ragnar regroup for another attack? It seemed, from what I saw, that while the initial losses were heavy, there were still some ships that hadn’t even engaged yet when Ragnar rowed away. He said his whole purpose in going back to Paris was to kill Rollo. Mission most assuredly not accomplished.

Sandi: Most assuredly. I maintain that the reason for Ragnar’s abandonment of the Paris operation is due to his relationship with Rollo. Yes, he came to kill him, but he couldn’t do it. This had to strike at his heart, there at the end. Also, he changed his course of action when Lagertha was wounded. This was significant for him as well, even if we don’t see her there at the end with the boys.

lagertha looking over shoulderLissa: Lagertha’s fate isn’t addressed, though she was shown for a moment in the teaser for the “sneak peek” of next season. I think it’s safe to assume she’s still with us, and that she’s gone home to rule Hedeby.

Sandi: But without that peek, her fate would be unknown. Another major character left in limbo. Most disquieting.

Lissa: I feel like this episode suffered badly in the editing room. Moreover, it probably would have been better if they’d just ended the season with the last one, which would have provided a better “cliffhanger” than this confusing jumble. Perhaps, if it hadn’t been crammed into a season ending, the time jump could have been handled better.

Sandi: I’m just not sure if they understood the big, gaping confusion we would feel, being transported from post-boxing-scene, battle-weary Ragnar to peacefully fishing Björn. If the episode had ended with the weary Ragnar, we would have felt irked, perhaps, because no one’s “fate was sealed” as was mentioned in the blurb under the episode on the show’s website. But it would have settled in more easily than the abrupt time jump. Perhaps, as I let this sink in, I’ll feel more comfortable with the uncertainty, and less irked at the questions I felt should have been answered.

Whether I do or not, though, I will certainly be waiting for the second part of this season, later this year. I might even have my next Viking book ready by then. 😉

ragnarssons band cover


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