The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "The Great Army"




“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 


(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS! And Yes, we did one, too!)
By elithanathile on Tumblr



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


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

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

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

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


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Lissa: This episode had me excited. I couldn't wait to see the Great Heathen Army, the scourge of the Anglo-Saxons. Though the actual size of the GHA is in dispute among scholars, it was undoubtedly the largest Viking force to attack the British aisles and it left a lasting mark on the history of the realm. Not only in regards to DNA, but the Danelaw... and Oh, I could go on! It was a formative time, to say the least.

Sandi: Now, now, it was likely King Aelle who said it was the Great Heathen Army. Floki would likely just say it was a Great Army. Aelle was biased, as we know. I am very eager to see this army on the move, no matter what we call it, however. This time, as you say, was formative and so much of what our society currently holds to be bedrock found its beginnings in this era.

ragnarssonsLissa: We started the episode in the Ragnarssons household. Ivar is doing what he does best, needling his kin. He gripes that Sigurd is using his knife. It belonged to his father, and he intends to use it to kill Lagertha. Ivar mocks him about it and the dispute ends in a scuffle, but Ubbe breaks it up with no harm done. The discussion turns to their more pressing concern: avenging Ragnar. While Aelle was primarily the instrument of Ragnar's death, none can forget that it was Ecbert who betrayed him, and besides, Ecbert's kingdom is far larger and richer than Aelle's. They decide that it's time to raise an army, the greatest army ever assembled. They'll call in every favor, summon every ally they can to their side. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” Ivar declares. Little sociopath looks kinda cute when he's genuinely smiling.

Sandi: History Channel has done a pretty good job at giving us a look at all the brothers here. Their familial dynamics are likely going to continue to be important. Ubbe is the Big Brother, who looks (I am sure intentionally) the most like their sire. We have established the hashtag #UbbesLunchNotes because we see him giving advice and soothing the waters. But though the boys squabble, they are basically united in their wish to avenge their father's death and Ivar will make sure that both Aelle and Ecbert pay. It is interesting to note, here, that the young men seem to have no doubt that they will be able to gather a mighty force in their quest for vengeance. They have the supreme confidence of their breeding, I think, and that tells. I can't see some random fisherman's progeny having that kind of assurance. But then, Aslaug's sons only know of being the sons of King Ragnar. They have no memory of his more humble beginnings, as Björn does.

 Lissa: Their plan means someone needs to talk to Lagertha. The Queen of Kattegat is working alongside her people on the fortifications, covered in mud when Ubbe goes to speak with her. She's reluctant to leave. Kattegat has become too prosperous to leave undefended. 

One of the people on Tumblr mentioned a good point: Lagertha implied that Aslaug sort of let things go to the dogs, but Aslaug had to be doing something right if Kattegat became the most important trading post in Norway. "[W]e’re supposed to believe Aslaug, the REASON Kattegat grew and became the major center of trade, was SUCH a [poor] ruler for not building a wall. ... Did she tax the [heck] out of her people? Seize public land for private use? Be unnecessarily cruel to slaves or smallfolk? Elect a horse to the Senate??"

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Sandi: Lagertha is a good worker, and nothing is beneath her notice. She, too, remembers her humble beginnings. Later in history, it was said that the lady of a manor had to know how to do all the different chores on the estate, so that she could see that they were done properly. I see Lagertha as being like-minded. LadyAslaug on Tumblr implies, though, Lagertha doesn't give her predecessor her due, nor her people. All that growth didn't just come from the hands of one person.

Lissa: Lagertha tells Ubbe she remembers Kattegat when it was just a small cluster of houses. Ubbe smiles, and reminds her that he was born in Kattegat, so he knows how much it's changed.

  Sandi: There is an undercurrent of one-upmanship between Ubbe and Lagertha. Could the undercurrent be about more than Who Knows What? Is there some kind of odd chemistry? Only time will tell; neither of these two is at all attached to chastity as far as I can ascertain. Ubbe, though, cannot have Lagertha's perspective and it is rather prideful of him to think he can. However, out of all of Aslaug's sons, his memory will stretch back further, so he is the only one of them who can meet her even halfway on such a matter.

  Lissa: Ubbe starts to tell her that Ragnar would have wanted them to avenge him, but Lagertha shakes that off. She, more than anyone, knows what Ragnar would have wanted. Ragnar wanted to build something that would last.

Sandi: Well, it's true that Ragnar wanted to build something, but I think Lagertha is a bit behind the times as far as the Psychology of Ragnar Lo∂brok is concerned. Ragnar expected to have his sons join him with tales of great adventures. He expected Ivar to avenge his death. Ragnar wanted that, probably even more than he wanted to see greatness come to Kattegat.

freeing-the-slave-girlLissa: After their conversation ends, Ubbe talks with Margrethe. He tells her she is no longer a slave. She asks if he can do that, and he makes a bold statement about being able to do as he likes because he's the son of Ragnar Lothbrook. He holds out a hand and Margrethe sticks her muddy palm into it. Off they go, a royal prince and a slave girl. It must run in their blood or something.

Sandi: Now, when Big Brother Bear (Björn) wanted to make nice with Porunn, she seemed to be amenable to being with him. Margrethe, however, seems more confused and resigned than anything. I do not have happy feelings about these two. One, I can't trust the girl, and neither can Ubbe, really. And he knows it. I feel that part of this is a one-upmanship thing, again, with Lagertha. "See? I can free the slave because my mum got her for our family. So, dibs!" Or something.

  Lissa: Speaking of dudes who made the bad choice of marrying a slave girl, we next go to Björn's fleet. They're on their way back to Frankia. Rollo doesn't look terribly stoked about the idea of going home. Helga has her Shiny New Kid perched beside her, but there's something badly wrong with the girl. She stares blankly into space, despite Helga's attempts at mothering.

  Sandi: Rollo feels much more true to himself when he's out a-viking, I daresay, and coming home to a wife who said, basically said, "We are SO over if you go out raiding with your boys" is not something he's looking forward to. And Helga and her "adopted daughter"? I am still weirded out by this. The girl has likely withdrawn—a not-uncommon response for people who are abducted and separated from all they know. It's like Helga doesn't even care, which is not like the Helga we have come to know and love over the years. The Northmen did take slaves from other cultures, and they made it a practice to compel the slave to accept a new name, new clothes, etc. But one does not hear of the Northmen adopting people into their families. There's a lot of obligation there, and I'm still baffled as to why Helga did it.

  Lissa: Torvi and Joan Jett tell Lagertha that they don't trust Ubbe. They urge Lagertha to increase her personal security. But the Seer's prophecy that one of Ragnar's sons would kill her seems to have freed Lagertha from her anxiety about it. She shrugs and says if the gods can't protect her, who can?

Sandi: Lagertha seems to give herself over to her fate again and again. In terms of having more children, in terms of her eventual death. But it's as if she has to keep checking. She has faith, but she doesn't keep it as a firm floor. It's more of a floating carpet she has to catch up and check out again and again.

Lissa: Ivar is in the blacksmith shop, sharpening weapons with his brothers. He says that Sigurd isn't all that enthused about the plan to kill Lagertha, and Sigurd says it's because he and Ivar had a much different relationship with their mother. She adored Ivar, but with Sigurd, she was cold and distant. Ivar mocks him again, saying Sigurd was a bad son, and Sigurd calls him a momma's boy. Ivar slings an ax at Sigurd's throat but another blacksmith blocks the blade before it can strike. The blacksmith says no one would guess that they were brothers from the way they act.

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  Sandi: Well . . . I'd have to disagree with the smith, though I honor that craft as a rule. I think brothers act like this a lot. Thing is, Sigurd was ignored by Aslaug compared to Ivar. And Ivar was a "momma's boy". And siblings have been known to throw dangerous weapons at one another. No, really. Happened in my family and we grew up very happy and well-adjusted.

Lissa: In Northumbria, Judith has come home for dinner. Neither of her parents are particularly welcoming. Judith tells them she's come with a warning about the vengeance of Ragnar's sons. Aelle is dismissive. He assures her that Northumbria is prepared for any invasion. Judith gives a humorless laugh and says she doesn't think he realizes how big this incursion might be. 

Mrs. Aelle, a sad and dour woman, covered in a wimple (topped with a ubiquitous crown - in case we forgot, you know, that she's a queen) says to her daughter that they pray every day that she turns away from her sinful affair with Ecbert and returns to her husband as a decent Christian wife. If she doesn't, she'll burn in hell. Judith chortles again and says, “As for you, Father, you may enjoy the erudities of heaven without my discomforting presence, and that of every other woman whose only crime was a desire to be free." In any case, she has something she needs to tell them.

  Sandi: Judith, I believe, is doing two things here. She's actively trying to get her father, a powerful king, to see sense. And she's reminding her family that she's in a position to know what IS sense because of the family she's married into and the man with whom she sleeps. She has no shame for her position as Princess Concubine; she is content with that part of her life, it would seem. As viewers, we tend to have no sympathy for King Aelle (he killed Ragnar!) and that relative apathy extends to Queen WimpleCrown. Her marriage to Aethelwulf would have originally been arranged for just such an exchange of needed political and military information, as well as having an ear in a neighboring court, but it seems that Judith has lost her value in that regard due to her personal choices. Which, honestly, doesn't make a lot of practical sense.



s4-e17-pic-threeLissa: Duke-Viking Rollo is on the ship with Björn's crew. they tell him they can drop him off at home, or he can come back with them to Kattegat. Of course, he'll be killed the second he steps off the ship in Kattegat, so... They head for the port of Frankia and there Rollo extends an offer to his fellow Vikings.

  Sandi: See? He'd really rather NOT go back. But historically, of course, he does, so . . .

Lissa: Any of them who wish to settle in Frankia and farm its rich lands are welcome in his duchy. He tells them that he is now a part of Frankia, and Frankia is now a part of the Viking people. Floki scoffs and tells Rollo that he's no longer one of them. Rollo replies that what they are is changing. Floki is the one who can't accept that. Björn says that once a betrayer, always a betrayer. As Rollo gets off the ship, Floki spits and tells Björn that they should have killed Rollo. He he has a bad feeling that Rollo will achieve more fame than any of them. He's right, to a certain extent. Duke Rollo is remembered as an inportant part of Normandy's history, the founder of a dynasty.

Sandi: Indeed. Rollo was the first Duke of Normandy (b. c. 860, d. c.932) and gave his duchy over to his son William (who greets him in the Frankish harbor) in 927. Though Rollo was baptized as a Christian, he is said to have died a pagan. Though History Channel is not holding true to the historical timeline, they sure seem to have Rollo's character down, yeah?

Lissa: Rollo strides into his hall and finds Gisla with the children. She praises God that he's returned to them and kneels to kiss his hand. She dismisses everyone from the chamber.

  Sandi: All sweetness and light she is in front of the family and any retainers... but then...
Lissa: Gisla whacks Rollo multiple times while cursing him a blue streak in French. Welcome home, honey! But, on the upside, it does appear she's learned a small bit about princessing during his absence. She at least dismissed the witnesses before losing her royal wits.
Sandi: It was quite a horrid display, really. We know she was angry and she certainly has the courage of her convictions, but she really went far beyond the boundaries of her rank and breeding. I don't think, Lissa, that she really ever did learn to princess.

  Lissa: We shift to Wessex, where Ecbert is giving sweet Alfred lessons in... well, books, and drinking and philosophy, I suppose. He starts off by showing Alfred a book written by Gregory the Great (540-604) a pope, saint, and educational philosopher. He urges Alfred to drink more wine, which doesn't sit well with the young man. Ecbert then chuckles and says it was a trick - he was drinking water while urging wine on Alfred.
Sandi: I didn't trust Ecbert during that whole thing. He is corrupt. He will always be corrupt. And he teaches via not-entirely-beneficent means.

  Lissa: It's supposed to be a lesson about keeping one's wits, but it comes off as a somewhat sad call-back to conversations that Ecbert once greatly enjoyed, but now can never have again.
Sandi: Well, yeah, but how much of that is by design, I wonder? Part of me thinks that Ecbert is in no way broken, but he wants folks to think he is diminished, you know?

Lissa: We're back at Ragnar's grave site. The pit is gaping just a bit at the top. Judith peers inside, and asks if this is where Ragnar met his end. Aelle says it is, and Judith declares a monument should be built here, scandalizing her family. Judith rises and warns them again about the danger coming. She turns to her sister and tells her if she cares about the welfare of her soul, she needs to learn to read. She departs, having probably not convinced anyone of anything.

s4-e17-pic-fourSandi: And that, what you said right there, is what has me wondering why she is in there. The crew at No Ship Network have also speculated on Judith's role at this point in the story. Why is she here? What is her purpose?

Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Lagertha is holding court for all of the earls who have gathered with their forces to join the Great Army. She's wearing that awful, awful high collar again. One of the earl's ambassadors presents Lagertha with a sword. He tells her that there were many tiresome poems he's heard detailing her exploits. She smiles and says she wishes she'd been more interesting, and he insists it was the fault of the poets, not her.

sigurd-on-the-strings
  Sandi: We're still griping about her collar. I grant you, the construction of such a collar was not beyond the capabilities of the people of this time and place, but that they would actually make something so intricate, with so much metal involved, that wasn't explicitly battle armor is highly unlikely. Which makes me think that it is possible that Lagertha is indeed armored at all times.

  Lissa: Across the room, Sigurd is regaling the hall with tunes.









Sandi: Had we seen him at all musically oriented before this time? I can't recall.

Lissa: Ubbe strolls through the hall and greets one of the men. The guy doesn't recognize him and asks his name, and as soon as he hears it, his demeanor completely changes. He compliments Ragnar's legacy. Ivar crawls toward him and the men mock him. Ubbe says that's his brother and they should stop laughing if they want to live. He gives Ivar a drink in full view of the hall and they tap cups. Next Ubbe chats with Margrethe. When Lagertha comes up behind him, he gives her a quick kiss. Lagertha tells Ubbe she is a little irked that Ubbe freed her slave without asking, but she doesn't challenge the legitimacy of him doing so.
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  Sandi: That's the competition between them, again. I wonder if Margrethe is part of that interpersonal friction or if Ubbe does have genuine feeling for the girl.

  Lissa: Ubbe retorts that she had no right to kill his mother, and Lagertha replies that was different. Which kinda goes without saying. Murderin' someone ≠ freeing someone else's slave.

  Sandi: Well, yeah. And the constant threat of "We ARE going to avenge our mother" is a repeated reminder of that. But really, Lagertha doesn't have a lot else she can hold up on her end at this juncture. She's on the throne, but the Ragnarssons don't seem enamored of ruling anybody, at this point. All she has is this "You took MY person" thing that she can pretend to be all gracious about. I'm not sure where she's focusing right now. She's got a lot of plates to spin, I think.
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Lissa: Halfdan and Finehair meet an interesting new fellow in Lagertha's hall. Egil, the illegitimate son of an earl, sports a facial scar and is, as Halfdan describes him, "ambitious." And we all know how much trouble ambitious bastards have caused throughout history.

  Sandi: Oh, history is rife with them. William the Conqueror being one notable one that shows up sooner rather than later. William was previously known as William the Bastard and he was a direct descendent of our Duke Rollo, here.

  Lissa: Rachel Tsoumbakos speculated in her recap that this character may be based on Egill Skallagrimsson, who wrote Egil's Saga. He seems to have suffered from Paget's disease, given the description of his physical issues.

  Sandi: I don't know about Paget's disease (not being medically educated) but if his appearance was due to an ailment as opposed to a battle wound, that would definitely affect his character, I think, due to the mores of the day.

  Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan note that they have need of ambitious men if they're to fulfil Finehair's dream of being king of Norway.

  Sandi: Harald is certainly dedicated to this and he's playing the long game, here. Befriending those he'd likely oust given the opportunity, making allies amongst the influential, gathering spies and intelligence. A sound strategy that, it seems, will pay off eventually.

s4-e17-pic-sevenLissa: Ubbe and Ivar decide to move on Lagertha. At a signal, Lagertha's shieldmaidens are all frozen in place with knives at their throats. Ivar makes his way down the hall, driving pikes into the floor to pull himself along toward his target. It's a striking scene. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

  Sandi: That really was highly effective. Twitter buzzed for a moment over that moment. Now, Ivar being developed as "wise" and canny in battle, I am thinking that he knew exactly how he'd sound, bringing himself forward as he did. It was very well done.

  Lissa: Lagertha stares them down without an iota of fear, rising from her throne with lethal grace. She picks up the newly gifted sword to defend herself, but just as the action is about to go down, the door opens and Björn strides inside. He's either gotten wind of the plot, or he's taken appraisal of the situation quickly. He tells his brothers if they're going to kill Lagertha, they'll have to kill him, too.

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  Sandi: The timing, of course, is perfect. Drama, enter the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood character who will save his mother, etc. Björn actually has an odd role in the family and he probably has to weigh all of his actions if he wants to be best understood and—of course—obeyed. He is a son of Ragnar with all that that entails. He is the son of Lagertha the Legendary and though she is capable, he IS her son and thus is bound to defend her. Yet his brothers have a righteous claim of their own against his mother that he can't deny, exactly . . . still, he must defend her, stand beside her, for she is his mum. It can be complicated, being the firstborn.

Lissa: They seem amenable to that notion until Björn mentions they have an invasion looming. Ubbe backs down. Ivar slams his pike into the floor in frustration, but he leaves, too.
Sandi: Complicated. But Björn is not to be gainsaid, here. He's 100% right, and no one can deny it. I imagine, though, that more than one person in the Great Hall was ready to lay odds on the outcome of Lagertha v. Lads.

  Lissa: Soon afterward, we see Björn at the dinner table with Torvi. Torvi complains about something, and Björn loses his temper. He shouts at her that he didn't come back here to be told what to do. He flings his plate off the table and their three children begin screaming hysterically.
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Sandi: This is another one of those scenes that I don't quite get. That Björn is having temper issues, maybe? That all is not sunshine and rainbows in La Casa de Oso? That even Viking kids freak out during a domestic squabble? No clue. With the season having only three more episodes to go, I'm wondering if this unrest portends a break-up of housekeeping, death, or some other tragedy to befall Björn.

Lissa: Ivar is out on the docks looking out at the gathering of ships in the bay. The Great Heathen Army is coming together. This scene, visually, wasn't quite as striking as a quick scene we saw of Kattegat surrounded by tents and campfires, showing the huge number of warriors gathered. Ubbe ruffles his brother's hair and they both look satisfied as they talk about the force they're building.

Sandi: More of the Fraternal Dynamic thing happening here. We see how the men relate as equals. There is no "looking down" at Ivar, for all the difference in height. There is no sense of inadequacy or envy. Just brothers being brothers. There isn't the resentment between these two that there is between Ivar and Sigurd. I wonder how big a role that will play in the future?

  Lissa: Ivar goes to Helga and Floki's house. Helga is trying to feed her Shiny New Kid, but the girl won't open her mouth for the bite of stew Helga offers her.

  Sandi: I have nothing, here. I still don't see the rationale in this either for the writers or for the characters. Floki being an indulgent husband, okay. But he's always loved Helga. Forever. So that's not a big revelation. Plus, the girl is part of the religious system he seemed to find fascinating in the warmer south. Okay. But otherwise? I'm clueless.

  Lissa: Ivar asks who she is and Helga introduces her. Ivar says, "nice new slave," and Helga reacts vehemently. She is not a slave! They're adopting her. "Yeah. Adopting her." Floki says with a shrug and an air of tired resignation. Ivar sticks out his hand and the girl reacts in terror, shrinking back and screaming. Helga hurriedly leads her away.
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Sandi: Can't blame the girl one iota. Not even. That Ivar roused her from her withdrawal may be significant, though.

  Lissa: Ivar tells Floki that he's here for help with something that will allow him to fight. The two of them have great chemistry, giggling like the madmen they are, though Ivar always has that edge of menace.

Sandi: This was cute. Badmouthing each other with apparent derision only to break down into the giggles that Lissa says sound a bit "tetched". Floki did spend a long time teaching Ivar in the younger man's childhood. He was there when Ivar murdered his first innocent and all that. There's a bond.

  Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan meet on top of Lagertha's new fortification. Egil the Bastard is with them. The brothers are a bit nervous about their plans for conquering Kattegat with the fortifications in place, but Egil says a clever leader can always get around walls and barriers. And yes, he is a clever man.

  Sandi: This reinforces Harald's goal of taking over Kattegat and, thus, Norway. It also lets us know that yes, we have a definite alliance happening, here.

  Lissa: Björn heads inside the throne room to talk to his mom, but Lagertha is nowhere to be found. He asks Joan Jett, who is weaving, where Lagertha is, and Joan says Lagertha doesn't tell her everything. As the episode closes, Björn and Joan kiss passionately.

Sandi: We get the lovely view of a drop-weight loom again. Yay, History Channel! But then, we are all . . . WHAT? Okay, so Joan Jett has seemed to have an unusual attitude with some of the men around Lagertha, but this? This seemed to be a kiss between people who'd definitely done that before. Together. And though Björn is bigger and all that, the scene was careful to demonstrate that Joan Jett took the final move to make the kiss actually happen. So, consent is assured. But how long has this been going on?

Lissa: First of all, Björn... Gross. I mean, like, really gross. That's your momma's girl, and she is going to be wicked chapped to have her girlfriend cheating on her with her own baby bear.

  Sandi: But will she? Hard to say with Lagertha. She and Björn have a strong bond that is multilayered and flexible, I think. And Joan Jett hasn't struck any of us as particularly necessary to Lagertha, has she? Great at hand-to-hand combat. Awesome sparring partner. Makes the Lady of Legend smile. But necessary? No.

s4-e17-pic-eleven  Lissa: Floki carries Ivar out to the snowy forest to show him his newest creation. There stands a sleek war chariot. Sort of Romanesque in construction, not what I would expect from Floki's design studio. There isn't even a dragon's head prow mounted on it. I tried to think of where Floki might have seen such a design... one of Athelstan's manuscripts... But I got nuthin'.




Cuinbattle
By Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874 - 1951) [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
Sandi: The war chariot was not unknown in this part of the world. In Ireland, indeed, the Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, rode a chariot into battle.  When I saw the chariot in previews for this show, I thought immediately of the Irish legend, as I'd read it as a little girl and the image stayed with me.

  Lissa: It's been designed with his needs in mind, to hold Ivar upright. Ivar reacts with boyish glee, and after Floki hooks a horse to it, Ivar flies around the roads, cheering and shouting while Floki claps in delight. From behind a tree, Björn watches grimly.



ivar-chariotSandi: Why so grim, Brother Bear? Is he thinking of how dangerous Ivar might truly be once given this era's equivalent of a new car? Perhaps. Perhaps in the future, he and his brother will come to blows over the death of Aslaug and this troubles Björn. Perhaps he is just thinking that no one else has such a cool chariot. I hope we find out 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
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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "Crossings"




“100% more evisceration talk than expected.” 

“These chicks are machines!” 


(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS! And Yes, we did one, too!)
By elithanathile on Tumblr



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


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

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

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

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


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I think we're both still a bit shaken by the last episode and wondering how the show will continue with the loss of such an incredible presence.

Sandi: Perhaps, and I could see that in some of the tone of the commentary last night. There was a lot of humor and poking fun. Like folks do at a wake, in some respects. I don't imagine it was just us, either. 

 We opened with a cold, desolate shot of the place where Ragnar lies, the cage still creaking as it dangles from the trees.

Sandi: An appropriate opening, I feel, as we move on from where we were last week to the new directions and foci of this week. The cage is there, a visible reminder and, if I may say it, grave/site marker, after a fashion, for Ragnar's final resting place. His death has placed an onus on his sons, left feelings behind in his ex-wife, and renewed ambition in a man who would take his place. 

In Kattegat, Lagertha can't believe Ragnar is dead. She insists to Joan Jett that Ivar didn't actually see him die, and so it's possible he's still alive. But all she can do is continue to rule. She tells Joan Jett that Ragnar hated ruling - it might have been what killed him. And that seems to be true, or at least what drove him to abdicate his responsibilities for so long. Ragnar was a warrior, one who fought until he found himself at the top, and at the top when there were no more enemies to battle, he didn't quite know what to do with himself. That's why all of his happy memories were of simpler times when he was raiding and fighting, and living the simple life of a farmer.

Lagertha says Ragnar is watching her, and so are all of the men and women who have fought at her side. She cannot let them down. How would she explain herself to them in Valhalla?

Sandi: This is so true. Not all leaders of men in battle can lead others in peace or in civil manners. In Éire's Devil King, Tuirgeis (the first Norse high king of Ireland) has to learn that conquering a village is a far different thing from ruling a people. Ragnar's backside was less suited to that wooden throne than it was to riding a horse or sailing in a skipniu. 

We next go to Wessex, where King Ecbert is dining with his son and Judith. Aethelwulf tells his father it was a mistake to release Ivar.

Sandi: It's interesting, to me, to see the lessening of pomp and circumstance in this scene. The room is dark. There are few servants. Burger King is looking far less self-aware than normal... We discussed a bit about this on twitter and one theory is that Ecbert is in mourning for Ragnar and has had a shift in self-perception as a result.

Judith primly tells Athelwulf he shouldn't contradict his father's judgment like that. She puts a hand over Ecbert's and says she trusts him and believes in him. Ecbert tells Aethelwulf he's right to worry about Ragnar's sons taking revenge, and in fact, Aethelwulf is just the guy who should go meet this challenge head-on and fight for his Christian homeland.

Aethelwulf asks what his dad is going to be doing in the meantime, and Ecbert says he's going to stay put, teaching Alfred how to govern.

Sandi: Because of course, King Ecbert is still obsessing over Athelstan, though he, too, is gone from the world. This devotion to dead men is eerie, as is Ecbert's overall demeanor. Linus Roache plays him brilliantly. I felt rather bad for Judith, though. She has long since learned who butters her bread, and she goes out of her way to verbally support her father-in-law/lover against her husband (which is all kinds of weird to type, by the way) and is verbally shunted aside even so. So she gets nothing from her input. Is this to show us that Judith is still trying to figure out the power dynamic or that Ecbert is clearly changing in some manner?  

Ubbe and Sigurd are bathing in the river as Ivar... watches from the bank. Seriously, he looks uber-creepy lurking up there, cloaked in black, staring at his bathing brothers.

Sandi: Ivar really is a creepy stalker kind of guy. He needs to develop a spy network. He could use, for example, a good Thomas Cromwell. (Don't shoot me, Lissa!) 

The two in the water are discussing what to do about their father and mother.
Ubbe says that if Lagertha isn't going to kill them, they can take their revenge later., when the right opportunity presents itself But what to do about controlling Ivar, who might decide to strike before the time is right?

Sandi: Ubbe is not now the great adventurer in this story. He's the farmer. The elder brother. The one who feels the responsibility to keep tabs on everyone. He has his more violent/passionate moments, but I see him as wanting to establish a peaceful existence for himself and his brothers, and to keep his status in the process. So controlling Ivar's more violent/rash tendencies would feel like it was in his purview, I think. Ubbe seems, for all his conventionalities, to acknowledge Ivar's more volatile qualities. 

On the hill above Kattegat, Ivar sits on a rock and weeps. He throws back his head and screams in grief and rage at the sky.

We soon see him at a blacksmith's forge, making a weapon.

Sandi: It's interesting to see Ivar and all the skills he has acquired, for all he is disabled. It's a positive to see that he's been persistent and encouraged to excel. I imagine it startles the locals, too. After all, he was exposed at birth and has nevertheless managed to make a name for himself, even if he has mobility issues. I wonder if his very life will have a longterm effect on his people? 

 Lagertha enters the hall to thunderous applause and takes a seat in her throne.

Sandi: She certainly has a way. I think she's come to wear a leadership mantle like a heavy cloak over the time jump. She wears it ponderously, I think, though she continues to command the room. 

Her owl is on a perch right beside it, and the throne room has been re-designed to have a pattern of carved wood stakes in the shape of spread wings behind it. Her banners hang from the ceiling.

Sandi: She has certainly made her mark.  This woman is quite a far cry from the younger farmer's wife and mom—and legendary shieldmaiden!—we met in the first season. The weight of her words is apparent to others as well as to herself. 

She tells the gathered people that they've suffered too long without a real ruler. Her first plan of action is to fortify Kattegat, lest someone become jealous of their prosperous little city and try to take it. She asks the people if they consent, and they all shout "Aye!" in response.

Sandi: She is clearly taking the reins, making commentary as to her superiority over the "prior administration" and showing the people that she can be a good and fair leader. Taking the throne should, in effect, make her a queen of her people. None of Ragnar's sons have claimed leadership for themselves.  

 Ivar speaks up from a chair at the front of the room. He demands justice, for Lagertha killed his mother in cold blood for no reason.

Sandi: Well, he says for no reason, here, and for all administrative purposes this is so. But I'm pretty sure Ivar knows the backstories. That he's confronting her in front of everyone is pretty brave of him; Lagertha is popular and her actions were not vilified by their community. 

Ubbe tries to stop him, but Ivar brushes him aside. He challenges her to single combat.

 Lagertha says that Ubbe perhaps understands the situation a bit better than Ivar does. Lagertha is gentle in her refusal, but she says she doesn't want to kill Ivar, and will not fight him.

 Ivar tells her that one day, he will kill her. Her fate is sealed.



Sandi: For the record, the picture to the left does a great job showcasing the differences in the Great Hall. The wings behind the throne, the new red-V shields held by the shieldmaidens, the open floor. Also visible is the wear of years; reminders of a the time that has passed in this hall. 

Björn's ships are becalmed in a fog, and the Vikings are muttering. Björn keeps checking his scrap of map. (Perhaps he should have brought the bigger one that Rollo showed him back in France. Just sayin'.) Anyway, he's not exactly sure where they are.

Sandi: Even the greatest navigators have their off days... 

Halfdan says he wonders if Björn is cursed like his father. Harald tells him that one day, he must overthrow the Ragnarssons (he calls them the Lothbrooks, but that's not how they would have been known.) How else can he fulfill his destiny to become King of Norway?

Halfdan says perhaps the time is now, but Harald prefers to wait for a sign from the gods. He says the gods love them.

Sandi: These guys are either doubting or nearly fanboying over someone. Halfdan is giving the impression of being the less restrained, Harald is more level-headed. Which is good, considering he will historically be king one day. 

 Helga asks Floki if he thinks they're lost, and Floki takes this as an opening for an existential monologue.

He feels lost, himself.  “I no longer know who I am. Why I am here? What is my purpose? ... I feel like an empty vessel. I’m all alone. I need something to fill me up.”

D Donuts speculated last night that perhaps Floki somehow sensed Ragnar's death.

Sandi: I believe he did sense it. I was rather surprised by this turn in Floki's expressed consciousness, because he's always relied on the gods, promoting their authority over everything, even when others were not as on board with them as he was. 

Helga recalls an illness she had a while back which was so severe she thought she was going to die and it made her think about what she wants out of life. She wants to have another baby, but Floki refuses.

Sandi: Now, the man who says and believes in the inevitability of Fate would not be inclined to kick up a fuss, here. The man who is conflicted about what the world will present, though, is. So it is possible that it isn't just Ecbert who was thrown by the death of Ragnar, but also Floki and everyone else so closely connected to Ragnar. Helga's wish, after all, is perfectly natural in the scheme of things, even if she is "getting up there" in terms of reproductive lifespan for her time. 

 Rollo is also on the ship, wearing a sleeveless leather tunic, and those guns are lookin' fiiiiiine.










Sandi: Yeah, I confess, it was nice to see Rollo looking all Viking again. Especially after his stint of keelhauling. As he told his wife, he is Viking. It's his heart, his soul. Rollo is the First Duke of Normandy, but he's also an adventurer, a warrior, and that was quite evident in the episode. 

In Kattegat, Lagertha is getting ready for bed, unbraiding her hair.

Joan Jett asks her if she thinks Ragnar's sons will try to kill Lagertha and vows that she won't let it happen. She will protect Lagertha. Lagertha replies that if the boys are determined to kill her, there's no way to stop them. She lies back on the bed and tells Joan Jett that she used to sleep in this very bed with Ragnar. She is home.


Sandi: I'm really not buying into the Joan Jett character, though it's been a few episodes that she's been around. Is she there for Lagertha to have a sounding board for character building purposes? She's good with hand-to-hand combat, but Lagertha has a phalanx of shieldmaidens and a highly trained army of her own; why the bodyguard? Is it to give Lagertha an expression of sexual freedom for the series? I'm still shaking my head. I do hope there is a plot-significant reason for Joan Jett to be lurking about as she is.  

 Meanwhile, Ivar is still pounding away at the blacksmith's forge. He has a fantasy about approaching Lagertha and sticking a knife in her eye.

Sandi: Okay, the way this was shown? Scary and awesome in the way the knife is imagined bending Lagertha's cornea. It is, of course, a fantasy, but wow. Nice cinematography in such a tight focus. The fantasy is indicative of Ivar's frame of mind, certainly, but he is not in a position at that moment to enact it. I am wondering if he'll have to work on his stalking to get her alone to attempt to avenge his mother's death. 

Outside, Ubbe runs into Margrethe and asks how she's doing. Margrethe asks him where Ivar is and Ubbe tells her not to worry about that. Ivar has other things on his mind. Other chicks to murder. That sort of thing. Margrethe apologizes for tricking him into going to Hedeby, however the hell that happened, and Ubbe says not to worry about that, either. He has bigger betrayals to worry about. Margrethe says she has to get back to work, and Ubbe tells her he needs to see her again.

Sandi: Back to Ubbe-the-homebody, here. He seems—as Björn was before him—to be perhaps inappropriately attached to a slave girl. A pretty one, true, but one who is known and well known by his brothers. Is he just seeking to have her warm his bed again or is he wanting something more? And yes, Margrethe is a slave, but she was not Lagertha's slave; she was Aslaug's—or the slave of Aslaug's family, including the sons of Ragnar. That Margrethe was co-opted to serve to the detriment of her owners would not reflect well on her, no matter how many other betrayals are worrying Ubbe. 

The Spanish coast appears and the Vikings land at Algeciras. That night, they invade, crushing aside the small fishing boats as they pull up to the docks. Inside the city walls, a market is being held. At night.
Sandi: The Spanish coast—and rich Moorish resources—were not unknown to the Vikings as they raided and traded during this time. Slaves could be traded for rare spices, gold for fabrics and other items that would have been treasured in the northern climates. In addition, slaves could and were acquired in these stopovers. Sometimes, the Vikings had civil trading encounters, but not always. 

But anyway... In they go, slaying the mostly unarmed men as they pass through.

Helga pauses to sniff an orange. The Halfdan/Finehair duo do some fancy slaughterin' and leave a young girl an orphan. But they don't try to harm her. Helga spots the girl as she turns and runs off, and gives chase.

Sandi: That Harald and his brother do not violate the nubile women surprised me. Their prior behavior seems to indicate that such restraint is not their norm. I am thinking that Hirst is doing a nice job of characterization for the future King of Norway, here. 

Floki hears the call to prayer and he stops in his tracks, tilting his head as he drinks in the sound. He looks up and sees the roof of the mosque and heads toward it.

Sandi: And here is where we see Floki's perspective shift a bit more. He's moving, physically and perhaps metaphorically, away from the beliefs he's held closest since his youth.




 When he finds the door where the chant is coming from, he picks the lock and slips inside.

Sandi: When he and the younger Ragnar raided monasteries years before, there was none of this skulking about. Floki believed the right of conquest was his, under the eye of Odin the All Father. So seeing him acting in such a different way was surprising. 

 The young girl is still fleeing from Helga. She pounds on the door of a building and they admit her, shutting it firmly behind her. Helga pounds on it, but they don't open it for her. And there's Helga without an ax or anything.

Sandi: One doesn't customarily bring an axe to an adoption interview, Lissa... So, I'm guessing that the girl told those who brought her out of danger that she was being chased by a Northman and they didn't let Helga in. I am not sure why Helga is suddenly fixated on adopting a girl utterly out of their culture, unless she's kind of losing it somewhere. It happens. 

Floki enters the mosque and watches the worshipers. They don't pause in their prayers as he wanders around the edges of the room. He reaches the front of it and looks around, trying to spot the god they're worshiping. He touches the wall the praying men are facing as if it may give answers to this puzzling mystery.

Halfdan and Finehair enter and ask him what he's doing. What is this place? Floki tells them it's a temple. One of the brothers says the noise of the prayers is annoying and decapitates the imam. Floki immediately stops him from slaying any more of the worshipers, "No more killing. Not in here, not in this place. I forbid it. If you want to kill these people, you have to kill me first." The brothers exchange a look, but decide to leave.

Sandi: Was I the only one gaping at the screen when this happened? Again, we see the character shift in Floki. This is the same man that was all for using a priest for target practice, once upon a time. And now, he's all "No Killing, I Mean It!" What's more, Harald heeded him and directed his men to do so as well. So this is setting up an interesting dynamic that I wonder how Hirst will develop in the future.  

 The Vikings catch up with Helga, lingering by the door as though she's waiting to sell Girl Scout Cookies. They bash the door down and she runs inside, still hunting for the little girl. We see flashes of the child as she ducks behind pillars and furniture.

Björn has a moment where he turns and is startled by his own reflection on a mirror-covered wall. As I said last night, the Moors had mirrors, but they were small and expensive in this era. No one was using them for wallpaper.

Sandi: The reception to Helga's sudden, passionate daughter-hunt was mixed, online. Some felt sorry for her, others felt that this was a cheap excuse for drama—linking a female character's motivations to her womb (or children or lack thereof). 

And our #BootSoleFile got to add the tall mirrors. It is conjectured that glass mirrors weren't made until the 12th or 13th Century. Though mirrors have been around for thousands of years, they were often created from highly polished ground stone, ceramic, and bronze or copper. Glass mirrors would have been largely made from volcanic glass, or obsidian. Certainly not conventional mirrors as we have in our times. 

The Vikings find the corpse of a man who killed himself, apparently by sticking a pin or a very thin dagger through his heart. Rollo searches him and finds a key.

Inside of the locked room, the women of the house are hiding.



Rollo looks at them, exchanges a look with Hvitserk, his brows arched and a small smile tugging his lips. [MY KINGDOM FOR A GIF OF THIS!!!]





Sandi: That man. *laughing* I don't see Rollo promoting rapine, here, but I think he was exchanging a moment of appreciation with his nephew, nothing more. 

In Kattegat, Lagertha awakes to a sound. She calls out to ask who it is. Beside her, Joan Jett snoozes on. In a previous scene, she had vowed to Lagertha that she wold protect her from the Ragnarssons. So much for this perky little bodyguard. Sleeps like the dead, apparently. She doesn't even wake as Lagertha gets out of the bed to go track down the source of the noise.


It's Ragnar's ghost, lingering in the shadows.

Tears roll down Lagertha's cheeks as she tells him to enjoy Valhalla, because he has earned it, but begs him to haunt her, not to leave her.

 He fades away as she calls his name.

Sandi: I did a bit of research regarding the Vikings and ghosts. There are a few different varieties, from the aptrganger—the "walker again"—who had a more physical aspect to it, to the Einherjar, who were considered the noble dead and were gathered by Odin or the Valkyries for future heavenly battles. I think that Ragnar would be seen as one of the Einherjar, here, if he manifested at all outside of Lagertha's sleeping desire for him. 

 She goes to see the Seer the next day. He tells her that he saw Ragnar on his way to Valhalla, and Ragnar was happy. Lagertha gets right to the point.

 She asks if she will be killed by a son of Ragnar, and the Seer says, "Yes."

Sandi: Lagertha is awfully pushy on this topic; we know she's asked the Seer about her death before. I was intrigued to hear that the Seer said he saw Ragnar on his way to Valhalla. Whether he is saying so to comfort the reigning queen of Kattegat or because it was truth, I couldn't tell you. 




The Vikings are singing as they lead away a line of captives and carry off their loot. Helga finally spots the little girl and pulls her out of the group, into her arms. She tells the crying, struggling child that she's safe now, words the little girl doesn't understand.

Floki asks her what she's doing and Helga says she wants to keep the girl. She is around the same age as their Angrboða would be. Floki argues with her, telling her the girl has to stay here, but Helga insists she's keeping her.






Sandi: This was . . . a mess, in my opinion. Now, if they've got a purpose for this fish-out-of-water-addition in terms of the story? Fine. But if she's there just to give a focus to Helga's yearning for motherhood? I'm not on board. 

I wasn't the only one who didn't like this scene. I was all for Helga and Floki having another baby together, but this just seems ... unhinged. "Let's have another baby! Or, I'll just grab the next one I see. No diff." And Helga has always been the sane one in their relationship. She has gone through terrible grief and suffering, but she doesn't seem the type to decide that a "replacement Angrboða" will do. The Vikings commonly took slaves, and yes, in the 9th century, adoption was also common, but the way it's presented is as though Helga is so mad for a baby she'll stuff this struggling, terrified child into her household whether the girl likes it or not.

The next day, the Ragnarssons, Halfdan, Finehair, and Rollo stand on a cliff overlooking the sea.  Mind you, this is the southern coast of Spain, and they're all dressed in long, furred cloaks. (This week, the weather in Algeciras will be in the 60s, and it's January.) SMH.

Sandi: Hey, they all looked awesome *grin* It was interesting to see the line-up, here. You've got Ragnar's brother, Ragnar's son by Lagertha, another son of Ragnar by Aslaug, and the man who would take over Ragnar's kingdom. All lined up and grinning at the Med. It's a nice picture. With or without fur. 

Let's have a choke-chat, son."
 Anyway, Björn says to his brother that they've now traveled further than their father ever imagined. Harald says it's beautiful. Björn and Hvitserk see a large flock of ravens, and hear their father's words about how the young pigs would squeal if they knew how the old boar suffered.

Björn asks his brother if he heard it, and Hvitserk replies that he did.

Sandi: Yep, Ragnar's words have traveled far indeed. It's interesting how the supernatural comes into subtle and not-so-subtle play at this point in the episode. 

Ivar is still working at the forge. The Odin-man appears and tells Ivar that his father was killed by serpents and now lies in the cold ground.

Sandi: History Channel apparently says this is Odin.


Ubbe sees him next. When he goes to see Sigurd, he can tell by the look on his face that Sigurd already knows. There is a last image of rolling storm clouds as we hear Ragnar's final words about going to Valhalla.



Sandi: As the first post-Ragnar episode, I think this was a good one. We get to see his sons moving on in their various places, we see a new throne design, continuing alliances, a new body of water, and so on. It was a time of Crossings, as the episode title indicates. I look forward to next week. 

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

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

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

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