The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Uncertain Hour


“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.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid is frickin’ doomed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Season’s Greetings to all!

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

The #ShieldGeeks Talk Vikings: Two Journeys


“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.

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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

Less than a week away!

The countdown continues!

VIKINGS banner

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


I enjoy looking back on prior seasons as I get ready to raid for this second half of the fourth season. Today, I’m checking out Season Three and it’s hard to find my favorite episode as I look over the discussions Lissa Bryan and I had about that season.

Once again, I have to go with the Season Finale, I think, as a favorite episode. I can’t bring myself to choose the Death of Athelstan episode, though it was hugely impacting for me—so sad to see him go!—so I will go with the finale.

Lissa and I found it to be a roller coaster of an episode!  Had Ragnar truly become a Christian or not, was one debate during the episode. There was also the collusion with Björn as to how the end would play out (nicely done, History Channel!), and then there was  the (I hope you’ve seen the season already!) supposed death of Ragnar.

Brilliantly done!

So that’s my favorite for Season Three!

no-ship-logoIf you’re gearing up for the new season and are interested in hearing podcasts about the former ones, please check out No Ship Network on iTunes! The crew does a fantastic recap of each episode and it’s well worth your time.

Remember to look for Lissa and me on twitter at 9/8 this coming Wednesday!


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: Portage

“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, this episode was full of surprises! I’m still a little dazed.

Sandi: I still have hopes that one or two things will turn out differently next week. However, this was the eighth of ten weeks for this half of the season, so excitement and surprises were to be expected, I guess!

Lissa: We started off with Lagertha in the longboat with Finehair and his brother. Finehair is complaining about the retreat and is scornful. “We bought into the magic of Ragnar Lo∂brok,” Harald says. “In our world we cannot accept compromise. We cannot accept failure. Someone is always responsible for failure.” Lagertha glares him down as she retorts, “If I were you, I wouldn’t talk like that about Ragnar Lo∂brok to my face.” But when she turns away, she looks as dejected as we’ve ever seen her.

vikings_s4e8 lagertha disappointedSandi: First, kudos on getting the quotes so accurately. You rock, Lissa. Yes, Lagertha might not be Ragnar’s queen, but she is the mother of his firstborn and his loyal ally. Even when he has not always been so loyal to her. She’s just . . . an amazing woman. Not perfect, but amazing.

Lissa: In the other boat, Björn murmurs to his father that the retreat has “weakened you in every way.” Ragnar glances up at the cliffs they’re sailing past and calls a halt. He says they’ll camp there. No one has any idea why he’d want to do such a thing. Ragnar says thy ought to try listening instead of talking so much. He has an idea.

Sandi: This part was a really cool turning point for me personally. The previous episode had a decline for Ragnar, from his first weird unicorn-strategy meeting to the “talk to the head” moment at the end. (We call it the #PoorYorickMoment.) And to have Björn, his own son, publicly (because on a longship, nothing is private) decry his leadership skills must have been painful and humiliating, yet Ragnar couldn’t deny the justice of the remarks. Then, we see Old Ragnar surface. Brilliant. Innovative. The man who could sail into the unknown. That man showed up again with a great idea for how to take Paris.

Lissa: In Paris, Simple Chuck is congratulating himself over the win against Ragnar. Darth Odious warns him that “There is nothing else in the mind of the pagan Rollo but the destruction of Paris and its Emperor.” He only fought against Ragnar because they had a personal squabble. Arrest him and dispose of him, and give Gisla a husband worthy of her. Simple Chuck says he will consider it.

Sandi: Here, you’ve got the classic “Make nice with the Powerful Warrior then betray him when he wins” move. Odo did his best to work with Rollo when Rollo could benefit Paris—and, by extension, Odo himself—until Rollo’s perceived purpose was fulfilled. Then, time to get rid of the man. I think Odo did this for two reasons: 1) To regain his role as premier military advisor and 2) To try for access to Gisla once more. Charming fellow. Ugh.

Lissa: Ragnar reveals his idea to the Vikings. He wants to lift the boats up the cliffs and carry them overland, past Rollo’s forts, and slip them into the river on the other side. He asks Floki if it can be done. Floki tells him he can do it… for Ragnar. He tells him that everything he does is for Ragnar.

Sandi: We had such a fangirl moment over this, Lissa and I. Longships—skipniu, as they were called in Old Norse—were designed to be portable. The Northmen sailed them down rivers and, when the water was too shallow even for the ships, the men could pick up their craft and carry them. It wasn’t a light burden, but it was possible with enough arms. Watching Ragnar put this plan into action made me very happy.

vikings_s4e8 longship pull

Lissa: In Kattegat, Sigurd is sitting in the hall, uncomfortable with his mother’s behavior around Harbard. He says he wishes his father was here and leaves the table without eating. Harbard starts to follow him, but Aslaug tells him not to. Harbard says he wanted to tell the boy that he loved him. He loves everyone.

whorebard loves all

Sandi: I don’t even blame Sigurd for his feelings of discomfort. It wasn’t that sex between parents was unknown to most children in this time. Without private bedrooms, most of domestic life was there on display for the entire household to see. But Sigurd is well aware of who his father is and he’s old enough to have a sense of what is due to Ragnar.

Lissa: Indeed, he does. Sigurd leads his mother to a cottage later and shows her Harbard making love to another girl.

Lissa: A furious, screaming Aslaug goes on a rampage, smashing furniture in her chamber in a rage.

Sandi: Very soap-opera, here. I wonder if it’s hormonal? If Harbard has succeeded in getting Aslaug pregnant, along with half the village?

Lissa: Her actions here are a little strange, to be honest. Last week, she smiled approvingly as Harbard kissed woman after woman in the village square. And now she has become insanely jealous of the man she’s having an adulterous affair with. Rasputin-Harbard tries to soothe her, telling her he only makes love to those women because they need him to take away their pain the way he took Ivar’s pain away. He loves Aslaug, but she cannot possess him. Possession is not love. Neither is monogamy, apparently.

Sandi: It does seem an abrupt turn-about for her. Whether this is due to an increase in her attachment to him or to her feeling of what is due her—she can be jealous of her prerogatives just as much as she can her heart—she has certainly taken a sharp left in her reactions.


Lissa: Ecbert arrives back in Wessex after having apparently battled off-camera with the council forces and beaten them squarely. He’s greeted by a delighted Kwenthrith who says she’s now the unchallenged Queen of Mercia. Ecbert doesn’t address that particular point. That evening, Kwenthrith goes to meet with him in his office. Ecbert quickly rolls up a map of Mercia and wipes the drool from his chin. Kwenthrith informs him that she’s pregnant. Ecbert congratulates her and asks the identity of the father. Kwenthrith is probably a bit insulted, as one can imagine, but she tells him that it’s his son, Aethelwulf, and that they had a meaningful relationship. Of which Ecbert is fully aware, but that’s not at issue.

Sandi: Ecbert’s ability to present any face he wishes is growing legendary. He can sup with someone and plunge a knife coolly in their back that same evening.

Lissa: Kwenthrith starts to address some of the issues in her kingdom and Ecbert cuts her off. It’s not her kingdom any longer. He has his assistant lay out the paperwork. Before their untimely demises, the council all signed documents for the abdication of Queen Kwenthrith and ceding the throne to Wigstan, who in turn handed it over to Ecbert. He is now king of Mercia.

Lissa: Kwenthith screams at him that he’s a monster, and Ecbert is rather untroubled by this. Because he is, and he knows it. She asks him how he can sleep at night, and Ecbert doesn’t say, “On a pile of stolen crowns, my dear,” but you know he’s thinking it. She’s dragged away by guards.

Sandi: At this point, we were thinking that this was the point when Kwenthrith would find herself consigned to a nunnery to have her baby. She is told that she’ll be under house arrest, after a fashion. Ecbert is invested in keeping her unborn child safe, too, as that child is his grandson. Something Kwenthrith seems to have overlooked; a powerful king will not be dictated to.

Lissa: Gisla and Odo are having dinner with Simple Chuck.  He’s eating with a serving fork, for some reason. I teased a bit about it during the episode, but didn’t really want to get into all the history at the moment.

Sandi: That is a frustrating part of live-tweeting! There’s stuff in the mind that we don’t have time to explore because there’s a story being told before our eyes. A fascinating story.

Lissa: In any case, forks had been sort of introduced at the French court during this time, but they weren’t commonly used, not for eating, anyway. They were sort of a novelty item. Not unknown, but not common by any means – sort of like chopsticks in an average American home. Your eating utensil was your spoon or your knife. Forks didn’t come into common usage in France until Catherine d’Medici’s time.

Sandi: So, though it was possible for the Emperor would have used a fork for his personal food consumption, it was highly unlikely at this time. Good manners would have dictated he use his knife for spearing his meat or veggies and carrying them to his mouth.

Lissa: But I digress. Gisla announces she is pregnant.  A baby Viking is on his or her way! Pepe Le Bébé?

Lissa: Simple Chuck praises Rollo the defeat of his brother but Rollo reminds him it’s not really a defeat.

Sandi: Part of what the Franks need, though they don’t acknowledge it as such at this juncture, is the knowledge of how the Northman thinks. It’s a mindset different from that of the Franks’ own. The Northman doesn’t necessarily need to live past the battle; the warriors are content to die and go on to Valhalla. So conquering is a goal, but not the only goal. Valhalla is a noble one. 

Lissa: Therese meets with Darth Odious, and says he hasn’t visited her in a long while.

Sandi: As he reminds her, he was fighting (and winning!) important battles and so on. “Quit yer whining, girlie. I was busy doing man-stuff.”

Lissa: She asks him if he’d like to try a little something different. How would he like to be tied up and whipped for a change? Odious is excited by the idea, and manacles himself. Therese tries a couple of strikes and he scoffs at them as being too soft. He cries out in real pain when a long cat o’ nine tails strikes his back. It’s being wielded by Roland, who gives Therese a kiss in front of Odious. He lays into Odious with vigor while Therese watches. Blood spatters her face and she seems to get quite… excited by the sight.

Sandi: No safewords were used in that session, I daresay. I actually felt a bit bad for Darth Odious. He trusted Therese, and then found himself completely at their mercy. And . . . they weren’t merciful. Not at all.

Lissa: Kwenthrith approaches Judith and tells her she needs to confess. She’s pregnant by Judith’s husband, Aethelwulf. Judith says she knows, and she forgives Kwenthrith. Kwenthrith asks for her help in escaping.

Sandi: One would think that Kwenthrith would know better than to trust anyone who has appeared to prosper in Ecbert’s court. Cunning and double-dealing is a way of life, there, and Kwenthrith is no stranger to these herself. Sadly, she may have thought she was smarter than anyone she encountered, there.

Lissa: That evening, Judith goes to Ecbert’s chamber. He’s gazing out at the moon. He says he wants to ask her forgiveness. He’s already beyond God’s forgiveness, but perhaps he can get forgiveness from her. He feels he didn’t have a choice but to take Kwenthrith’s throne. She was unstable. “You may treat this statement as compromised, disingenuous, perhaps even as a lie. And why shouldn’t you. But the funny thing is, it’s true. I have lied about many, many things, both to others and to myself, but I find, to my surprise, that I cannot lie to you, nor escape your judgment. Please, Judith. Don’t forsake me.”

Sandi: I have to think/hope that Judith has learned enough of her father-in-law by this time not to be completely drawn in by Ecbert’s words. His track record for reliability is so not good. Unless it’s for his own self-interest. He might treat Judith well, for the time and place, but can she trust him to see to her welfare for her own sake? I doubt it. Highly.

Lissa: We cut to a scenes of the Vikings still moving the boats.

Lissa: It’s beautifully period-accurate. Lifting the boats up from the docks, they’re loaded on to sledges and rolled over logs along the ground. It’s one of those delightful historical touches that makes my geeky little heart so happy. Even Finehair seems happy. He admits he was wrong to doubt Ragnar.  “You’re insane! But this is beautiful. After everything we heard and thought, we feel stupid.

Sandi: Me being me (read: suspicious) I tend to take Harald’s claim of feeling stupid with a whole block of salt. He has said this to placate a man he now perceives to be more powerful than he might have done not too long ago. Now, Ragnar is a king in his element, not a defeated warrior who’d had a faulty plan. Now, Ragnar has a chance of winning and leading the way to treasure and renown. Now, Harald Finehair will pay him lip service.

Lissa: Torvi is watching from the dock as Björn rides one of the boats up. She has a vision of Erlendur shooting him with a crossbow and Björn falling to the water below. But Erlendur hasn’t moved. He’s just watching Björn with grim eyes.

Sandi: Yep, we were psyched out to see Björn shot through the throat. But no! History Channel was messing with us. But did this mean that Torvi is an incipient Seer herself or was it just a momentary fear? 

Lissa: Back in Paris, Darth Odious’s bloody, dripping corpse still hangs from the chains, whipped to death.

Lissa: Simple Chuck announces from his throne that Odious was executed for his disloyalty. Rollo is granted the metal hand that Darth Odious always wore. Which is gross and a-historical. At least I’ve never heard of it. “He rules his realm with an iron hand,” doesn’t have an actual historical basis in a physical object, as far as I know. After they leave, Simple Chuck has a moment with Therese. He says he feels she carries a terrible burden, and she carries it alone.

Sandi: Nice of Charles to put an official face on the revenge-murder of his former favorite. I can’t find a reference to an actual “iron hand” either, at first scan, but it does make a nice (if macabre) symbol, here. I wonder if a warning is also attached thereto? Or maybe not, as Duke Rollo has officially gifted his wife with a baby?

kwenthrith can't hideLissa: Kwenthrith tries her escape, hiding her face and that of Magnus under large cloaks. She doesn’t even make it as far as the gates before she’s captured and brought back inside the villa. She’s told by Ecbert that he wants to have Ragnar’s son, safe and sound in his hands when Ragnar returns. She will not be allowed to leave. Guards will keep her inside the villa.

Sandi: Ecbert takes it as his right—I won’t say “divine right” as he seems to have abdicated that option—to maneuver and manipulate all in his purview. It’s as if Kwenthrith couldn’t possibly think otherwise. His sense of entitlement here is overwhelming.

Lissa: Back at the Viking camp, Floki talks to Helga, who seems to be on the mend, which made me happy. She wasn’t burned, thankfully. It must have simply been mud covering her when we saw her last. He asks her to remain at the camp, where she’ll be safe, while he goes onward with the boats toward Paris. He’s tender and concerned with her, and even better than that he seems more stable than he’s been in a long time. “Don’t die, Floki,” she says to him, with a haunting sadness.

Lissa: Down at the beach, Ragnar tells Yidu to remain behind. He only brought her along for the medicine she had. She tells him there isn’t any left, and so Ragnar says he doesn’t need her any more. Yidu says she came along because she was a free woman. Ragnar scoffs and told her he never said she was free, only that she could come and go as she pleased.

Sandi: I see this as a parallel to Ecbert’s keeping Kwenthrith (and Judith and anyone else) tied to him. A captive, willing or not.

Lissa: “You’re a liar,” Yidu hisses to him. “You’ve lied to me, and you’ve lied to your people. But you made the mistake of telling me the secret of the slaughter of the families in Wessex.” She starts to march off, but Ragnar seizes her, dragging her into the water. He holds her beneath the surface. Yidu’s arms wave frantically as she fights for her life and then they slowly fall back, limp and lifeless. Her body bobs in the water. Ragnar searches her bag and grabs her drug stash before he sloshes out of the water.

drowning Yidu poster

Sandi: So . . . she had a drug stash. So she lied to him, too. For the record and all. The drug was her hold over him and it would have been singularly foolish of her to let this hold disappear at this juncture.

Lissa: I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. Ragnar has never been brutal with women, even slave women. His cold-blooded murder of Yidu is bizarrely out of character for him, and now that he’s past his drug withdrawals, there isn’t even that excuse. I didn’t understand this scene at all. Ragnar goes Tony Soprano, and it’s devastating.

Sandi: This will sound horrid, perhaps, but I was not even remotely put off by this action. I saw this killing as expected and even a bit rational from a certain point of view. Yidu represented a threat and he handled it. She was also taunting him and doubting him and maybe even making him doubt himself – intolerable – so killing her was an expedient option. I don’t agree with it, mind, but I guess I wasn’t as flabbergasted as many.

Lissa: Ubbe and Hvistserk have seen it from the beach and are staring at their father as he sloshes up out of the river, leaving Yidu’s corpse floating behind him. “It’s all right. It’s all right.” He tries to reassure the boys, but he’s obviously jittery. He shoos the boys away and goes back to give Yidu’s body a shove out into the current.

Sandi: Now, here, I had to cringe. Ragnar has by and large done his best to be a good father on campaign, but here? He loses that. His need for the drug, and to see to the secret of Wessex, overpowered his need to be a good father and role model for his sons. I kept hoping that Yidu would sneak off, out of breath but alive, while Ubbe watched the water carefully beyond his father’s shoulder. But. No. 

Lissa: It’s late at night in Wessex and Kwenthrith hurries through the hallway toward Ecbert’s room. She’s stopped by a guard who tells her she’s been banned from his chamber. A desperate Kwenthrith pulls out a knife and stabs him in the neck. King Ecbert wakes to find her dagger at his throat.

Sandi: This is where Kwenthrith’s imbalance is most tragic. She seems to think she can pull one over on a man who has demonstrated himself to be her superior in terms of military might, strategy, and manipulation. That she thinks she can actually pose a threat to him is ludicrous. Tragically ludicrous. 

Lissa: She tells him it didn’t have to be this way. She asks him what it’s like to be at the threshold of death. “Do you know what would have been better for me?” she asks. “Can you even imagine? To have been born a man.” She’s half-crying-half-laughing as she says this, and she’s about to drive the dagger through his neck when suddenly, she’s hit by a knife from behind. Judith has stabbed her. Kwenthrith falls over, and murmurs. “Poor Judith, you have killed twice over,” referring to her unborn child. With a gurgle, Queen Kwenthrith of Mercia is no more.

Sandi: I was stunned to see that Judith had killed Kwenthrith. That was the murder that had me blinking in this episode. But, Judith was doing a few things with this. One, she was protecting her Sugar Daddy/liege lord/father-in-law. This was her duty. The corpse at the door to Ecbert’s chamber likely clued her in as to the need for her knife. Two, she was preserving the roles of her sons in Ecbert’s realm and influence. This was a princess’s duty in a royal court. Three, she was perhaps enacting her vengeance on the woman who had slept and been impregnated by her husband. “I forgive you,” she said. But Judith is a student in Ecbert’s school; words can be said without being binding. (As an aside, there’s an interview with Amy Bailey (Queen Kwenthrith) on Entertainment Weekly that makes good reading.)

Lissa: Judith looks down at Kwenthrith’s corpse and says to Ecbert, “Look what you have made me become.”

what judith became

Sandi: This is Judith refusing responsibility for her own actions. For each step she has taken to get to where she is. A far cry from the girl she may have been when even looking at Athelstan made her blush. 

Lissa: What an episode! We lost Yidu, Kwenthrith, and Darth Odious (though he won’t be missed.) We never got an answer to the question of #YorickTheMysteryHead, but so much was going on, I don’t think any of us noticed at the time.

Sandi: I certainly didn’t notice the last, no. I was too happy to see Ragnar take on a new challenge to invade Paris. Again. Two more weeks to go in this first half of this season. I can’t wait to see what they hold!


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: Profit & Loss

“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: We opened with Ragnar seemingly back in his element, strategizing with the other Viking leaders about the new attack on Paris. Ragnar plans to sail down the river between the two forts that are perched on the banks while Lagertha leads a team over land to attack one of the forts. His speech is a little choppy, as though he struggles for breath. Ragnar’s lips are noticeably red as he talks, though no one mentions it.

Sandi: Opinion is divided about the reasons for these symptoms. Whether it’s the “medicine” that Yidu has him dependent upon or his injuries or a combination thereof, he is clearly not a well man.

Lissa: As Björn leaves the tent, he trots to catch up with Erlendur. He pulls the ring he took from the berserker assassin from his pocket and offers it to Erlendur, saying he believes it’s his. Erlendur pretends he’s never seen it before.

Sandi: Because of course Erlandur will look all happy and say, “Wow, thanks, Björn! I wondered where that went!” What did Björn expect to gain by confronting him, I wonder?

Lissa: Ragnar approaches Lagertha and says he wishes she wouldn’t fight. Sandi was right in her speculation last week that Lagertha believes what the Seer told her: she would never bear another child, and so it doesn’t matter. She tells Ragnar as much, her voice tinged with bitterness. Ragnar retorts that she seems to be doing everything she can to ensure the prophecy comes true as he walks away.

Sandi: He places great store in children, even if they’re not his. And I think part of him longs to see Lagertha pregnant. Maybe to vindicate his choice to keep Aslaug?

Lissa: Ubbe and Hvitserk approach Ragnar, their bows in hand. They ask Ragnar if they can go with him to attack Paris. Ragnar tells them they’re not strong enough yet before moving on to a more diplomatic tactic. He says he needs them to stay behind and guard the camp and its stores. The boys agree, obviously feeling that they’ve been tasked with something important.

Sandi: It can’t be denied that Ragnar wants his sons to be safe. He is all for giving them advancing responsibilities, though, as we’ve seen this season. Just responsibilities that will entail little risk. He truly thinks that “guarding the supplies” is a good thing for them. It does provide responsibility and the expectation of safety away from the battle. Additionally, there are a lot of adult women about, so Ragnar knew his sons would have eyes on them. He is, by and large, a good father to his young sons.

Lissa: Rollo and Gisla are atop one of the towers in the morning. Both of them look flat-out beautiful. Rollo has long, curled hair, and his molded leather armor is studded with gold.

Sandi: I gotta say, Rollo wears the look better than Darth Odious.

Sandi: On the longship. Björn says, “I hate my uncle. I want to kill him.” Ragnar stands beside him and says, “Good.” Because this indicates that Björn sees his error in leaving Rollo behind, I think, as well as affirming that Björn will not hesitate if the opportunity arises.

Lissa: Gisla has a breastplate of her own, and it’s molded to every curve as though it’s made from Spandex. Beneath it, she wears a pair of leggings and a split skirt. Her war outfit is somewhat of a departure for our prim Princess Le Pew.

vikings s4 e 7 gisla unafraid

Rollo asks Gisla if she is afraid. Gisla replies she wouldn’t be up there beside him if she was afraid. They watch Ragnar’s ships approach.

Sandi: Gisla must have half of Frankia making her outfits. Employment guarantor! Guarantess? Her signature smug expression has re-emerged. I was surprised when Rollo asked about her being afraid. Has he forgotten where he first saw her? Standing on a parapet, staring him down?

Lissa: From land, Lagertha approaches, but she looks down in alarm as her boots sink into the mud.

Lissa: I mean, come on… Lagertha is a seasoned warrior. She’s encountered mud before and knows how to handle it, or to go around, or to do anything but stand there and churn her feet like she’s never seen a mixture of earth and water before. She and Rollo exchange a look at one point, and it’s one of those looks which epitomize the saying of if looks could kill. Rollo hears her voice, giving her warriors commands as he orders the men atop the walls to fire the crossbows.

Sandi: Rollo had been paying a great deal of attention to the fleet of longships, that he hadn’t thought of the land behind his fortifications. He seemed a bit taken aback to see Lagertha & Co. on their way through the marshy land. I think the confusion she and her warriors experienced is due to the fact that they hadn’t encountered the marshland last time they visited. This could be due to weather or to the building of the towers; a large enough project to affect the groundwater in the vicinity.

Lissa: The battle comes to a head quickly, and it’s an out-and-out slaughter. Once the chain goes up, Ragnar’s boats are stopped dead in the water. Trebuchets throw Greek firepots and the crossbows rain death from above. Ships are tangled in the chain and overturn, hurling the occupants into the water.  As Rollo watches from above, he murmurs a haunting poem.

Sandi: The tension before the chains go up is palpable. You can see both Rollo and Odo fidgeting and giving everything a last look. Due to the shallow draft of the longships, they are not broken by the chains, but they are capsized. This is dangerous of course, but it doesn’t mean a loss of their transportation, which could have been the case if their ships had been differently made.

Lissa: Floki struggles in the water and sinks below its surface. A hand grabs him and hauls him back. It’s Ragnar. He has dived into the water to haul his friend back to safety. As he lays Floki down on the bottom of the ship. Floki looks up at him with something like wonderment in his features. He seems to have honestly believed Ragnar wouldn’t risk his life to save him… Not now. Not after everything that’s happened. Ragnar looks out over the carnage of wrecked ships, burning… floating bodies in the water and abject horror washes over his features.

Sandi: The Franks launched Greek Fire, or some form of naptha, here, in packages that look like Chinese dumplings. This was followed by fired arrows and caused even more chaos. But Ragnar didn’t let that distract him from Floki’s distressing predicament. It was right that the king see to his shipbuilder’s safety. I think Floki’s surprise speaks to their estrangement rather than a secret understanding.

vikings s4e7 lagertha retreat

Lissa: On land, Lagertha’s forces are decimated as they head toward the tower.  Driven back, they have to retreat. As the ships prepare to sail back, Ragnar shouts to his brother. He says he always defended him, even when others said he deserved death. And this… this is how Rollo repays his love. Rollo doesn’t reply and Ragnar sinks down to lay against the prow of his ship as they limp back to their encampment.

Sandi: It is the final end, I think, of the brotherhood, here.

Lissa: But there will be no rest there…. In the meantime, we see that the Franks have also attacked the Viking camp.

Sandi: It’s a slaughter, alternated with views of the retreat of Lagertha’s forces as well as Ragnar’s men in the water, slogging their way out of danger. An altogether depressing sequence. Excellent cinematography as the camera swings from Lagertha’s people in the swamps to the ships on fire in the river. And here, we do see the damage done to the Viking fleet.

Lissa: Rollo and Gisla come down from the fort and view the bodies lined up along the shore. Gisla is surprised there are so many women among them. Rollo tells her the Viking women warriors are just as fierce as the men – sometimes more. He tells her about Lagertha, and Gisla doesn’t seem to notice his tone.

Sandi: “The most fierce – her name is Lagertha.” “You know her?” “Yeah, I slept with her. Might have fathered her son. At least, that’s the rumor…” – Vikings American Apocrypha

Really, though, the scene is a brutal view of war. A great victory is proclaimed in the midst of the dead and dying. Rollo and Princess Le Pew step around corpses to have their civilized little discussion about the fierce females of the North.

Lissa: Gisla expresses interest in meeting Lagertha. Yeah. That would go well.

Sandi: Meeting the leaders of the opposing army was not unheard of, after a war was fought. Terms had to be discussed and such.

Lissa: In Wessex, Ecbert is meeting with the mysterious “W” who has taken Queen Kwenthrith’s kingdom from her.  He sees off a priest on his journey and draws his sword to kneel for the prelate’s blessing. What was entertaining was that the priest seemed to flinch a bit when Ecbert drew that blade, as though he wasn’t entirely certain what the king was going to do with it.

Sandi: The prelate has to remember that Ecbert is not the most reliable of men. His alliances are temporary. He lies and plunges in a knife. He is carrying on with his own daughter-in-law and is apparently sanctioning a relationship between his son and Queen Kwenthrith. The prelate is undoubtedly aware of these things; he’s not blind and no one’s hiding anything very well.

Lissa: The Vikings return to their camp to find carnage. Tents are burning and bodies lay everywhere. Ragnar first finds Helga among the wounded and shouts for Floki. Floki runs to her side and shakes her limp form. Helga is horribly burned. She doesn’t stir, but she seems to be breathing. The collective fandom sent up a shriek of despair when we saw her.

Sandi: Why didn’t Halfdan go closer to her when he saw her? To see if she was alive?

Lissa: Ragnar finds his boys unharmed. They hug their father as he stares around at the carnage.

Sandi: He eyed Yidu, who had run to greet him too, presumably, but he gives her no special looks or anything. His concern is all for his sons, for the moment. Though, of course, that will change.

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Aslaug strolls with Harbard. She asks him where he’s been and he’s very vague about where his travels have taken him. He says he’s journeyed to the place between life and death. He heard about Ragnar’s sickness and wasn’t sure if he would survive.

Sandi: Thing is, there are eyes everywhere. And that Aslaug and Harbard kiss in public will not go unforgotten.

Lissa: We see him meeting with the village women under Aslaug’s smiling and approving gaze. He speaks to one who says she has no children. He teases her and asks her if she knows how to get them. He tells her she’ll have three children and then kisses her passionately. He “counsels” the other waiting women in the same way, kissing each one in turn. From the porch with his mother, Sigurd watches all of this. A while later, he follows Rasputin – I mean Harbard – as he goes into a house and makes love to the woman inside.

Sandi: The women are in awe of him. Enthralled. They see him as holy and close to the gods and are willing to have him avail himself of them. And the men that are crowded about him don’t seem in any way concerned about this behavior.

Lissa: Back in Paris, Ragnar is still dealing with the horrors of the battle and the attacked camp. The funeral pyres burn in a somber scene. Lagertha tenderly covers the face of one of her shieldmaidens before lighting her pyre and stepping back. Björn is angry. He says this is Ragnar’s fault.

Sandi: There are a lot of bodies being burnt, as one can see. The Northmen have taken a bad blow that day, both in battle and back in camp. Ragnar did not expect that, I’m sure.

Lissa: Ragnar strides through the camp and shouts for Yidu. She comes to the opening of her tent, and he demands the medicine. He says it’s been a terrible day and he needs it. She lies and says there isn’t any more and he proceeds to wreck the interior looking for her stash. It’s an absolutely horrible scene because it shows the raw and ugly desperation of an addict. Yidu finally pulls some from her bag, and he kisses her in gratitude. Yidu jerks away in fear. Ragnar gobbles the medicine down, then goes outside to sit in the rain to wait for it to take effect.

Sandi: This was so disappointing for me. I wanted him to be seeking the medication for Helga, I guess, and to find out it was because Ragnar was clamoring for it was disheartening. I hate to see him in the thrall of an addiction.

Lissa: We debated some last night over whether the relationship between Ragnar and Yidu has become sexual or not. I said I didn’t believe so, based on the way she cringed back after he kissed her. She doesn’t seem to accept his touch the way one would expect from a mistress or a thrall.

Sandi: She needs to remember that his loyalty to her is now bounded (I think) by her ability to get him what he craves. If she can’t, he might forget any other thing he had found pleasing about her.

Lissa: Floki visits the injured Helga and gives her some of his carved runestones to aid her in healing. Heart-struck, he slowly staggers his way out of the camp into a grassy meadow.

Lissa: He sinks down onto the grass, and that’s when we see Aslaug approach him. She kneels down beside him and gives him a tender smile before kissing him. The kiss turns into passion and she climbs atop him. Floki’s eyes are wide with shock, but he goes with it, and they make love under the sky. This scene cuts back and forth to where Aslaug is in Kattegat, making love with Harbard in the same fashion.

Sandi: Did you hear the church bells in the background? I noticed it on my second watching of this episode this morning. What is the significance of this, I wonder, for two such as they, who are violently anti-Christian?

Lissa: Floki isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s enthusiastic about it. She says Harbard’s name after Floki falls back to the ground, replete. We weren’t sure last night who was directing this vision. Was it Harbard, sending Floki some kind of message, or joining minds with him in some way? (Remember Floki thought Harbard might be an incarnation of Odin.) Was it Floki himself, who seems to have been tapped as a Seer? Or was it Aslaug, with her völva powers?

Sandi: It is such an odd scene. I confess I was thinking how it was filmed. I mean, they had to go through the sequence with both men separately and then cut it. My kudos to the editors for the care that was taken in the exchanges. But what was the significance of this sequence, I wonder? For Floki’s spiritual awareness that all the kids that might be born in Kattegat are Harbard/Odin’s? A portend of a future with Aslaug?

Lissa: Ecbert rides to a crypt with a cross atop it. I thought it was a little chapel at first, but Ecbert walks down the stone steps to find burials inside. And the mysterious “W” lurking in the shadows. He steps forward and reveals himself as Prince Wigstan of Mercia. Wigstan details the brutal deaths his relatives buried here have suffered in the endless fighting around the throne. He wants peace to come back. He wants Mercia to be a golden kingdom as it once was, long ago, strong and powerful and secure. And to do that, he’s willing to combine his army with Ecbert’s in order to fight against the ruling council of nobles, whom he doesn’t describe in the most flattering of terms.

Sandi: Wigstan says, “If you think Kwenthrith is a calming influence? You’re insane.” (Sandi paraphrase.) This in response to Ecbert’s quick, “Hey I’m only backing her to keep things peaceful next door. I don’t like her, or anything!” Ecbert: Making up lies since before sunrise. Or something.

Lissa: Wigstan doesn’t want to see Kwenthrith on the throne because she’s unstable, both in her rule and in her judgment. Wigstan will fight and claim the throne for himself, with Ecbert’s help, but as soon as it’s achieved, he wants to renounce the throne and travel to Rome as a pilgrim. He will hand Mercia over to Ecbert to combine with Wessex into one vast kingdom.

Sandi: The interesting thing is that while Wigstan says he’s lost his faith in God, Ecbert never has, not really. Ecbert still believes heartily in God, but his view of the Almighty is not in line with, er, traditional teachings. Wigstan would not be surprised, I’m guessing.

Lissa: To prove his sincerity, he has his guard pull his mother’s coffin from the niche on the wall. He opens the casket and reaches down among the bones.

Lissa: He pulls out a dusty crown and holds it out to Ecbert. He says it’s the ancient crown of Mercia. And it’s his. Just like that, Ecbert is seemingly handed everything he’s wanted.  All he has to do now is reach out and grasp the opportunity he’s been given… and betray Kwenthrith.

Sandi: Wigstan says this, and is relinquishing the kingdom, apparently, but still refers to Mercia as his. “Both our countries forward,” he says. He will always identify with Mercia, and will likely – even from Rome – keep an eye on dealings there. I wonder how close this story in this show will run to the historical events?

Lissa: Wigstan is based on a real king by that name. He also preferred the religious life to ruling. History records that Wigstan asked his mother to serve as regent so he could go do his monastic thing. His mom attracted a suitor, but Wigstan refused the match because of consanguinity. The suitor was a mite bit miffed by this and went to have a talk with Wigstan, a chat which ended with the suitor bashing Wigstan over the head and stabbing him with his sword. Like a number of pious nobles of the era, Wigstan then became a saint. Supposedly, a great column of light shot up from the spot he was slain and stayed there for a month. Saint Arclight’s remains were moved a bit later to a monastery in Evesham, but that was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution. (This is why we can’t have nice things, Henry!)

Sandi: Ecbert, as a self-identified corrupt and ambitious man with dreams of having it all, is undoubtedly doing an inner Snoopy Dance here, but he contains himself admirably. He is, as always the definition of “urbane” – even before that was a word.

Lissa: Back at Ragnar’s camp, Björn goes to his father to ask what they’re going to do next. It’s been three days. What is the plan? His father is in bad shape. Ragnar is tense and sweating, rocking as he speaks in a tight, clipped tone. He tells his son they’ll depart on the morrow and head down the river. Yidu has either cut off his supply of drugs, or Ragnar has decided to kick the habit himself, cold turkey. Either way, he’s suffering badly from withdrawal. Every word seems like a painful effort as he spits it out. After Björn departs, Ragnar speaks, seemingly to himself, but he’s actually addressing a severed head that lies on the floor. I couldn’t make out who it was he was talking to.

Sandi: If Yidu has truly run out (which would be extremely foolish of her, as she got Ragnar to take her with him so she could be his supplier) then I am concerned for them both. If he’s decided to try to live without them, I applaud that. There is no twelve-step program here. No rehab clinic. No substitute pharmaceutical program. It will be ugly.

Regarding the retreat, this has to be upsetting to Björn. To have sat for three days, waiting, and then be told they’re to retreat? I imagine this will anger those who are hoping for more of the treasure they acquired last time they were there. Regarding the nameless head  on the floor, I haven’t any idea whom that is, either.

Lissa: So much is up in the air! Will Finehair see this as an opportunity to capitalize on Ragnar’s weakness as a leader? Will Harbard father a passel of children to greet the Viking warriors who return? And – most important to me – will our beloved Helga recover?

Sandi: Overall, this was a week of ups and downs. Great battle scenes – if you’re Frankish. Interesting developments in characters. But I’m still left with questions! I wonder how many will be answered by the end of the first half of this extended season?


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 Talk VIKINGS: S4E6

“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.

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 Talk VIKINGS: Promised

“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.

After a rough technical start, I got back in with the episode about halfway through. This obliged me to return to History Channel’s website to watch it again this morning! And, due to Lissa Bryan’s commitments today, she gave me the go-ahead to post my comments for the both of us. Frightening, no?

crossbow training

We begin with crossbow training and shieldmaiden weapons practice led by Lagertha the Awesome. Erlandur and Kalf are discussing future opportunities to strike back at the family of Ragnar Lo∂brok—Erlandur’s prime obsession. He intimates that Torvi is acting as his “eyes” in Kattegat, with the life of her son hanging in the balance. I cannot stand Erlandur!

“Lagertha must never know what we did,” Kalf tells his co-conspirator. No, really? This is what makes me so distrust Kalf. One night, pledging love and sexy times; the next day, plotting against her. Ugh!

vikings_s4e5_kalf lag preggo

Then, she drops her bomb on him: she tells him she’s “with child”! Is she? The Seer once implied that that wasn’t going to happen again . . .

bjorn and ragnar talkingThen, we head off to see Björn and Ragnar discussing Harald Finehair. Yes, please note the order of the names, here. In the screenshot, too, Björn is in the forefront, on the viewer’s left, giving him silent precedence as the scene begins. Was that on purpose? Ragnar asks his son why he doesn’t care for little Siggy—Ragnar’s grandchild. “She reminds me of things I’d rather forget,” Björn replies.

This is not the most mature attitude, in my opinion. But then the men have a “burn!” moment when accusations fly about Torvi’s son versus Björn’s custodial matters when he was younger (see Season One).

“Your mother left me. You left me,” Ragnar reminds his son.

Björn goes to sound out Harald Finehair who says, “Mine is a small kingdom . . . for now.” So I am thinking that Harald is claiming lordship over parts of Norway, though the land itself did not acknowledge him as king as a whole, yet. Such a gradual assumption of kingship was not uncommon in Europe during this time.

harald wants to achieve fame“What are we here for except to achieve fame?” Harald asks in response to Björn’s remark that the man has ambitions. This is a good question, for a vikingr.

Björn counters with, “Fame won’t make your small kingdom any bigger.” He said this, though, with a look that silently implied this was also a remark about Harald’s, um, virility. I rather enjoyed that Harald, after looking about him, seems mostly amused by what he sees; as if he’d expected nothing else.

bjorn implies harald is lacking

On to Wessex! King Ecbert is sitting at a round table. As the legendary Arthurian Round Table wasn’t even mentioned until the 12th Century by Norman chronicler Wace, this round table could not have been for Ecbert’s guests in terms of implications of the legendary king and his realm. It might, though, be used for our modern eyes. Our “Good King Ecbert the Corrupt-by-his-own-Admission” is proposing an invasion of Mercia to establish Queen Kwenthrith on her throne once more. He does this with young Alfred on his lap, according to @ClassicalBeau on twitter.

invade mercia

After denouncing “W”—the spy from earlier in the season—Kwenthrith informs King Aelle and King Ecbert that they have to invade Mercia to give it back to her. Okay, to me? This seems a very weak stance for her to take, for all that Aethelwulf is smiling at her during her rant/whine. He speaks for her and Ecbert says they’ll go. Aelle, ominously, says nothing.

Still in Wessex, Judith the Free declines Aethelwulf the Flagellant’s directive to join him in bed. “I don’t want to,” she says. Her idea about her own freedom is not aligned with the truth of the matter, I daresay. And, the truths come out. “Sleep with my dad!” “Go sleep with your mistress!” Yeah, it was like that. I was surprised to see the tears in both their eyes, however.

Now, Lissa, when I saw your comment online this morning about Ecbert putting “a ring on it” I had no idea that was going to be literal! Yet he’s done so, here. Judith’s manner is, for me, a bit repulsive considering the mores of the day, yet she’s got her eyes open as to her status, anyway. A whore, but one who has freely chosen to be one. How free does that make her?

vikings_s4e5_duke rolloOn to Paris! Darth Odious and Duke Rollo are discussing the previously agreed upon fortifications against the next invasion by the Northmen. “You don’t know your people like I do,” Rollo reminds the older man. “We must hold Paris . . . When my brother returns, everything will be decided here.” For myself, I’m relieved that there is such clear communication between them. As has been speculated all over the Internet, Rollo’s lingual skills, cough, are certainly superior.

Then, we see Rollo and his Duchess in bed discussing his northern lands. He wants to establish his own court. Historically, remember, this will be Normandy (Northman’s land) and the area will figure prominently for centuries to come. Gisla, though, wants him to focus on being near her father to advise him. Power and influence stem from the king, of course, and she wants to retain her own as well. She has certainly morphed into a sensual being of late. She’s licking food from her fingers, posturing, and so on as she endeavors to persuade her husband to change his focus for the nonce.

Roland_S3Then, we move to Charles’s audience chamber. He’s meeting with Therese-the-sub-spy’s “handler” Roland is sowing distrust of Darth Odious into the emperor’s ear. We bring the mistress herself and the man says Therese is his sister. Sister. And they were having sex not that long ago. Two things come immediately to mind: “Ew, ick!” and “Wait, is he lying to make their closeness seem acceptable?” This means that Roland is not her husband, as I thought, unless it’s secretly (which is entirely possible, with as much subterfuge as the Paris court is hosting). I trust no one, here. During the discussion with Therese, the emperor is very careful not to allow her close to him, as if she were contagious or something.

But the viewer still wants to know: Can she be trusted? And by whom? And when Charles sort of laughs at the end of the scene, should I be worried? He appears strong, for just a moment.

And we return to Kattegat and the Ragnar’s Secret Snake and Former Slave Abode. It is during this scene that Yidu first (to my eyes) starts acting shifty, becoming pushy in encouraging Ragnar to share his secrets with her. Ragnar suspects her of lying about her origins and indeed twitter was alight with speculation once again. Ragnar has basically said he’ll tell her his secrets if she tells him the truth. And he wants those “Ancient Chinese Herbs” she gave him before that had him swinging from the rafters. Is he becoming an addict or is it just a passing fancy?

tang-xizong-cuju.jpgEmperor Xizong of the Tang Dynasty is whom I believe Yidu says was the ruler of China. He reigned from AD 873-888, and a rebellion broke out during his tenure. (According to one source, anyway, Xizong had a thing for a certain ball game—Cuju—which is now considered the earliest form of European Football (American soccer).) It is clear at this juncture that Ragnar suspects Yidu is royalty.

We speed back to Wessex, where the “raid Mercia for Kwenthrith” deal is reiterated. Judith is clearly trying to get in everyone’s craw, here, feeling strong in the support of Burger King Ecbert. Why she feels it necessary to throw this strength at her father Aelle at every opportunity is beyond me; it’s also vastly unwise of her.

Nice photography management and a bow to the show’s producers for hiding Amy Bailey’s pregnancy during these scenes. It wouldn’t do for Queen Kwenthrith to be burgeoning just yet, even if she’s taken a new lover. Kwenthrith—a poster child for the “Don’t Drink with the Queen” campaign—has demanded to know if she can trust Ecbert. Really? He responds with—and this is a direct quote—”Why would you doubt me?”

Oh, Burger King. Let me count the ways! Okay, maybe not here.

lissa ecbert queen k are alike tweet


Understatement? Could be!

This is followed by another scene that illustrates in big bright colors how hypocritcal Ecbert is as he prays to God. He is sincere in his prayer; this, I believe. But he seems to see the Divine as being manipulated as easily as those around him are.

Ecbert the hypocrite in church

We return again to Kattegat, which pleases many in the Vikings fandom, if podcasts and twitter are to be believed. Harald was doing his hair and talking to Björn comes to talk to him. We are seeing more instances of Björn taking on leadership roles in Kattegat and the wider world. Harald is proposing joining forces to raid Paris. Everyone wants in on the gold, even if they turn on one another right after. Harald does a fine job of rallying the troops while making himself look good.

Harald’s people arrive and it’s a happy day. But not for Ragnar. He’s throwing knives at a shield for target practice, but he’s bleeding out his mouth. Is this due to the internal wounds that were never properly treated from before or due to the medicines he’s been taking from Yidu?

When Halfdan is introduced to Ragnar, there is a split here between the views of the Old Warrior and the Young Warrior. Ragnar has seen battles. He’s wise and weary. He is not as eager to fight. Then, too, he’s won his fame. Halfdan is all set to go for the “beauty of it” as well as to strike at the Christians, he says. Ragnar assures him, with a rather manic, bloodstained smile, that he will have the opportunity to kill a great many Christians once they reach Paris.

Ragnar will never forget that his best friend was a Christian, I think.

vikings_s4e5_harald and halfdan at party

In the Great Hall that night, there are many games being played and gold changing hands in bets, as well as much alcohol served. Queen Aslaug has, of course, provided all that is needed to entertain. From outside the festivities, Ragnar and Yidu are watching with some detachment. Ragnar denies Yidu’s assertion that he would be missed. He also denies that he is excited about returning to Paris. “I feel so old,” he tells the former slave. He also tells her a great secret of his: The destruction of the Wessex settlement some time before. “Nobody knows.”

Yidu does her part, tear falling down her cheek. “My father’s the emperor.”

vikings_s4e5_enter flokiFloki and Helga join the party and there’s one of those “hushed” moments as the crowd parts before them. A look is exchanged with Ragnar, who is outside, which leads me to remember something said by twitter-er @Detrocker2264: that Floki and Ragnar were destined to be on the same side and that Floki is playing a role again, here. Ears and eyes for his old friend Ragnar, under cover of a false front.

Is that going to be proven true? Will Hirst use that device again or is something else afoot?

“You are the genius that built the boats that changed our world,” Halfdan says to Floki. High praise indeed as they try to suss out the cause for the troubles.

“I killed his pet Christian,” Floki tells them with all apparent cheerfulness.

Helga tries to hush him, and I notice a change in her appearance. She used to be a “flower child” in how she was presented. Now, she is older, as are many, changed and hardened and wary.

vikings_s4e5_yidu ragnar bathtimeWe then move to Ragnar’s Sanctuary for Sensual Water Fun and find a scene between him and Yidu. She is immersed and apparently naked in the bath while he is clothed and bathing her from outside the tub. Or, er, something. I don’t think Great Cuts is going to offer his services before a haircut, though he does cut her hair at the end of it. Ahem.

We go from the furtive darkness of the, er, bath-and-a-haircut moment to the sunny outdoors where Ivar is in the middle of  bunch of children apparently playing Keep Away from Ivar. Not very nice, to be sure, but this is not a modern playground. Aslaug is watching from the sidelines, trying very hard to keep her mouth shut and even Floki is nearby, ready to lightly interfere to toss the toy bladder (?) back to his apprentice with a scowl. Another boy tries to take it away (foolish – don’t they know Ivar’s a prince and well guarded?) and Ivar gets angry. With an axe.

Cue screaming children. “It’s not your fault,” Aslaug tells her blood-spattered son.


Ivar axe murderer tweet convo

Floki has a strange look on his face while Helga investigates the scene. She’s distressed; he’s almost energized. “Oh, look! My apprentice can kill with an axe already!”

vikings_s4e5_ prewedding lagWe leave this disrupted day to return to Hedeby, where Lagertha is getting ready to wed Kalf. (In as aside, may I just say that Katheryn Winnick has a most amazing figure?)

Then, a dash back to Kattegat, where Björn is contemplating the ring the berserker had on him. A check with No Ship Network confirmed that NoShipper Steve was the one who predicted on last week’s podcast that there would be a big reveal centered on this ring, delivered by Torvi. The man should be a Seer! Because it happened here that Torvi wound up telling Björn that the ring belonged to Erlandur the mostly-an-ex-husband, who got it from his dad, King Horik.

And as the episode winds to a close, the climax of what has been, for me anyway, ages of annoyance and speculation. Kalf approached Lagertha at the site of their wedding (a very modern-seeming tent made of bolts of gauzy cloth and flowers, apparently). Lagertha appears briefly distressed when he waxes rhapsodic about her beauty.

But only briefly. Because even as he’s kissing her, she’s removing a knife from her sleeve.

She promised she’d kill him.

The Northmen had a saying about vengeance: A wise man is one who lets his vengeance wait. Lagertha is a wise woman. “Long live Earl Ingstad!” Most awesome episode close EVER.

vikings_s4e5_hail earl ing

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