|This and all images from Vikings are the property of the History Channel. I use them only for illustrations regarding their show.|
The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our review series on the History Channel show Vikings.
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 King, here.)
Lissa: The show did not disappoint with its season opener, that's for sure. We saw Ragnar riding in a valley below the mountains, and I got excited. Ragnar has recovered!
Sandi: I got excited, too! I was thinking, "Wow! This must mean Ragnar's back on track. Dying? Who says?" But alas...!
Lissa: Tricksy Hobbitses, these show producers! We soon discovered it was a dream, and Ragnar was approaching the door to Valhalla.
And it was beautiful. A glowing hall of the fathers.
Lissa: But it slowly begins to close. Ragnar runs as fast as he can, but the doors shut before he can reach it. He falls on his knees and roars in despair.
Sandi: It was a good dream, for us as well as for Ragnar, though we would have been saddened to see him enter Valhalla in the first minutes of the new season.
Lissa: Interspersed with Ragnar's dream, we saw Aslaug approach the Seer in the forest where he was picking... something from the soil. Lissa thought it was worms, but I thought mushrooms. Aslaug asked him if a woman would rule Kattegat after the death of Ragnar, and the Seer confirmed it was something he had seen in his visions, but he refused to answer her question as to whether that woman would be her.
Sandi: During this whole exchange —alternating, remember, with Ragnar's supposed dying thing—I was struck by the hardness Aslaug displayed. I know she's spent a very long time as a disappointed woman, but really, she's a queen (and she's done a great job at that in recent times) and her position would traditionally have been dictated by her spouse. That her concern is now Kattegat is a lessening of her sphere. But she is deeming it of great import. And why did she seek the Seer outside of his domain?
Lissa: We saw Ragnar's children greet Björn, including little Ivar the Boneless, from his chair.
Sandi: Wasn't it a wagon? It looked like an early rendition of a Radio Flyer. Wheels keep him mobile!
Lissa: Despite the apparent weakness in his legs, Ivar is a fierce little fellow. It appears several years have passed during the Paris raids, because the children are about four years older.
Sandi: I'm still trying to figure out what year this is on the show. If I remember correctly, the first episode of the first season began in AD 792. Björn was fourteen at that time, and now he's a daddy with a girl who looks to be maybe two or three years of age.
Lissa: Björn is affectionate with his little brothers, but doesn't spend time with his daughter, Siggy.
Sandi: This was so sad, to me. Remember when Siggy was born? He was in awe of his little girl. Now he seems to be blaming her for Þorunn's disappearance.
Lissa: Floki goes into Ragnar's room and lays some bones with runes carved on them beside the unconcious king. He says he hopes the runes will heal him. It's the Viking version of a "Get Well Soon!" card. Floki cares enough to send the very best.
Sandi: Are these the runes that he lamented having carved, later in his conversation with Helga? I think they might be.
Lissa: Aslaug, cool as a cucumber in her role as queen, fills Björn in on Þorunn's departure. She is at Björn's side as he stands on the rocks above Kattegat as Björn gives a Ragnar pep rally. After he has the crowd shouting his father's name, he then says that it was Ragnar's friend, Athelstan, who led them to the great wealth they acquired in Paris. The crowd doesn't cheer for Athelstan - it's more of a somewhat disgruntled murmur.
Sandi: This isn't surprising, really. The last time Athelstan had an "appearance" with the general public of Kattegat, he was harassed and called out for having discarded his manhood arm ring. Still, it was good of Björn to remember him (for it does seem as if years have passed since, due to the ages of the kids) positively in a public manner.
Lissa: But then Björn orders the arrest of Floki for Athelstan's murder, and the crowd does his bidding, surrounding Floki with drawn blades. Floki fends them off for a moment and says he was justified in what he did, and then surrenders.
Sandi: This is very interesting, to me. Floki was known to have been a friend of Ragnar, known to be a talented shipbuilder and he had been instrumental in the Paris raid. He had standing in the community. That Björn's words could turn the people against him speaks well of Björn's persuasive ability but perhaps not so well of the fickleness of the populace.
|from vikinks on tumblr|
Sandi: Slavery was a common trade for the Northmen, to be sure. Traditionally, the Northmen would change the slave's name "to something proper" (for the Norse/Swedish/Danish culture) and to distance them from their former lives. Since the Vikings page at History Channel lists the girl's name as Yidu, I'm thinking that doesn't happen, here, as Yidu is traditionally a Chinese name. The China of this time period was quite socially advanced, I believe, and I wonder how this might play in the show.
Lissa: We next see Floki in the center of town, being pelted with rocks by taunting children. Helga desperately tries to chase them off, darting after them one by one, but they are fleet of foot, spinning around her to thow their stones. It was a scene that stuck with me long after the show was over. The anguished desperation of Helga as she fought to defend this man who had been so harsh in sending her away in the past, rejecting her love and the opportunity to raise his own child. When last we saw them in the previous season, Helga had finally walked away from him because Floki had done something she could not forgive. But yet now, she fought a futile battle to save him.
Sandi: It's a battle that has cost her, though. Helga—who was much more lighthearted in earlier seasons—has learned hard lessons about her husband. Her face is showing the strain in the (directed) deterioration of her eye makeup as well as the clear lines of suffering on her face and the dishevelment of her hair and clothes. These are visual cues as to her state of mind, and they tell a powerful story.
Lissa: In Hedeby, Kalf announces to the celebrating Vikings that Lagertha saved his life, and he saved hers during the Paris raid. Thus, they will rule jointly. Lagertha takes his hand in agreement. Half of her earldom back without effort!
Sandi: I didn't see it like that, I guess. I was all irked. He usurped her dominion and then offers her half back? Half? Because they're sleeping together now? (Until, as Lagertha informed him last season, she decides to kill him...)
Lissa: Ragnar wakes from his illness and is himself enough to tease his son.
Lissa: The boy runs off to tell Aslaug, but she's busy overseeing the bath of her new slave and only gives a cursory reply. Her son is offended that she doesn't seem happier to know Ragnar is recovering.
Sandi: Ragnar has always been a fond father, even doting. His sons—sons he has been grateful to have and whom he loves, even if he doesn't love their mother—are important to him and the boys surely know that. When he came home from battle, sorely wounded, I'm sure it was quite distressing to his kids. That he's been apparently out of it since, feverish and unresponsive, perhaps, would have been cause of insecurity. It is no wonder, then, that the boy is irritated with Mum for not being more responsive.
|From wildfloki on tumblr|
Sandi: I concur. A painful scene for all of them, really. But I want justice, too, so I don't feel too bad for Floki. I do, though, feel dreadful for Helga and Angrbo∂a.
Lissa: Kalf is told by his nobles - including the smarmy gent who once propositioned Lagertha in her bathtub - that they will not accept her as co-ruler. They supported Kalf in the expectation he would end the Lo∂brok rule over these lands.
Sandi: Einar is a problem, for sure. He always has been. And he proves this to be true in this season as well.
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar is greeted by his cheering hall at dinner.
Sandi: He's aging, is King Ragnar, and his people seemed to give all heed to his son, yet still they are happy to see him and eager to welcome him home. The unrest that would result at his demise is likely not wished for by anyone.
|from jorindelle on tumblr|
Sandi: We're not sure what Ragnar would have done at this point, if left entirely to his own devices. He said in a monologue last season that Floki should "beware of the fury of a patient man." Now, sure, these are Dryden's words but they apply very much in this case. Ragnar loved Athelstan and he had to be planning vengeance for his death.
Lissa: Ragnar notices Aslaug's Spiffy New Slave Girl.
Sandi: I believe mead made its introduction into our twit-versation at that time.
|Sent from @HistoryVikings, who have extremely awesome graphics gurus.|
Lissa: It's Rollo's wedding day! He enters the cathedral and examines the priest's cross until his interpreter nudges him over to kneel at the altar. Gisla enters, crying, and approaches the altar, still crying. She stops in front of it and just stands there until the priest tells her she has to kneel for the ceremony to continue.
Lissa: Gisla drops down onto the kneeler with less-than-regal-grace. Chuck the Simple (aka Emperor Charles, Papa of the Bride) steps forward and pushes her head down into a bow, telling the priest he may begin the ceremony. Gisla's sobs have become full-out wails at this point.
Sandi: No comment. Really.
Lissa: She's screaming and kicking her feet as she's carried into the bridal chamber. The servants begin the bedding ceremony and start stripping the couple, but Rollo orders them to leave the chamber.
Lissa: He kicks off his boots and approaches his bride, but she pulls a knife on him. Rollo laughs and takes it away from her and tells her to go to sleep. He's so un-threatened by her blade that he doesn't bother to open his eyes after she draws it down his skin while he's trying to get comfortable. Not quite the wedding night Gisla expected with her "beast" of a new husband.
Sandi: I am thinking that, protest though she might, she is still expecting this "beastly" fellow to want to consummate their marriage. That he apparently doesn't see this as a necessity at this juncture had to be insulting. "What? You don't want to have sex with me? Princess Gisla? How dare you!" Or something to that effect.
Lissa: In Hedeby, Kalf announces to his assembled people that his decision to give Lagertha co-rulership has been questioned. He gestures to a post in the center of the clearing and tells people to make a mark on it if they wish him to banish her from Hedeby.
Sandi: This was a nice/mean set-up by the writers, here. I was all ready to protest loudly and had all manner of things to say on the tip of my tongue.
Lissa: Lagertha stares at him in apparent shock as the men go up and slash at the post. As soon as everyone has made their mark, Kalf says it's settled. He calls for his archers and they mow down the men who have demanded that Lagertha leave.
Sandi: What he had done, there, was create a killing field. He arranged a fenced-in space for the "enemy" to face his superior (because the "enemy" were largely unarmed at that moment) weaponry/firepower. This made it easy to kill them off. Messy and loud, too. I am not sure that this was the best way to handle the situation, but I don't think Jarl Kalf plays a good game of chess. . .
|From laugertha on tumblr|
Lissa: Lagertha gives Kalf a little smile and he returns it with a nod of his head. Lagertha approaches Einar, who is present, and who was the slimy gent who leered at her in the tub ages past. He'd been pinned like a butterfly to a post by an arrow through his throat. Lagertha says she should have done this a long time ago. By "this" she means geld him. Her face is sprayed with his blood.
Sandi: This was a surprising moment for me. I really had thought/hoped that the person who was going to be on the tip of her knife was Kalf.
Lissa: The new Duke of Normandy—the Northman formerly known as Rollo—is bored. He's throwing coins into a gold bowl. Clank. Clank. Clank. Rollo's translator stands up and abruptly says he's leaving. He's not meant for life in Paris. He tells Rollo if he wants him to stay, he'll have to cut off his feet. #ChallengeAccepted
Sandi: This was interesting, too. The translator, Sinric, is a wanderer, sure. His status otherwise is uncertain. He seems to be a free man, but he is "held hostage" to some degree at least once in the course of this entire series. Is he dependent or independent? How much freedom is he granted wherever he wanders. I'd like to know more about him.
Lissa: But no, Rollo doesn't pull out an axe. He watches him go. A Frank comes in and says something to him, to which Rollo can only spread his hands, as if to say, "What?"
The Frank brings in one of Rollo's men from the camp outside Paris. It seems they're restless. Half want to leave.
Sandi: This is almost like a vote of no-confidence as far as Rollo's leadership is concerned. His men signed on as King Ragnar's men, in service to Rollo to maintain a presence on foreign soil. And here, they've been a victim to something akin to a bait-and-switch, as Rollo has apparently changed sides. And not to another Northern lord, either, but to The Enemy.
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Ragnar watches Shiny New Slave girl (Yidu) as she struggles to take hold of a chicken. The chicken seems to be winning this particular battle. Björn comes over and tells him he's going off on a Vision Quest.
Sandi: Okay, not exactly. He says he's going off to find Þorunn, his wife. At least, that's what he says first, but really?
Lissa: Why? Because Ragnar doesn't think he can survive on his own, and Björn wants to prove himself. Ragnar gives him a bit of advice and sends him on his way.
Lissa: After Björn leaves, Ragnar goes over to Floki, still bound to the post, and slowly draws a circle in the sand with his staff as he speaks. He says Floki betrayed his love for him. Floki says he was trying to save Ragnar from a false god.
Sandi: Floki is entirely sincere, here, and not trying to wheedle his way out of punishment, even though he'd wanted to escape. Floki sees Ragnar's affiliations significant to their very way of life and Floki likes things how they were, he wants the traditions to be maintained and for Ragnar to be in good standing with the gods.
Lissa: As Ragnar walks away, Aslaug has to stop him. She asks him about Björn's leaving and says it may be the last time Ragnar ever sees his son. Ragnar reacts with horror and demands to know if Aslaug has Seen anything. He was casually dismissive of his wife's völva powers in the past, but now it seems he believes her. She says she hasn't and he snaps, "Why would you say something like that?" as he stomps away. All is not well between Mr. and Mrs. King!
Sandi: It certainly isn't. And Aslaug doesn't even mention having spoken to the Seer at this point. Her concerns were largely selfish in that regard. Her whole demeanor seems to have been, this episode, more self-oriented. So I wonder at her concern for Björn and/or Ragnar's relationship with this eldest son. She has sons of her own and traditionally, a queen fought for the prerogatives for their own progeny.
Lissa: We return to Paris, to the Viking camp, which is situated in enfilade position in the bottom of a small creek area, for some reason. It makes it easy for them to be decimated by Frankish archers, firing down into the small area, slaughtering the men, women, and children indiscriminately. Rollo rides in as the last of them fall, and is warned by a dying man that Ragnar will avenge them.
Sandi: We were quite in shock on twitter as we witnessed this. Rollo's own men from Kattegat and the environs are no longer "his" men. They are seen now as the enemy and Rollo is a Frank. The difference in body armor and grooming between the Franks and the Northmen is broadly drawn in this scene, making it more effective for all it was unspoken. A brutal ending and a brutal but intriguing beginning for Season Four.
I cannot wait to see what the History Channel has for us next week! Join us on twitter during the episode and see what tweets we DON'T post (oh my!) here @LissaBryan and @sandyquill!