On Walden Pond... or in the Woods of Ohio. Same Thing, Really

While waiting for the second round of edits to come back on my new book in the End of All Things series, I've been going on frequent hikes in Ohio state parks. Not that I'm any sort of rugged outdoorswoman. I stick to the easier trails. But the thing about Ohio... It's hilly. And you don't think about how hilly it is until you find yourself huffing up some of those trails. But they often lead you to some stunning views.


A photo posted by Lissa Bryan (@lissabryan) on


I'd forgotten how restoring to the soul the woods can be. Only once I was hearing the soft crunch of leaf litter beneath my shoes and breathing in the green-scented breeze did my mind say, "Ah yes, I remember this!"


A photo posted by Lissa Bryan (@lissabryan) on



When I was a child, I spent many hours alone in the woods. There was a tiny creek I used to dutifully clear its little waterfalls of leaves, convinced I was helping it in some way.

One of my favorite places to go was deep in the woods where a massive oak tree stood. I've seen far bigger trees now as an adult, including California's famous redwoods, but as a kid, it was the most massive tree I'd ever seen, and every time I see a Tree of Life emblem, I think of it, and wonder if it's still there.

I found the woods a comforting place, as I do now.


A photo posted by Lissa Bryan (@lissabryan) on

It's funny. My main character in the next books spends the majority of her time in the woods, but I hadn't really gone back there myself in years. My life is in more urban environs now, and my increasingly reclusive nature keeps me in my "writer cave" more and more. I wrote it all from memory, what the woods of Appalachia are like.

I wish I'd gone back sooner. I needed this, and I didn't even know it. StumbleUpon Share on Tumblr

The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "The Last Ship"

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

(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS!)

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


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


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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.

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 bother. 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.” 


Courtesy of xdambe on Tumblr


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. 

 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.​ But it is odd that she is giving the Virgin Mary something Gisla herself would see as "pagan" in origin.​

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.” 


Courtesy of xdambe on Tumblr

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.

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.

Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr

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. 

 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.

Chuck orders desert, 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

We see Halfdan take an arrow.

Courtesy of xdambe on Tumblr


Floki is stabbed in the side as the Seer in Kattegat lets out a roar of agony.
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.

We see Lagertha battling, using her shield as a shieldmaiden would have, using it as an edged weapon and as a block.

Courtesy of lagerthalothbrok on Tumblr


It was a delightful little historical touch in an episode that - frankly - didn't have many.
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.


Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr
Sandi: I think that's a fair assessment. And many kudos to you, ma'am, for going all Norse! 

"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.

Courtesy of sylviebret on Tumblr


(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.

Courtesy of xdambe on Tumblr

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. 

Lagertha's injury 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.

Rollo returns to Paris and he's cheered as soon as he stumbles off of his horse to stagger down the street.

Courtesy of ladyofglencairn on Tumblr


The people clap and scream his name, and some rather insensitive types slap the injured man on the back.
Courtesy of ladyofglencairn on Tumblr
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. 

Gisla runs down to greet him, kissing his bloodied mouth passionately.

Courtesy of ladyofglencairn on Tumblr


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.

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

Chuck crowns him with a golden laurel and proclaims him Caesar.
Courtesy of ladyofglencairn on Tumblr

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.

... And then...

. . . Yeah . . . 

 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.

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

Courtesy of bjorkstark on Tumblr

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! 

 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.

Courtesy of sikanapanele on Tumblr


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.

 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.

Courtesy of vikingshistory on Tumblr


Sandi: 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.  


 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. 


 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.

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But despite everything, Ragnar is still his father, and he loves him.
But the boys' conversation is enlightening in one respect.
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.

Courtesy of johnwgrey on Tumblr


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. 

Björn goes to talk to Floki. He and Helga are at the water's edge, sailing model ships.

Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr


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.

Courtesy of sikanapanele on Tumblr

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. 

Courtesy of sikanapanele on Tumblr


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.

Sandi: 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.

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.

Courtesy of jorindelle on Tumblr


 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. 

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.

Courtesy of yeahthatotheronewhatshername on Tumblr
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. 

 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.  

 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.

Courtesy of wightcoyote on Tumblr
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.  

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." 


They're really going to leave it like that?
Courtesy of rebloggy

Sandi: 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?  



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'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.

Courtesy of sylviebret on Tumblr


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

 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.


Courtesy of The Mary Sue
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. ;-) 


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Thanks for joining us! Join us again when Vikings returns this fall!

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 of #VIKINGS "Death All Round"

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

(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS!)

By elithanathile on Tumblr



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


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


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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. 

 We began with wonderful scenes of the Vikings porting the boats over land, 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.

Courtesy of historyvikings on tumblr


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.

Courtesy of mcnieves on Tumblr
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. 

 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.  

 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.

Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr


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. 

 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. 

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.

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. Athelwulf 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?

Sandi: 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!) 

 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 the Vikings were thought of by Christians as a scourge of God, a punishment for their sins. 

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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.  

 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. 

 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.

Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr

 The bishop anoints Ecbert's head with oil and proclaims the kingdoms are forever and indissolubly 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!  

 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.

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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.

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. 

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But very quickly Lagretha 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. 

 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.

Courtesy of vikingssource on Tumblr

Sandi: 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?

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.
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. 

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.

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. ;-) 

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.

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She tells him he cannot have carnal relations with her while she's in this sacred state.
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!"

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.) 

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. 

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?​

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. 

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?) 

 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 her namesake.

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. 


 Sigurd comes forward and announces he found Siggy's body.

Courtesy of ivarlothbrok on Tumblr


 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.

Here'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.

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. 

Courtesy of ivarlothbrok on Tumblr
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 all 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. 

 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". 

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.

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.

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.  

 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. 

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. 

 Björn is focused instead on his father's illness. He asks, rather naively, 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.
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. 

 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. 

 On the prow, Ragnar mutters about Rollo. "I must kill you. I have to kill you. I will kill you."

Sandi: And next week, this confrontation might very well happen.  
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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next THORSday 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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