The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: Revenge S4 E18


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

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

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


[Ahem: Edited for corrections.]

Lissa: Here we are with a new episode! And I apologize in advance for my brevity, but I’ve been off a-viking in the wilds of Florida. I shot about a dozen manatees with my fearsome camera today, and looted many gift shops for t-shirts, and so I am exhausted. I hope our friends will understand.

Sandi: Enjoy Florida! I lived there for seven years and know that January is a great time to visit. My welcomes to all who have popped in from 🙂

Lissa: We started off the episode with Lagertha talking to Joan Jett about the upcoming invasion. There was a gorgeous pan-shot over the roofs of Kattegat, and we saw how large the settlement has become. It’s a proper city now!


Sandi: It really is. I looked up Kattegat last night and inadvertently tweeted a link to THE Kattegat, which is a strait. Oops? Sorry. According to the Vikings Wikia, Kattegat is located on the shores of a fjørd in Southern Norway. (My Vikings are from Balestrand, located on the coast of a fjørd in Western Norway.) The implications I am getting from the show, though, lead to the notion that Ragnar rules over what would have been Denmark (King Horik was King of the Danes), so that’s across what I believe is the Skaggerack Strait from a Norwegian Kattegat. Norway didn’t have a king, as I’ve said here before, until Harald Finehair.

Sorry for the digression. Kattegat is a thriving town in this show. It is well that Lagertha is setting the people to a proper job of fortifying the perimeter.

Lissa: Lagertha tells Joan that the upcoming war is the greatest their people have ever undertaken, and if it fails, the Northmen may never recover from the loss. She suggests to Joan that an appropriate sacrifice must be made. Joan asks what they should sacrifice, and Torvi tells her the proper question should be WHOM.

Sandi: Torvi is not a blind woman; she knows Björn’s been giving Joan Jett rather more attention than appropriate for a man to give his mother’s companion.

After this, Ivar and Ubbe are speaking and Ivar tells Ubbe–just between the two of them–what Ragnar said about Ivar needing to learn about the enemy. Ubbe, not being altogether foolish, doesn’t oppose Ivar at this moment. What I liked most about this scene, though, was how Alex Høgh (Ivar) managed to show Ragnar’s mannerisms as he spoke. Fidgeting, facial quirks, and so on. It was very well done to show how the time Ivar and Ragnar had spent together had “rubbed off” on the younger man. Nice work!

princessLissa: Harald Finehair is in the street with his brother when he sees a woman walking toward them. He tells Halfdan that she is the princess he wanted to marry, but she’d told him he wasn’t powerful enough to deserve her hand. It was for her that he desired to become king of all Norway so he would be worthy of taking her to wife. Halfan urges him to go talk to her. But when he meets her in the great hall, the princess tells him she is already married. She’s wed to an earl. Harald, trembling with repressed rage, says he was a king when she refused his suit, and he finds she has married a mere earl? The woman is clearly uncomfortable and it’s obvious she had tried to let him down easily when she refused his proposal. She is terrified when he draws a dagger.

Sandi: Harald clearly didn’t comprehend a “brush-off” when he got one, once upon a time. He was quite frightening in his confrontation. And can we take a moment and check out the princess’s hat? It was very pretty, but not what I can find in “Scandinavian women’s head coverings” for this time period. Most women, even well-born women, wore cloth head-covers at this time. Embroidery would make it elaborate. Perhaps even brooches, or gold chains to ornament the cloth. This type of hat doesn’t really come into play in Scandinavia. In winter.

Lissa: Halfdan later suggests Harald should have slain her for dishonoring him, but Harald says there are two people on earth that he loves: his brother and this princess.

Ubbe spots Hvitserk with Margrethe on the street. He kisses her. When he meets up with Ubbe, Ubbe asks what he was saying to Margrethe. Hvitserk is honest. He tells him that he had told Margrethe that he loved her, but he recognizes that Ubbe has the superior claim.

Sandi: Note: It’s snowing in the scene. Very lightly. It is wintery, which was not the usual time to hie off and invade, raid, or make war. I can only guess that the timing for this is due to the fact that it is warmer in Britain, and it will be more of a surprise to arrive at this point in the year.) Ubbe shares that Ivar thinks he should lead; Hvitserk thinks that’s not an option and the brothers agree to support Björn’s leadership in the coming war.

Lissa: Ubbe and Margrethe marry in an odd ceremony. Their wedding rings are handed to them in a palm filled with blood. After they finish with the vows, there’s a wedding race over an anachronistic obstacle course to see who has to host and serve the wedding feast.

While they’re eating – apparently just the brothers and the new bride, not the village – Ubbe says to Hvitserk that he knows how he and Margrethe feel about one another, and so he suggests they share Margrethe. Hvitserk is amenable to the idea but wants to know how Ubbe and his brother can share without jealousy. Ubbe laughs and tells her they’re Vikings. Which makes no sense, to be honest. Vikings were a bit more flexible than Christians when it came to sexuality, and couples could agree to add another party to their bed for a bit of fun, but it wasn’t a common practice for brothers to share a wife.

Sandi: This whole thing was just . . . weird, to be honest. I used that term a lot on twitter last night, I think. First, of course, is that Ubbe freed a slave to marry her. Which did happen, yes, but not for the son of a king. Marriages were not generally for love among the nobility of Scandinavia. Then, there’s the “sharing”. One major reason for marriage for men of rank was to produce heirs. Blood counts, etc. A man had to know/believe that the children his wife bore were his, for legal/social reasons. Sharing, with full consent even, did not do this. And another thing: Margrethe has been sullen, passively compliant overall, and not apparently pleased with her fate, even once she was freed. Yet suddenly she is smiling and coy and all that fun stuff. Does she have something up her sleeve? Is there a nefarious plot happening that will ignite and be resolved in the next two episodes? Or is it just a misplaced direction for the actors involved? I am uneasy. If it’s merely gratuitous polyamory, that cheapens the relationship. So I’m not sure what History Channel is doing with this.

Lissa: Ivar tells his brothers that he feels their father wanted him to lead the invasion. He says that Ragnar brought him along to England so he could see it first-hand and learn its defenses. Realistically, Ivar saw very little of the kingdom, but as Björn later tells his brothers, Ivar has never been battle-tested. He’s never had any victories… or losses, which teach a warrior even more.

Sandi: It is Björn’s manner, here, that feels out of character. His blow-up at home last week, his aggressive assertion of rights already pretty much yielded to him, his nearly dour presence at the wedding… He was disturbed by Ragnar’s death and I think his grief is playing out in these lapses.


Ivar does not oppose Björn, even though Björn insults him. To his face. This is likely a credit to Ivar’s legendary wisdom; he has to acquire it somewhere, yeah? “I didn’t say anything,” he says when challenged. Thus, Ragnar’s sons remain united as they join to seek vengeance for their father.

Lissa: Helga talks to Floki and tells him she intends to bring her Shiny New Kid along with them to attack England. Floki tries to talk her out of it. The girl still isn’t speaking or eating, but Helga insist they’re a family and families do everything together.

helga and daughter final.jpgSandi: This makes absolutely no sense. One doesn’t take one’s children—especially one’s out-of-culture and vulnerable daughters—on a campaign. Even if it’s for revenge. I could see Ragnar’s own daughter (sigh, Gyda) warring, but Helga’s adoptive child? No. This makes no sense culturally, but then I think Helga’s slipped a gear as well. Floki actually makes sense to me, here, and it would have been nice if he’d managed to stick to his metaphorical guns and get her to stay home. A Viking woman had a lot of say for herself, but her sphere of strongest influence was in the home, regarding household manners such as finance, servants, children, etc. Wars and such were the man’s purview traditionally.

So what is Helga’s thing, now? I still have no idea and the girl is another head-scratcher regarding the choices History Channel is making for this season. 

egilLissa: Harald and Halfdan meet up with The Bastard. They ask him if he’s had time to study Kattegat’s defenses, and The Bastard replies that the people of the city are not as safe as they think they are. He gets on a ship and departs, presumably to gather more forces for an attack.

Sandi: Will he do so or is he planning on further betrayal?

Lissa: The sacrifice for good fortune during the great invasion is made, and it’s the young, handsome earl we met last episode. He’s ready to meet the gods and his brother tells him he’s envious that the young earl will be dining with Odin that evening.

Sandi: He doesn’t even appear to have been drugged into any kind of passivity. This is a fully intentional sacrifice, here. I wonder where the officiating priest (?) is when he’s not performing such a ritual, though. It’s like we never see him otherwise. Butcher? Baker? Candlestick maker? I have no idea.

Lissa: Lagertha enters with her owl perched on her shoulder. Her hair is a birds’ nest. Not meaning a mess – a literal birds’ nest has been woven in her locks. She pulls out a bizarre scimitar-like sword. As you noted last night, the Vikings weren’t known for their fancy ironwork.

Sandi: Wasting such a valuable commodity on unnecessary curves was just not done. Straight lines, hard edges. Swords were rare anyway, so this just . . . didn’t quite work for me here.

Lissa: There was also something in the sky I couldn’t make out. Something floating or hovering that made the assembled crowd gasp when they saw it. Something dark and shiny – a raven perhaps, marking Odin’s favor?

Sandi: That would make sense. I didn’t see anything myself but I trust your eyes.

Lissa: Lagertha impales the young man through the stomach with the blade and he grasps her shoulders to draw her closer and plunge the blade deeper. As this is happening, we cut to scenes of Björn making love to Joan Jett. The crude allusion to being “impaled” was underscored multiple times. Helga covers the eyes of her Shiny New Kid. One wonders how she’s going to manage to block all of the horrors of war from her eyes while they’re avenging Ragnar’s death.


Sandi: The juxtaposition is an old one, tired with overuse. I am (again, still) wondering about Joan Jett’s purpose. As a bodyguard? She’s mediocre. There to stir up dissension between Lagertha and Björn? Hard to say. Lagertha has her eyes on a big, big picture right now.

Will Joan Jett be a catalyst in fulfilling the “death by one of Ragnar’s sons” prophecy given to Lagertha by the Seer? Maybe?

Lissa: Later that night, Lagertha is in bed with Joan and she rolls over, asking her if she enjoyed it, because there’s no point in doing it if it’s not enjoyable. It’s not totally clear what she’s referring to – her relationship with Joan, or a pointed remark about her affair with Björn.

Sandi: Joan Jett makes absolutely no response. Her expression remains impassive and she utters not one word. So . . . as a writer, I have to ask, “What plot or characterization purpose is this scene accomplishing?”

bye-momLissa: Björn goes to the hall to say goodbye to his mother. He hugs Lagertha and she tells him he’s in the gods’ hands. He gives Joan Jett an awkward hug and tells her to take care of Lagertha and that his mother needs her. Then he turns to Torvi, “the mother of my children.” They share a very cool and formal goodbye. She’s the only woman he didn’t hug out of the three present.

Sandi: Lagertha and Björn have a long, close relationship. I think that no matter what her son does, Lagertha will draw upon that relationship to remain close to him. Her farewell is formal-ish, but not stiff or wary. Björn’s relationship with Torvi, though, is clearly on the outs. “There are no ‘ifs’, Björn Ironside. We shall not see you again.” Either Torvi is having a prophetic moment or she’s telling him, right there in front of Lagertha and Joan Jett, that she is SO over him and she’s taking the children. Reliably informed by @DeeDonuts at @ProjectFandom that Torvi did not say she wouldn’t see Björn again (DeeDonuts has Closed Captioning!). But I still think, with my preoccupation for facial cues, that Torvi was kicking Björn to the curb, even if her words weren’t so conclusive.

It’s almost a proclamation of divorce, except that they were apparently never wed. Why was he not married off to someone in the years of the time-jump?

Lissa: The ships sail for England. Aelle is informed of their arrival while he’s at mass. He scolds the messenger for interrupting him right before he was to receive communion.

Sandi: I like the detail with all the extra folk and their traveling gear. We don’t have just the locals mingling in Kattegat; there are travelers with bedrolls, etc. Good job on the directors and all the assistants to set this up. Details for the win!

And with Aelle, viewers everywhere seemed to enjoy the interrupted mass he was participating in.

“Sacrilege! I was about to receive the body and blood of Christ, our Savior!”

“You’re also about to receive the Great Heathen Army,” he is told.


But Aelle, for all he is not popular, is determined to follow the dictates of his faith and conscience and he finishes the mass before he prepares for war. His expression is one of calm as he does so, indicating a man who is, however strange it may seem, at peace with himself.

Lissa: In Wessex, Judith stands over Ecbert at the dinner table, cutting up his food for him. Aethelwulf tells him that the Great Heathen Army has arrived, and that Ecbert doesn’t seem like himself. He’s indecisive, weak, and distracted when he used to seem so confident and strong. Ecbert tells him he was full of doubts and that the strength was all an illusion. He says that he’s sent Aethelwulf to deal with the invasion, to be a strong leader. Aethelwulf wonders what kind of a father Ecbert has been. He’s made Athelwulf accept a bastard as his son, accept his wife as his father’s lover… He knows Ecbert loved Athelstan (didn’t we all?) and that he loved Ragnar, but he wonders if his father ever loved him, and the old crafty wheels turn in Ecbert’s head.

did-you-love-me-capSandi: It was a beautiful scene, really. Aethelwulf confronts his father, to his face. It’s as if, all at once, Aethelwulf decides to man up and tackle a multitude of issues. His father’s ambition. His wife’s infidelity. The father-son relationship. Et cetera. Yet even so, Aethelwulf wants his father’s love . . . and we can see Ecbert’s mind hare off as the conversation concludes. Will this season see the end of King Ecbert?

Lissa: Aelle rides out to meet the Great Heathen Army. A bishop rides with him, quoting scripture about warriors as they ride. Aelle laughs at the first sight of the small group assembled of invaders on the opposite hill, but his laughter turns to terror as more and more Vikings appear to join them. “God help us,” the bishop whispers, and Aelle says he doesn’t think God can. With an excited roar, the Vikings charge.

Sandi: And there’s a huge number of warriors in the Great Army. They’ve likely sailed four to five days to get to Aelle in Northumbria. It’s cold, but there’s no snow in Britain at this juncture, just clear skies and the weather wouldn’t be daunting to the Northmen. They’re totally ready to fight.

ivar-and-chariot-capWhich is great. Except for us, the viewers. There is a lot of cinematic posturing. Weapons. Roaring. Dismayed Britons. Ivar and his chariot get a few seconds of screen time and then…

Lissa: Without any of the battle scenes we’d been waiting ALL EPISODE FOR (clears throat) we cut to the aftermath of what was apparently a huge Viking victory.

Sandi: And this is, odd as it may seem, where I realized that I didn’t know what the title for this episode was. It’s “Revenge”. Not “War”.  This is all about revenge, which is why the battle was not shown. (Though I will say that with all the build up to it? It did feel a bit odd to not see The Great [Heathen] Army actually clash with Aelle’s.)

Lissa: Aelle is being dragged down the road behind Ivar’s war chariot. Björn demands they be taken to where Ragnar was killed.  Here was a lovely historical touch as we heard Saxon English from the pleading Aelle, and Norse from the Vikings. Aelle shows them the snake pit, and they drag the doors back to peer into it, empty and cold in the rain. Floki bends down to speak to the terrified king. He says, “I’m told your god was a carpenter. So am I.”

Sandi: And here, we have “Revenge” as promised.

Lissa: We next see Floki nailing Aelle face-down to a log, driving spikes through the king’s wrists in a gross parody of the crucifixion. Björn walks up behind Aelle with a red-hot iron blade. We see him slice open Aelle’s back and hack at his ribs with an ax while Aelle screams in agony. As we feared, there was no artistry in this. No respect given or gained. It was brutal and ugly. Blood and gore spatter the faces of Ragnar’s sons. Ubbe smiles slightly and Ivar drags himself forward, his face slack with a sort of ecstatic trance. They hang Aelle from a tree, his skin and bones spread out like wings at his sides.

Sandi: It was just . . . awful. The treatment Jarl Borg received when Ragnar performed the blood eagle was miles above. There had been respect and honor shown on both sides. Here, there’s nothing. Dissimilar cultures. No regard for anything other than the exacting of as much pain as possible, here. The atmosphere is dark, thick, quiet. Heavy with pain and bloodlust, really. Aelle’s screams seem to echo to the other main characters not present: Lagertha and Ecbert both “hear” him—or the sounds of their own thoughts—as Aelle is killed. And as much as I can’t bear to watch torture, I have to give credit to the cinematographers again; this was done and well done for the purpose and atmosphere. Violent? Yes. But it was meant to be. The Vikings often had brutal practices.  Cathartic? I think it was. Björn’s blood-spattered face seemed to indicate it, anyway.

So what is next for Vikings? How will the season end within the next two episodes? Revenge has been handled, but what of the loose ends? Did Helga’s daughter, Tanaruz, see the blood eagle happen? What will be next for Lagertha? How will Harald Finehair make Norway his own? I think a lot happened this week that was gratuitous in one way or another and I hope that next week I’ll be proven wrong.

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

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

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network

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

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Two Journeys


“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

146a6-lissa-bryanLissa Bryan is a delightful historian as well as being a wonderful writer. Her latest book, Dominionis a dystopian romance taking place at a time in the not-too-far-distant future.

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

Lissa: This episode was entiled “Two Voyages” but it really was about three: Ragnar’s expedition to England, Björn’s voyage to Rome, and Lagertha’s journey to get Kattegat back from Aslaug.

Sandi: Ah, clever you! Yes. That last really was a journey as well, physically and psychologically. (I had a lot of “psychological moments” with this episode. Bear with me.)

Lissa: Ivar wakes on the beach with his father sprawled beside him. Wearily, Ragnar rises and scans the sea. He announces he doesn’t see his ships. Which makes sense, what with the sinking and all.

Sandi: It is rather barren there as we join Our Heroes on the beach. Still, one has to hand it to Ragnar; he got them across the sea. Barely, but there.

Lissa: Ivar tries to get to his feet with the aid of his braces and crutches. Impatiently, Ragnar knocks him down, straddles him, and rips the braces from his son’s legs. He tells Ivar to stop trying to pretend to be normal, because he’s not, and once he realizes that is when greatness will happen.

Sandi: This is, coming from the mom of a special needs son, a bit harsh. But then, the Viking world is not my warm and comfortable 21st Century world, and the truths that guide the lives of the Northmen are a harsher set.

Lissa: He flings the braces away and orders Ivar to crawl.

They meet up with a far-reduced crew, staggering down the beach. The men demand to know that they’re going to do now. Good question. They’re understandably upset, and they blame Ragnar for this misfortune.

Sandi: This is not a crew Ragnar would have chosen ten or twenty years ago. These are, if you recall, “the dregs” of the Kattegat adventurers. So, they didn’t get their longships to shore, it appears, and they are whining about their circumstances. These are not men of iron, but men of sand.

Lissa: Björn’s fleet approaches a harbor and Rollo peers out the window and sees the Viking sails. He’s wearing a luxurious, floor-length robe and his hair is just awesome.

As he watches, a genuinely happy smile crosses his face.

Sandi: Another of those “psychological moments” for me. Here is where a man who has lived a prosperous life realizes he’s displaced, to a degree. He’s pleased to see the signs of home.

Lissa: The English discover the washed-up remains of the shipwreck. Aethelwulf picks up a piece of tattered cloth and sees Ragnar’s raven insignia. He immediately identifies it and orders his men to find Ragnar Lothbrook.

Sandi: Like many, though, when I saw Aethelwulf I immediately wondered where Alfred was. Still, it was good to see Aethelwulf and I wonder what role he’ll play in this half of the season. I wonder what the man’s been doing, to have such an instant identification of Ragnar from a piece of tattered cloth, though. That speaks a bit of obsession, you know?

Lissa: Ragnar and his ragtag crew are staggering through the woods. Ragnar first tries dragging Ivar on a sledge. Ivar mocks him for having to tend to a cripple.

Sandi: The interactions between these two men during this episode is quite the study. A man whose son knows he tried to abandon him. A son who has to constantly poke at his father, with affection, to make sure he’s not being ignored or overlooked again.

Lissa: Rollo has Björn and his men brought in, surrounded by soldiers. Whenever Björn tries to approach, spears clash together in front of him to block his path. It’s not a warm family reunion, by any means. Rollo greets Björn in Frankish – pointedly emphasizing his change in national allegiance. He introduces Gisla and the three young children standing around her throne. William, Marcellus, and Celsa.

Sandi: The spear thing is very dramatic, as is the language. Rollo is still Rollo. Bigger than life and all about owning a room. The children are nondescript—at first—and even Gisla seems to have none of her usual spark as she sits on her throne. All the while, I am wondering when her father died. Or has he? If he was Charlemagne’s grandson (as he stated often when onscreen), that would make him Charles the Bald—but the man had a head of hair, so that’s likely out. It is more likely that the Charles in this show is Charles the Simple, who was a great-great-grandson of Charlemagne. But that would put him, historically, way out of our timeline. However! We’ll go with what we have. Or perhaps had. For we still haven’t seen the man.

Lissa: We’ve discussed before that Rollo never had children with Gisla – if she really existed, that is – and his descendants were from his wife Poppa/Popa. I’d speculated in our podcast [when we were interviewed by the No Ship Network – sl] that Poppa might be a plotline, as in maybe Gisla wasn’t able to have children, like Lagertha, and Rollo’s attention would turn to a woman who could give him heirs. But it seems they decided to make Gisla the mother of Duke Rollo’s progeny. William Longsword, Count of Rouen, was actually an adult when Rollo became a Christian and was baptized alongside him, but ended up being excommunicated later for attacking some holdings of another noble. He has a beautiful tomb in the cathedral in Rouen.

Sandi: Indeed, I do fear that Poppa is not happening in VIKINGS. At least, not in the current rendering of the duke’s family tree. Though, it is possible that the writers might bring in another woman for Rollo at some future point. One never knows!

Lissa: In any case, Floki is stunned to see Rollo’s family, but his shock turns to amusing acceptance when young William sticks his tongue out at him. He gives a little shrug, like “Okay, I can accept that.”

Sandi: I wonder if a younger Floki would have reciprocated? And I also wonder how William, there, is being trained/raised if he does this in the presence of possibly hostile foreigners in the Frankish court. Is no one teaching him how to Royal?

Lissa: Gisla “forgetting how to princess” again.You’re absolutely right – as cute as that scene is, Gisla’s children should be much better-behaved by this age.

Björn asks for safe passage through Rollo’s lands so he can continue his voyage to Rome. He shows Rollo the map, which Rollo takes from him. He sends Björn and his men off to the dungeon.

Björn shouts back at him that there are sixty Viking skips in the harbor and the men on them might get a bit testy if they don’t hear back from Björn soon, but Rollo ignores that. Floki shouts at Björn not to do anything stupid, and Björn retorts that he’s never in his life done anything stupid. To which I reply:


Sandi: This is clearly a lesson Björn needs to learn: Never relinquish a treasure to a head of state. He didn’t intend to give it over, of course, but he took his hands off of it, trusting Rollo to keep his hands off of it as well. Björn’s threats mean little as Rollo feels that he knows his own countrymen; even if he doesn’t, anymore.

Lissa: In the woods, Ragnar and his men pause when they hear a female voice singing. They quickly hide themselves behind the trees. A lovely young girl is picking mushrooms and singing a haunting song as she harvests, unaware of the danger only inches away. Ragnar and his men remain very still and silent, and escape her notice. And again, the ghost of Gyda pained my heart as I thought of Ragnar’s traditional gentleness with young women – Yidu notwithstanding.

Sandi: I wondered as to the plot-purpose of this scene. Was it there for character development to show Ragnar’s continued care for the innocent? Was it to show how the men obeyed him even if they weren’t happy with him, thus demonstrating Ragnar’s lasting legacy? Or was it to show the sense of ease of the locals as they allowed a young girl to go off by herself in the forest? We likely will never know.

And Yidu . . . Don’t get me started.

Lissa: When they see a contingent of soldiers on horseback, Ragnar decides it’s time for Ivar and himself to go their separate way. “We can no longer travel with our friends. It can only be you and me.” That night, they slink through the darkness, and slay the other warriors. Ivar kills two himself. One quick-thinking woman tries to offer Ivar her body, but he stabs her.

Sandi: Well, here’s yet another “moment” for me. Killing someone in the heat of battle is one thing, as any warrior will tell you. But the slaughter of the sleeping is a totally different experience. Ivar is still a young man, for all his charming sociopathy, and he’s not (to date, I don’t think?) had a lot of experience with wholesale murder. I wonder if the night will linger in his psyche or if he’ll just move past it.

Lissa: Ragnar and his son bicker good-naturedly as Ragnar hauls Ivar first in a fireman’s carry, then in a piggyback – at one point Ragnar making donkey noises to make Ivar laugh – but he says something very important. “I didn’t come here to go back.” And as we know from the Sagas and the foreshadowing, it’s not his fate to return to Kattegat.

Sandi: It’s easy to miss Ragnar’s stated intent in this scene. It’s delivered as just a part of a conversation. There are smiles and laughter and jokes. Ragnar has, though, spent two episodes saying farewell, so that he says it here as well is not surprising.

Lissa: Speaking of Kattegat, Lagertha is preparing to take it back. We see her walking through a contingent of training warriors on the way to her hall.

Sandi: Yes, the third “journey” in train here, as you mentioned at the outset. Where Ragnar had to bribe people to sail with him, Lagertha has a warband ready for combat. They’re young, enthusiastic, and tough.

Lissa: Much was said on Twitter about her ageless beauty in comparison to the somewhat more battered and grayed Ragnar.

Sandi: Of course, we give all due credit to the beautiful Katheryn Winnick, who is certifiably amazing in real life. Her fictional character’s gene pool is just as awesome, apparently.

lagerthathenaLissa: In the hall, Lagertha is doing her Athena thing again with the owl. She says that only two of Ragnar’s sons are left in Kattegat. Joan Jett asks if she’ll kill them and Lagertha doesn’t answer. Margrethe has arrived with Torvi. Joan Jett learns that Margrethe was “being used” by Ragnar’s sons. Joan Jett asks Margrethe if she hated them. Margrethe says she was afraid that Ivar would kill her. Lagertha says that’s enough questions – she needs to talk to Torvi. She asks Torvi how her son Guthram is. Lagertha, of course, cared for the boy when Torvi’s piece-of-work husband separated them. Torvi says he’s doing great. There was much speculation in our Twitter convo about why Lagertha hadn’t asked about her own grandchildren.

But that’s just a guess. We don’t see them, or any mention of Tovi’s kids with Björn.

Sandi: As soon as we heard Lagertha mention Ragnar’s sons, there was speculation as to what she planned to do with them, as she’s seeking to lead in Kattegat—or at least depose Aslaug. Since they are Ragnar’s sons, I speculated that she wouldn’t kill them; she loves Ragnar, even yet. My guess was she’d use sex on them in some way. Because, well, it clearly is a vulnerability for them, as Margrethe could witness.

Lissa: Burger King Ecbert appears, and he’s seated at a table, listening to Aethelwulf tell him that Ragnar has returned. All they’ve found of him, aside from the floaters on the beach, is a contingent of warriors, slaughtered in the woods for some unknown reason. Aethelwulf refers to Ragnar as a fearsome eternal wolf, sent to ravage the humble lambs of Christendom, but Ecbert is more realistic. He says that he knows Ragnar is just a man. Ecbert isn’t unduly alarmed by Ragnar’s return. He’s got a council meeting on his mind.

Sandi: Ah, Ecbert. Good to see you, too. I wonder if he’s been waiting with that tenterhook feeling for Ragnar to return, since the obliteration of the Wessex settlement. (I am also apparently wondering a lot this episode…)

Lissa: In the woods, Ragnar and his son are having a bit of a lighthearted bicker as they rest.

Sandi: This is very bittersweet, to me. It’s almost as if Ragnar is trying so hard to get all the Good Dad moments in here, at what he has determined will be the last leg of his life’s journey.

Lissa: But Ragnar turns serious after a moment. “I thought your legs were a weakness, and you wouldn’t survive. I was wrong. Your legs have given you a strength, a strength that even your brothers don’t have. You’re like a deaf man whose eyesight is sharper than anyone else’s. You are special, not in spite of your legs, but because of them.” The expressions that crossed Ivar’s face while Ragnar spoke were exquisite, and the camera lingered on him as a gamut of feelings flickered through his eyes. They were the words Ivar had wanted to hear his entire life.

He recovered after a moment, enough to tease his father that it’s the first time he’s ever heard Ragnar admit he was wrong. Ragnar tells him not to get used to it.

Sandi: This is in comparison to Aslaug’s farewell to him, I think. She has always wanted to protect him, shield him. Ragnar wants his son to be strong and has given him—just in his words and deeds over a shortish amount of time—the strength he will need for the rest of his life.

Lissa: In their jail cell, Halfdan and the other Vikings are chewing Björn out for getting them into this mess. They seem mostly bored and frustrated by the situation – you know, being imprisoned by a guy who’d slaughtered their kind and might be intending to do the same to them.

Sandi: I really do think that the quality of the raiding parties has gone down since the “old days”. 

Lissa: And it’s all Björn’s fault.

Sandi: I got nothing, here. @smidbeach said it all.

arab-ringLissa: Two guards come and collect Björn and strike off his irons. Halfdan yells after him, “You’d better not let us down, Ironsides!” Björn is taken to meet with Rollo in his hall, where a huge map has been spread over the table. He translates as a scholar explains the significance. The map Björn had was just a scrap of a much larger one which showed the entire Roman empire with its network of roads. To get to Rome, they’ll have to pass by Saracen Spain, currently Muslim territory. We speculated last night that the show might possibly incorporate the Allah ring found in the grave of a Viking woman.


over-the-mapSandi: Björn had to be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the world he was shown with the enlarged map, but his poker-face was in full view and he seemed to take it all in stride. You can imagine, though, that his ambitions likely shifted a bit within a heartbeat or two.

Lissa: Rollo and Gisla have a terrible fight about it. Gisla shouts that Rollo is no longer a Viking. He’s a Christian. Gisla says their children are not Vikings. They’re Christian. If she thought they were Vikings, she declares, she would kill them before she killed herself. Which made me want to remind her that’s sort of what happened with Sigurd and Brunhilde. Her daughter ended up stuffed in a harp. Do you want your kid in a harp, Gisla? ‘Cause that’s how your kid ends up stuffed in a harp.

Rollo charges forward and grabs her by the throat. There’s a bit of an Alice Kramden feel to this scene, because Gisla doesn’t even flinch or break eye contact when Rollo does his Viking version of “Wham, boom, straight to the moon!


Rollo tells her he is a Christian, but when he hears thunder, he still hears the beating of Thor’s hammer.

Gisla says, “Have you … you know … you tried not being a Viking?”

She says that if he goes – whether he lives or dies – it’s the end of their relationship.

Sandi: Gisla has apparently never learned how to Wife or Queen or even Mom. I get that she has standards, but a woman in her position has to watch what she says, for her words have power. They just don’t have enough power to keep Rollo home . . .

Lissa: But go he does. We next see him on the deck of a ship, being tied up by the rest of the crew. He’s taking it with considerable aplomb, I must say.

Sandi: The subtle moments between Björn and Floki got me all tense. What would they do to Christian Uncle Rollo? Well, they pulled a classic. 

Lissa: They tie him, hands and feet, and throw him into the water, but what’s a little keelhauling between friends? They don’t haul him up until he’s almost dead.

Sandi: A punishment/discipline/vengeance that is as old as sailing itself, what we call keelhauling has the advantage of being fairly easy to accomplish, doesn’t require extra equipment, can be done with few accomplices, and—unlike straight-out execution—can be nonfatal. I imagine Rollo learned a lot about his nephew without a word being said. Foremost being: Don’t Touch My Map.

Lissa: Lagertha is giving a dinner for Ubbe and Sigurd. Margrethe is there. Lagertha and Joan Jett tell the boys that Margrethe is in love with both of them and they’re all going to have to work it out amongst themselves who gets to be with her. Or… they could, you know, share.

Sandi: Sex. Yeah. And the young men, being who they are, walk right into the trap she laid for them.

Lissa: We’re next seein’ some lovin’ in the bedchamber, but surprise! It’s all a trick to get them caught with their pants down… literally. The boys are imprisoned safely while Lagertha leads her warriors toward Kattegat. Soldiers march and ships sail – all in her colors.

Lissa: When a woman sees them, she screams and flees into the town. The warriors attack, slaughtering those who fight back.

Sandi: Hey, if Lagertha was going for impact, she won before she ever sent her people in to fight. Psychological warfare in a most effective way. Her warriors are in their prime, by and large, and all of Kattegat’s best are off a-viking.

Lissa: The fighting is intense, especially in close quarters – two shield walls bashing against one another. At Lagertha’s signal, a horn blows and archers appear from their hiding places on the roofs and fire arrows down into the opposing side. After a few minutes of raining death from the skies, Lagertha shouts “Enough!”

Sandi: The question was raised on twitter as to how Lagertha would handle this attack on what had been (and still was in many ways) her own home. More psychological moments for Vikings! As she says here, “These are my people.” It was a harsh time and she had to make a point. A harsh one. But she didn’t wipe out everyone; just enough to get the job done. 

Lissa: In the great hall, Aslaug is preparing. She dons a luxurious furred robe and a pendant headdress, and her eyeliner is on fleek. She unveils a brilliant sword from its wrappings. Some online speculated that the sword was Gram, the one gifted to Aslaug’s gradfather Sigmund by Odin himself, “all decked with gold and gleaming bright.”

But it may simply be King Horik’s sword.

Whatever it is, it seems to be based on the Ulfberht sword. She marches outside to meet Lagertha, sword balanced her palms.An offering, not a threat.


Sandi: The sword of legend, indeed. I think, even if it isn’t an Ulfberht sword, it is certainly purposefully designed to make those who know of it to think of it. An allusion is a powerful communication tool.

Lissa: Ragnar pleads with Ivar to play up his disability as they approach a town. He’s recognized as they get closer to the gates, and archers come to line the wall. Ragnar slowly raises his hands.

Sandi: And we are gifted with lo, another cliffhanger! So we have Ragnar & Son, basically alone in the land they were supposedly going to raid for retribution or reward, approaching an armed town. Grandpa in a trenchcoat, his son dragging himself by his arms. Scary enough to warrant a complement of archers? 

Apparently! Looking forward to next week!

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

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: The Outsider


VIKINGS banner

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

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 

– Steve No Ship Network
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`••´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

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

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: The Last Ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rollo tickertape

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

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

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

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

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

Lissa: … And then…

Sandi: . . . Yeah . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lissa: And that’s where it ends.

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

rollo ragnar aerial fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ragnarssons band cover

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

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Death All ‘Round

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

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

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


(Sidenote to the NoShippers: Yes, you pronounced it correctly. Well done!)

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: This episode, I think was aptly named!

Sandi: I do appreciate the care they take to title them. I know I have a hard time with titles. The History Channel does a great job. Even if the titles refer to some horrible and sad things.

Lissa: We began with wonderful scenes of the Vikings porting the boats overland, rolling the ships over lubricated logs. It gave a great sense of how much effort and labor had to go into tasks like these, the engineering and forethought. Lagertha is helping haul on the ropes to pull the ships over the log rollers. She winces and grasps her belly at one point, but goes right back to pulling.

vikings s4 e9 heave ho

Sandi: They had a bit of a distance to go, here, but it was encouraging to show that they just did it. Marshaling local resources and getting down to business. Lagertha—yeah. The psychology of her behavior here is interesting. The Seer said she’d have no more children, yet she’s pregnant. It is possible that she’s decided to trust in Serendipity and do exactly as she would were she not pregnant, hoping that the chance of Fate would smile upon her. Or she’s subconsciously believing the Seer and his prophecy and determines to act in such a way that will not protect her unborn child to make it come true. I don’t believe she consciously is seeking to harm herself in any way. She’s just going to do what she feels she must.

Lissa: Two locals peek through the trees. They hope the Vikings will pass them by. It’s all any family could do at the time.

Sandi: The average local “peasant” or “villein” had no recourse when armed men moved through their territories. They were used like canon fodder, their lands were harvested bare and ruined, and their lives were considered as nothing to noblemen waging war.

Lissa: Finehair and his brother Halfdan take a breakfast break to go raiding a farm. The brothers are cheerful and playful as they loot. Halfdan lobs an egg at Harald and they share a laugh as it spatters the front of his armor. The residents are obviously hiding. Halfdan lifts a pillow and finds a jewelry below. He informs his brother there are women here, and they search the barn. A hard shove on the boards of the hayloft above sends the girls crashing down. They’re young – around Gyda’s age. The rest of the family pleads in French and Spanish – at least I think that’s what I heard. But both being Romance languages, I imagine Old French has some similarities.

Sandi: It really struck me how lighthearted Harald and Halfdan are, here. Like the village was created just for their amusement and plundering. I heard Spanish, too. The lines between people were more fluid in those days and the languages were still in development. Indeed they still are.

Lissa: We all cringed at the thought of what was going to happen to those girls, and mercifully, the scene cut away.  As they pack up to leave, we see more of that cheerful demeanor. Halfdan sings a Norse song and Harald joins in as they ride away. But we see the carnage as they’re leaving. The family has been slaughtered brutally, hacked to pieces.

Sandi: That’s actually a poem from the Irish. The Northmen were seen as an unstoppable force to the man in the village. They came in with their axes and shields, their belief that death in battle was a good thing, their unassailable confidence that raiding was their right, to bring treasure and slaves back home, where they were needed. A run-of-the-mill farmer (or miller!) couldn’t stand up to that. All they could do was pray, hope, and hide.

Lissa: Finehair later justifies it to Björn by saying the family would have told the Franks of the Vikings’ plans. He says Björn would have done the same, and Björn replies, “I’m not blaming you.” As Julie summed it up last night on Twitter:

Sandi: I think Hirst has been careful to show this, in his writing of this show. People are . . . people. With strengths and failings as a community as well as in individuals.

Lissa: The scene cuts to little Alfred on the road approaching the city of Rome with Aethelwulf and Prudentius walking behind him. Beggars line the pilgrims’ path, some more insistent than others. Aethelwulf functions as the bodyguard. Alfred meets Pope Leo X. An interesting aside – Do you realize the same actor playing the pope also plays the Seer?

aethelwulf proud papaSandi: Alfred, at this point, has walked over 1,000 miles. Okay, perhaps he’s been able to ride a pony for some of that, but still. A long, long walk. It’s taken months, even if they didn’t go souvenir shopping along the way. Still, the little guy is plucky, striding along with his wet hair in his face, ignoring the importuning people along the road. Aethelwulf does a great job and we noted last night that he’s been a good father to the lad, despite the more-than-awkward beginnings of that relationship. And I knew the pope looked familiar…(Yes, I hang out on IMDb and the Vikings Wikia on occasion!)

Lissa: The pope tells Alfred that he has an important destiny in defending Christendom from the pagan invaders.  The pope warns him, “If Christian people do not do penance, a great and rushing disaster will swiftly come upon you.” It’s a reminder that the Vikings were thought of by Christians as a scourge of God, a punishment for their sins. The pope shows little Alfred a sacred relic, one of the thorns from the crown cruelly thrust on the head of Jesus when he was being crucified by the Romans. Alfred kisses it in reverence.

Sandi: Alfred has been well-indoctrinated— I mean, taught!—of the tenets of the faith. At this time, that was handled by memorization, so one can imagine that the lad has a grand memory and is dedicated to learning. As indeed, King Alfred will prove in the fullness of time. I like that the show gives foreshadowing of Alfred’s lifelong commitment to faith and learning even at this stage, even including the trip to Rome Alfred did indeed make the pilgrimage. 

Lissa: The show already highlighted the early church’s reverence for relics. Remember Gisla and the oriflamme? I mentioned last night that there was also a terrible market for forgeries arising at this time, and a great many people got taken in by scammers who took advantage of their faith and trust that a fellow Christian would not lie about something so sacred.

Sandi: Even Chaucer had something to say about relics, having his Pardoner character in The Canterbury Tales, discuss how he (the Pardoner) cons people in the Pardoner’s Prologue. Not saying that the Holy Father was using the thorn of Christ’s crown of thorns as a moneymaking prop in this episode! Just a commentary that this practice did go on for centuries.

alfred and consul swordLissa: There was a wonderful scene of little Alfred being crowned as a Consul of Rome while Ecbert is being crowned as the joint king of Mercia and Wessex. The bishop anoints Ecbert’s head with oil and proclaims the kingdoms are forever and indissolvably joined, and Little Alfred is gifted a beautiful sword and a golden crown of laurel leaves. It would have been a moment that left a powerful impression on a young boy.

Sandi: Really nice display here by the History Channel. I enjoyed how these scenes were combined with some Gregorian Chant as background music. (Not sure if it was, technically, Gregorian, but you know what I mean.) Ecbert gets to wear the Where the Wild Things Are crown so I imagine we can let the Wild Rumpus start! 

Ecbert with the new crown

Lissa: Judith is, of course, all smiles, but Aella is displeased by Ecbert’s coronation and reminds him afterward that he and Ecbert were supposed to split Mercia equally. Ecbert betrayed him. And Aella mentions that Ecbert’s new domain borders his own. Ecbert essentially tells him to learn to live with it, because that’s how it is.

Sandi: Yeah.  ^^ That. (As an aside, @DeeDonuts always gives good GIF.) King Aelle is disgruntled and likely even angered by King Ecbert’s obvious duplicity. But he is in Ecbert’s court, surrounded by Ecbert’s men, and can do nothing. That has to stick in his craw in a bad, bad way.

ragnar and lagertha post miscarriageLissa: We return to Paris, where Björn and his father are hastily summoned. It’s Lagertha. When they arrive, they find her lying in her tent, her dress pulled up to her thighs and soaked with blood. She tells them she lost her child. She’d hoped the Seer might be wrong. She begins to sob and Ragnar pulls her into his arms to comfort her. He looks equally agonized as he holds his ex-wife and murmurs to her. But very quickly Lagertha sits up and tells him to go. “Just go away. Leave me alone.” Ragnar releases her, but he doesn’t leave. He retreats just a few feet behind her and sits down, and Björn sits down on her other side. In one of those gorgeous touches of cinematography conveying emotion, their body movements are in sync as Lagertha struggles to control her grief.

Sandi: That was heartbreaking for Lagertha, even though she knew it could happen. I really appreciated seeing how Ragnar supported her, and his own grief there even though the child was not his. As we said last night, these two are the great big One True Pairing for many VIKINGS fans and their chemistry is undeniable. And props to Björn, too. This is not a typical place for a son to be supportive, but he did very well. Sometimes, it’s right to ignore his mother’s wishes and do the right thing.

Lissa: Outside, Floki’s eyes roll back in his head and he has a vision of Aslaug wandering around in the rain, screaming Harbard’s name and falling to the earth in tears when she cannot find him.

Floki the SeerSandi: So now we see Floki as Seer, really. He’s not seeing the future, not here and not in the earlier episode when he seemed thrust into the sexual encounter between Harbard and Queen Aslaug. Instead, Floki Sees what is happening at the moment. I wonder how this will play out in the future of the show. I wonder if Kattegat’s Seer really has gone on, and that’s why the actor is now the pope?

Lissa: Simple Chuck is seated on the throne when Gisla and Rollo stride in. Since her marriage was consummated, Gisla’s style has changed to sleek and simple – and frankly, rather modern-looking. Beside her, Rollo is stylin’ in a shiny, shiny doublet. Simple Chuck announces Gisla’s pregnancy, and then has another announcement… He’s making Roland a count for his services to Frankia. Gisla doesn’t look very pleased by the announcement. The king dismisses everyone but asks Roland to linger for a moment. He has an important question to ask him. After everyone is gone, Chuck lays it out in the bluntest terms possible. Chuck wants Therese as his mistress and he wants to know if Roland would be upset about it.

Lissa: Not at all, Roland says with aplomb. In fact, she’d be the happiest woman in Frankia, he’s sure. He turns to go and Chuck tells him there’s just one more thing he’d like to ask about.

Sandi: I think the thing with Gisla’s wardrobe is that she isn’t having to prove anything any longer. Not to her father, not to the court. She’s married to a man she (finally) respects (though she finds it necessary to lecture him about How to be Frankish quite often) and she no longer has to build her reputation in her wardrobe. She is who she is, and that’s enough. I do concur, though, that her wardrobe does seem almost modern in its lines. (I am reminded of the wonderful series Robin Hood from the BBC, where the characters dressed in such a way as to call forth modern stylings using traditional means.) I will say though that I am getting rather tired of her pedantic manner. Still, there’s a lesson to be learned here: We often tend to think our own culture is the superior one. We should guard against this when dealing with others.

Lissa: We cut to Rollo and Gisla’s bedroom as they’re retiring. Gisla undresses behind a screen as she gives Rollo a lecture/lesson on… something. Sorry, it sort of just went in one ear and out the other. I did catch, though, that she’s unhappy about her father honoring “those people.” She puts on a white cottony-looking nightgown, complete with little satin bows and climbs into the very 18th century-looking bed with its scalloped headboard and pulled-back curtains. Rollo is also wearing a nightgown, and it has a shiny placard breast.

Sandi: Yeah. The use of nightwear was extremely rare, back then. A bridal couple on their wedding night might have something to wear, if they were noble, because there was an audience to their bedding ceremonies. But even then, it was rare to use valuable resources on a garment one wore only to sleep in. There are accounts of even kings holding court in their beds, naked under their bedding but for a cap on their heads. This was also rare, but it happened.

Lissa: The #BootSoleFile is swelling a bit, eh? And they were doing so well with the portage and such! Alas!

Sandi: It is! But, I remind myself that this is historical fiction, after all. 😉

Lissa: In any case, Rollo starts to get frisky, and Gisla rebuffs him. She’s pregnant, she reminds him. Yeah, he says, and he’s real happy about that. She tells him he cannot have carnal relations with her while she’s in this sacred state.

Lissa: I predicted this will not end well, and let me repeat that now: this will not end well. Rollo and Gisla had a good thing going here for a while, but it’s probably about to be seriously challenged because Rollo is not going to take to almost a year’s worth of abstinence well. How soon before his eye begins to roam? And how will Pepe le Princess take that? Considering her other views on marriage, I imagine she won’t accept it with a simple, “Well, that’s noblemen for you!

no sex vikings

Sandi: This will be interesting. Ah, the Royal Soap Opera! It was not uncommon, of course, for well-born men to take mistresses while their wives kept their sacred, baby-making selves away from them. Wives were often guided to look the other way when that happened, resting in the knowledge that they were providing an heir/ess and their position was secure even if their “husband had no self-control”. (Royal hmph! here.)

Lissa: At dawn, Simple Chuck rolls out of bed, dressed in his own nightgown, this one of a vibrant blue. 

Sandi: Another note on their clothing: Blue is a notoriously difficult color to make permanent in a fabric dye. It’s one reason why purple was considered a royal color. So using it for nightwear, again, is unreasonable. Sorry. I just had to get that out. 

Lissa: He strolls to the window, leaving a sleeping partner in the bed. It’s not until he glances back that we see who it is… Roland.

Sandi: That shocked me. A lot. I did a quick check and the Emperor Charles was not known to be a homosexual, even to history. However, he was noted to have a marked preference for a certain friend of his, giving him many favors and honors. So. That is a possibility as to where this came from, here in the show. I wonder if Roland considered this possibility when he told the emperor that he was ready to sacrifice all for him?

Lissa: At the Viking encampment, Torvi and Björn make love while Erlendur watches. When they’ve finished, Björn asks Torvi why she came with him when he asked. What does she want from this? Torvi says with a bit of amusement that it took him long enough to ask.

Sandi: I don’t equate Torvi with Salome, understand, it was just something I heard in my head at that point in the story. 

Lissa: She sees Erlendur aiming a crossbow at Björn, so she climbs back atop him and slides to his side, blocking Erlendur’s shot.

Sandi: Nice move! She is all about protecting Björn at this point, which was reassuring. The buzz in the VIKINGS fandom has included thoughts on whether or not Torvi is a spy for Erlandur—albeit under duress. It seems here that she is not willing for harm to come to Björn, which is a relief. (I mean, if they killed off Queen Kwenthrith, is anyone safe?)

Lissa: In Kattegat, Sigurd is floating a little boat down the creek when he comes upon a body laying on the bank. It’s little Siggy, and she’s dead, drowned like the woman she’s named after. Sigurd goes into the house. Ivar is playing a game with his mother. She’s drinking heavily. She’s gone full Circe Lannister in this episode, I swear. She makes a bad move on the game board and Ivar announces it was stupid. He’s won now. Aslaug retorts that he shouldn’t call her stupid. After all, if it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t even be alive.

Sandi: SIGLET!  I mourn for the poor little girl who had nobody to truly care about her. 

And let’s take a moment to check out Ivar, shall we? He is the same boy who screamed in fear when he killed the other child with an axe. Blood all over his face, the boy was a mess until his mama told him it wasn’t his fault. Everything was going to be fine. Have a biscuit. And now, he’s going full-on psychopath here in this scene.

Lissa: Sigurd comes forward and announces he found Siggy’s body. Aslaug first says “Who?” before it clicks into place. Aslaug isn’t the slightest bit troubled by this news. She asks if someone was taking care of the child, and Sigurd says apparently not.

Sandi: Sigurd is the only one who seems to have known the little girl existed, at this point, and even he didn’t value her highly at all. One can only think that Harbard used this little girl as his sacrifice (of whatever nature) much in the way he took Siggy’s life before. I will miss Siglet.

Lissa: Ivar interjects. “Who cares?” Sigurd turns and stomps out as Aslaug gives a chilling smile. The happiest smile we’ve seen from her in a long while.

aslaug evil smileHere’s what throws me about this… Siggy was Ragnar’s granddaughter, daughter of his eldest son. Even if Aslaug was indifferent to her, you’d think the child would have some value in the community. Everyone knows how much Ragnar adores the children in his family. Ragmar is going to be very upset when he returns and finds out his first grandchild died of what is essentially neglect. Björn, too. The girl may not have “value” to Aslaug, but she will be a princess one day and her hand has value in marriage negotiations.

Sandi: These two have gone from sad figures to bad guys. They were to be pitied at one point, I feel. Aslaug as a neglected wife, for she did all that was asked of her and Ivar who was born with a deformity (in the show) and has to be tended as an invalid for a time. Now, she’s caught up in her Harbard-addiction and getting drunk in the presence of her children and he’s telling his mother she’s stupid and he doesn’t even care when a girl raised in his household is found abandoned and dead.

Lissa: The Vikings have reached the opposite side of the river. They all gather to cheer the sight of Paris in the distance.

Sandi: You have to feel for them, here. Though they are a seafaring folk, this might have been the longest distance any of them have had to transport their ships. What if Ragnar didn’t have it right? What if they climbed that last rise and found…more land? This was a vindication of sorts for Ragnar, but he doesn’t seem remotely aware of it. He’s in a bad, bad way, thanks to Yidu’s “medicine”.

Lissa: In his tent, Erlendur is sacrificing a rabbit, gathering its blood in a cup. Torvi crouches down beside him. She asks if she returns to him as his wife, if he will abandon his plan to kill Björn. Erlendur says he never will. He is a Viking; they don’t give up on vengeance. Ragnar killed his father. He must have his revenge. Something in the sacrifice makes him say that the gods have determined it must be Torvi who slays Björn. She tries to protest, but Erlendur threatens her son again. He presses his crossbow into her hands and forces her to drink the blood from the cup.

erlandur revenge

Sandi: I don’t believe that the gods said anything of the sort. I am sure that Erlandur chose this method as a punishment for Torvi, who had protected Björn before. Making her drink the blood makes this a religious communion, of sorts, as when all shared the blood of the cow in ritual before. 

Lissa: Torvi strides outside and sees Björn standing in the center of the camp. She has a dribble of blood running down the corner of her mouth. She tells him that she has to kill him to avenge Erlendur’s father. Björn gives a small sigh and asks her what she’s waiting for. Torvi lifts the crossbow, spins, and puts a bolt through Erlendur’s chest. Way to go, Torvi! As she told Björn many episodes ago, she is a Viking, too. Björn goes over to Erlendur’s gasping body and drops Erlendur’s ring onto the shaft of the crossbow bolt.

Sandi: I thought it interesting, here, that after all of Björn’s brooding on the matter, he is not the agency by which the Erlandur matter is ended. Instead, it is Torvi who has the opportunity and strength of purpose to end it. Forever, one hopes. 

Lissa: Ragnar is very ill and hallucinating. He thinks he’s vomiting up spiders.

Sandi: This is a bad, bad thing. When a king is seeing things, how reliable can he be? No one knows exactly what he’s seeing, which is something, but it is worrisome.

Lissa: Björn goes into his father’s tent and finds him smashing imaginary spiders on its floor, pausing now and then to vomit helplessly. Ragnar looks awful. Ragnar finally tells Björn the trouble: Yidu gave him something she called medicine, but now without it, Ragnar feels poisoned. It should be noted here that this is the only mention of Yidu in the episode, and Björn doesn’t follow it up by asking whatever happened to that girl, anyway? Though Yidu was “just a slave,” it seems odd that Björn wouldn’t at least mention her absence. After all, Yidu speaks French, and could reveal their plans if she’d run off.

Sandi: For all that Björn is growing into himself and learning leadership skills, he is not entirely savvy yet. It did seem strange that Yidu’s absence from Ragnar’s side is not more widely noted. So many did not care for her that one would think there’d be some kind of response to her absence. If only smiles and crossed glances.

Lissa: Björn is focused instead on his father’s illness. He asks, rather naïvely, why Ragnar doesn’t just take more of the drug if being without it makes him so ill. Ragnar says he has to save the little that’s left for the fight with Rollo. Paris doesn’t matter, he tells Björn. Only his fight with Rollo.

Lissa: Ragnar stands and starts to tug on his leather armor, but you can see it’s exhausting him. With tender hands, Björn helps him dress.

Sandi: This was a great moment, though not surrounded in pomp and noise. One is reminded that parents care for children and then, one day, children care for their parents. It’s a bond. It’s good to see Björn acting thus, here. But still, his neglected daughter is dead far in the north and he doesn’t even know it. That’s painful. 

Lissa: We see the ships on the water in the last scene. They were transporting the battle platforms between the longships, something I’d never seen before, but it was ingenious. Floki’s work, no doubt!

Sandi: The man is a genius in such matters, for all that I’m not a fan of his character. Fully maneuverable floating platforms were used by other Vikings as well as other cultures to facilitate fighting on the water while using advantages available on land, such as room to maneuver. The battle platform was indeed ingenious. For the Vikings in particular, these platforms were of great use when fighting in fjørds and lakes and rivers.

Lissa: On the prow, Ragnar mutters about Rollo. “I must kill youI have to kill you. I will kill you.”

Sandi: And next week, this confrontation might very well happen. 

So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill on twitter!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

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

The #ShieldGeeks Talk VIKINGS: S4E6

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

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.


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.

lagertha kalf burialLissa: We opened with a scene of Lagertha blessing Kalf’s grave, sowing its soil with blood. Erlendur approaches and asks her why she killed Kalf. Lagertha says she did it because she promised. She told him she would kill him for usurping her earldom and she did. She asks Erlendur if he’ll be leaving now that Kalf is gone and he says that he wants to return with her to raid Paris again. Torvi’s little son comes over and she tells him she’s going to be going away for a while. He should cherish his friends, because many of them will die soon, and those that don’t will betray him.

Sandi: Something that always strikes me about Lagertha is her willingness to get her hands dirty. She flinches from nothing. I love that about her. She met her oath, as well, even if part of her didn’t wish to do so. That she gives that advice to the boy is poignant, as she’s been betrayed and has, after a fashion, betrayed others.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Ragnar’s sons Ubbe and Hvitserk are given their arm bands by their father in a sweet and touching ceremony. The boys swore fealty to their father and became men in the eyes of the Viking culture. It was a lovely, warm moment, and Sandi contrasted it with the same scene in season one, when Björn was given his. Ragnar announces he’ll be taking the boys with him to Paris. Aslaug, not respecting their new status, protests that they’re too young. Ragnar – probably stung a bit by this – jabs back at her by saying the boys will probably be safer in his hands given what happened last time he was away.

lissa boys to men tweet

Sandi: Ragnar—sounding breathless, but happy—asks the boys to taste the offering of earth and salt. They then touch both dirt and salt rocks with their tongues. I’ll have to check, but I don’t remember if that was part of the ceremony in the first season. I love that Björn is the one holding the sword that is used in place of a salver that might be used in a Christian communion service. An interesting unspoken moment, I think, happens when Ragnar tells the boys they are swearing their allegiance “to your father” and Aslaug sort of starts in alarm. The tug-of-war between the king and his queen over their sons has been ongoing this season, and this is a part of it. Ragnar is holding, in essence, the threat of being barred from Valhalla if they aren’t loyal to him. Wow. By making them men, Ragnar has essentially cut their formal ties to Aslaug. A mother had the raising of her children when they were small, but young men were expected to gravitate toward their father and the male line as they matured.

ecbert and alfred pilgrimageLissa: In Wessex, another boy is becoming a man, but in this case, by going on pilgrimage. Burger King Ecbert is sending Alfred on a journey to Rome to meet the Pope. When Ecbert announces this, Judith’s eyes light up with excitement. With him is going Father Prudentius, and conveniently enough, Judith’s husband Aethelwulf.  Little Alfred isn’t quite as excited. He asks how long the journey will be. Prudentius tells him they’ll travel about twelve miles per day by foot and Rome is a thousand miles away. Ecbert gives a little speech about what a great thing a pilgrimage is. After the court applauds, the little boy dashes away behind a pillar and fights off a panic attack.

Sandi: This scene caused a minor flurry amongst our fellow raiders on twitter! It was not uncommon for a second son, as Lissa will attest, to have the Church presented as his occupation in life. As Aethelred is Aethelwulf’s son, he could be considered to be in place for being on the throne of Wessex. The “second son”—everyone knows about Alfred’s birth, as King Ecbert says publicly (again, I imagine)—is here being directed into what could be his profession. And his mum, Judith, doesn’t seem dismayed. Could it be that she will be relieved to have this living, breathing proof of her affair with Athelstan out from her sight, as well as the sight of every other person around who is reminded of events? I felt bad for Alfred. The lad hasn’t a clue, here, and the panic attack at such a young age—and that he knew a way to cope with it—speaks of a life that brings these forward often. How many times does Ecbert have to put “great” and “Alfred” together? I do wonder where the “Applause” signs are hidden in that audience chamber…

Lissa: I didn’t even think about the idea that Ecbert might be intending Alfred for the church. Good catch! You’re absolutely right. It would be very smart for Ecbert to push Alfred’s destiny in that direction at this point. As you noted, second sons were often pushed in this direction – willing or not! Ecbert already has the secular powers wrapped up. It’s smart to have a thumb in the proverbial pie of the church as well. Albert would be “fast-tracked” because of his rank and rise quickly in the church. He could be Pope one day. Of course, history tells us his destiny was something different, but Ecbert is thinking wisely, planning ahead for his grandsons and settling the balance of power in Mercia for the generation to come.

Ragnar goes to visit the seer before he leaves, and the Seer tells him of the day of his death: Ragnar will die the day the blind man sees. Later, we see him with Yidu. He asks for more of the medicine and says he’ll need a stash of it for the journey. Yidu says she can’t do that because Ragnar is like a greedy child with it; she has to control how much he takes. So Ragnar had best take her with him when he goes.

yidu ragnar talktotheseer tumblr


Sandi: Everything about Yidu is now having my inner Robbie the Robot calling, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!” Her approach to Ragnar is seductive, making sure to expose her skin as much as possible, yet his attention is on the “medicine” she has made sure he’s very much into. Whether this is a true addiction (with withdrawal as a threat for the future) or just the wish to feel the release of it (with irritation and anger but no physical symptoms) remains to be seen. I hate to think of Ragnar in the thrall of any kind of addiction.

Lissa: The ships depart Kattegat and it’s one of those lovely scenes the History Channel does so well. Gifts they bestow upon us geeky little fans. A chanter sings and beats a drum as they depart, and I’d love dearly to know what song it was he was singing, because you just know the History Channel had him sing an authentic Viking poem as the ships departed.

fleet of skipniu

Sandi: Oh, I was smiling with one of those big, goofy smiles that belongs on a fangirl at a convention. It was awesome. I heard the Old Norse and swooned, even if I didn’t know what it meant. It is scenes like these that make me smile at our boot-sole file.

Lissa: Floki has chosen to take the ship occupied by Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan, whom Floki calls his new friends. He says he’d rather sail with them than Ragnar because these men love the gods as he does and would never betray them. After he speaks, he gives one of those little Floki giggles, but there’s an odd edge to it. His tone is biting and bitter.

vikings floki on shipSandi: Did you get the feeling that Harald and Halfdan are courting Floki, after a fashion? Making much of him, wooing his pride, making him feel as comfortable as possible. Note the deference they pay him, the proximity they maintain throughout. If Floki were a woman, I’d think they were trying to bring her into a relationship of one sort or another. And yes, Floki’s giggle is bitter. Edged. Is he playing another spy game for Ragnar (as he’s done so effectively before) or has he truly “gone to the dark side” even as he seems to be groomed for the role of Kattegat’s new Seer?

Lissa: Oh, yes. Floki is being courted. But this time, I think he might actually be going to “the other side.” As some of our Twitter convos revealed last night, Floki has never lied to Helga before about his thoughts and motivations. Refused to speak, yes, but never lied. He’s telliung her now that Ragnar is no longer his friend. He humiliated Floki. Tortured him. Betrayed the gods. Floki may not turn out to be willing to work against Ragnar, but he seems no longer emotionally bound to him as he once was.

[Back] in Kattegat, Sigurd walks into the house and finds Aslaug breastfeeding Ivar. It’s an odd scene, because Ivar is obviously past the age where mothers have usually weaned their children.

Lissa: Aslaug merely looks back at Sigurd when she sees him watching, and tells him if he’s lonely because his brothers have departed, he should go play with Siggy.  Outside, Sigurd mocks Siggy for being dirty and asks her if she ever bathes. Siggy runs back into the house. It seems to imply the poor little mite is neglected, which seems strange.

Sandi: I keep looking, but there’s no indicator that Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye still has a snake in his eye. Sigurd must be feeling quite bereft, really. His older brothers in their father’s favor and gone on a raid. His younger brother in his mother’s favor and garnering most of her attention (as had long been the case, likely). He’s left with his “dirty” cousin as a playmate, but she’s not a playmate for a young boy. She’s a tag-along. This might build to resentment or something in the future.

Back on the ship at night, we see the Ubbe and Hvitserk wrapped warmly in furs. Yidu tells them not to be afraid and she starts singing. A tear tracks down her cheek, but I don’t know why. I did see Floki’s face when he heard her; he appeared quite unsettled. What is he sensing? An appeal to a different set of gods, perhaps? Or is it the foreign-ness she represents?

aslaug sees harbardLissa: Soon, Aslaug sees a stranger in the doorway. It’s Harbard. He’s returned. Aslaug asks him why he’s come back, and he tells her he can take away all of her pain and sorrow.

Sandi: The concept of “freedom” is raised again, here. Harbard promises Aslaug freedom if she comes to him. And . . . she walks toward him.

Lissa: On the ship, Ragnar uses his sunstone as the ships get parted and misdirected. When they approach the coast of France, the scarlet sails of the Vikings are unfurled, and oh… It was a magnificent sight. How it must have struck fear into the hearts of villagers! Onshore, Floki scoffs at the boats they pass.

Sandi: And back in Wessex, we see Judith’s sorrow as she bids her son goodbye. So maybe it’s sinking in that he’ll be gone? It’s quite an occasion, seeing the pilgrims off. Ecbert, who has been so protective of Alfred, must have something up his sneaky sleeves, here.

Lissa: They find some Frankish troops, and they do what Vikings do. Bodies are strewn about. We see Ubbe and Hvitserk practicing their archery on some hanging bodies. One poor soul is set adrift, strapped to a wide board. Floki and his “new friends” take a few others to a beacon post that’s been lit to warn Paris the Vikings have arrived. They say they have another warning to send Paris. They bind the men to the legs of the stand and set it on fire, celebrating as the Frenchmen scream. From the edge of the woods Björn watches this. His little brothers come up from behind and witness the spectacle, too. Björn doesn’t seem pleased by it.

Sandi: This is really the darker side of the Viking raiding culture. This is psychological warfare, and that’s never going to be pleasant. I wonder what Björn is thinking, here, and if he and his brothers will ever talk about it? Björn Ironsides wins renown in the future as a warrior, but did he use such tactics?

lagertha heart brokenLissa: Ragnar and Lagertha have a quiet moment. She’s sharpening her ax as he sits down beside her.  He asks her about Kalf’s death and whether it broke her heart. Lagertha gives him a small smile – more of a grimace – and says no, her heart was broken long ago. He asks her why she’s with them on this raid, risking her baby. So it does appear that Lagertha really is pregnant, but the Seer’s prophecy that he could see no children as far as he looked rang in our minds. Lagertha is pushing forty or so, by my reckoning. A dangerous age for a pregnancy in that era, and she had such a tragedy the last time she was with child.

Sandi: Is she acting under guidance from the prophecy, convinced that she won’t carry the child to term so it doesn’t matter if she fights or not? Or is she acting in defiance of it? It is interesting and, yes, I think it’s a bit sweet that Ragnar expresses concern for her. But she informs him indirectly that he broke her heart long ago and it never really grew back together in that way.

emperor charles to rollo save usLissa: In Paris, Simple Chuck talks to Rollo and says the Vikings have returned. He promises he – the grandson of Charlemagne – would get down on his knees before Rollo to plead with him to defend Paris. Rollo swears in the name of Christ that he will.

Sandi:  He swears he will not betray his wife, and Gisla flashes a bit of smug, right there. Rollo has pledged himself to this new life and he’s not going to betray them. I feel that this time? He’s firmly opposite his brother Ragnar and it will remain thus. How will they greet one another when they meet again? I am dying to find out.

Lissa: Therese is talking with Darth Odious in his chamber. He has changed his mind about trusting Rollo, a pagan, to defend Paris.  He’s working himself up into a rage. Therese finishes her wine and asks if he wants her to undress. He says he wants to chain her up clothed, and as he does, he reveals he intends to defend Paris, and then kill Simple Chuck and make himself emperor. Therese pretends to moan and get excited about Emperor Odious as he whips her savagely.

Sandi: I feel, here, that Darth Odious is more aware of the undercurrents, when he’s sober, than he lets on. That he knows of the plots and counterplots that are being worked out in the Frankish Court. He’s angry and he’s going to let this play out, perhaps. I think he can be patient, if he’s thinking. But here, he’s not.

athelstan in ragnar vision instaLissa: As the skipniu are sailing up the river, Ragnar has a vision. A white horse runs along the beach, and it leads him to… Ragnar’s old farm. Lagertha is standing there with Gyda in her arms. Athelstan is behind her on a small bridge. And Björn as he was when we first met him, a fierce, stubborn Viking boy. Lagertha beckons to him. Ragnar shakes his head to clear it and the vision vanishes.

Sandi: I think it made Ragnar teary, too. I miss that First Season Ragnar. Back when it was just him, his sunstone, his ambition, but also his farm, his goats, his new slave Athelstan and his daughter still alive. But his story is a story of a life fully lived, I think, with all its ups and downs. Writing-wise, this was a poignant scene and I wonder if it’s prophetic in any way.

Lissa: As the Saga Thing Podcast said last night, Ragnar saw the doors of Valhalla shut to him earlier in the season. Now, he has also seen a glimpse of the Heaven he wants so badly, but it seems he’ll also be denied.

Lissa: In Kattegat, Aslaug leads Harbard over to the bed of her sleeping son, Ivar. They wake the boy and she asks him if he remembers Harbard and the child giggles.  What in the world could they have in store for him?

vikings giggling ivarSandi: I don’t know, but the giggling reminds me of Floki.

Lissa: The ships near Paris. Björn notes with a tone of concern that they haven’t seen Rollo’s camp. Lagertha looks up to see Rollo on horseback with French troops around him. Björn roars at him, “Uncle!” but Rollo does not reply.

vikings reactions to rolloSandi: Indeed, we get reactions. Floki looks unsurprised but disappointed. Ragnar hits a mast with his arm. Erlandur is all, “Is that Rollo?” As if he didn’t know. Lagertha seems impassive, but her mind is working for sure. And Björn’s whole aspect speaks of betrayal. Yes, he left Rollo behind and yes, Ragnar chewed him out about it, but I think Björn still hoped to see his uncle, there. The one who supported him when he was a boy, who helped him learn how to fight, who spoke with him man to man. Who fought with them when they both needed the outlet. And that man, Uncle Rollo, is now Frankified. Björn is betrayed as well.


So much to wait for next week! I hope you’ll join us @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Congratulations to History Channel, as VIKINGS has been optioned for a fifth season!

season 5 graphic

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

The #ShieldGeeks Discuss Vikings: Yol

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

(check them out for their podcasted recaps and feedback ‘casts!)
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This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.


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.

ragnar to yidu bathLissa: 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.

ivar not like youLissa: 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.

floki and seer

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.

aslaug as procuressLissa: 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?

ragnar yidu convoLissa: 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.

ragnar snake swallowing

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.

aslaug ivar floki apprenticeSandi: 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.

bjorn returns

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.

gisla struts

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 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: ]

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.

liturgical sex tweet 1liturgical sex tweet part 2

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.

ragnar facepaintSandi: 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: 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.

harald finehairSandi: 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

The #ShieldGeeks Discuss VIKINGS: S4 E2

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


146a6-lissa-bryanLissa 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.



Sandi: Before we even get started today, I have to say that I think that this episode was really packed. We’re reaching a point that I can imagine History Channel and the show’s writers will demonstrate that they’ve made some choices on prioritizing characters in terms of how they take the future episodes. We didn’t even see Lagertha last night!

Lissa: We started off this episode with Björn on his vision quest, struggling through the snow, having forgotten to pack his snowshoes. He arrives at his destination: a charming  log cabin vacation rental in the Smoky Mountains. All joking aside, as you and I discussed last night, the Northmen did use wood and logs in their house construction, but they were generally a bit different than the suspiciously-modern style “hunting lodge” Bjorn is going to be using for his winter digs.

bjorn vision quest s4e2

Sandi: Quite. Even a hunting house would have been constructed along traditional lines. At this time, the Northmen used planks or logs inserted vertically into the earth and bound with ropes to keep them tight together. For a lodging of this sort, it might also have been a steep A-frame, designed to keep the snow from settling and collapsing the roof. Some lodges might have had the logs stacked horizontally, but that wasn’t the tradition during this era and they didn’t have the notched joints that held the wood together, not in the 9th Century anyway.

Floki has escaped quote picLissa: In Kattegat, Ragnar is informed that Floki has escaped. He accepts this calmly, casually, as it he had fully expected it to happen sooner or later. He sends his young sons along on the hunt for him. When we see Floki on the run, he’s dressed warmly in a fur cape, so someone must have assisted him.

Sandi: Ubbe led the hunt, and I enjoyed seeing Ragnar’s second son taking a leadership role. I am thinking that he is being groomed for future responsibility, for his own benefit as well as that of the men he might one day lead. Floki does indeed seem to have been provisioned for his escape, and one can imagine those boots were oiled to keep out the freezing water he was traveling through. This is a relief, for during his captivity, he had been sadly under-dressed for the weather. Exposure had to have depleted his resources.

Lissa: It’s not long before we find out who it was. Ragnar goes to visit Helga. He asks her if she released her husband, and Helga doesn’t lie to him. “I might have done.”

Sandi: I really appreciated Ragnar’s obvious compassion for Helga. I mean, he didn’t bring her back to his warm hall or anything, but the look in his eyes said he understood and, for Helga, that was enough.

helga angrb and ragnarLissa: Ragnar merely smiles and tells her he understands it. Floki is her husband, after all, and Helga loves him. Helga replies that Floki loves her too, but on that point Ragnar disagrees. He says that Floki only loves himself, and Helga should know it better than anyone. He pulls a heavy sack from beside him over to Helga and tells her that winter is coming, and she’ll need provisions. As Helga thanks him, little Angrbo∂a coughs.

Sandi: There is no condemnation to be seen with either of them here, which speaks of great mutual respect, I believe. They understand one another. It’s a warm moment in a very painful time. 

Lissa: We turn next to Wessex, where our favorite wily king is lamenting the trouble he’s continuing to have with Kwenthrith. She’s been captured by opposing forces in Mercia and imprisoned in a tower with her child, Ragnar’s son Magnus. (At least, she claims he’s Ragnar’s son. There has been no paternity test, to my knowledge.)

Judith and Ecbert new tensionSandi: Oh, Ecbert. Yeah. So, I was noticing some details about their space, during that initial “talking to” scene. First, the obvious assumption of superiority with the elevated royalty. That’s normal, but Prince Aethelwulf is really working it, here. Not something he’s done before. Also, Prince Wulf is wearing his court finery. Not the usual boiled and studded leather, but rich fabrics. And his hair is a bit grown out. This speaks of not being on a battle footing, though that changes shortly. He’s harder, in this season. Less emotional toward his wife (“Now that I can trust you again….” said without an ounce of sincerity. Does Prince Wulf know of the “arrangement” between his wife and his father? Are they now married on parchment only? Perhaps?

Lissa: Ecbert sends off Aethelwulf to deal with the situation. Once he leaves, Ecbert has a conversation with Judith. She tells him not to assume she’s going to hop back into his bed now that Aethelwulf is on a business trip, and Ecbert can’t force her. Ecbert says he’d never dream of doing that. My goodness! Perish the thought. That’s for enemies, and she’s not his enemy. He wants to see her flourish and be free. He says he imagines she never had much freedom as a princess. Very few choices at all, in fact. What would she do, he asks, if she were free to choose to do whatever she wanted? As always, Ecbert is an expert at finding what tempts each person the most and dangling it right before their eyes. Judith says she’d like to learn to paint. She remembers seeing Athelstan illuminating manuscripts and would like to learn the art. Ecbert says he’ll get her a tutor.

sandi religious art tweet

Sandi: I was really struck, here, by the change in Judith’s demeanor. The actress has done a wonderful job of portraying the layer of cynicism that has grown on the princess since last we saw her. Our Gal Judith isn’t quite as reliant upon her father-in-law as she was heretofore. Her position is likely more secure, her husband resigned to the status quo maybe. So Ecbert has to bind her to him in another way and he goes for the “freedom” concept. In return, she rubs his nose in Athelstan’s memory. (Do they know Athelstan’s been killed? I didn’t get a sense of this one way or another.) I wonder if this relationship will become more thorny over time as they continue to dig at one another.

Rollo and his model shipsLissa: In Paris, Rollo is trying to get past the mutual language barrier by using a carved table map of the Seine to demonstrate how to save Paris from another Viking invasion. His idea is to build forts on either side of the river with a chain between them that can be drawn across, blocking any ships from passing through. Count Odo loves the idea and orders the forts to be constructed. He chats it over with his lover, Therese. He says he imagines Gisla will have her marriage to Rollo annulled for non-consummation soon. Therese browses through his collection of floggers and crops hanging from the bed frame while she says that he was always blinded by his desire for Gisla, but Odo deserves a consort with more strength in her. Presumably someone who could mesh with Odo’s “unconventional tastes.” She selects a brutal-looking crop for him to use on her.

Sandi: Rollo’s version of the military sandtable is really elaborate. Fortresses, chains, a fleet of ships, the whole deal. Nicely done! I am hopeful that Rollo will soon gain some command over the Frankish tongue; it might make things easier with his wife. 

And Odo! Oh, my. So. Odo is plotting and his apparent paramour is working to get herself even further into his good graces. The look in Therese’s eyes is direct and I could sense she was being purposeful in her disparagement of the Emperor and Gisla. 

Rollo's new lookLissa: In his room, Rollo is getting his hair cut, and is dressed as a Frankish nobleman. When Gisla comes into the room, Rollo stands and proudly bows to her. At this sight, Gisla bursts out in hysterical laughter. Poor Rollo can’t win with this woman.

unappreciative gisla laughsSandi: I thought Rollo looked quite as dashing as he could in the new gear and with the new hair. I mean, it’s not the man-bun or anything, but he looks very contemporary to the age. Awkward, but kind of adorable in his way. I was really annoyed with Gisla when the girl just laughed mockingly at him. And of course, so did her attendants (maids are like that, no?) so that didn’t help. However, for a power-play, it’s effective so I think Gisla might be over her whiny phase.

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar’s sons are successful in tracking Floki down. They drag him from the river and return him to town in triumph, trussed like a turkey.

Sandi: A turkey would have been cleaner… But then, a turkey would have been better fed, as well. Floki had a rough time of it while he was held captive in the village square. Ubbe, the son who was leading the hunt, got good experience in responsibility and didn’t it just show while he was sitting on Ragnar’s chair arm? I thought that bit was very well done. Grooming sons to their future roles was part of the job of a good father, if the lad wasn’t fostered out, so this was a proper moment, I think.

And…embarrassing for Floki. I do give the man credit for standing firm on his prior words and not needing to try to use more to get his freedom.

Lissa: In Wessex, Judith enters the library and sees a monk standng at the desk. Her eyes widen, because from the back, he looks just like Athelstan. But when he turns, we see it’s not. He introduces himself to her. His name is Prudentius. He collects geodes, apparently. When Judith tells him that she’s the one he’s been brought to teach the art of illuminating manuscripts, he’s horrified. Women don’t do that. She tosses her head and says to ask the king about that.

Sandi: Casting for Prudentius was brilliant. Just brilliant. It is easy to see how Judith could be so immediately drawn to the man. And she is. One hopes she has a care, there! 

Judith saying FreeLissa: We see Ecbert deal with the situation quickly. Prudentius goes into the barn where the bishop is tasting this year’s wine production. He appears to take wine seriously, rolling the sample on his tongue, inhaling over the sip in his mouth, and then spitting it back onto the floor. The bishop is a little shocked, but quickly accepts the priest’s explanation about Frankians tasting so many wines they would quickly be drunk if they swallowed them all. Ecbert tackles the subject at hand. He asks the bishop if Judith’s desire to learn illumination is acceptable, giving him a hard, steady look as he does so. The bishop is no fool. He says that if Mary Magdalene wiping the feet of Jesus was acceptable, then surely it is acceptable for such a pious woman to work on the words of the Lord. When Judith sees them emerging from the barn and learns her request as been granted, she breathes the word, “Free.”

Sandi: Father “Sommelier” Prudentius (Did the writers choose a 5th C. Roman Christian poet’s name on purpose or were they shooting for the symbolic prudent meaning for this character?) certainly seemed to see which way the wind blew, here, so one gives him marks for expediency and intelligence. I do wonder how this will shake down, however. And I also wonder if Judith truly thinks her freedom will be “free” for her.

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar comes into his house, furious, and kicks a stool. Aslaug saunters over and asks him why he’s still so upset. Floki did nothing wrong in killing a Christian. I think the fandom all over the world gasped at the same moment when Ragnar struck her across the face, twice, knocking her to the ground. Aslaug had prodded Ragnar in the wound he still carries in his heart, but it was wrong of him … so wrong…  to to strike his wife like that. Their relationship has deteriorated to the point where I’m not sure there’s any hope of recovery.

Aslaug before slapSandi: This was quite a scene. I think it served a couple of purposes, shocking as it was to see Ragnar lash out in violence against his wife. Ragnar’s issue with trust and loyalty is core, here. Upon reflection, I think that his anger with Aslaug is not the adulterous sex thing—he isn’t innocent of that himself, and though hypocritical behavior is not beyond him, certainly, I don’t see that as his gripe. His issue with Aslaug on the loyalty front had to do with his children. When he found she had left them to another’s care last season, he was incensed. Has that been festering all along? Maybe. And Floki did kill a Christian, but Aslaug is being purposefully antagonistic as she mentions it the way she does. All of Kattegat—and, indeed, Wessex!—knew that Athelstan wasn’t just Ragnar’s “pet priest”. He was his friend. His amchara, one could even say. A friend of his soul, as they say in Gaeilge. Aslaug knew this, and her question disparaged Athelstan to Ragnar’s face. 

He never was very good at hiding his feelings, there.

The writers may have included this scene to deepen the schism between Ragnar and Aslaug for future plot purposes. It also served to further highlight that Ragnar is not always a reliable fellow. Just in case we needed a reminder.

Lissa: We return to Mercia where Aethelwulf is attacking the castle where Kwenthrith is being held. He does very well as a field commander and makes it to the doors of the building itself. One of the Mercians gives the order, “Kill the queen and her child!” They don’t want her falling into Ecbert’s hands. In her room, Kwenthrith fights like a tiger to protect little Magnus, lying on the bed. The child is oddly silent as his mother covers him over, and when he pulls the blanket away to see her covered in blood, fighting for her very life. She manages to bludgeon one of her guards, but the other has her in a stranglehold when Aethelwulf bursts in to save her by running the guard through with a sword.

what kept you?

Sandi: Aethelwulf is certainly tenacious! The grappling hand-to-hand combat was brutal, as was Queen Kwenthrith’s fight above. Magnus seemed very peaceful and wise, too, in terms of keeping out of the way and not antagonizing anyone during the fight his mum was having. Cute kid, too. Will Aethelwulf’s rescue of Kwenthrith mark a new relationship dynamic? She tried and failed to seduce him before, after all. . . Then, too, Amy Bailey (who plays Kwenthrith) tweeted this last night:

Kwenthelwulf tweet

Lissa: Back in Paris, Therese is having the wounds that Odo left on her back tended by a handsome Frankish lord, Roland. She tells him everying that Odo said to her, including all of his disparaging remarks about Emperor Chuck. Roland tells her that as soon as the time is right, they’ll reveal to Charles the duplicity of Count Odo. He appreciates the valuable information she brings him, but it wounds him that she’s been so injured in acquiring it. 

Aftercare spy debriefSandi: Our guess last night was that Roland was the “drunken husband” referenced when Therese first went to Odo last season. I’m still on board with this. If he’s not, then he’s her handler, as they say in intelligence operations. So. Therese is the PseudoSub Spy Chick. This makes her pretty darn awesome and my perceptions of her have spun. Nice work there, History Channel!

Lissa: In Kattegat, Helga is chopping at the soil with a shovel when Ragnar comes walking up. He asks her what she’s doing. It’s the middle of winter, after all. She says she’s digging a grave – what does it look like? Little Angrbo∂a has died. I’m so sorry to see her go. She was such a charming character and made a big impression even after appearing in only one other episode. Ragnar takes the shovel and helps her to finish.

Sandi: This was heartrending. Little Angrbo∂a was with us for such a short time. Her illness—”Does it matter?” Helga asks Ragnar—was unknown but likely caused at least in part by deprivation. Floki was the man of the house and while Helga was sure to be skilled at woodcrafts and so on, there wasn’t a lot left in Kattegat that winter. And they were living more or less as outcasts without a lot of resources. In other circumstances, they might have taken shelter with Ragnar in the Hall, but not when Floki had done what he had. Helga didn’t even feel she could ask for help. And their poor daughter paid for that I fear.

Lissa: We see Floki’s punishment, something Ragnar says he came up with especially for him. It echoes Loki’s punishment in the Eddic poems. Loki was bound, using the entrails of his son, and a huge serpent was mounted above his head. Venom drips down from the snake’s fangs onto his forehead, causing him great torment. His wife, Sigyn, holds a bowl above his head to catch the poison, but she has to occasionally walk away to empty it. While she does, the venom causes Loki such agony that he shakes the earth itself with his roars of pain – which is where earthquakes come from.


Floki’s punishment is to be bound inside a cave where the icy water drips down on him constantly. As Ragnar says to him, there is no honor or valor in his suffering, just the endless misery of cold…

Sandi: He was screaming as the episode ended. Chained, unable to relax, and tormented by drips of water in the freezing cave. But. May I take a moment to say that Gustaf Skarsgård looked pretty fit, even in the adverse circumstances? My kudos to the actor, who has never failed to bring his A-Game to Floki’s characterization.

Really, this is a stellar cast all the way around. I cannot wait until next week to see what will happen! Thank you for joining us.

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.

VIKINGS w/ Historical Fiction Authors: A Good Treason

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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.

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

UTRS3 lissa bookLissa Bryan, author of the Tudor-era love story, Under These Restless Skies, and I are once again live-tweeting during each episode of this show and discussing it—at some length, as you can see—afterward.

Lissa: The show did not disappoint with its season opener, that’s for sure. We saw Ragnar riding in a valley below the mountains, and I got excited. Ragnar has recovered!

Sandi: I got excited, too! I was thinking, “Wow! This must mean Ragnar’s back on track. Dying? Who says?” But alas…!

vikingsinuppsala gifLissa: Tricksy Hobbitses, these show producers! We soon discovered it was a dream, and Ragnar was approaching the door to Valhalla.
And it was beautiful. A glowing hall of the fathers.
Valhalla image tweet
Lissa: But it slowly begins to close. Ragnar runs as fast as he can, but the doors shut before he can reach it. He falls on his knees and roars in despair.

Sandi: It was a good dream, for us as well as for Ragnar, though we would have been saddened to see him enter Valhalla in the first minutes of the new season.

Lissa: Interspersed with Ragnar’s dream, we saw Aslaug approach the Seer in the forest where he was picking… something from the soil. Lissa thought it was worms, but I thought mushrooms. Aslaug asked him if a woman would rule Kattegat after the death of Ragnar, and the Seer confirmed it was something he had seen in his visions, but he refused to answer her question as to whether that woman would be her.

Sandi: During this whole exchange —alternating, remember, with Ragnar’s supposed dying thing—I was struck by the hardness Aslaug displayed. I know she’s spent a very long time as a disappointed woman, but really, she’s a queen (and she’s done a great job at that in recent times) and her position would traditionally have been dictated by her spouse. That her concern is now Kattegat is a lessening of her sphere. But she is deeming it of great import. And why did she seek the Seer outside of his domain?

Lissa: We saw Ragnar’s children greet Björn, including little Ivar the Boneless, from his chair.

Sandi: Wasn’t it a wagon? It looked like an early rendition of a Radio Flyer. Wheels keep him mobile!

Lissa: Despite the apparent weakness in his legs, Ivar is a fierce little fellow. It appears several years have passed during the Paris raids, because the children are about four years older.

Sandi: I’m still trying to figure out what year this is on the show. If I remember correctly, the first episode of the first season began in AD 792. Björn was fourteen at that time, and now he’s a daddy with a girl who looks to be maybe two or three years of age.

Lissa: Björn is affectionate with his little brothers, but doesn’t spend time with his daughter, Siggy. 

Sandi: This was so sad, to me. Remember when Siggy was born? He was in awe of his little girl. Now he seems to be blaming her for Þorunn’s disappearance.

Lissa: Floki goes into Ragnar’s room and lays some bones with runes carved on them beside the unconcious king. He says he hopes the runes will heal him. It’s the Viking version of a “Get Well Soon!” card. Floki cares enough to send the very best.

Sandi: Are these the runes that he lamented having carved, later in his conversation with Helga? I think they might be.

Lissa: Aslaug, cool as a cucumber in her role as queen, fills Björn in on Þorunn’s departure. She is at Björn’s side as he stands on the rocks above Kattegat as Björn gives a Ragnar pep rally. After he has the crowd shouting his father’s name, he then says that it was Ragnar’s friend, Athelstan, who led them to the great wealth they acquired in Paris. The crowd doesn’t cheer for Athelstan – it’s more of a somewhat disgruntled murmur.

Sandi: This isn’t surprising, really. The last time Athelstan had an “appearance” with the general public of Kattegat, he was harassed and called out for having discarded his manhood arm ring. Still, it was good of Björn to remember him (for it does seem as if years have passed since, due to the ages of the kids) positively in a public manner.
nothing can stop us historyvikings
Lissa: But then Björn orders the arrest of Floki for Athelstan’s murder, and the crowd does his bidding, surrounding Floki with drawn blades. Floki fends them off for a moment and says he was justified in what he did, and then surrenders.

Sandi: This is very interesting, to me. Floki was known to have been a friend of Ragnar, known to be a talented shipbuilder and he had been instrumental in the Paris raid. He had standing in the community. That Björn’s words could turn the people against him speaks well of Björn’s persuasive ability but perhaps not so well of the fickleness of the populace.

yidu in snow

from vikinks on tumblr

Lissa: Aslaug is looking over the loot from the Paris raid, which also includes a cargo of female slaves. She walks down the line of shivering, weeping women and finds a lovely girl of Asian heritage. She grasps the girl’s face in her hands and looks her over with a thoughtful expression.

Sandi: Slavery was a common trade for the Northmen, to be sure. Traditionally, the Northmen would change the slave’s name “to something proper” (for the Norse/Swedish/Danish culture) and to distance them from their former lives. Since the Vikings page at History Channel lists the girl’s name as Yidu, I’m thinking that doesn’t happen, here, as Yidu is traditionally a Chinese name. The China of this time period was quite socially advanced, I believe, and I wonder how this might play in the show.

Lissa: We next see Floki in the center of town, being pelted with rocks by taunting children. Helga desperately tries to chase them off, darting after them one by one, but they are fleet of foot, spinning around her to thow their stones. It was a scene that stuck with me long after the show was over. The anguished desperation of Helga as she fought to defend this man who had been so harsh in sending her away in the past, rejecting her love and the opportunity to raise his own child. When last we saw them in the previous season, Helga had finally walked away from him because Floki had done something she could not forgive. But yet now, she fought a futile battle to save him.

Sandi: It’s a battle that has cost her, though. Helga—who was much more lighthearted in earlier seasons—has learned hard lessons about her husband. Her face is showing the strain in the (directed) deterioration of her eye makeup as well as the clear lines of suffering on her face and the dishevelment of her hair and clothes. These are visual cues as to her state of mind, and they tell a powerful story.

Lissa: In Hedeby, Kalf announces to the celebrating Vikings that Lagertha saved his life, and he saved hers during the Paris raid. Thus, they will rule jointly. Lagertha takes his hand in agreement. Half of her earldom back without effort!

lagertha promises to killSandi: I didn’t see it like that, I guess. I was all irked. He usurped her dominion and then offers her half back? Half? Because they’re sleeping together now? (Until, as Lagertha informed him last season, she decides to kill him…)

Lissa: Ragnar wakes from his illness and is himself enough to tease his son.
ragnar sarcasm wake up tweet
Lissa: The boy runs off to tell Aslaug, but she’s busy overseeing the bath of her new slave and only gives a cursory reply. Her son is offended that she doesn’t seem happier to know Ragnar is recovering.

Sandi: Ragnar has always been a fond father, even doting. His sons—sons he has been grateful to have and whom he loves, even if he doesn’t love their mother—are important to him and the boys surely know that. When he came home from battle, sorely wounded, I’m sure it was quite distressing to his kids. That he’s been apparently out of it since, feverish and unresponsive, perhaps, would have been cause of insecurity. It is no wonder, then, that the boy is irritated with Mum for not being more responsive.
floki and fam

from wildfloki on tumblr

Lissa: Helga brings Angrbo∂a to see her father. This had to be such a frightening and confusing experience for the little girl, who likely had no memories whatsoever of her father. And now she’s seeing him filthy and bruised, chained to a stake in the center of town. But she helps to feed her father. Later, Floki asks Helga to help him escape, and she jerks away from him. It seems that while Helga still loves Floki and wants to protect him from torture, she believes in justice.

Sandi: I concur. A painful scene for all of them, really. But I want justice, too, so I don’t feel too bad for Floki. I do, though, feel dreadful for Helga and Angrbo∂a.

Lissa: Kalf is told by his nobles – including the smarmy gent who once propositioned Lagertha in her bathtub – that they will not accept her as co-ruler. They supported Kalf in the expectation he would end the Lo∂brok rule over these lands.

Sandi: Einar is a problem, for sure. He always has been. And he proves this to be true in this season as well.

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar is greeted by his cheering hall at dinner.

aging ragnarSandi: He’s aging, is King Ragnar, and his people seemed to give all heed to his son, yet still they are happy to see him and eager to welcome him home. The unrest that would result at his demise is likely not wished for by anyone.

aslaug saga tales

from jorindelle on tumblr

Lissa: Aslaug is telling the children tales of her father, whose deeds are immortalized in the Sagas. (Which hadn’t been written yet, as I pointed out on twitter, but perhaps the oral tales were circulating already.) Ragnar asks Björn about Floki’s arrest. The king is not best pleased by it and says Björn has forced his hand. Now he must get his vengence publicly.

Sandi: We’re not sure what Ragnar would have done at this point, if left entirely to his own devices. He said in a monologue last season that Floki should “beware of the fury of a patient man.” Now, sure, these are Dryden’s words but they apply very much in this case. Ragnar loved Athelstan and he had to be planning vengeance for his death. 

Lissa: Ragnar notices Aslaug’s Spiffy New Slave Girl.

Sandi: I believe mead made its introduction into our twit-versation at that time. 
ragnar mead tweet

Sent from @HistoryVikings, who have extremely awesome graphics gurus.

Lissa: It’s Rollo’s wedding day! He enters the cathedral and examines the priest’s cross until his interpreter nudges him over to kneel at the altar. Gisla enters, crying, and approaches the altar, still crying. She stops in front of it and just stands there until the priest tells her she has to kneel for the ceremony to continue.
princess in church tweet lissa
crying gislaSandi: Really, her histrionics are ridiculous. She’s had her time to protest in private. She made time to protest in public (bad form, Princess, bad form!) but by the wedding, she’s acting like a girl in leading strings, not the young woman who kept Paris fighting against the odds. This strikes me, honestly, as not cool on the part of the writers. Good soap opera, but not something I think one would see in real life.

Lissa: Gisla drops down onto the kneeler with less-than-regal-grace. Chuck the Simple (aka Emperor Charles, Papa of the Bride) steps forward and pushes her head down into a bow, telling the priest he may begin the ceremony. Gisla’s sobs have become full-out wails at this point.

Sandi: No comment. Really.

Lissa: She’s screaming and kicking her feet as she’s carried into the bridal chamber. The servants begin the bedding ceremony and start stripping the couple, but Rollo orders them to leave the chamber.

wedding night rollo historyvikingsSandi: As you pointed out last night, this normally would have been the “bedding ceremony” that was common for royalty. However, Rollo wasn’t bred as a royal and he’s just thinking of his wife. And yes, may we have more shirtless Rollo moments, or was this our last one?

Lissa: He kicks off his boots and approaches his bride, but she pulls a knife on him. Rollo laughs and takes it away from her and tells her to go to sleep. He’s so un-threatened by her blade that he doesn’t bother to open his eyes after she draws it down his skin while he’s trying to get comfortable. Not quite the wedding night Gisla expected with her “beast” of a new husband.

Sandi: I am thinking that, protest though she might, she is still expecting this “beastly” fellow to want to consummate their marriage. That he apparently doesn’t see this as a necessity at this juncture had to be insulting. “What? You don’t want to have sex with me? Princess Gisla? How dare you!” Or something to that effect. 

Lissa: In Hedeby, Kalf announces to his assembled people that his decision to give Lagertha co-rulership has been questioned. He gestures to a post in the center of the clearing and tells people to make a mark on it if they wish him to banish her from Hedeby.

Sandi: This was a nice/mean set-up by the writers, here. I was all ready to protest loudly and had all manner of things to say on the tip of my tongue.

Lissa: Lagertha stares at him in apparent shock as the men go up and slash at the post. As soon as everyone has made their mark, Kalf says it’s settled. He calls for his archers and they mow down the men who have demanded that Lagertha leave.

Sandi: What he had done, there, was create a killing field. He arranged a fenced-in space for the “enemy” to face his superior (because the “enemy” were largely unarmed at that moment) weaponry/firepower. This made it easy to kill them off. Messy and loud, too. I am not sure that this was the best way to handle the situation, but I don’t think Jarl Kalf plays a good game of chess. . .

kalf smirks

from laugertha on tumblr

Lissa: Lagertha gives Kalf a little smile and he returns it with a nod of his head. Lagertha approaches Einar, who is present, and who was the slimy gent who leered at her in the tub ages past. He’d been pinned like a butterfly to a post by an arrow through his throat. Lagertha says she should have done this a long time ago. By “this” she means geld him. Her face is sprayed with his blood.

Sandi: This was a surprising moment for me. I really had thought/hoped that the person who was going to be on the tip of her knife was Kalf. 

Lissa: The new Duke of Normandy—the Northman formerly known as Rollo—is bored. He’s throwing coins into a gold bowl. Clank. Clank. Clank. Rollo’s translator stands up and abruptly says he’s leaving. He’s not meant for life in Paris. He tells Rollo if he wants him to stay, he’ll have to cut off his feet. #ChallengeAccepted

Sandi: This was interesting, too. The translator, Sinric, is a wanderer, sure. His status otherwise is uncertain. He seems to be a free man, but he is “held hostage” to some degree at least once in the course of this entire series. Is he dependent or independent? How much freedom is he granted wherever he wanders. I’d like to know more about him.

Lissa: But no, Rollo doesn’t pull out an axe. He watches him go. A Frank comes in and says something to him, to which Rollo can only spread his hands, as if to say, “What?”
The Frank brings in one of Rollo’s men from the camp outside Paris. It seems they’re restless. Half want to leave.

Sandi: This is almost like a vote of no-confidence as far as Rollo’s leadership is concerned. His men signed on as King Ragnar’s men, in service to Rollo to maintain a presence on foreign soil. And here, they’ve been a victim to something akin to a bait-and-switch, as Rollo has apparently changed sides. And not to another Northern lord, either, but to The Enemy.
slave poultry tweet tweet lissa
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar watches Shiny New Slave girl (Yidu) as she struggles to take hold of a chicken. The chicken seems to be winning this particular battle. Björn comes over and tells him he’s going off on a Vision Quest.

ragnar advises bjornSandi: Okay, not exactly. He says he’s going off to find Þorunn, his wife. At least, that’s what he says first, but really?

Lissa: Why? Because Ragnar doesn’t think he can survive on his own, and Björn wants to prove himself. Ragnar gives him a bit of advice and sends him on his way.
bjorn vision quest tweet lissa
Lissa: After Björn leaves, Ragnar goes over to Floki, still bound to the post, and slowly draws a circle in the sand with his staff as he speaks. He says Floki betrayed his love for him. Floki says he was trying to save Ragnar from a false god.

Sandi: Floki is entirely sincere, here, and not trying to wheedle his way out of punishment, even though he’d wanted to escape. Floki sees Ragnar’s affiliations significant to their very way of life and Floki likes things how they were, he wants the traditions to be maintained and for Ragnar to be in good standing with the gods.

aslaug son commentaryLissa: As Ragnar walks away, Aslaug has to stop him. She asks him about Björn’s leaving and says it may be the last time Ragnar ever sees his son. Ragnar reacts with horror and demands to know if Aslaug has Seen anything. He was casually dismissive of his wife’s völva powers in the past, but now it seems he believes her. She says she hasn’t and he snaps, “Why would you say something like that?” as he stomps away. All is not well between Mr. and Mrs. King!

Sandi: It certainly isn’t. And Aslaug doesn’t even mention having spoken to the Seer at this point. Her concerns were largely selfish in that regard. Her whole demeanor seems to have been, this episode, more self-oriented. So I wonder at her concern for Björn and/or Ragnar’s relationship with this eldest son. She has sons of her own and traditionally, a queen fought for the prerogatives for their own progeny.

Lissa: We return to Paris, to the Viking camp, which is situated in enfilade position in the bottom of a small creek area, for some reason.

:  gunfire directed from a flanking position along the length of an enemy battle line – “Enfilade.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Lissa: It makes it easy for them to be decimated by Frankish archers, firing down into the small area, slaughtering the men, women, and children indiscriminately. Rollo rides in as the last of them fall, and is warned by a dying man that Ragnar will avenge them.

Sandi: We were quite in shock on twitter as we witnessed this. Rollo’s own men from Kattegat and the environs are no longer “his” men. They are seen now as the enemy and Rollo is a Frank. The difference in body armor and grooming between the Franks and the Northmen is broadly drawn in this scene, making it more effective for all it was unspoken. A brutal ending and a brutal but intriguing beginning for Season Four.

I cannot wait to see what the History Channel has for us next week! Join us on twitter during the episode and see what tweets we DON’T post (oh my!) here @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!
LATE ADDITION: Check out the recap on No Ship Network. It’s really thought-provoking.

Two Historical Fiction Authors Talk VIKINGS – The Season Finale

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.

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

146a6-lissa-bryanWhat a season this has been on Vikings! The History Channel has totally delivered once again as Ragnar & Co. raided Paris. The finale was a fitting end for this year—and a killer tease for next season! My cohort in history geekness, Lissa Bryan, whose Tudor love story Under These Restless Skies is a delight you should read, and I will be sharing our thoughts on this final episode: The Dead. As always, Lissa’s comments are in blue.

Lissa: Wow that was a finale!

Sandi: It really was. A roller coaster of an episode. I was still gasping by the end.​

L: Rollo and Lagertha are talking and they say they can’t believe Ragnar has really become a Christian. “Not in his heart,” Lagertha insists. She points out that Rollo was baptized, but he says the gods protected him from the Christian magic. They won’t protect Ragnar, and it’s all because of Athelstan poisoning Ragnar’s mind. Behind him, the other men grumble. A Christian can never be king of the Vikings.

S: The around-the-camp conversations on this I felt were really authentic sounding. Often, we forget there are many people surrounding protagonists in life as in fiction. Here, Michael Hirst (as he has so often) nailed it with the discontented gossip that skirled around the Viking encampment.​

Credit to

Credit to

L: The Franks deliver the wagon full of treasure to Ragnar’s camp and say that they’ve held up their end of the bargain. It’s time for the Vikings to do the same and leave. After the troops depart, the Viking warriors swarm the cart to start divvying up the loot. I think we both had the same thought at this scene – they wouldn’t have dared been so grabby if Ragnar was there to divide it up in an orderly, fair fashion.

S: Yep. I was rather appalled that someone didn’t think to handle this better, but this early on in the Viking Era, there weren’t a lot of protocols in place, yet. I would have expected fighting and so on, as well. ​

L: Björn goes into his father’s tent to tell him the treasure is there, but Ragnar says he doesn’t care. He looks awful, pale and sweat-soaked, trembling in his cot. He’s dying, he says. He rolls over and clutches at his gold cross and says at least he’ll see Athelstan again.

S: I am firmly convinced that Ragnar is dying at this point. Really, the man’s a mess. He’s been holding on for weeks, but yeah.  I’m still not sure that we’re seeing dysentery, here, as a cause for his debilitation. The symptoms aren’t entirely consistent. ​I believe, too, that his wish to see Athelstan is sincere. However, I’m also sure that his actual thoughts on the matter are more like what we heard when he was alone and burying Athelstan on the hill where they prayed together last season. He said, then, that he was pretty sure the Christian God wouldn’t want to see him. And this, I think, is something to hold on to as the finale unfolds.

vikings_s3e10_detail-EL: The king of the Franks is in church, giving thanks for his “victory” over the Vikings.

S: I think he plays this like a politician. And the courtiers appear to eat it up. As well as how they treat Gisla. Which, as I mentioned last night, would give me the willies. I’m not a touchy-feely person.

L: I loved the beautiful set and the air of authenticity, except for the fact Charles is wearing his crown. I don’t know why TV and movies have royalty wearing those things around all day, every day. Boot sole file, as you said. Same thing with Gisla’s hair loose and uncovered, but I’ve given up protesting that one. Actresses want their shiny tresses on display, after all, and those heavy veils are so unbecoming.

S: Yep. We do, on occasion, have to sacrifice historical fitness to drama. But overall, the producers of this show get a lot very, very right. Clive Standen, who plays Rollo, has mentioned the care to use the languages of the time, too. Which I know you and I both geek out over!

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

L: Gisla is a little snarky about the so-called victory and says they paid the Vikings to go away. Her father more or less ignores her and says he wishes his grandfather, Charlemagne, could be here to see this glorious day. I will have to search the internet diligently for an eye-roll gif that will appropriately express my emotions at the moment.

S: Politician time again.​ When one cannot produce proof of one’s own awesomeness, one should remind everyone of your awesome antecedents.

L: In the camp, the Vikings are celebrating their newfound riches. Floki sees Helga and tries to talk to her, but Helga is having none of it. She still hasn’t forgiven him for killing Athelstan. She stomps away. It seems their relationship is not going to be repaired this season. She has been so patient and understanding with him, but she has her limits, and it seems Floki has finally crossed them. It will be interesting next year to see if he can find his way back to her after all that has happened.

S: Those who know him best will be of two minds, I’m sure. On the one hand, Floki is known to be in communion with their gods, so his actions might be sanctioned on that score. Many do sympathize with him to a degree. On the other hand, he murdered their king’s best friend. How is that a display of love and loyalty?

So I remind everyone for a final time this season that one saying of the Northmen was that a wise man waits to take his revenge. That was considered praiseworthy. We’ll see what happens next season with this issue.​

vikings s3e10 bjorn at ragnar bedsideL: Ragnar is talking to Björn. He tells him that soon, Björn may find himself in the position of having to assume leadership. But when he does, he needs to make sure he leads with his head, not his heart. Ah, many times over the last three seasons, we’ve seen Ragnar fight that particular battle within himself! He then tells Björn he has a job for him to do – a job that only Björn can do.

S: This is a pretty neat set-up for Ragnar. Björn has long understood that he’s the heir-apparent (as such things go in this time and place) to Ragnar’s leadership. He would have to be vetted and approved and followed by the men, but he’s in a good place for it. To be given a Super Secret Important Job is attractive for such a man, to be sure, no matter what it is that he’s being asked to do. And the viewers don’t know, then, what that job is!

Ragnar is also, as you said, speaking from experience that has nothing whatsoever to do with his own private plotting. He wants his son to be successful—in fact, the Seer has said his sons will be vastly famous—and he is trying to be a good dad in passing along wisdom.

vikings s3e10 sandi tweet lead with head

Perhaps he has forgotten the arrogance of young men everywhere. Wisdom is often not appreciated until one has acted without it.​

vikings s3e10 count odo bdsmL: Next, we see Count Odo getting the attentions of a grateful Frankish lady named Therese who is happy he “saved” the city from the invaders. He invites her back to his Red Room of Pain to express her gratitude properly. Seriously … He has cuffs suspended from chains and various whips, which he is happy to explain to her as inflicting varied levels of discomfort. I am surprised he didn’t pull out an NDA and a contract for her on the spot.

S: This really, really puzzled me as to why it was included, here. There was no real resolution to my confusion in this season, either. I am wondering if the #50ShadesofOdo tag will resurface next season. Was this all about titillation for the audience or is there a secret history of this man somewhere? Is the Therese here also the Theodrate de Troyes who later becomes Mrs. Count Odo? (éodrate-de-Troyes/6000000006727888762)

L: BDSM takes on a whole different dimension in an era in which a man was encouraged to employ corporal punishment on his wife, doesn’t it? In any case, he indicates that the person he really wants to submit to him is Gisla.

S: That was just wrong. I mean, sure, contracts and safe words (he mentioned it but also said he’d rather not have them – shudder) weren’t in play here, but this was really, really odd. *Note: I have no objection to Safe, Sane, and Consensual, understand. But my impression is that Odo isn’t all that concerned with these things.

Not the Gisla aspect, though. I can totally see him wanting her at his mercy. He’s taken a lot from her. I’m thinking his “playtime” with her would be punitive in nature. ​

vikings s3e10 helga flokiL: Helga and Floki speak one last time. She sees him on the beach working and asks him what he’s doing. He says Ragnar has asked him to build one last boat for him.

S: She is here trying to build a bridge back to her husband, however angry she might be. This bodes well for their future, I’d like to think.​

L: It’s been a month, but the Vikings are still camped outside of Paris. The Franks send someone to find out why – Odo the Odious, who else? – and Björn tells him Ragnar is to ill to be moved. Odo asks to see him, and Björn leads Odo in to where Ragnar is lying, ​in even worse shape than we saw him before. Björn tells them that Ragnar’s dying wish is to be given a Christian burial in their cathedral, and they won’t leave until it’s done. Odo agrees, as long as the Viking men accompanying his burial retinue are unarmed.

S: So, what one might wonder here is if the mere notion that The Barbarian King became a Christian was enough to bring down these barriers between the people that they would willingly open their city for the burial. Does this speak to their faith and how protected they feel by it or is this mere expediency? “Give the heathens what they want so they’ll go away?”​

vikings s3e10 ragnars coffinL: The next scenes were hard to watch. Björn tenderly fits a coffin lid over his father’s still form, and then goes outside the tent. Inside, on its bier, the coffin is a beauty. It’s crafted in the shape of a ship, with beautifully shaped planks and a carved prows. There are crosses carved into the lid (I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume Floki didn’t make that part!)

S: Ha! Who else would have carved crosses into it? Would Floki have done it if Ragnar insisted? Maybe he did, remembering the pain Athelstan experiences or something?​

L: As I mentioned last night, Vikings loved to bury their dead in ship-like vessels whenever possible. The very rich or blue-blooded might actually be buried in a ship itself, like the famous Oseberg Ship burial ( Those of lesser means tried to replicate it as best they could. The poor might put an outline of stones shaped like a ship around an earthen grave, for example.

S: It really is a gorgeous coffin​. “One final boat” indeed.​

L: The Vikings are gathered around Ragnar’s tent, standing motionless in the cold rain. Lagertha crouches down, her eyes swollen with tears. Björn says to her that she can go inside now.

S: Björn, here, is playing it pretty well. Especially since it’s raining – I think that makes his role easier.​

vikings s3e10 lagertha at coffinL: Lagertha touches the coffin and speaks to her dead ex-husband, telling him of all the things she hopes they’ll do together in Valhalla. They’ll live, they’ll drink, they’ll love. Emotion chokes every word. We next see Rollo sitting by his brother’s coffin, his head resting against the wood as he speaks to him, and confesses his life-long jealousy. He feels that the gods always favored Ragnar. But he never thought Ragnar would go first in this regard.

S: These two moved me during their farewell speeches. The passion is still there between Ragnar and Lagertha—it always has been, really. And Rollo, too, is so honest and open. Very casual, though. Sitting as if chatting with his brother. This could be interpreted a couple of ways, I think. One, he feels very close to Ragnar at that moment and is comfortable with being honest and treating a coffin-closure as an everyday conversation without tension. Two, he isn’t too emotional as he’s already planning for a future without his brother. Without feeling lesser than or anything. Hard to say for sure.​

vikings s3e10 floki at coffinL: Floki enters next. Bitterness coats every word as he spits out angry denunciations of Ragnar for betraying him and the gods. But there is pain there, too.

S: There really is. A very emotional time for him. I can’t help but feel for him, even as I’m still mad about what he did to Athelstan.​

L: Ragnar’s casket is carried by his men into the cathedral, where the nobles of Paris have also gathered for the funeral. Nice of them to show the courtesy, I suppose. Gisla is shooting daggers out of her eyes, and has a look of disgust pursing her features, so I’m assuming her father forced her to attend.

S: I very much appreciated the contrast in processionals, here. Outside, with the Northmen, there was one kind of music, the round shields of their warriors and shield maidens, chanting. Then within the walls, there is an abrupt transfer of theme. Elongated shields with crosses on them, priests replace shield maidens, and there is prayer and incense as they walk through the surprisingly clean streets of Paris. (Come on, we know those streets were just awful with offal at this time period. Unless someone opted to clean?)​

L: The coffin is laid down and censed, and the priest sprinkles it with holy water as he starts the words of the burial mass. Suddenly, the lid flies off and Ragnar pops up, still quite ill, but in the land of the living yet. He had been lying on a pile of weapons, which he distributes to his warriors as the crowd stands there and stares in shock. Ragnar takes a blade and slays the priest as the crowd gasps in shock. He grabs Gisla around the neck and drags her back toward the hallway (where the Rolling Barrel of Doom has apparently been removed.)

vikings s3e10 ragnar livesS: This. Was. Awesome. Okay, so we knew this was a possibility, right? And SagaThingPod on Twitter said she was thinking Ragnar wasn’t dead yet, too.​

Ragnar could have killed any number of people, but killing the priest (bishop? I’m kind of thinking it was a bishop due to the rank not only of the Frankish king but also of Ragnar) made a statement about where his loyalties actually were. Quite strongly, in fact.

His choice of hostage was brilliant, though Gisla herself seemed less so after her capture.

vikings s3e10 bjorn ushers vikings inL: His men open the doors to show the rest of the Viking horde waiting to come in. Ragnar looks back at them and then at the princess squirming in his arms. He releases her and she just stands there, gaping at him. He gives her a “go on, shoo!” motion, but she still stands there, jaw hanging down. He has to give her a hard shove before she starts running back toward the church. After she is out of the way, Björn throws up his arms to signal for the men to storm in and they swarm the city of Paris.

S: Her utter “What??” expression cracked me up. Normally, Gisla is vastly self-possessed and in control. Take her into an unfamiliar environment, she flails, apparently.

Nice coordination between father and son as Björn has the gates opened to the Viking Horde. A spool-free invading force is unleashed!​

vikings s3e10 bjorn catches ragnarL: Ragnar stumbles outside into his son’s arms and collapses to his knees. He seems to have used up the last of his energy with this “Surprise, I’m only MOSTLY dead!” routine.

S: Björn’s job, here, was to wait for his father so he could get the ailing man away, it seems. So he didn’t get to stride in with the invading force.  ​

L: The sack of Paris is a success. The Vikings are loaded with loot. But Lagertha is pretty steamed that Björn let her think the love of her life was dead. Björn tells her and Rollo that he did only as his father – the king – commanded.

S: Oh, yeah. That was good. I can bet that there will be repercussions on that one into next season. Björn is projectile-proof, here. That the ruse worked so well and so many of them were enriched thereby can only make him moreso. And Ragnar’s legend grows.

As if the man himself didn’t plan that!​

L: They decide to head home, and take Ragnar with them, but they’ll come back in the spring. They leave Rollo in charge of a force of Viking warriors to keep up their threatening presence outside of the gates.

S: Okay. There was a moment in here that was a bit odd. Rollo and Björn have a silent eye-conversation while this is being decided. Rollo says he’ll stay and….silence. Then, out of the blue, his nephew agrees and so does everyone else. Björn did, by the way, do a good job of chairing this meeting. He seems to be coming more into his own all the time.​

How will this play out in the future?

L: It made me think of one of those horrid komodo ​dragons that poisons its prey with the bacteria in its bite and then just lies there to wait, watching with pitiless eyes until the critter dies. The citizens of Paris would have to look over the walls at their own doom, knowing there was nothing they could do to chase these merciless invaders away.

S: It was very tense. The Parisians were safe, but under the eye of the Barbarian Horde, so what could they do? And if the Vikings could take ransom money and STILL INVADE (bad form, guys, bad form) then what did this mean regarding the safety of their citizenry?​

L: Inside the church, the Frankish king is slumped on the floor. Gisla tells him to get up because it’s all over now. I said out loud, “Don’t worry, there aren’t any kingly duties for you to fail at right now.” The king looks at the body of the priest in horror and says the cathedral has been desecrated. Gisla isn’t very impressed with the job her father has done, to say the least.

S: ​Is anyone?

L: That night at dinner, her father notes the Viking men still camped outside and realizes it means they’re in for more pillaging in the near future. He says he has decided he must give them something more precious than gold or silver… He’ll give them his daughter in marriage.

S: Did you note the huge appearance of fat tears that spilled onto his cheeks as he said this? Still, the notion was not unheard of. They should both have been thinking it over from the moment they saw there were men of rank among the Northmen.​

L: Gisla throws what can most charitably be called a hissy fit. She says in an impassioned heat that she would kill herself for Paris, but she will not marry one of those barbarians. She claims Odo is behind this, because she refused to marry him.

S: What happened to Miss I-Totally-Own-This, anyway? How old is she, twelve? No. I can’t see an historical princess pulling this stunt in front of her father. In front of her maids, maybe. Because a girl has to vent somewhere.

L: I  joked with you last night that I would have to create a Princess Gisla “I forgot how to princess” meme. She is shocked, shocked that her father didn’t consult her about the marriage.sub vikings tweet princess lissa

S: This was brilliant of you, by the way. :)​

vikings s3e10 rollo gets asked to wedL: When the marriage was offered to Rollo, he was given the promise of lands, a title, money, and the hand of the princess. Rollo asked what he’d have to do in return, and he was told he would have to defend Paris against his brother.

We’ve seen in this series that Ragnar and Rollo have no problems making false promises to their enemies. Rollo has had his struggles with Ragnar’s authority in the past. What do you think? Do you think he is giving a false oath in order to gain the keys to the kingdom, which he will hand over to Ragnar, or do you think he has finally been tempted too strongly to resist?

S: I am thinking that Rollo will play it all sincere and his men will back him because they’ve seen how he has supported his brother time and again. Even if Ragnar is dying, there is Björn, and the relationship between uncle and nephew remains intact.

False oath? Rollo? Of course it’s a possibility. History shows us a Rollo who does become a Christian – but history was written by the victors. The dirty truth of the matter might be hidden in bloodied flagstones in a church.

L: Gisla seems surprised to discover that being a princess entails marrying the man your father picks without considering your opinion on the matter. Was this chick dropped in from another movie where a modern American girl discovers that she’s actually royalty? Because she seems to have no idea what royalty has been doing for most of human history. The king reminds her that she has to obey him not only as a father, but also as her emperor.

But it gets worse.

We next see them bringing in Rollo for the wedding, and Gisla stands up and goes on a rant in front of God-and-everyone, insulting Rollo as a “filthy pagan animal.” “I’m a princess of the blood,” she says, “not a cheap whore.” She vows she would rather be burned alive or give her virginity to a dog than allow Rollo to lay a hand on her.

S: I was appalled. No one said anything to her. No one laughed a little and made excuses. And the whole time, Rollo is just watching with that kind of open expression on his face.​

Vikings-Gallery-s3e10 rollo in palaceL: Rollo’s response is to say “bonjour” to the emperor and grin.

Sacking the city = Several hundred dead Vikings.Cost of a coffin = Several silver pieces

Dat grin? = Pricelessvikings s3e10 rollo grin

S: And can we give props to the man for even TRYING to learn Frankish? Just a word or two? It showed a consideration for the lady in question, the option of a Frankish lordship, and the people themselves that no one seems to appreciate. That irked me. Because here, I’m liking Rollo.​

vikings s3e10 you killed athelstanL: The episode ends with Ragnar still clinging to life as he lays on the deck of the ship. He calls softly to Floki and he comes over to crouch down by Ragnar’s side. Ragnar looks him in the eye and says, “I know you killed Athelstan.”

S: What a way to end this season! Like many, I’m sure, I was all bug-eyed with this line and the unusual expression on Floki’s face. A bit hesitant, guarded, but also worried. Ragnar IS his king. And his friend, even yet.

Isn’t he?

An amazing season. Brilliant acting, thrilling writing. A few more items in the Boot Sole file, but we can live with that as long as we get our geek on. 🙂

 My thanks to: vikinks, vikings-gif, vikings shield maidens, bjornstark, gifchannel, and the official history vikings tumblr accounts, where I found my animated gifs this season for the blog.

My thanks also to The Wild Hunt at the No Ship Network for your references, tweets, and fantastic podcasts!

Looking forward to next year! ​ If you have any questions or comments about the finale or anything else that went on this season, let me know below!

Until Season Four:

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

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