Two Historical Fiction Authors Review #VIKINGS Episode VII
All images from VIKINGS are the property of History Channel and are used solely for illustrative purposes.
I'm out of town this week, so special thanks to Sandi for allowing me to copy her post for my blog.
After seeing some great images on twitter and hearing things like "Unbelievable episode" and "my favorite episode" from the History Channel and Clive Standen, who plays Rollo in the show, Lissa Bryan and I were primed for a night of amazing Vikings awesomeness. Let me say thank you, here, to Lissa (author of Under These Restless Skies - prime reading for anyone interested in the court of England's Henry VIII) for her broad knowledge of the legends and sagas, and to the History Channel for their quality presentation AND for being willing to interact with us on twitter on occasion. :) As is the usual, Lissa's comments will appear in purple, below. :)
Lissa:I seem to be saying this every week, but what an episode! Two weddings, a betrayal, a ruse, and a removal of internal organs. The cinematography was gorgeous, striking a great contrast with the brutality.
Sandi: The tension before the episode was–for me—at an all-time high. The producers of VIKINGS really know their stuff. Floki and Helga are expecting, though poor Floki is frightened about what sort of father he'll be. Despite his madness and fanaticism, I think he'll be an excellent father. He has a lot of love in him. That's one of the reasons why I was surprised when Floki didn't want Ragnar at his wedding.
Floki's character has been morphing in the last couple of episodes, but here we see him presenting his inner thoughts, insofar as he is able. Helga is his long-time companion and the mother of his unborn child. He loves her and shares his heart with her, even though it is clear she has misgivings about some of those feelings. She supports him unstintingly, however, and one can only be glad of their marriage and upcoming "event". Floki felt shunted aside with the increase of Athelstan's importance to Ragnar for one thing, and for the other, it is as Floki said: Ragnar is the jarl. Everything is his, now, in a way. It's an odd position for a friend to be in, and Floki seems to be uncomfortable and unhappy in it.
Frustrating moment between Ragnar and Björn... Ragnar asks Björn where he was the night Rollo attacked Horik's men, and Björn says he was with Porunn. Which makes me wonder ... If Björn didn't know about the raid, why had he brought her to his room? Obviously, he knew there was something happening at the barn. He didn't bring her there to seduce her. But then he complains to his father about Ragnar not telling him about the attack. After Björn confesses they couldn't find him because he was with Porunn, Ragnar says Björn chose her over his father, which was completely unfair. As you said, he's struggled with his personal relationships before, but Björn showed a lot of maturity and respect by not lashing out at his father for the unjust accusation.
Björn has had an interesting life so far. I think he's seen a lot, observed a great deal, and has learned thereby. Figure that he's spent the last few years with Lagertha as his main focus and you can see where he might have absorbed wisdom and canny patience. I was, admittedly, glad to find out that he hadn't had inside information on the wreaking of vengeance against Jarl Borg and his men from the prior episode - he had seemed so innocent of it that to know he'd been aware of what was to come would have been hard. Even though, here, he wants to be included in Ragnar's planning. This seems very in character for a Northman of his time.
Aslaug has an odd moment, too, when she tells Siggy that she had tried to refuse her bed to Ragnar and warned him if he had sex with her while she was already pregnant, their son would be deformed. The Christian belief during the time was that sex should only be for procreative purposes and it was actually medically dangerous for a pregnant woman, but I didn't believe the Vikings had the same notions. Have you encountered anything like that in your research?
I haven't, no. Men and women in this culture enjoyed sex and expected their partner to enjoy it, too. The only real stigma was if a woman had children by a man not her husband. If she avoided pregnancy, that was good. [Men, though, would customarily pay a small fee if found to be sleeping with another man's wife.] I am thinking that for Aslaug, in this episode, her warning may have been either a manifestation of her völva's gift or a wish to wield her only really effective weapon between them: sex.
There's a tale in the old legends that Aslaug refused him access to her bed immediately after their marriage by telling him they had to wait for three days lest their child be deformed, but he insisted. Their firstborn was thus "Ivar the Boneless."
Someday, I need to read these legends! So was Ivar deformed, then? Or was it a failure of character?
Horik gives Jarl Borg hope ... He tells him he will kill Ragnar and release Borg from his fetid prison cell.
Horik, Horik. In my research, he was King of the Danes. He wielded great authority. You have told me that he was thought to be eccentric (is that being polite?) by his contemporaries. Here, we see a man who has no scruples in turning one ally against another and lying if it got him his own way. And let us not forget arranging to watch his mistress have sex with his son. One cannot trust a thing Horik says; I wonder how this distrust will play out during the rest of this season. Speaking of distrust... What about Rollo and Siggy? That he confronted her in bed was outstanding. Did she really alleviate his concerns about her having sex with Horik "for you, Rollo!" or is he just pretending? Like his brother Ragnar, Rollo can play a deep game.
We see two weddings: a Christian ceremony and the wedding of Helga and Floki. The show delighted me once more in this respect.
You were swooning on twitter. :)
There isn't a lot of specific information on Viking wedding ceremonies... Just a few details mentioned here and there in the sagas.
One site that has some good information that I have found is from the Viking Answer Lady. Click here for her information on weddings and customs associated with marriage and divorce. One of them mentions retrieving a sword from the graves of an ancestor for the ceremony, and the bride giving the groom a new sword as a gift. (Now, how often these things were done in practice is a different matter, of course... It would be sort of like a culture a thousand years from now teaching about our wedding customs by watching soap operas and romantic comedies.) The rings, though, I thought were exchanged on the pommel of the sword, not the tip, indicating protection of the bride. Still, it delighted my geeky little heart to see how much effort they'd put into the details. I wish they would have shown us the week-long feast, and the bride's morning gift.
In Éire's Captive Moon, Agnarr and his mother, Gerda, have a discussion about retrieving Agnarr's father's sword. It was considered a big deal, from what I've read. But swords were rare - very rare - so I imagine that producing one at a wedding would have been like showing off hidden treasure. A measure of wealth and status. And I wonder if Floki would have given Helga a morning gift at this juncture? They've been cohabitating for a long time - it is possible he made that symbolic "payment for her virginity" years past.
And Ragnar, all alone in the hall, playing William Tell with one of his buddies while everyone else in Kattegat is at the wedding. He's as drunk as a lord, as they say, but the show didn't give us any other indication of how he felt to be left out of Floki's celebration. He's interrupted to be informed that a new earl has arrived, a new ally ... Who turns out to be Earl Lagertha.
Oh, that scene really did strike me, too. Ragnar alone and three sheets to the wind. But, I do give him credit for accepting that he was not included and not forcing his way into Floki's day. As Jarl, he could have done so without any major negative consequences. And then...! The strangely awkward messenger with the news about the new jarl in the woods! That was awesome. I actually bounced in my chair at home to see the new jarl. :) Lagertha did it brilliantly, in my estimation, and I was (again) all kinds of impressed with her.
I was reading over the last week about Viking divorce customs. It said that if a man slapped his wife in public, she was entitled to be paid a fine equal to what he would have received if another man had struck him, and if he did it three times, she could divorce him, and claim a hefty portion of his goods, on top of the fine. Is that what Lagertha was waiting for? That third public slap before she left him for good? But then his humiliation of her caused her to snap?
That is very possible. The beating his men gave her was given in private so that didn't count, but it is possible that she was waiting for that. It'd be nice to know for certain what the writers were thinking in their unseen backstory. (Any cut scenes from that one, I wonder?)
Princess Aslaug has a chat with Ragnar while they watch Lagertha training with the men in the courtyard. She says she wishes she was like Lagertha. It's like we discussed last week... she yearns for that respect. She is a wonderful home maker, but her blood is that of warriors. Had her childhood been different, she might have been the stuff of legends, but it doesn't seem like the show is going to get into her background. Which is very sad, because it would explain a lot about her insecurities.
Unless those insecurities play a part in the plot, it is unlikely that the next three episodes will shed much light on her background, true. I did think it was game of her to say nice things about Lagertha. She has to know that the only reason she is with Ragnar is because he got her pregnant. They have built a relationship over the years, true, but if she'd been just a roll in the hay while Ragnar was raiding, Lagertha would still be Ragnar's wife, in all likelihood. Though she would have missed some great opportunities and he would have been morose without a building baseball team of sons.
Jarl Borg is woken when his cell door opens. Freedom! He snatches up his wife's skull and runs out the door ... only to find everyone out there waiting to watch his execution.
That was such a mean psych-out. I felt for him, but he handled it with extreme grace, I think, all things considered.
Borg sets down the skull and gives it one last caress before tossing off his cape with a lift of his chin, as though to say, "Let's do this thing." The scene was both horrifying and gorgeous... Filmed in warm, flickering firelight with beautiful shadows, but even the Vikings were gasping and cringing at the spectacle.
The handling of that whole sequence was phenomenal. Blood had to be shown, and it was, sure. But the focus was on the faces, as it had to be. Ragnar's expression of avid attention, almost, as he drew the first lines on Borg's back. Borg's face as he went from focusing on handling the pain to just keeping himself from screaming. Some of the onlookers were clearly horrified or sickened while others watched with a distance clear on their faces.
Ragnar showed his victim respect. When Borg's arm fell from the supports and he nearly broke beneath the agony, Ragnar paused to come around to look into his eyes. He gently lifted his arm back into place and gripped his shoulder as if to give Borg encouragement and strength. Borg earned his place in Valhalla.