The #ShieldGeeks Discuss VIKINGS: Mercy

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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: We began the episode with Björn still on his vision quest. He’s setting a metal bear trap. A bit of an anachronism, here… The first mention of iron jaw traps like the one Björn used dates to about 1305 in the work of Crescentiis of Bologna. Björn’s trap probably would have been a torsion trap of wood and sinew. But we’ll add this to the “boot heel file” and move along, because it was a very interesting episode, and I’m sure our readers don’t really care much about the history of iron animal traps.

Sandi: For any newcomers, our “boot heel file” is where we tuck away anachronisms we find on the show. Such as modern soles on 9th Century footwear, punitive measures against unfaithful wives, and, er, advanced bear traps. Hard metals were difficult and expensive, in this time and place. Metallurgy included smelting and such, but the techniques were not well advanced until about the 15th Century. Björn must have had a lot of matériel under those furs he was wearing in the first episode, to be able to produce all that he has. Either that, or the hunting lodge was very well supplied.

helga as sigyn

Lissa: In Kattegat, Floki is screaming in torment as the icy water drips on him in his prison cave. Helga – as Sigyn did for Loki – holds a bowl above his head to catch the water and ease his suffering. Her arms tremble from the effort, and when she goes to empty the bowl, she collapses in exhaustion, sleeping on the icy stone for just a few moments, until Floki’s cries of pain rouse her again. It’s a hellish punishment for the two of them. Maude Hirst’s acting was just remarkable in this episode, and the costuming/makeup departments did an extraordinary job, as well. She looked like a woman a hair’s-breadth away from utter breakdown.

Sandi: I saw and read commentary last week about Floki’s position here being almost Christ-like in appearance. I don’t think that was the intention, as the I’m sure that the writers were seeking to imitate the Loki/Sigyn story more than anything. But it was certainly ironic, intentional or otherwise. Many ancient societies used the stretched-torso method of torture, as it wore a person down in a surprisingly small amount of time. To add the water was just awful. Ragnar was certainly on target with his punishment here.

Lissa: In Hedeby, Lagertha is making love with Kalf. He rolls over afterward and tells her he loves her, and he always has. He thinks she’s still young enough to give him a child, and then his happiness will be complete. Lagertha doesn’t tell him of the Seer’s prophecy. She remains silent throughout it all. Kalf announces he needs to heed the call of nature, though not so poetically, and then heads outside.

sad lagertha s4e3 vikingshistorySandi: I am so not thrilled with the Kalfling. Wait, he’s getting older, too. Does that make him a bull instead of a calf? We know what bulls are full of, don’t we? I’ve so had it with this man, I have to say. He’s pretty, but I don’t trust him. Not a bit. He says one thing to Lagertha’s face and another to someone else. A politician? Certainly. Lagertha’s face fell when he mentioned having children by her. I imagine her pain at not being able to produce another son for Ragnar—a sad situation that began the dissolution of their wonderful marriage—is combined with the prophecy from the Seer for her, here.

Lissa: He is met by the Princeling, Erlendur, who tells him he’s heard that Björn is out on his own in a cabin – a perfect time to kill him. Kalf thinks that’s a fine idea. They decide to send a berserker to do the dastardly deed. He’s a very large, scarred man with a brutal-looking axe, who seems to communicate primarily with grunts and growls.

Sandi: This does a disservice to berserkers, in my opinion. Not the scars. They’d totally have them. But a berserker was a keen warrior who could be perfectly civilized when not in berserker mode (due to mushrooms or nakedness or whathaveyou). What I want to know is how long Lagertha would make Kalf’s demise last if she knew he was plotting to kill her only son? And if Kalf is not truly thus plotting, how long until the Princeling hamstrings him and feeds him to a bear?

Lissa: Meanwhile, Björn is tracking a bear – or rather, seeing signs of the bear here and there, and catching glimpses of it. He has some bear-murderin’ on his mind, there’s no doubt.

Sandi: Which is good, since he has the ultra-modern trap, no? I get that he is on his I’m a Man journey, but I can’t help but wonder if he’ll meet someone other than the scarred and growling hitman while he’s up in the Greater Whiter North.

Lissa: In Paris, “I Forgot How To Princess” Le Pew is causing embarrassing scenes again.

Sandi: This girl just doesn’t know how “to adult”, I think. Still wondering why she’s been written this way. (I know. I could go on for days on proper comportment of the medieval royal female… I’ll try to restrain myself.)

vikings_s4e3_disdainful GislaLissa: Her father brings in a relic of Saint Eulalia – it must be her feast day, December 10th. Chuck the Simple tells Gisla the story of the saint. It’s sort of an “As you know, Bob,” moment, because Gisla would probably be very aware of this saint. (The real Prudentius wrote about her, as an interesting tie-in.) Girls of that era particularly venerated virgin martyrs. In any case, Gisla remarks that her horrid husband is just like the pagans who slaughtered Eulalia, and he’d probably like to burn her alive, too.

Sandi: This type of thing is actually something one can see Eleanor of Aquitaine saying—but only at the height of her influence and power. Gisla has potential, but she’s unwise as yet.

Lissa: Rollo munches on some chicken, oblivious for the most part, to his wife’s sniping. When she stands up and dramatically demands a divorce, Rollo stands, too. He says, “My woman,” and takes her arm. Gisla shrieks she’ll never be his and throws a goblet of wine in his face before storming out.

wine in face s4e3

Sandi: Rollo has a hard job, here. He knows his wife has taken him in aversion. He doesn’t yet speak the language, he’s doing his level best to conform—knowing that it has cost him men from his own place and people, and knowing it will effectively cut him off from Ragnar forever—and he’s trying, here. Trying to read her cues if not her words. And he gets publicly humiliated. Again. Granted, he’s not Mr. Perfect, but he is trying.

gisla wants a divorceLissa: Her personal feelings for her husband aside, Gisla has to know how badly they need Rollo as an ally. We’ve mocked her for not behaving with the decorum of a princess of her age, but more important is her complete lack of regard as a politician. She wanted her father to respect her political mind, but she can’t seem to stop herself from going out of her way to publicly humiliate and insult a crucial ally. It’s my opinion the show would have served her character far better by showing her struggling to behave herself in public, and perhaps unleashing on him in their private quarters. I’d have respected her far more, in any case.

Sandi: I am so with you, here.

Lissa: Rollo drinks the rest of his own goblet, then drops it to the table. He then proceeds to walk over the table and start out of the room, but the looks the courtiers are giving him are too much for him to handle. He turns around and roars at a young girl and she screams in terror.

Sandi: . . . Yeah, well. Not perfect. He’s probably figured out some of Gisla’s more colorful and derisive vocabulary at this point. “If they’re going to call me a beast, I can act like one!”

Lissa: Chuck and Darth Odious are alarmed by this turn of events. If Rollo leaves, as he seems bent on doing, they’ll be defenseless when Ragnar returns. Chuck sends Odious to try to soothe Rollo. In his chamber, Rollo manages to use a combination of mime and pointing to books to show Odo that he wants to learn how to speak French. Odo promises to get him a tutor, relieved that Rollo will stay at least long enough for lessons.

Sandi: The quick conference that took place between Darth Odious and Rollo was really well done, in my opinion. No translation was given, as I mentioned last night.

no translation for rollo tweet

Sandi: That Odo was determined to get Rollo to agree to a joint action was absolutely obvious. That Rollo tried hard to make himself understood was equally certain. But as to how they actually communicated? That remains to be seen. How much was truly understood?

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, King Ragnar strides into Floki’s prison cave. He asks Helga if she’s told Floki yet… and of course Floki wants to know what he was talking about. Helga has to reluctantly inform Floki that Angrboda has died. Floki’s cries of agony increase.

Sandi: I feel as if Ragnar was wreaking as much vengeance/punishment as he could from this situation before he takes a final action concerning Floki. That Ragnar uses, in essence, the death of little Angrbo∂a to further inflict anguish upon Floki was cruel—especially as he used Helga to do so. (Which does make all kinds of proper sense, but it was also harsh.)

Lissa: In Mercia, Aethelwulf is transporting Queen Kwenthrith and her baby, Magnus. She begs him to stop and light a fire, because little Magnus is freezing. He gives her a chunk of raw meat. She says the boy can’t eat it, and he tells her that she must eat it and survive. Which is a very interesting development, since his father told him that Magnus was the one whose survival was important in this scenario. Choking back her disgust, Kwenthrith gnaws on the meat-cicle.

kwenthelwulf winterSandi: We see here a flare of of what Amy Bailey—the wonderful actress who plays Kwenthrith—said last week: Call them “Kwenthelwulf”. Magnus must survive, said Ecbert, but his son is developing a spine of his own. His relationship with Judith is strained at present (oh, how they’ve grown up and cynical, you know?) but he is seeking this for himself, not his father. And, too, it is very practical to encourage the adult to care for herself first. It goes against the grain, for a mother, but even on airplanes today you have the “take care of your own breathing mask first, then the child’s next to you” directive.

Lissa: Rollo has his first language lesson, and it doesn’t go all that well. He tries repeating the phrases the monk says to him, but the accent is difficult for him. He ends up grabbing the monk and hurling him across the room, flipping the table in his frustration.

Sandi: You and I discussed briefly last night that the French accent can be a challenge! And Rollo has a proper tutor, maybe, but the phrases aren’t the best. I think I’d start by having him learn war terms. “This is a boat. This is the Seine. Here is how we protect the city.” And so on.

language sarcastic tweet

Lissa: Björn’s vision quest turns into a one-man frat party. He opens a keg of mead and gets “tin-roof rusted,” as the saying goes, howling like a wolf at the Northern Lights. He passes out in the snow, never a good idea, but after he wakes (and pukes) Björn finally sees the bear face to face. it’s a huge, fierce creature, roaring at the sight of him. Björn lights into it with a knife, finally finishing the creature off with an axe, but not before he takes a claw swipe to the shoulder. He roars in victory, and it’s heard all the way back in Kattegat by Ragnar, who looks up at the sound. Later, we see him cauterize the wound, and he roars again, though the people of Kattegat don’t hear that one. (And you’d think they would.) During his last scene, we see Björn taking a dip in the lake through a hole in the ice.

bjorn gets drunk s4e3Sandi: As silly as this might have been, it was amusing. And also, I think, very real. A young man, who has lost so much and seen his own vulnerabilities in very physical ways, might indeed be out to prove himself as Björn is, here. And he’d act in ways that he wouldn’t do with the parents around. How many college freshman spend a lot of their first year way from home drunk or hung-over? And I loved the howling. Really, it was a much needed bit of levity in this episode.

Lissa: A bit later, Ragnar is cleaning fish while telling a story of Thor meeting with a strange ferryman. His sons are enthralled by the tale. The stranger turns out to be a man named Harbard. “Did you ever meet him?” Ubbe asks. No, Ragnar says, but perhaps Aslaug has. Aslaug glares at him. Her face is still bruised from Ragnar’s slaps in the last episode. She takes the boys inside for dinner.

Sandi: Ragnar can spin a fine yarn, to be sure. Here, he does so for double-purpose: instructing and entertaining his sons AND taking aim at his wife. That bruise out in the light of day was ugly. Another good move by the Vikings make-up team.

Lissa: Judith is continuing her painting lessons with Prudentius. He tells her the story of Ragnar’s invasion of Paris, but with a pious Christian twist. He says the Vikings were all stricken with disease because of their blasphemy. She asks if there was a monk named Athelstan among them. Prudentius says if there was, he hopes Athelstan would be crucified for it. Judith later relays the story to Ecbert, who is amused by it, though they both regret not getting any news of Athelstan. Judith appears in his room that night and says she’ll be his mistress again, but he has to swear to respect her and treat her as an equal. Ecbert swears it, on the life of Athelstan.

Sandi: May I say here that I am hoping that the plot will soon settle down to two or three places rather than all that are now in use? Kattegat, Mercia, Wessex, Hedeby, Paris, Hunting Lodge in Bear Country… We spend, sometimes, very little time in each locale and it’s distracting. Okay. Anyway. I had to say that.

judith and father sommelier

Back to Judith and her men. Judith seems, by her facial expressions, her invasion into Father Sommelier Prudentius’s personal space, and her careful movements near him, to be planning a seduction. Consciously or subconsciously. I can’t help but think that this is, of course, due to the good father’s resemblance to the lamented Athelstan. Then, she goes on to try to negotiate an “equal” adulterous relationship with King Ecbert, who pretends not to hold it in any hugely important regard. I wonder what Judith is planning—for surely she cannot be naïve enough to think that he’s taking her entirely seriously with her talk of freedom and equality. There are always strings with Ecbert. Always.

Lissa: That night, he wakes, startled out of sleep by some unknown force. He goes into the library. In Kattegat, Ragnar wakes too, and walks out into his silent hall with a torch, looking around for whatever it was that roused him.

Sandi: I still want to know. I mean, we saw how it played out, but this sequence might be showing that somehow, these men are still connected. Through their mutual regard for Athelstan? It was a powerful sequence of scenes, I think.

athelstan s4e3 to ragnarLissa: Ragnar sits down on his throne and someone enters, carrying a bowl of warm water. The stranger pulls back his cowl, and it’s our Athelstan. He tenderly washes Ragnar’s feet. At the same moment, Ecbert feels a gust of wind which scatters the pages of the documents Judith was illuminating. Athelstan enters, but he does not approach Ecbert. He glides by as Ecbert calls for him to come back. Ragnar is enraptured by the sight of his beloved friend. “Mercy,” Athelstan implores. “Mercy.”

Sandi: I was so pleased to see Athelstan. We’ve missed George Blagden on Vikings and, even if it’s a visionary experience, I was happy that he was there. In these paired experiences, it was interesting to me to see how the different visitations were treated. Athelstan washed the “pagan’s feet” yet he scattered the “Christian’s manuscript” with his presence. The former is tender and caring, the latter disruptive. And he speaks to Ragnar but doesn’t approach Ecbert. This is, I’m sure, meant to be a wordless commentary on their behaviors since his death. The plea for Mercy, I cannot help but think was heeded. At least to a degree.

mercy s4e3 athelstan to ragnar

Lissa: As Ragnar reaches out to him, Athelstan vanishes, just as Ecbert’s apparition vanishes.

Sandi: It was very well done of the writers. 

Lissa: In the morning, Ragnar goes to Floki’s cave. He tells Helga she has suffered enough, and cuts Floki’s bonds, tossing the hatchet aside as he walks out of the cave.

Sandi: And the plea for mercy is heard. He tosses the hatchet but, as was asked on twitter last night: Did he bury it? Did he, then, leave all thoughts of future retribution behind him in the cave when he left it?

Lissa: Ecbert goes to find Judith. He tells her of his vision and says he’s convinced Athelstan is dead. Judith bursts into tears and says she loved him.

Sandi: Is it odd to anyone else that she accepts this immediately? Utterly? She loved him; I believe this. But she never even questioned Ecbert’s declaration here. No moment of, “No! It can’t be! How can you be sure?” None of that.

ecbert dead athelstanLissa: Ecbert says he loved Athelstan, too, and embraces her as she sobs. They’re soon called outside.  Aethelwulf has returned with Queen Kwenthrith and her son. Ecbert tells her she’s safe now and takes her inside for food and a bath. Aethulwulf asks Judith why she’s crying. She says it’s because she’s happy her husband has returned home safe. Aethelwulf, the poor fool, seems to be touched by that.

Sandi: I think it’s because he knows he’s got Kwenthrith on the brain and he is not innocent of adulterous thoughts, even if he had yet to go to Kwenthrith’s bed, he was thinking about it at this moment. So he doesn’t have the high road, anymore, and perhaps he has a bit of fellow-feeling for his wife. Mercy, eh?

Lissa: That night, Kwenthrith lies sleepless. Her face says she doesn’t really trust Ecbert’s assurances of safety. Her chamber door opens and Aethelwulf comes inside. Kwenthrith pulls back the covers and invites him into her bed.

Sandi: And . . . Kwenthelwulf is full on happening. Yep. I wonder when—or if?—this will be discovered and what the responses from involved and affected parties will be?

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


If you’re looking for a wider divergence of opinions on Vikings, may I recommend Project Fandom and the No Ship Network? The first is a blog and the second a podcast that does recaps of each episode and then does the Althing podcast, which is all about the feedback.

We’re Talking VIKINGS: The Deceased


Today is #FaveDeadViking Friday! So we’re going to look at two of the dead characters who left their marks on us.


Okay, so he’s my favorite.  I’ve studied the monks and written of the Viking raids on the monasteries and was all kinds of sympathetic to Athelstan from the moment I learned of his existence.

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As soon as we were introduced to the “Tiny Viking,” fans all over the world fell in love with Athelstan, and with the “bromance” that grew between him Ragnar.

When we met, he was an Englishman who could speak the language of the Northmen, thus making himself valuable to Ragnar immediately. He was then enslaved and taken far from his home monastery in Lindesfarne to serve the Lo∂brok family.

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Unexpectedly, he and Ragnar hit up a solid friendship that weathered many situations over several years.

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Ragnar sought to keep his friend safe, relied upon his council in dealing with British rulers, and declared him a free man, able to wear the arm ring of manhood.

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He also fathered a child with Princess Judith, married to the son of King Ecbert. Young Alfred is destined to do some great things.

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Athelstan also had a long-running antipathy in regards his relationship to Floki, the genius shipbuilder of Kattegat.

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Floki sought to undermine Athelstan at different times, eventually determining that his gods wanted the former monk dead.

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So Floki made it happen. And people all over the world mourned. Truly.

I wish George Blagden, who played Athelstan, all the best. He is apparently a fine actor and a great guy and he certainly brought a quiet, fearful monk to the transformation into a warrior and martyr in a short period of time.




Played by Jefferson Hall, Torstein was a man with a sense of humor that was equaled by his loyalty to Ragnar. He caught our eye, anyway, when he got two different ladies pregnant before he went off to what would be his last battle.

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When his arm was so grievously wounded that it required amputation, he jested about it with Rollo as it happened, and still insisted upon meeting his death upon his feet.

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He volunteered to meet the enemy first, shield in hand, so that he could go to Valhalla with the warriors of renown.

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He certainly earned it.


.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.


What are your thoughts? Join Lissa Bryan and me, Sandi, tonight as we chat at 8PM EST on Twitter about Athelstan and Torstein and reminisce. Use the hashtag #FaveDeadVikings to join in the fun!

(All images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.)

Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk VIKINGS – S3 E8

 Note from Sandi: Heillir! I am currently in a location with incredibly slow internet so my awesome counterpart, Lissa Bryan, was kind enough to code our discussion so I could post it. I tried to get this posted earlier today, but nothing would load. It was . . . glacial.
Here, then, is our convo. Thanks again, Lissa!
(If there are formatting issues, I will see to them when I am back in my usual abode with my usual wi-fi. Thank you for your patience!)
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The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our review series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire’s Devil Kinghere.)

Lissa: Ah, raiding Paris. Good times! I once raided Paris, but I didn’t bring an axe or do much conquering. I drank too much champagne and swam in the Seine, though.

Sandi: So…you went inSeine, eh? Sorry. I had to. I have never raided Paris, but I’ve been to Lake Perris in Riverside, California. I don’t think that counts. But! Boats were involved. ..

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Lissa: Floki’s floating siege towers were a marvel, but the Parisians are fierce defenders of their city walls.

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SandiFierce on both counts, Lissa. Floki might be having a rough time right now, but he proved that Rollo’s decision to have him in charge of making things to make the invasion happen was the right one. Floki performed brilliantly. And the Parisians defended brilliantly as well. Their crossbows were wickedly effective.

Lissa: After barring the gates, they use archers and boiling oil to repel the Viking advance. We were both a little skeptical about the usage of oil, especially when it instantly burst into flame when hit by a burning arrow. They didn’t have petroleum oils at the time, and most oils from plants won’t instantly burst into flame when merely touched by a burning arrow. They will burn, but it takes a bit more coaxing than that, and usually a tinder source for a wicking effect.

I did a quick search and I found a mention of incendiary oil being used in the 12th century (a mixture of cannabis, nut, and flax oils) but as I noted during the episode oil was a very expensive item to use during a battle. Boiling water works just as well to injure/disable troops scaling the walls, and is easier to heat.

SandiThey might have been thinking of the legendary Greek Fire which was basically burning naphtha. Which has largely been a term used for crude oil. It’s been around for perhaps two thousand years (Ancient Greece!) but it requires distillation. Boiling water would have been far more predictable to use, less dangerous to those who were using it, and also easier by far to acquire.

Lissa: Gisla sets out to inspire the troops defending Paris. She gathers up a scarlet banner embroidered with a burning flame and hurries it to the bishop praying in the cathedral. It’s the banner of St. Denis, she explains, and if he blesses it, it will rally the troops and give them the strength to overcome their enemies.

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SandiThe belief in symbols at this time is huge. Today, we might be more inspired by a living hero rather than a dead one, but then, just a banner that was rumored to have a saint’s blood on it was hugely empowering to the people.

Lissa: The real banner of St. Denis (the oriflamme) first makes its appearance in the 11th century, so it’s a bit anachronistic. There is a mention of a scarlet or saffron-colored banner being used at the battle, but it doesn’t seem that it was the same as the oriflamme. However, holy relics were of deep importance to early Christians. According to a monk who wrote about the Viking siege of Paris, the relics of Sainte Geneviève were brought into the cathedral for safekeeping during the battle, and it was those holy relics which rallied the troops.

SandiWe read of Chaucer, centuries later, who mocked the men who would sell supposed relics to common people. They were taken advantage of because of their beliefs. It goes to show, though, that the beliefs were very real and the faith in relics lasted for hundreds of years. Today, they are still revered by many, though not in the same Defend the City! kind of way.

Lissa: I mentioned I had a bit of a nerd-gasm at the scenes in the cathedral. There were no pews, which I though was one of those lovely little Easter eggs that Michael Hirst inserts just so he can watch us geeks squeal during the episode.

SandiThe cathedral scene was well done. Not too many cathedrals in the ninth century, so I am guessing that the church they were in was the Basilica of Saint Denis, which was built in its original form in the 7th Century. No seats! It was perfect. Yes, we have our nerd-gasms and they’re wonderful.

Lissa: Gisla goes out and gives a stirring speech to the men on the ramparts, hoisting the banner high. The whole scene is strongly reminiscent of Jehanne D’Arc, who also used holy banners to rally her troops for battle against the English. She urges them to fight to the death to defend their city.

I also appreciated that she felt empowered enough to stand in plain sight, without armor or weapons. That took courage and faith, I think.


Gisla watchin’ Rollo
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Lissa: The Vikings break through the gates and Lagertha is with the men making the initial charge, but Kalf grabs her by the shoulder and tells her to wait. When she tries to break away from him, he slugs her in the chin, and drags her dazed form back from the front lines. Turns out he was right… The Parisians launch bolts and arrows, taking down a good number of the Vikings.


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SandiNow, I don’t know about you, but I was really surprised by this turn of events. We know that Kalf has a thing for his former leader, but when he usurped her earldom, that would have seemed to have taken priority. Still, he’s clearly in pursuit of her, to some degree, and she hadn’t yet had him neutralized. The woman has patience. It was good to know that Kalf was indeed acting on her behalf at this juncture, rather than his own. At least, I hope he was!

Lissa: In the fray, Björn  is injured, and so is his father. But Ragnar manages to drag Björn back to safety and his wounds are tended in one of those lovingly filmed scenes with lush cinematography.
Seriously, I don’t know how they make these bloody scenes look so gorgeous, but gosh, they do.

SandiThe lighting and everything are perfect, here. I so appreciate the filmmakers’ skill. How to make a dim, close room totally accessible yet still feel right? They do it every time.

Lissa: The siege towers are burning, and the Viking dead are piling up around the walls. Floki has a meltdown in the midst of the fray, retreating under a burning tower to pray. He can’t understand why the plan he lovingly crafted has gone awry. Have the gods forsaken them? Was it his sin which caused them to abandon the Vikings?

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SandiWhat struck me was that he was STILL blaming Athelstan! Floki did seem to rather lose it here, for a bit.

Lissa: My friend Jill Peterson wondered if perhaps Ragnar had placed Floki in charge of the battle itself knowing the losses would be high and it might shake some of Floki’s faith that his actions are especially blessed by the gods. The look Ragnar gave Floki as he retreated under the siege tower seemed significant. Confidence and faith are good – fanatical arrogance is not.

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Sandi: I think that’s an excellent observation!

Lissa: As the battle cools, he wades out into the Seine and gets himself a healthy, heaping dose of hypothermia. As he shivers in the water, he sees Helga wade out to him. She tells him, in no uncertain terms, “It’s not always about YOU, Floki.” She leaves him sobbing in the water, afraid he has lost her.

Courtesy of pantherpause on Tumblr

SandiOh, also we have the sense that Helga is not accepting of the murder/sacrifice her husband committed in slaying Athelstan. She was appalled when he told her and she still seems to hold it against him. Her rejection of his entreaties left him devastated.

Lissa: In Kattegat, we see Porunn standing on a hill above the village. She looks back one last time before walking away. As we discussed last night, I don’t really understand her motivations. She’s a Viking. She knows the price of battle, and she earned her scars in honorable combat. But perhaps, as you said, she romanticized being a warrior, and the price has been too much for her to bear.

Courtesy of easy-company on Tumblr

SandiPorunn was fine for a concubine for the son of a king, but she was not wife material for a young man of his standing at that point in time. Marriages were arranged for the betterment of families, lands, and finances. I feel bad for Porunn, and it’s terrible that she abandoned her child—albeit to Queen Aslaug, who has proven herself to (mostly!) be a fine mother (who might appreciate a daughter amidst all her sons)— and I wonder how Björn will react to that.

Lissa: In her lodgings, Lagertha is bathing her scratches when Kalf comes in. He tells her how much he desires her as he takes the cloth from her hand and runs it over her skin. Lagertha responds to the caress, even as she tells him how much she resents the fact he stole her earldom from her. She tells him she will enjoy the pleasures of the flesh with him, but she will kill him one day. If he’s okay with that, they can proceed.

Courtesy of canislupusalces on Tumblr

Kalf either doesn’t think she’s serious about the “you are a dead man” comment or he is willing to pay with his life for time in the furs with her, because he takes her into his arms.

SandiThis scene completely surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Lissa: Ragnar makes his way in to visit his injured son. He’s hurting a bit himself, having fallen from one of the towers and hitting every single obstacle he could on the way down.

Björn asks him what he intends to do about the siege, and Ragnar says he has to talk to an old friend about it first.

SandiI was really impressed with Ragnar when he was speaking with his son. So often, we see Ragnar as either the fond father of small children or the harsh father of his adult son, but here? He did just right, I think. He treated Björn as an equal, or near enough, and neither patronized nor criticized. He supported and confided, to a degree. Well played, all.

Lissa: When he scoffed at Rollo saying Björn should never have been allowed to climb the siege tower, I sensed a shift in their relationship. “He is a man. Treat him like one.” Björn, it seems, has finally “grown up” in his father’s eyes, and now he will treat him as an equal, not a child. It remains to be seen, however, as to whether his jealousy over Björn’s superior destiny will rear its ugly head once more.

He goes outside and sits on the forest floor, looking up at the sky as he speaks to … Athelstan.

Courtesy of its-blee on Tumblr

Sandi I so appreciate that Athelstan hasn’t been forgotten. Ragnar truly did seem to be confiding to his friend, even about his concerns regarding Floki.

Lissa: I’m still not over the loss of the Tiny Viking. 😦

SandiMe either. But what a marvelous character he was and continues to be!

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

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

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

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

Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk VIKINGS – Born Again

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

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



shadows-have-goneWe’re back here in the middle of Season Three of VIKINGS on History Channel. I’m so happy to be able to discuss these episodes with that Woman of Win, Lissa Bryan, whose latest book, Shadows Have Gone, has just been released! Her comments are below in blue.

Lissa: I don’t even know where to start. Quite literally – because of a mix-up in the time zones, I missed the first ten minutes of the episode.

viking s3e6 tweet 1st commercialSandi: Well, the beginning segment before the first commercial. I believe my exact words were: So, we’ve had religious tension, childbirth, death by kingly hands — all before the first commercial. 

A messenger came with the delayed news of the slaughter of the Norse farmers. Floki blamed this slaughter on Athelstan’s Christian God and the concept that they were at odds with the Norse gods. Ragnar didn’t want the news to get out, so after ascertaining that the messenger hadn’t told anyone else, King Ragnar strangled the man. Right there.

Additionally, Porunn had her baby—a beautiful girl whom Björn named Siggy. There were a few other ideas that were tossed around on Twitter, but I think Siggy is a worthy name. In the culture of the Northmen, the acceptance of a child hinged upon its father, so that Björn immediately did so was a relief to Porunn.

Who may or may not have called Björn her husband. Which would mean that a lot happened we didn’t get to see.

We also didn’t see Aslaug with a baby or a bump. So I guess The Wanderer didn’t get her pregnant…? That totally surprised me.

L: When I joined, Aslaug was having a nightmare about Siggy’s death. Ragnar watches her coldly as she jerks awake with a gasp. He tells her she could have slept with Harbard right in front of the children, for all he cared, as long as she was taking proper care of them. Aslaug is heart-struck, and she attacks him with slaps. Ragnar smirks as she draws away, stung by his indifference, and tells her to have sweet dreams.

S: Yeah. Ragnar isn’t all that keen on Aslaug at present. Still, her position is secure in that she has borne him sons and runs his household while he’s away. I am sorry she’s so unhappy. She wanted more and now even Siggy, her best friend, has been taken from her.​

L: Judith has just given birth to her child. She was dragged from her bed into the town square and sentenced as an adulteress. I question the historical aspects of this scene, because I think that a princess accused of adultery in this era would more likely have been stuffed into a nunnery quietly, rather than bring into question the line of succession by airing her crimes in public. Adultery at this time was seen more of as a property crime under early Anglo-Saxon law, something that was worthy of financial compensation, rather than public mutilation. The laws which created this punishment came under the reign of Cnut, a good two hundred years later than this show is set.

S: You are right on with that, there. The penalties in Wessex in this time focused on a wergild that would be paid from the male perpetrator to the cuckolded husband. The penalty for a woman wasn’t even stipulated in my research.

L: Judith is sentenced to have her ears and nose chopped off…. unless she named the man who impregnated her. She screamed in terror and agony as one of her ears was sliced off. She couldn’t take it – she broke and shouted Athelstan’s name. Ecbert’s eyes widened in alarm and he quickly grabbed his son. He said that Athelstan was a holy man, and it must have been God’s plan this should happen. And, besides, there are larger issues at play. The child, he decrees, will be baptized and named Alfred.

vikings s3e3 ecbert noblesS: King Ecbert’s behavior here was, to me, very odd. The No Ship Network, whose thoughtful podcasts on this show have been filled with great insights, called Ecbert “Cream of Wheat”, because he’s so smooth and all. I look forward to hearing if they’ve changed his nickname.

L: It seems he’s going to be the historical figure Alfred the Great, though history records his mother as being a different wife of Athelwulf.

S: Well, I can kind of see that happening, if his mother were in disgrace.

vikings_s3e6_gallery_sandtableI want to take a minute here and discuss the preparations for the invasion of Paris. I love how Ragnar and Athelstan employed their version of the sand table to highlight key obstacles, routes, and strategies for the proposed invasion of this city. Paris is impregnable, Athelstan says. Not something Ragnar wants to hear.

vikings s3e6 glowing athelstanL: Athelstan, in his room, is enraptured by a beam of light. He plays with his fingers in the glow, and is suddenly stricken by a vision. He arises re-invigorated in his faith. He goes to the ​fjørd and throws his torc into the water. He tells Ragnar that he is now a Christian again, and has renounced the Northmen’s gods. He offers to leave Kattegat, and Ragnar is agonized by the idea. He tells Athelstan he can’t leave him – he loves him.

vikings_s3e6_gallery_throw torcS: I think that, for Athelstan’s character arc, this was a necessary step. He was a man of strong faith, years ago, but his life experiences have had him divided in his loyalties for a long time. Here, he reclaims what I think is the purity of his faith and doesn’t count the cost to him. He cares only that he is back where he belongs.

Throwing away the torc, though, was a bad move. It was disrespectful and left him—and through him, Ragnar—open to hostility and criticism.

vikings s3e6 ragnar and athelstanStill the scene where the two men confront this schism is wonderful. There is devotion and confidence between the two men, and Ragnar plainly expresses how valued Athelstan is. This is one of the key relationships in the entire show and I am wondering what will happen now.​

​L: Floki has seen Athelstan cast off his torc. He retrieves it from the water and tells ​Björn about it. Actually, it seems he tells everyone about it, because when Athelstan walks into the hall, it falls silent and he is given hostile stares. Rollo grabs his arm and demands to know where his armband is. Ragnar escorts him away, breaking the tension, but it was a bad moment.

S: It goes to show that Ragnar’s loyalty is to Athelstan his friend, without regarding their different faiths.​

vikings_s3e6_gallery_ragnar greets enemiesL: Kalf has arrived with the princeling and Horik’s widow. The prince has brought with him ships and warriors to help with the raid on Paris, and so Ragnar welcomes them with open arms. Lagertha is not as pleased. Those are HER ships. Kalf meets up with Lagertha in the hall, and insinuates that their fates are joined. She should marry him if she wants to get her stuff back, it seems.

S: This whole thing makes me nervous. Lagertha does not back down, but she is seeming to let the usurpation of her earldom slide for the time being. She doesn’t trust Kalf, but he’s still coming on to her. I kinda hope she manages to have him, oh, meet an unfortunate end in battle. ​

vikings_s3e6_gallery_bjorn and miss big eyesL: Björn tries to coax Porunn into his bed, but she rejects him and tells him to go enjoy the favors of other women, indicating an elvin blonde Viking woman. Miss Big Eyes tells ​Björn she’s going with her husband on the raid to Paris – not because she simply doesn’t want to be left at home, but because she’s a VIKING. ​Björn meets up with her on the beach a bit later and they have a passionate embrace. Björn refers to Porunn as his wife at this juncture, so I am going to call that a confirmation that there was indeed a wedding between episodes five and six.

S: Porunn is having serious body confidence issues, I’m thinking. Sounds like she and her man haven’t been intimate for a long time. He obviously wants her, but she is adamantly refusing. That she wants to act as something of a procurer for him surprised me. ​

And is it just me or does Miss Big Eyes remind anyone else of Helga? (LATE ADDITION: Per @duncanpowers on twitter, the women who play Helga and Torvi (Miss Big Eyes) are sisters in real life!)

vikings s3e6 floki visionL: Floki is carving ship prows when he has a vision of one bleeding. He starts to run off and Helga stops him. I was a bit disturbed by this scene, because I never imagined Floki would harm his beloved Helga, but he grabs her by the throat and squeezes as she gasps. He finally releases her, and she says that there is someone he needs to hurt.

S: Last time we saw blood, there was the sacrifice of the cow in front of the Christians. This time, we see it in a vision and one has to know that this means another sacrifice. As Floki said last week, the gods bring life and death. ​I was really surprised how violent Floki got, though, with Helga. He apologized after a fashion, but was clearly enveloped in his urgent need to carry out what he perceived as his mission.

L: And then it happens. Honestly, I’m still so stunned by this turn of events that I don’t really know how to describe it.

S: You were not the only one, last night. Even those who knew about Athelstan’s planned ​departure from the series, were stunned.

L: Athelstan is praying in his room, anointing himself with oil as he kneels, nude, before the cross. He sings a hymn, and when he finishes, he looks up with a sweet, beatific smile. “Floki,” he says in a gentle voice, a stark contrast to the fierce fury in Floki’s tear-filled eyes. Athelstan commends his spirit to God, and then Floki strikes. Athelstan falls, and Floki anoints himself with Athelstan’s blood, just as the priest had anointed himself with oils only moments before.

S: I don’t know that he was nude. Looked like he was wearing a loincloth. From behind, it appeared as if it were made after the images of Christ on the cross.

What struck me most was how abrupt and final that was. It worked, but we didn’t get a confirmation of “He’s dead” or anything from Floki. Though, I didn’t seen Athelstan’s chest move so I imagined that was a fatal blow.

L: I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I was trying to figure out ways it could be untrue even as we watched Ragnar lugging Athelstan’s body up the hill to bury him at the spot where the two of them recited the Lord’s Prayer last season. It was, as Ragnar said, the closest he could get Athelstan to his god.

S: It took Ragnar’s words to confirm it for me, too.​

vikings s3e6 rip athelstan

L: He weeps as he speaks to Athelstan’s grave. ‘How could you leave me when we have so much more to talk about?” Later, he slices his flesh at the creek, dripping his blood into the water as he dons Athelstan’s cross. “Forgive me for what I am about to do.”

vikings_s3e6_gallery_ragnar dons crossS: When Ragnar shaved his head, I figured it had a dual purpose. One, it was a sign of mourning. Two, it would have had a cleansing effect. Like he was ready to start something new. Why did he choose to wear Athelstan’s rather elaborate cross? What purpose will it serve?

And why did he feel the need to ask for forgiveness about it? I imagine we’ll find the answers in Paris. Ragnar always has a plan.

And that’s a wrap this week! If you have questions or comments, let me know and I’ll get right on them. 🙂 Predictions for the rest of the season? I’d love to know what they are. Only five more episodes to go! Next week: Paris.

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


Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk Vikings – Scarred

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

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



shadows-have-goneAuthor Lissa Bryan (whose post-apocalyptic trilogy concludes this month with Shadows Have Gone) and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 4: Scarred. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue.

Lissa: My, things are moving in rather interesting directions, aren’t they?

All Vikings gifs from the official History Channel Vikings tumblr and are used only for illustrations regarding their show.

All Vikings gifs from the official History Channel Vikings tumblr and are used only for illustrations regarding their show.

Sandi: They really are!​ One thing to note is the continuation of Floki’s concern about the Christians’ influence on Ragnar (and Rollo). I’m glad that—what with everything else happening this week—this theme wasn’t lost. Historically, it’s significant.

L: Kwenthrith discovers Ragnar has been injured as he lounges by the banks of the river. She climbs up on him and urinates on his wound. (It’s not a jellyfish sting, Kwenthrith.) A somewhat unusual method of treatment, I should think. It’s a little unclear when she resumes her perch on him if there’s going to be a little bit more “healing” going on – of the Marvin Gaye type.

Vikings s3e4 k heals rS: Urine is actually indicated for the treatment of wounds, if there aren’t other methods available. It may seem really gross to us in our present day world, but urine is a filtered substance and is even potable at need. ​As to whether she employed any Marvin Gaye treatments, we don’t know… I’d like to think not, but with Princess Kwenthrith?  Who can say?

L: Back in Kattgat, Rasputin – I mean Ha​r​bard – is still using his magicks to soothe little Ivar’s pain. Aslaug begins to spend more and more time with him, strolling with him as he tells her stories. She argues with Siggy about it, who still mistrusts the stranger and his intentions. Aslaug more or less casts her duties into Siggy’s lap in turn for having the freedom to spend her time with Ha​r​bard  He lures Aslaug inside an empty building and seduces her. Well, maybe “seduces” isn’t the right word, because Aslaug doesn’t seem to need much persuasion in that regard.

vikings s3e4 harbard seductionS: Her behavior seemed out of character to her second-season behavior. Aslaug is now a wife who is perhaps feeling neglected and under-appreciated, certainly​ not loved as she wishes she could be. So, bring in a charming stranger and..? Still, I would have liked Aslaug not to be so easily seduced.

L: I think the parallel with Rasputin was strong here. Empress Alexandra was also accused of being under Rasputin’s sexual thrall, and she hung on his every word to the detriment of her duties, according to her detractors.

The next scene shows Judith and Athelstan in bed together. I was hoping it was one of her dreams, but no, she and Athelstan crossed the line into the physical. He tells her he loves her and pulls her in for another embrace.

S: his really surprised me. Last we saw of these two (together) Judith was putting up a big “Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly!” façade. The advances in this relationship initiated from her side, though Athelstan did grow more forward during and after the steamy bath in last week’s episode. But last night, the two of them appeared entirely comfortable with one another, and the princess seems no longer to be at odds with her choice, while they are in bed together.

vikings s3e4 bjorn kisses porunn gifL: We see Porunn, too. Her face is horribly injured from the battle. She says Bjorn won’t want to marry her any more (one can wish!) but Bjorn assures her that isn’t true and kisses her forehead.

S: Had quite a few comments about Björn’s perfect post-battle​ hair. It was a bit amusing. Porunn’s poor face was a mess, and her flippant attitude was designed to shield her from Björn’s possible rejection. And he, poor guy, is not shallow enough to think of abandoning her due to her injuries, but I think he’s engaged in a considerable amount of self-castigation over how he didn’t protect her as he should have. This could drive a wedge that has nothing to do with her looks.

L: Lagertha is in the king’s bed​room, listening to him as he tries to convince her to shrug off her duty as earl and stay in Wessex with her settlement. Lagertha tumbles into bed with him with a smile, but says she has come to discover that King Ecbert cares about nothing but himself. Lagertha has gone into this affair with no illusions. She is not a wide-eyed girl to have her head turned by a king’s attention and a few trinkets. She had fun with him and accepted his gifts, but she has no intention of staying as his mistress.

vikings s3e4 post coital lagerthaS: I really enjoyed her clear personal strength in that scene. She’ll take her pleasure, certainly, but not forsake her responsibilities. Has she strengthened the alliance with King Ecbert? I think so, at least in the short term. Will King Ecbert continue to pursue her now that he’s been with her? Not sure, because Ecbert is a practical man and if she’s not going to be his, he might seek someone else who would be.

L: But Lagertha is going to be surprised when she returns to her lands. Kalf’s advisor frets over the fact she’ll be returning with seasoned warriors at her back. Kalf says he has a plan for that, an ally coming to support him.

S: The Kalfling’s arrogance continues to surprise me. Granted, he managed to get the support of Earl Ingstadt’s people in the short term, but Lagertha’s personal charisma is great, and her battle prowess undoubted. How can he think to win out over her, no matter who he has in alliance?​

L: In Kattegat, Ragnar’s sons wonder to Siggy where their mother is. Siggy tells them Aslaug is with Ha​r​bard and one ​d​ay they will understand the sacrifices mothers make for the​ir​ children. The boys wander off, presumably in search of her. Siggy chases after them to see th​e​ boys trying to cross the frozen expanse of water. She shouts at them to stop, but it’s too late. The ice cracks below them and boys plunge into the water.

vikings s3e4 siggy snowS: This almost had a dreamlike quality, her pursuit. The winter landscape once again contrasts with the more springlike views where Ragnar & Co. are, which helped in this otherworldly feeling. When Siggy took off her shoes, I winced. Loudly. Hissed, too. Frozen feet are so not fun. The wonderful thing about this is how determined Siggy is to save the lives of her lord’s sons. She had just been demonstrating her own proclivity for personal leadership, yet she will preserve the right bloodline even at the cost of her own.​

L: Siggy morphs into a superhero. Dashing across the ice, she tosses off her cape and leaps into the hole, diving after the boys. She surfaces for a gasp of air and sees a ethereal girl sitting on the edge of the ice. With a sweet smile, she takes Siggy’s hand. Siggy’s whole face lights up when she sees her. Last night, you wondered if maybe it was the daughter Siggy had lost. My True Love said it was a Valkyrie. In either case, after saving one (or both – it was unclear to me) of the boys, Siggy surfaces one last time and sees Habard watching her flounder in the water. She sinks back below the surface, her hair floating in the current. Siggy died a hero, battling to save her people.

S: In an article I read this morning on Entertainment Weekly, it was revealed that the lady waiting for Siggy on the ice was indeed the spirit of her daughter. The idea was that Siggy would get to return to those she loved in death, since her loves in life had not proven permanent or satisfactory.​ I think that her death was a good one, as she saved the lives of two children, and her expression as she sinks is not one of despair, so I am left with a good feeling.

L: Back in Wessex, there’s a party to welcome Ragnar home. He looks around quickly and spots Athelstan, and you can almost hear him say, “Okay, there’s one, where’s…” He asks Ecbert, “How is … the settlement?” but he’s not really asking about the farm. He’s asking about Lagertha, to whom Ecbert defers the question. She’s wearing the opal necklace that Ecbert gave her. There’s a bit of flirting between Lagertha and Ragnar, and Ragnar notes that Lagertha seems to have gotten to know Ecbert well. Lagertha doesn’t deny it.

S: I still love Ragnar and Lagertha as a couple. They understand one another so well, and she is his equal in every way. Ecbert, though an astute man, does not comprehend the full nature of the bond Ragnar and Lagertha share, I don’t think. The dynamic is fascinating.

vikings s3e4 tweet j sandi chessL: A bit later, King Ecbert embraces both Lagertha and Athelstan in a gregarious and overly-friendly crouch-hug. He asks them both to stay in Wessex when the ships leave. Lagertha says she’s already given him the answer to that one, and Athelstan says he’s going where Ragnar goes. Ecbert is not best pleased to be losing both of his favorite chesspieces – I mean Vikings – at once. He tells Athelstan that’s the wrong decision.

S: His manner with both of them is so familiar. Athelstan looks a bit uncomfortable. I am wondering if he is feeling that way due to his relationship with Judith or his relationship with the king himself? Not that anything untoward was overtly demonstrated, but Ecbert has been quite attached to him.​

L: Judith draws Athelstan into a cove and asks him to stay. She sinned for him after all. But Athelstan tells her that her husband, Ecbert’s son, has returned now, and Athelstan is going to leave with his people. Judith kisses him, and they are seen … possibly by Floki? It was so dark, it was hard to tell. Considering the follow-up scene outside where Floki says he’s talking to the gods, I’m betting it was him. What he will do with this very dangerous information is a question that will keep me guessing all week. As he told Siggy before, he can’t keep a secret.

S: This scene is really odd and necessary. I’m not sure if it was Floki catching a glimpse of The Priest and the Princess—might have been the cuckolded husbandbut ​either way, they’re keeping it to themselves…for now. What might Floki do with the information? It’s possible that he could use it and talk to Aethelwulf about it, since elsewhere in this episode they’re almost sort of talking with one another. And I don’t know. I think Floki can keep a secret, but only if it matters to him. After all, he played us all last season!

vikings s3e4 two kingsI wanted to mention another moment I really liked. When Ragnar and Ecbert are talking, sitting side by side, man to man. Not making eye contact, but speaking to the air in front of them. “Are you a good man?” “Are you corrupt?” And they both agree that they both are both of these things. Yet still they sit, observing those around them with a casual sort of jaundice that I think is amusing and also sad. Ragnar of many years ago wouldn’t have been able to deal with this in such a calm manner, I don’t think. He had to prove himself and so on, but now…he’s different. He’s a king. And he calls Ecbert out on Ecbert’s own schemes. I like it.

L: Kwenthrith introduces her brother to court and tells everyone that she has now gotten past the abuses she endured. She proposes a toast to her brother, but she pours out her own wine as her brother begins to drink. Predictably, he begins to choke, and blood pours from his lips as he collapses to the floor.

S: What struck me is that no one, but no one, said anything. ​

L: Kwenthrith looks a little horrified at what she has wrought, but she stands and asks everyone to lift their glasses to the sole heir of the throne of Mercia. Ragnar doesn’t looks surprised by this turn of events, but neither does anyone else, frankly. They gaze down into their cups and as one, pour the wine onto the floor, and toss the empty vessels at Kwenthith’s feet.

S: This was one of the most amusing moments of the episode last night. Everyone holding their cups and then they’re all, “Nope, not gonna risk it.” All that wine, all over the floor. And still, Kwenthrith is utterly unrepentant. Just, “So, that’s done, eh?”vikings s3 e4 post poisoning gif

L: We discussed last season that Kwenthrith was a real person, though little is known about her. She seems to have had an unusual amount of power for a woman of that era, and even minted coins wth her name and face on them. Like many figures of the era, her name is entwined with legend, so it’s hard to tell what’s truth and what is fable.

I will say that most historical folks prefer to do their poisoning in private, or with a bit more subtlety. An oaf her brother may have been, but he was still a prince, and the church frowns upon fratricide.

S: One of the chief draws of murder by poison is that the murderer is often allowed to remain anonymous. If someone was going to kill someone in full view of an entire royal court, why not go for something more direct? Lagertha, for example, wouldn’t poison someone to do away with them in front of others. She’d see it as a show of power and would indeed show her strength. Kwenthrith, on the other hand, simply watches with avid interest as her brother chokes to death and dies. It’s morbid. And does not gain her any respect, in my estimation. ​

L: In Kattegat, Harbard has a bit more of a frosty reception when he next sees Aslaug. He tells her that Ivar won’t experience as much pain any more, because he has taken it into himself. It’s time for him to move on. “Who am I? A wanderer,” he says as he leaves, pulling up the hood of his cloak, and stepping out into the mist… where he vanishes.

S: The change is really sudden here, for me. Is Aslaug frosty because she feels she’s been taken advantage of or are her feelings due to Siggy’s death and her suspicions about Harbard’s possible involvement? ​And has he really taken Ivar’s pain? If so, how? Three women had a vision of this man who strode into Kattegat, helped, told stories, had sex with the queen, and then left again. The dream would seem to indicate he has more importance than the few episodes in which he appeared, so I will wait to see what happens next with him.

vikings_s3e4_5-P kalflingL: Kalf’s new ally arrives. It’s the son of King Horik, the princeling that Ragnar spared at the end of last season. And he has brought with him Tovid, Earl Borg’s wife. She carries Borg’s baby in her arms. An alliance of two claims to the land, it seems, joining with Kalf’s forces. Ragnar’s mercy has come back to haunt him.

S: Shouldn’t ever spare a princeling if you want to rule peacefully. Isn’t that in the How to Be A Conquering Overlord handbook? ​I wonder how problematic this will be for Lagertha. This is such an amazing season. Again!

Thank you for reading and to all those who tweeted with Lissa and me last night! It was great to hear from you! Have any questions or comments about this episode? Let me know. See you next week for Episode Five: The Usurper.

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


Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk Vikings – Warrior’s Fate

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

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



146a6-lissa-bryanAuthor Lissa Bryan (whose expertise on the Tudor court is getting some notice!) and I spent last night on twitter (@LissaBryan, @sandyquill) during Season 3, Episode 3: Warrior’s Fate. Today, we present our discussion, recap, and thoughts on this episode. Lissa’s comments will be in blue.

Lissa: Whew! Need to catch my breath after that one!

Sandi: I need to replace my headphones after that one! ​

L: The mysterious stranger is invited into Ragnar’s hall by Helga. He claims to be a wandering story-teller, but I noted that his clothes seemed well-kempt and his beard was neatly trimmed. You (ever the medicine woman) noted that his bandage was filthy, but other than that, he didn’t seem like a man who slept in bogs or beds of straw as fortune’s whims dictated.

vikings s3e3 harbardS: Okay. This is my thought on Harbard and his grooming. He did clean up rather well! I’m thinking a couple of things.​ One, is that if he is indeed a professional storyteller, it is possible that “show clothes” are all he possesses, and his image is his craft in many ways. Keeping it up would be important. And though he might say he sleeps wherever he can, it is evident by his size and grooming that he generally gets the good beds. The second thought I had with this was that he wasn’t a storyteller at all but has a much more nefarious purpose in mind!

And hey…was I the only one to see the sexual interplay involved with that storytelling? Hm?

L: He tells a long tale of going to a king’s hall and having a bet with the king he could drink all of the wine in his horn, but the level never diminished no matter how much he gulped. He then bet he could beat whomever the king challenged him to wrestle, only to be presented with a suprisingly strong old crone. Siggy watches him with dispassionate eyes as the others become enthralled with the tale. The king in the story reveals that the horn was connected to the sea, which is why it kept refilling, and the crone he fought was Old Age personified. Siggy looks away and says crisply that the “stranger” must be Thor because only Thor could drink the oceans dry or beat old age.

I didn’t have time to look it up last night, but these tales rang a bell in my memory. I could swear I’ve read them before.

S: I found the story of Thor and his journey to Utgard at Hurstwic Norse Mythology’s website:

Thor doesn’t actually beat old age, but he does wrestle with her. It is a story in which, the website says, Thor is once again “outclassed by an adversary” regarding his verbal skills.

Thor does not have a silver tongue, which makes the idea of a storyteller taking on his persona to be even more amusing.​

L: The “stranger” has odd Rasputin-like powers to soothe Ivar when he screams in pain from his legs. He claims to be taking the baby’s pain into himself. Aslaug is very grateful as her son drifts into a comfortable sleep, but Siggy is alarmed by it… something is amiss here.

S: Siggy is suspicious – Siggy is pretty much always suspicious. She was a jarl’s wife, of course, and has had her own ambitions to see to for a long time. She is not trusting of any man, in my estimate, though she seems to get younger every season.

vikings s3e3 ecbert noblesOkay, I want to bring up King Ecbert and his nobles and their differing opinions as they travel to make nice with the Northmen.

The Pagan v. Christian thing is a big issue here in this season. There was the man who elevated an idol while Athelstan was praying for the farming in episode one, and of course we have Floki who is one of the most vocal supporters of the Northern Way, trying very hard to get Ragnar to see that they shouldn’t be supporting Christians.

King Ecbert is actually helping the pagan newcomers, to the dismay of his underlords. The lesser lords think that a conversion should be the price of the lands given. But Ecbert is looking to military strategy at present rather than a faith thing. It was not uncommon for the rulers of Briton to accept foreigners (and all their ways) to the Island and to give them lands and even titles in exchange for arms. England was rather isolated, but it was very accessible. Having strong arms helping hold it was considered wise policy.

How long, I wonder, until the lesser nobles dig their heels in against their king?

L: Back in Wessex, Kwenthrith asks Ragnar to spare her brother’s life in the upcoming battle. Considering the horrible things about her past that she revealed, I’m saddened for her that she may still feel emotional attachment to him. But perhaps she’s thinking pragmatically that she can rule through him, or ransom him back to his people. We’ll have to wait and see what her motive is.

S: Yeah…she acted a bit off I think. Even compared to last episode. It was really weird. ​

L: Ecbert continues his campaign to woo the wooly skirts off of Lagertha. He presents her with a plow, and she reacts much like a modern woman given a sports car filled with Gucci purses. She climbs up into the wagon, eyes wide and shining, and runs her hands over the wood.

S: Oh. My. Farming equipment. History Channel and the writers had way too much fun with this one. King Ecbert was a walking innuendo with his plowing and fertilizing and so on. And Lagertha was all comprehensive and, clearly, not averse to, er, plowing. Many kudos to the writers for that little bit of “Really? Did he really say that?” and to the actors for brilliant deliveries. ​

L: The battle against Kwenthrith’s brother’s troops begins and a not-dead-yet Torstein struggles to his feet. He wants to lead the way up the hill, checking to see where the enemy is. As it turns out, it’s more of his way of honorably ending things than anything, and he’s slain by the opposing force.

S: I had to give the man full credit. The ideal was to die in battle, slaying the enemy, so that a warrior could enter Valhalla with pride and live and drink with his fathers forever. Torstein, though maimed and ill, managed to get himself together enough to meet the enemy and—though wounded enough to remind me of Sean Bean as Boromir in Lord of the Rings​—he was able to take a stab at the enemy before being slain on the field of battle.

vikings s3e3 ragnar flokiL: Floki cries over his body later and demands of Ragnar to know how many more of the men have to die for the Christians and their god. He says Torstein’s death was pointless. Ragnar reacts angrily and tells him to shut his face before stomping away. As @duncanpowers noted in our live-Tweet last night, Floki may respect people who occasionally tell him to cut back on the emo, but he looked so wounded.

S: Ragnar made good points in his reaction. Each man’s skein is spun and fated, and each man can make his own choices until his end. Ragnar has not demanded any of his men fight, though he chose to fight himself. He left everyone with their own choice. And Torstein chose to fight. So, too, did Floki. Floki was undoubtedly feeling wounded by his friend’s death as well as Ragnar’s reaction, but I think the words needed saying.

As I mentioned during the show, Ragnar is not just Floki’s friend; he’s also a king and has to lead. ​

L: Ragnar orders his men not to shoot the prince, who’s heroically … fleeing as his men hold shields over his cowering head. He drops his (unused) sword and shouts to Ragnar that he surrenders. The looks on the Vikings’ faces when he said that were just precious. “He’s …. what? What is that strange and unusual word he’s using? Not fighting? What odd ducks these English are…”

S: Princess K’s brother was SO wimpy, in my estimation. His guards kept him safe, but he was clearly not a guy who was ready to take a stand. Not in front of his men, who had to drop their swords or in front of his sister who treated him like a puppy. Wasn’t she abused at his hands? Ugh.​

L: Ecbert brings Lagertha to the Roman bath house, and it’s not long before the two of them are canoodling in the tub. Judith and Athelstan are on the opposite side of the bath, and Judith gets agitated when Lagertha and Ecbert begin kissing. She says it’s not right and scurries from the room. Athelstan follows her, wrapped in an itty-bitty towel (did I actually see terry cloth there?) and tells her not to fret, she hasn’t sinned. But oh boy, does she want to. She really, really wants to.

S: This is where my sound went wonky, but the visuals were communicative. I think Athelstan’s towel was nubby linen, rather than terry cloth, lol, but the man was certainly not ashamed to wear it and only it, eh? It is rare to see him as provoking anyone, but he clearly was in Judith’s case. To be fair, she confessed her desire to him before, but she is now in a place where she is (or is wanting to be seen as) striving not to give in to what they both know is wrong in their society and in terms of their faith.

I wonder why Athelstan’s doing this and I wonder if Judith is playing him or if she realizes she might have overstepped and is having a problem drawing back from that.

vikings s3e3 ragnar bjornL: In battle, Porunn falls, despite Björn struggling to get over to her in time. She’s laying in camp, hovering between life and death when Ragnar comes over after his talk with Floki. Björn is wiping away tears as he says he never should have let her fight, never should have let her risk herself. Ragnar says with his characteristic bluntness, “We’re Vikings! It’s what we do!” and essentially tells him, “Man up, crybaby.” It’s not clear whether she’ll recover or whether the baby has been harmed.

S: Here, what I saw was Ragnar’s known devotion to the health and welfare of the children of his house. I think he was livid to find out a) that Björn allowed his own child to be endangered and b) that Björn didn’t have the authority in the relationship to keep the mother of his child (and Ragnar’s potential first grandchild!) safe at home. Lagertha didn’t battle while pregnant, or while her children were too small, either. Ragnar honors that – it’s a very desirable quality, to be a good mother, in this culture.

I am with your tweet, though, in thinking it’d be okay with me if Porunn didn’t make it. (Sorry, Gaia Weiss! You’re fabulous!). I have never agreed with her as marriage material for Björn Ironside.

vikings s3e3 athelstan plantingL: Lagertha offers to let Ecbert stay to see the spring planting and the harvest offering to Frey. They slaughter a cow, though I suggested they might want to bring back the ever-so-slightly-incorrect human sacrifice aspect and offer Judith up instead. I mean, it was a really nice cow, and she’s not doing anything but tempting poor Athelstan … But I digress. Ecbert agrees to stay for the sacrifice, though his nobles are outraged. They mutter behind him as Lagertha sews the blood into the soil that if the Northmen can’t renounce their pagan gods, they shouldn’t be allowed to stay in Wessex. Ecbert looks thoughtful at this, and as Athelstan dusts soil from his hands.

S: It was interesting to me to note that the nobles didn’t leave entirely. Also, did you note the defiance in Lagertha’s entire attitude when she informed King Ecbert that they’d be doing a blood sacrifice to her god? And what about the pouring of the blood all over her? Ecbert seemed to be evaluating the situation but was carefully refraining from an expression of approval or disapproval. Very cagey, that fellow.​

vikings_s3e3_gallery_7-P aslaugL: Back in Kattegat, two little boys are pulled from the ocean’s depths, drowned. Not near the shore… Far out to sea where they had no business being. Siggy goes to the Seer to ask if this “stranger” might have anything to do with it. The Seer asks her why she thinks that, and she tells him about the shared dreams. But the Seer has no answers for her. The gods have shown him nothing… nothing. The Seer has been blinded and they have no guidance. As he said to Lagertha in the season opener, often omens are not understandable until it’s too late to do anything about it.

“No one can help you,” he says, holding out his hand to her for her expected offering.

S: And she gave him nothing, there as the episode ended. Nothing. I wonder what that portends (if anything).​

L: Ominous words indeed!

= = =

We’ll be back next week, on THORSday, with Episode 4: Scarred. Questions? Comments? Let me know and I’ll try to answer! 🙂

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

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

VIKINGS Season 3 – Preview!

Images from VIKINGS on the History Channel used here only as illustrations for this show. All rights belong to History Channel.

Images from VIKINGS on the History Channel used here only as illustrations for this show. All rights belong to History Channel.

Tonight is the night! Lissa Bryan and I will be watching VIKINGS on History Channel. 10 pm Eastern time, follow @HistoryVikings, @LissaBryan, and me, @sandyquill on twitter. Lissa Bryan is an historical fiction writer, as I am, and she is brilliant. You’ll appreciate her insights, I am sure.

What will be happening this year on VIKINGS? The History Channel has provided some peeks into the upcoming season. Check out their video preview as well as their official Tumblr site: Vikings on HISTORY.

vikings_episode6_gWell, we hear Ragnar is taking his people to England and even PARIS. But, as he asks, “Since when does any of this have to do with my happiness?” I have to think that the battles are hard for him. Not so much physically as much as emotionally and psychologically.

He is confronted with a need to be loyal to divergent people. “How many of us must die for your Christians?” Floki demands.

“We fight. That is how we win, and that is how we die,” Ragnar tells his son Björn.

Princess Aslaug asks Ragnar if he loves her, but we don’t hear the answer, here.

And I always, I confess, wonder how Ragnar’s heart stands in relation to Lagertha. (Hey, I’m a romance writer, too, yeah? The relationships are HUGE to me.)

Writer Michael Hirst was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter, and has much else to say about Ragnar, Björn, Lagertha, the Seer, and even about Kevin Durand (whom I have enjoyed watching since I saw him ages ago in Mystery, Alaska with Russell Crowe) and his role this season. It’s so exciting! Hirst says, in summation:

Season three is our best season yet it’s our most ambitious season yet, and there are a lot of shocks and tragedies and unexpected events along the way.

Clive Standen, who plays Rollo, has been around and about on social media as well. He talks about Rollo’s future. He has more tattoos, the actor says, and “goes more down the rabbit hole of being a berserker.” But as we know, from watching him throughout the other seasons, Rollo can and does surprise us. Standen says:

So I think that’s midway through season three, maybe Rollo might surprise you and you’ll see a complete transformation, almost a phoenix from the flames.

Athelstan family quote.jpg-large

Also, there have been rumblings that Athelstan will not be with us for the entire season. (George Blagden has a role in another historical production, and that is going well, so I have heard.) How will his crisis of faith play out? There is a series of short videos called Athelstan’s Journals on History Channel’s Vikings page. Check out their Videos section and look for them. There are several, each about five minutes in length.

And if that’s not ENOUGH to keep you occupied ’til the episode airs, check out the quick three-minute Behind the Scenes video. The actors chime in with words like “epic” and “better every year”. It sounds like everyone is really excited about what they got to film to share with us.

Find Lissa and me tonight and say Heill! We’re raiding England!

Image taken from the official Vikings Tumblr.

Image taken from the official Vikings Tumblr.

Favorite Episode – Season 2 #VIKINGS

vikings_season2_episode10welcoming royaltyTomorrow night is the night! Prepare for the invasion, because VIKINGS are back in Season 3!

Season 2 is actually available to view online right now at and if you haven’t seen it? You really should. Engage in binge-watching if you have time, or at least check out the recaps.

And then go see the season finale: The Lord’s Prayer.

vikings_season2_episode10 PrayingAnd THEN read the discussion Lissa Bryan and I had about it. You might even enjoy listening to the podcast for this episode over on iTunes. Just look for NoShip Network podcast and then find Vikings Season 2: The Lord’s Prayer. The crew at NoShip Network really do their homework and have great discussions. Warning: This is an adult show. As VIKINGS is rated at TV-14, this podcast is rated as Explicit. Grownups only, okay?

This episode, for me, is amazing in that the crew at VIKINGS really made it the Big Reveal episode. I was played all season. So was Lissa. And we were both in AWE of the orchestrations that happened behind the scenes to make it work so well.

When involved in any kind of creative endeavor, having an eye on the outcome is (in my opinion) crucial. It was clear in the season finale that the writer of the show, Michael Hirst and whomsoever he tag-teams, had a perfect idea of how they wanted the last episode to play out. The whole season’s actions and secrets played into the audience’s interpretations of how the finale was viewed, I think.

It was brilliant.

Eires-Viking-3D-PaperbackWhen I wrote the first book of my Viking trilogy, I knew the end I was going for, the suspense I hoped to create to get there, and all that that would entail. To reach that end, I began construction for it from the first chapter and kept the tension throughout. When I wrote the second, I had definite plans for my hero, and I had to make sure that each step of his journey would get him to where I needed him to be by story’s end. The challenge and delight of creation was making sure it happened the way I’d envisioned it.

I sure hope that the VIKINGS people have as much fun in their work as I do in mine!

Tomorrow: A quick preview of Season 3, based upon what one can find online. 

Favorite Season One Episode – VIKINGS

So sorry I lagged behind with this post. With the Valentine Weekend promotional stuff, I felt rather overwhelmed!

All Vikings images herein are the property of the History Channel. Click here to go there.

All Vikings images herein are the property of the History Channel. Click here to go there.

But THIS WEEK, my favorite show VIKINGS is back. Thursday night! So excited! If you aren’t following me on twitter but are interested in reading my live-tweeting comments with Lissa Bryan, come find me on twitter – the link is on my sidebar.

Today, I wanted to share with you my favorite episode from Season One of VIKINGS. The first season was fantastic for so many reasons. First, for me, was that it was the INVASION story. Ragnar went to Lindisfarne in episode two. [Link goes to my post where Lissa and I discussed this episode.]

vikings_athelstankidsIn this episode, we see how Ragnar the adventurer and navigator leads his men to England, where they hit Lindisfarne Monastery at the end of the 8th Century. Ragnar had definite goals in mind, but one he did not have was to find Athelstan, a young monk, whom he took as a captive.

This episode began a strange friendship between two disparate men that has continued thus far throughout the show.

ECM smallIn my Éire’s Viking Trilogy, I also tried to develop friendships and kinship between the Northmen and those whom they captured. In Éire’s Captive Moon, Tuirgeis (a Viking leader) captures Cowan (a prince of Ireland) and the two men have rational discussions, even about Cowan’s Christian faith. Tuirgeis eventually adopts Cowan as a brother. Through the course of my trilogy, the interrelationships between men of Ireland and the men of Norway are very important as the plot spins out.

My friends who have read my work for years know I have lain heavy hands on violence and/or death in many of my stories. But my real obsession, I think, is to find relationships between those for whom friendship (or romance, in some cases), is not a likely prospect. The challenge is to bend a story to my will, to bring characters through places that compel mutual understanding and appreciation, to show their best sides to one another as they learn to work together toward a common goal or purpose.

THAT is the delight of my craft, and I so enjoy seeing others—like the VIKINGS creators, writer, and producers—do so as well.

VIKINGS – The Invasion is Imminent

EVT square smallHistory has always been a hobby of mine. I studied English in college, as well as Theology, but it’s HISTORY that has been an avocation since I was very young. Vikings were a part of history, but never really a grand obsession until I began writing about them for my Éire’s Viking Trilogy.

Vikings have been much maligned by pop culture, in my estimation. Sure, they had their ups and downs, but the Norse people that I’ve studied were concerned about justice, morality, personal accomplishment, bravery, and family. Cleanliness was important, as were practical arts and crafts. The thing to remember, in dealing with any culture, is that the worldview these men and women possessed more than a thousand years ago was not the same one through which we experience the world, today.

Taken on their own terms, the Northmen, the Vikings, were true to themselves and their lights—and they had a plan for their cultural survival. Learning about them has been a wonderful thing.

And now, I am hooked. So much so that I am a HUGE fangirl of History Channel’s show, VIKINGS.

Viking Comic Signed

Ever since the first episode of Season One, back in 2013, I’ve watched, followed, tagged, tweeted. Twitter accounts you might wish to follow include:

Vikings on History Channel

The NoShip Network (podcasters extraordinaire)

Lissa Bryan (My partner in live-tweeting and next-morning follow-ups.)

Clive Standen (who plays ROLLO)

George Blagden (who plays ATHELSTAN)

Alexander Ludwig (who plays BJÖRN (adult))

Katheryn Winnick (who plays LAGERTHA)

The Vikings featured on the TV show originate in Scandinavia. I’m thinking Sweden, though King Horik was a Dane. The first part of Season One begins at the tail end of the 8th Century, just before my own trilogy begins in Nordweg (Norway) and Éire (Ireland) at the beginning of the 9th Century.


Image property of the History Channel and used only for illustrative purposes relating to the VIKINGS show.

If you have not yet seen this show, I HIGHLY recommend you watch it. I’ll be featuring a few of my favorite episodes between now and February 19th, which is when Season 3 begins here in the States. The History Channel is showing episodes on their website right now, so you’ve got the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Northern Way before Ragnar begins his new adventures.

My plan, over the course of the next several days, is to share with you some of the highlights of the VIKINGS show as well as stuff from my own research as we prepare for the invasion of the Northmen.

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

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