“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network
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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.
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: Well, here we are again, and saying as we always do that it was an awesome episode. Some amazing things happened, and there were some huge developments.
Sandi: It really was and there really were! I feel like the stories will be moving forward much more purposefully, now.
Lissa: We began with a scene of Ragnar in a tub in his hall. A wood tub this time, at least. cough copper cough
Sandi: Yes, a smallish tub, as well. Which makes sense, considering. Deep enough to immerse himself if he is sitting or squatting in the water, but it’s not a luxury. The Norse were clean people and liked their baths, but heating up water would have taken a long time so a more compact tub is necessary.
Lissa: He’s talking to Yidu, the Shiny New Slave Girl Aslaug purchased. He says death has been much on his mind. The death of children, the deaths of friends, and his own death, which has so far eluded him. He says sometimes he doesn’t know whether to kill himself, or everyone around him. He seems to feel safe in confiding his inner torments to her, perhaps because of her slave girl status. While he’s talking, Yidu struggles to carry over a bucket of hot water to the tub, and when pouring it in, she splashes the king and spills most of it on the floor. Ragnar tsks as he looks over the edge of the tub.
Sandi: And while this is happening, Aslaug is watching from behind the latticework that separates the rooms in the Hall. This is only fair; Ragnar spies on others often from there. I am impressed that Yidu has become so proficient in Norse at this juncture. By her own (later) admission, she’s been enslaved by the Franks, so her ability to learn Norse indicates that she is gifted with languages. [Like some others we’ll discuss later!]
Lissa: In Mercia, Kwenthrith is looking much recovered. She joins Ecbert and his court for Epiphany dinner. Because it’s a fasting meal, they’re having simple gruel. King Aelle is there, and he’s not best pleased with what’s been going on. He’s full of anger and a thirst for vengeance. Queen Kwenthrith asks if that desire for vengeance against Ragnar extends to her son, Ragnar’s bastard. Aelle doesn’t answer.
Sandi: I love how you pick up on the details! It’s good to see King Aelle, here, as he’s quite a major player at this time in history. To date, he’s rather been given short shrift. And I’m thinking, since Magnus’s paternity is so widely accepted, that the consensus is that he will remain Ragnar’s son (Ragnarson!) for the duration.
Lissa: Later, we see Aelle confront Judith, his daughter. He’s outraged that she’s had a bastard baby with a priest who became a Viking, is blaspheming by daring to put her female hands all over the holy scriptures, and he’s infuriated to see her over-familiarity with her father-in-law. Judith gives him a radiant smile and says that no man controls her now. She is free. She is able to say such a thing, of course, because she’s under Ecbert’s protection at the moment and Aelle needs him as an ally, but historically speaking, a woman in the Christian world was under the control of her father or her husband until the day she died. Failing that, it was her son who would grow up to take authority over her. Very few women were “free.”
Sandi: Oh, I have all kinds of worries for Judith, now. She seems to see herself as untouchable, thanks to Sugar-Daddy-in-Law, but we know that Ecbert is a snake in the grass. Corrupt, by his own admission, and willing to turn on his allies if it suits him to do so. Judith, played brilliantly by Jennie Jacques, has such a defiance in her gaze as she stares at her father. She acts as if she’s queen in her own right and unassailable. But, we know that freedom for her is tenuous at best and almost certainly illusory.
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, they’re preparing for Jól, or as it’s usually rendered in English, “Yule.” The log is brought into the hall and laid on the fire, and they’re decorating with mistletoe. Ragnar watches the boys and approaches little Ivar, who’s sitting to the side. He tries to lift the child and coax him into hanging a mistletoe branch, but Ivar refuses. Aslaug steps in and sweeps the boy into her arms. She angrily tells Ragnar that Ivar is different from the others, despite his protests that the boy won’t feel like he’s a “cripple” if she doesn’t treat him like one. She tells Ragnar that Ivar isn’t like him, and Ragnar can’t make the child like him. From her tone, it’s obvious she doesn’t want Ivar to have a close relationship with his father. The boy is hers and hers alone.
Sandi: I prefer Jól and will continue to use it here. I was pleased to see Ragnar acting all “daddy” with his son Ivar. Ragnar has always been an excellent father to his young children. He cherishes them. But Aslaug’s attitude is understandable as well. Ragnar exposed Ivar—as was his right and as was customary for a father and king to do when a child was so obviously malformed—and Aslaug rescued him. That Ragnar did not insist upon the boy’s death, as he could have done, thereafter shows his love for his child, to be sure. But Aslaug claims this boy because she brought him back from the death that he would have known. Additionally, she knows very well how fond Ragnar is of his sons and I’m sure she’s ready to hit him where it hurts, here. Besides, she has plans.
Lissa: Floki enters the Seer’s hut. The Seer stirs from his bed, seemingly still half in his dreams. He says to Floki that he’s waited years, centuries, for him to come, and it’s time to show the Seer who Floki really is. Floki extends his palm, and the Seer licks it. A shudder passes through Floki and he begins to giggle. Giggle like the old “deliciously mad” Floki used to giggle, but there’s a desperate edge to it, as though his eyes have been opened, and he saw far too much in that instant.
Sandi: The Seer’s whole aspect is different in this scene. I get the sense that he is, in some way, passing the torch to Floki. That the Seer licked Floki’s hand is perhaps symbolic of such a change. As always, there is an air of the supernatural in this show, so it is entirely possible that Floki did see more than he expected at that instant. I was surprised to see that Floki was actually in Kattegat, to be honest. I had expected him to be exiled. But it is clear that Floki and Helga are re-established in their village, and Floki has no fears about visiting the Seer.
Lissa: In Paris, Rollo is confronted by a bishop bearing a scroll. The bishop announces that Rollo’s marriage to I-Forgot-How-to-Princess Le Pew is to be annulled for non-consummation. Rollo steps forward and begins to speak in perfect French. He says he has learned the language, and that he is committed to his marriage, and to Paris. He swears he will die to defend Paris against his brother, Ragnar.
Sandi: This was a pleasant surprise—that Rollo spoke in the language of the Franks, not that there was an annulment in the offing. And Rollo’s promise to fight against his brother is strong and well presented. Many in the Vikings fandom believe that, this time?, he means it. No more doubling back for Rollo. Historically, Rollo becomes Robert (well, that was one of the names he is known by) and remains the first Duke of Normandy. It behooved him, certainly, to become fluent in French.
Lissa: But I was wrong about what they’re celebrating by a few days. It was Epiphany, which is January 6th. So, Rollo actually learned his excellent French in little less than a month. Still quite impressive, non?
Sandi: Oui! And his skills with his tongue, ahem, are later proved, are they not?
Lissa: His words resonate with Gisla and she dismisses the bishop and all of her attendants. She speaks candidly to Rollo for the first time. She’s touched he took the effort to learn French, but isn’t sure if he’s really sincere. He is still, after all, a Viking at heart. He tells her he slaughtered his own men for her, which she says is a pretty Viking thing to do. She grills him to find out how deeply he’s commitment to this marriage, and his promise to defend Paris.
Sandi: Her entire attitude changes as soon as he opens his mouth. Does she suddenly see him as an incredibly attractive man, (because CLIVE STANDEN) that she has the incredible good luck to be married to, because he speaks in a language she can understand? Is that really all she needed?
Lissa: In response, Rollo takes off his torc. He holds it up and says that it’s something that matters a great deal to him, and hands it to her to do with as she will. Gisla takes it. The next time we see them together, they’re consummating the marriage.
Sandi: The removal of his armband is hugely symbolic. I’m not at all sure that Gisla has a clue about that; what she likely sees is that he’s offering her a bangle. But for Rollo, that’s a visible symbol about his loyalties, his ties of blood to his brother, nephews, and friends back home. The men he led, the men he’s killed. All of that is encompassed in that slender band. And he removes it. Something he’s condemned others for doing in the past. It’s an enormous moment, I think. So, yes. Now they can consummate the marriage. And they do. Loudly.
Lissa: In Kattegat, Aslaug comes into the bedroom. Ragnar is sprawled on the bed. She speaks to him about her slave girl, Yidu, and asks if Ragnar likes her. Aslaug says Ragnar can have her if he wishes; Aslaug won’t be jealous. Ragnar expresses mild interest in the idea. Of course, queens have always “managed” their husbands in a similar fashion, trying to steer them toward mistresses who wouldn’t be harmful to the queen’s interests, but Aslaug is probably being more blatant with the subject than queens would usually be, and she’s as casual as though she’s offering Ragnar one of her horses.
Sandi: It may seem cold, but in general, remember, marriages were political things. The marriage of Aslaug and Ragnar here is a deviation rather than the rule. Aslaug is more blatant, yes, but Ragnar—though perhaps a slave to his, er, interests?—isn’t stupid. That his wife was blatant is a double-sided situation. Yes, he has permission after a fashion but there would be suspicion, too. What is Aslaug planning?
Lissa: Ragnar goes out to find Yidu, and she’s wrestling with some of the barnyard critters, to no avail. That girl just has no luck with animals. Ragnar pulls her over to the barn, none-too-gently. He asks Yidu how she became a slave. Yidu tells a story of being captured from a ship she was traveling on with her family. Ragnar asks her if she was raped by her captors, and Yidu denies it. Ragnar grips her by the throat and demands to know why. She says they were too afraid. He takes a cloak from a nail and wraps it around her shoulders. He tells her to follow him because he wants to show her something. Yidu looks terrified, but she follows him.
Sandi: So here, we had a ton of speculation on twitter last night. Yidu wasn’t raped, but is she a virgin? Virgins were highly prized but it is vastly unlikely that if she had been one on the journey to Paris, she would have lost that status shortly thereafter once she’d been purchased. Unless. Unless she has some other status she can claim. You mentioned, Lissa, that we don’t know if she’d been married, before. She might be a widow, in which case her virtue would have not been an issue in her slave status; she would have been considered “available”. Which isn’t pretty, I know, but slavery is an ugly thing. She’s young and pretty; if she hasn’t been raped, then she must have some other kind of status that has kept her relatively safe. And we know it’s not her skill with animals! Is she a mystic? A wielder of supernatural powers? There were many opinions.
Lissa: Björn is still in the wilderness man hut. He’s tattooing his own skin with an awl-like implement. He goes outside and encounters the Grunting, Growling Berserker. (Can I just call him Growler for short?) Growler has laid a multitude of anachronistic iron leg traps for Björn, sprung by trip wires with hooks. When Björn reaches him, they battle, and Björn swings a collection of the hook wires he’s collected. They catch Growler across the face, and Björn uses it to bind him to a tree and disarm him. He asks a few times who sent Growler, who replies with… well, growls. He pulls the ring from Growler’s finger and asks who sent him, but Growler refuses to answer. Björn tries a bit of torture, but apparently gets impatient with it and disembowels Growler.
Sandi: Björn’s tattooing methods are painful, but quite accurate I think, for the time and place. So, he’s performed cautery on himself as well as body art. The man must be a glutton for pain. The battle, aside from the anachronistic elements, is good. If Growler is a true berserker, though, he’s not quite on his game. He seems to feel the wounds he’s received with more awareness than was often the case with a true berserker. Those men, whether by virtue of mushrooms or meditation or sheer will, often fought past human endurance because they were unaware of their body’s condition. It was all about the motions of the battle. Here, though, Growler is not so unaware and he is defeated.
Lissa: Farewell, Grunting, Growling Berserker. We hardly knew ye.
Lissa: Ragnar takes Yidu to a cottage where he has quite a menagerie of animals. He has rats in cages suspended from the ceiling, and apparently a few snakes. At first, I wasn’t sure if Yidu was having a vision because the sight of a huge anaconda slithering down one of the poles beside her seemed so bizarrely out of place. But it appears that it was really there. It may be Ragnar’s replacement for Baby Goat. (Maybe it ate Baby Goat.) Perhaps Aslaug wouldn’t allow Ragnar to keep them in the house, and so Ragnar has retreated to his own King Cave, where he can have rats and snakes, and Shiny New Slave Girls.
Sandi: This was really odd. I mean, sure, they’ve been doing the World Tour for years now, but it is rather convenient that the king has a menagerie that no one’s heard about before. His sons haven’t even mentioned it and boys love menageries. But okay. Suspend disbelief and move on. Ragnar used to surround himself with animals and we all miss Baby Goat. If the anaconda ate it…well…the circle of life and all that, yeah? Bringing his Shiny New Slave Girl here might be construed as ominous, however. She’s another exotic creature, like the anaconda. Is he putting her in his menagerie, too?
Lissa: He tells Yidu that this is his secret place, and no one comes here except for Ragnar. It’s the only place, he says, that he doesn’t feel alone. She’s free to come here any time she wants. In fact, she’s free to come and go as she pleases. Ragnar is freeing her. He tells her she’s a terrible slave. Really bad at it. And so he’s letting her go. Yidu can’t believe it and asks him if she’s really free to come and go as she pleases. Ragnar says certainly, she can go… if she really wants to. Yidu seems to understand this as the price of her freedom. She approaches Ragnar with something in her hand. She says she can tell he’s still in pain from the wounds he sustained in Paris, and she has some Chinese medicine which will help.
Sandi: So, here we see that she might indeed have had a gift/talent/ability that kept her from being molested during her life as a slave. So far, it’s worked on Ragnar, hasn’t it? But how free is free? Yidu is a slave. And slaves could indeed be free—thereafter to be freedmen or -women—but they had no status in that culture. They had to provide for themselves, and often wound up being servants anyway. If Yidu is a healer (rather like my own herbalist character in my trilogy), then she has status and a possible means of support. But will this be the case?
Lissa: It seems to be opium, from Ragnar’s reaction to it, because in a few minutes, he’s literally hanging from the ceiling, wearing a bizarre carved mask that he must keep around the house for… some reason.
Sandi: This was surreal, as I am sure it was meant to be. The scene reminded me a bit of the first gathering in season one, when Gyda (sniff!) was still with us.
Lissa: Yidu contentedly chops herbs while Ragnar swings from the rafters, twirls torches, and apparently swallows one of his snake pets whole. It’s a bizarre scene that ends with him a hair’s breadth away from kissing her.
Sandi: Ah, yes. The classic “romance novel” moment: the almost-kiss. And…cut! So, we are left to a better idea of what freedom means, here. It doesn’t mean Yidu gets a house of her own; a slave wouldn’t have been freed and given actual property of that sort without a ceremony, in all likelihood. This would have been done so that all in the community would know her new status and that no one would seek to punish her for claiming something a slave wouldn’t have been able to have. So, how free is Yidu? Will she abide with the other exotic curiosities of Ragnar’s Reserve?
Lissa: Aslaug goes to Floki and Helga’s house with Ivar in her arms. She says she wants Floki to teach him the ways of the gods, to teach him how to be a Viking. But most of all, she wants him to learn to hate the Christian god as Floki does.
Sandi: The venom in her voice when she said this was really something! Her whole demeanor was vindictive.
Lissa: As I mentioned on Twitter last night, apprenticing Ivar to Floki to learn carving makes sense. The boy could acquire a very valuable trade that don’t require mobility, and that would make him an important part of their community despite the apparent disability in his legs. But Aslaug seems to be more focused on getting Ivar’s mind trained to hate Christians than in getting her son marketable skills.
Sandi: Oh, yes. But we know, from history, that Ivar doesn’t actually need those carving skills for his future. Still, it is wise of Aslaug to prepare him. She could have chosen any trade, really, but she was deliberate in her choice of Floki as his craftmaster.
Lissa: Björn goes to Hedeby and finds his mother at her loom with Torvi. Kalf and Erlendur are also present. Björn greets his mother first. She’s relieved to see him alive and well, though the two men are most certainly not, and Björn is not warm toward them, either. He’s headed to Kattegat, and he offers to take Torvi with him, because her husband Erlendur treats her like a slave. Torvi doesn’t need to be asked twice. She wants to leave. But Erlendur says she cannot take her small son.
Sandi: However, in the Viking culture, if a father died, then the mother was granted custody of her children. That was generally how it went. So, on one hand, the child’s should be free to go with Torvi. Erlandur would have no say over his life as he is not the child’s father. He is head of the house, though, and clearly wants to use the boy as a tool. A lever, likely, or a hostage. Very not cool.
Lissa: Torvi is torn, but Lagertha tells her that life is short. She should go. Lagertha will care for the boy.
Sandi: I regard this as a bad move. Not that Lagertha couldn’t protect the boy—of course she could—but he shouldn’t be left behind. I hope my foreboding is unwarranted!
Lissa: In Paris, they’re sitting down for Epiphany dinner when Gisla enters. She has a confident smile on her face and a strut in her step. She beckons Rollo away from the table and they run off into the kitchen where they make loud, passionate love on the table after knocking all the food and dishes to the floor. Hygiene was not a priority in those days, let me tell you.
Sandi: Oh, Gisla was strutting. Strutting like she owned the world. Rather than pouting and holding her nose up in disdain, she is clearly now a woman empowered by personal, ahem, appreciation. Loud and passionate are understatements, I daresay. In a castle of that era, there was virtually no privacy and if the Lord and Lady were engaging in loud sex, everyone knew. But, I imagine that overall this was viewed with tolerance and relief, if not outright pleasure. (We’re not counting Darth Odious, here.)
Lissa: The dinner guests around the table, including a grouchy-looking Aelle, listen to the banging and the moans. We discussed briefly on Twitter that the Christian faith of the era, sex was forbidden during the 40 days before Christmas, and on feast days, like Epiphany. These two are definitely in for a lot of time in the confessional. (A Penitential from around this era can be viewed here http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=JUNIUS_94a&anchor=X15.09.01) It was lessened to twenty days during the medieval times, but boy, there were a lot of confusing rules in the era regarding when and how one could indulge in intercourse.
[Medieval sex flowchart here: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/flowchart.png ]
Sandi: Thing is, what one was allowed to do versus what one actually did were two very different circumstances. And, of course, there was always a way to confess and do penance when one broke the rules.
Lissa: The scene is balanced by a view of the Vikings celebrating Jól, the snowy winter’s night brightly lit with torches. Ragnar, in red and black facepaint, lights the bonfire.
Sandi: I really appreciated the contrasts, here. The differences in atmosphere, in wardrobe, in activity. Ragnar’s facepaint reminded me a bit of ancient Chinese art. (Peking opera painted face here: http://en.gmw.cn/2012-12/12/content_5994715_3.htm) I had to wonder if Yidu did his makeup?
Lissa: An interesting visitor arrives in Kattegat. Aslaug welcomes King Harald Finehair into her hall. After she offers him a drink, she asks why he’s here. Harald says he wants to meet Ragnar. Where is he, by the way? Aslaug smiles coolly and says he’ll meet Ragnar soon enough. They have dinner in the great hall and Harald offers to play a game of hnefatafl with Aslaug’s sons. While they play, Aslaug asks Harald again why he’s here. He says he made a promise to a princess. He wanted to marry her, but he wasn’t worthy of her, so he made it his ambition to become so. Shades of the “Princess Bride,” eh?
Sandi: Indeed! There’s quite a bit happening under the surface of this conversation. That Harald is balancing a game with the king’s sons with diplomatic conversation speaks well of his abilities, as I’m sure it’s meant to. He comes across as worldly and wise, but good-humored. A dangerous combination, all things being equal.
Lissa: His ambition was to become the king of all Norway and win her hand.
Sandi: Okay, so I was off a little. Apparently Harald Finehair became king of Norway in AD 872 (sorry!), but his reign extended until AD 930. Which is why I said 10th Century; that’s what was in my memory. I did a fact-check this morning and found the actual years. I also found that he was actually wanting to marry a girl named GYDA. Who wouldn’t marry him until he was king of all Norway. And considering there hadn’t been a king of all Norway to that point, this was being quite a definitive challenge.
Lissa: Historically, Harald Finehair gave the “king of all Norway” the old college try, anyway.
Aslaug smiles and asks why he didn’t just take the princess if he wanted her so badly. Harald says he’s really not sure. Aslaug says that a man who aspires to be the king of all Norway would have to kill her husband first. Harald doesn’t directly respond to that, as I imagine it would be impolitic in the extreme to say, “Yeah, lady, that’s why I’m here. Thanks for the mead and supper, btw.” Harald dramatically loses the game to the boys and congratulates them on their win.
Sandi: He is entirely charming, but also clearly calculating. I really enjoyed this picture of him. Which makes me feel guilty, because I am sure he’s not a “good guy” in this story.
Lissa: I interpreted this conversation to mean that Aslaug and Harald had a history. He was once one of her suitors, but she decided to decline his proposal, and so he went off on a journey of self-improvement, Vikings style, while Aslaug set her sights on Ragnar. Now Harald has come back and the woman he wants as his wife is married to the king standing in the way of his ambition to rule over all of Norway. Seems pretty clear what his path must be.
Sandi: That is a good interpretation, as this is a show of historical fiction, after all. (Consider, if Harald is seeking to be King of Norway in the future it can’t be too far in the future. The Vikings timeline (for this show) began in AD 792, according to the opening of the first season.)
Lissa: Ragnar enters the hall and sees that Björn is there in one slightly-bruised piece, but his attention is pulled away from his son when he spots Harald. He makes his way over to greet the rival king but his mind is obviously already spinning with what it might mean.
Sandi: Oh yes. Is this new fellow (who has more hair!) going to step in on his wife in a personal flirtation/affair? Well, as Harald seems to be quite at home on the dais, it would seem that he is rather more ambitious. Ragnar is well aware of room placement and how to present himself, after all. Yes, the man is suspicious. But he’s also been getting treated by a Chinese herbalist, one can assume, so perhaps he is up to the new challenge!
So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál