“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”
“These chicks are machines!”
- Steve No Ship Network
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS! And Yes, we did one, too!)
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Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings.
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!
Sandi: It really is the end of an era, but you and I both knew it was coming. That "foreboding feeling" has been haunting us since probably the middle of Season Three.
Ecbert is struggling with the idea of turning Ragnar over to Aella for execution. He agrees to send Ivar home, and Ragnar says he needs to talk with him one last time.
Sandi: Though I was highly skeptical of this, I was glad to see this was said (and later carried out) in good faith. I was worried that Ivar's safe departure would be used as a carrot (or its opposite as a bludgeon) for Ragnar regarding a level of performance or something.
In the meantime, Ivar is making friends with young Alfred. I really like this character and the actor who portrays him. He has such a peaceful and gentle demeanor.
He and Ivar are playing chess, and it looked like to me they were playing with a replica of the Lewis Chessmen, a famous 12th century Norwegian artifact.
Sandi: This is, to me, quite intriguing. We know that Alfred takes a firm stand against the Northmen in the future, but I wonder if Hirst has plans for this quiet, gentle moment to play into future international relations.
Ragnar and Ivar meet and Ragnar tells him that he's going to be executed. Ivar insists at first he's going to stay and die too, and says flippantly he wants to be burned alive.
Ragnar tells him that he must survive. "It is far more important that you stay alive. People think that you are not a threat, but I know differently."
@LissaBryan "It is you that I believe is most important to the future of our people." - Ragnar. Wow. #ShieldGeeks #VIKINGS— Sandi Layne (@sandyquill) December 29, 2016
Sandi: You have to figure that Ragnar knows these are his Last Words. And words said before dying are important (as we will learn later in the episode), so Ivar will carry these closest to him, perhaps, as he goes on in the world.
He predicts that one day, the world will fear the name of Ivar the Boneless.
Sandi: And though Ragnar has never claimed to be a Seer, he does remember what the Seer said, long years before.
"The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok will be spoken of as long as men have tongues to speak."
He says that Ivar is the son he wanted to bring with him on this journey. Ivar confesses to his father that he wishes he didn't feel angry all the time, and wishes he could be happy. Ragnar scoffs at the idea of happiness and tells Ivar that without that anger he is nothing. Ivar tries to retract it by saying he was joking and Ragnar gives him a slap. He tells Ivar to be ruthless
Sandi: It seems odd, here, for Ivar to mention that he doesn't like feeling the way he does all the time. We have here a conflicted young sociopath, as we've mentioned before. He isn't truly "joking", I don't think, but I also think Ragnar is aware of this. There is quite a strong bond between them, here at the end of their relationship.
Before they part, Ragnar takes off his torc and presses it into Ivar's hand. It's a significant moment, considering what the torc represented to a Viking man. (We never saw Ivar get one of his own.) Ragnar is passing on so much to his son, represented by this simple, twisted band of metal. Ivar - rightfully - hesitates before he puts it on. Ragnar leans in before he is drawn away and whispers in his ear that Ivar must take vengeance ... against Ecbert.
Sandi: This really is another good moment. Having his king—his father, yes, but his king—give him a torc is huge. Ivar is a fine marksman, for all he cannot stand on his own, but he has perhaps not been officially recognized as attaining his manhood. Here, he is not only being given an heirloom, but also a mark of faith and honor. And then to be given what is, in effect, a secret mission? Wow. So, yes, get vengeance, Ragnar says. But also, avenge me against Ecbert, who cannot know I'm saying this or he might not let you go home.
When Ivar boards the wagon to leave, Judith urges her son forward and Alfred goes over to offer one of the chessmen to Ivar.
I mentioned on Twitter last night that Judith was being quite clever to encourage her son to build a bond of friendship - or at least cordial relations - with Ivar.
Ivar looks down at the chessman in his hand for a moment and then closes his fingers around it.
Sandi: And though it has no real basis in anything, I was reminded of the interplay in the 2002 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo, where the protagonist, Dantes (played by Jim Caviezel), and his antagonist, Mondego (played by Guy Pearce), exchange a chess piece back and forth during the movie as an indicator of which of them is enjoying the most favor. I know, it makes no sense, but I still thought of it. I guess I see it as a wish for future favor between the two men; though who knows how that will play out here.
Judith is visited by Ecbert that night, and Ecbert says he feels like Pontius Pilate in handing Ragnar over to Aella. He feels like he's sending a friend to his death. Judith says he has no choice and Ecbert scoffs at that. "Do I not?" he asks her repeatedly.
Sandi: I see this in direct contradiction to what is written in the Bible, when Pontius Pilate—whom Ecbert is equating himself to—is begged by his wife:
“Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matthew 27:19 ESV)
So does Ecbert have a choice? Of course he does, as did Pilate himself. But still, he follows through with what he thinks he has to do.
He visits Ragnar and tells him Aella will make his death a huge spectacle. Ragnar is expecting it. He says he'll make a profession of his faith in the gods. Ecbert retorts that Ragnar doesn't really believe it any more, but Ragnar says his people do... His words are for them, in the end. Ragnar walks away, down a gauntlet of armed soldiers, the bright outdoors light shining around his dark, shuffling form.
Walking towards the light.
The great Ragnar Lothbrok. Raid with the #Vikings tonight at 9/8c on @HISTORY. pic.twitter.com/1yZLBPh9YZ— Vikings on HISTORY (@HistoryVikings) December 28, 2016
Sandi: It is interesting, how he is set in what he'll say at this juncture. We need to remember this conversation as he has a couple more on the way to King Aelle. He knows that his words will be remembered and he has every intention of claiming his place in Valhalla, for though he goes out as a captive, he is fighting for the future, I think.
Ragnar is led out to a wagon with an iron cage in the back. The rain is pouring down, and the soldiers around him have their spears drawn as if Ragnar is in berserker mode.
Sandi: This is all theater. Every bit of it. From the moment Ragnar appeared at the village gates to the time of his death, he went forward with complete self-determination, knowing what would happen and welcoming it, really, for there is a purpose to him. Travis Fimmel always manages to make Ragnar look purposeful, here, even if it seems the man is in the control of others, he never is. Not really.@sandyquill It's the show of force to impress the onlookers. Like a liontamer with a whip they don't need/use. #VIKINGS #ShieldGeeks— Lissa Bryan (@LissaBryan) December 29, 2016
Alfred and Ecbert watch as he climbs onto the wagon. Ecbert walks toward him, the train of his luxurious robe trailing in the thick mud. He motions Alfred over and Ragnar turns to the boy with a gift. It's Athelstan's cross.
He tells Alfred it once belonged to his father, and as he's climbing into the cage, he says if it brings him any comfort, Athelstan returned to the Christian God at the end of his life. Alfred tells Ragnar he'll never forget him.
Sandi: I wonder if this is the last time we'll see Young Alfred? Likely, but I feel a bit bad, you know, as I can't remember if the lad had any lines of significance, for all that he will be a man of significance.
The wagon rumbles down the road, and the driver starts chatting with Ragnar. I really liked the driver's character. A charming, affable fellow.
And Ragnar is apparently entirely at his ease. This is a man who is going on a path he himself has chosen. Again, I just adore how Fimmel has brought us Ragnar Lo∂brok.
It soon becomes apparent that the coachman is blind.
Sandi: And during the show last night, we all reminded ourselves of the prophecy quoted to Ragnar:
"You will die on the day that the blind man sees you." - The Seer, Season 4, Episode 6
He says he's heard of Ragnar - that he's eight feet tall, has killed thousands, and eats children. Ragnar smiles and says that the last one isn't true. The coachman isn't sure if any of it is true, but he can smell the fear of the soldiers around him. He asks Ragnar how he intends to make his escape. Ragnar tells him he doesn't intend to try.
That night, the soldiers stand in a tight ring around the cage as Ragnar sleeps. They start daring one another to get close, and one soldier sticks out a trembling finger to touch him. Ragnar suddenly lunges toward him, grabs his arm, and gives him a pretend bite.
The soldier staggers back, screaming, and Ragnar looks up toward the night sky.
Sandi: This was just so . . . third grade. "C'mon! Let's poke the lion in his cage and see if he notices! Hey, I'm not scared. Are you scared? Well, go on, then!"
Just . . . stupid. Not for the episode, but just in terms of human behavior. And see, people still do this.
Back in Wessex, Judith awakens as Ecbert comes into her room and gives her a tender kiss on the lips. Startled, she sits up and presses her fingers to her mouth. "Ecbert?" she calls, but he leaves the room.
He goes into what looks like Athelstan's old study and opens the lectern. From it, he draws a monk's robe.
Sandi: So, Ecbert—sometimes called Cream of Wheat on the No Ship Network, and sometimes Creep of Wheat, depending upon what's going on—has kept a souvenir from his dear friend, Athelstan. Monk's robes. Likely from that time when Athelstan first joined him in Wessex, before he was gifted with nicer raiment. Ecbert's kept the robes for years, apparently. I am thinking maybe he had some kind of moth-repellent in the wraps. It was common, then, to use wormwood as a deterrent, or bay leaves, or resin from a cypress tree. So, he's kept the old clothes for some unknown reason and now he brings them out.
The next day, the wagon continues its journey. Ragnar realizes the driver is blind. But the driver says not to worry - the horses know where they're going, and though he's blind, he can see Ragnar.
Ragnar has a vision of the Seer in his place, and Ragnar recalls the Seer telling him he would die on the day the blind man saw him. He tells the Seer that it will be at least another day before he dies, so the Seer was wrong in his prophecy, and that he, Ragnar, directed his fate, not the gods, in whom he no longer believes.
The Seer tells him he has walked among the dead, and has struggled with the meaning of what he sees. Perhaps he was wrong. Ragnar urgently asks him what he saw, and reality reasserts itself. The blind driver tells him he didn't see anything at all.
Sandi: The prophecy in question was shown in the first half of this season, in episode six, for those who are looking for it. So, as much as Ragnar would like to believe he has escaped the gods and their machinations, it seems clear that they still have a hand on his life. The blind driver, after all, is still there and Ragnar knows he's going to his death.
Ecbert is walking along the road, dressed in a monk's robe, his feet bare. He looks ... rough. I mean, like seriously rough. His feet are bleeding, his face is filthy, and his hair is stringy. It's only been like 8 hours, and dude looks like he's on the back end of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Sandi: He really does. This speaks, undoubtedly, to his intense mental turmoil. Intense as it is, though, he does nothing to stop the upcoming events from unfolding. Also, I think that he looks worse here than he does later in the day.
The prison wagon is greeted by Aella and his men.
Sandi: And . . . we have more posturing, more theater, more of "Watch me, a great and mighty king, subdue the terror of the seas, Ragnar Lo∂brok."
He gives a pious speech about how grateful he is that God has preserved him to see this day, and that Ragnar will now pay for his sins against Christians. Ragnar's cage is hoisted high into the trees.
That night, Aella's soldiers torture Ragnar by poking spears up through his cage. Then they put flaming rags or pitch on the end of their spears and thrust the fire at Ragnar's feet. Aella watches and giggles as he sips his wine.
The next day, Ragnar is dragged from his cage by the kind of noose-on-a-stick used by dogcatchers.
Pushed to his knees in front of Aella, he has to listen to another round of exhortations by King Aella about paying for his sins against Christians, and that the souls of those Ragnar killed will be released from Purgatory this day, with a Hallelujah on their lips. God chose Aella as the instrument of his justice and he's about God's work and blah blah blah I dunno I think I fell asleep for a minute there.
He's laying it on thick.
Sandi: Oh gads, it was so very, very tiresome. You have to know that Aelle has likely been ranting on this very topic for a full decade at the very least. Everyone in his kingdom knows how he feels. And they're likely as tired of it as we are. But then, we are led, in this show, to see King Aelle as a man without finesse. Class. He is uncouth, for all the wealth he may have and the power he may flaunt. He is still just a man. A frightened man who has to strut like a peacock to make a point.
He demands Ragnar plead for absolution and punches him when Ragnar refuses. He repeats the demand and Ragnar stays silent again despite another punch.
Sandi: I have a really hard time watching this kind of thing. The Blood Eagle was artistic, of course, and masterfully filmed. This, though, is just dirty. And gross. But it shows Ragnar as a true Viking, ready for Valhalla, as he takes the scorn of his enemy without a sound.
Aella then draws out a red-hot poker and presses it to Ragnar's stomach. Ragnar gives a small grunt, but otherwise remains silent while Aella repeats his demand. Aella looks genuinely frightened when he takes the poker away.
I speculated that the show may be saying that this is where the legend of Ragnar's "enchanted shirt" came from. In the Sagas, the shirt was given to Ragnar by Aslaug when he ignored her prophecies he'd come to doom. The shirt protected him from harm (the snakes) until it was removed. They may be implying that the legend came from Ragnar's seemingly supernatural "protection" from the agony.@sandyquill @DeeDonuts Poker being ineffective against his skin may be a nod to the "enchanted shirt" of the Sagas. #VIKINGS #ShieldGeeks— Lissa Bryan (@LissaBryan) December 29, 2016
Sandi: I tend to see it as Ragnar's fully human wish to maintain control over himself no matter what provocation there is to do otherwise. He will meet his wyrd with strength and not falter. What I also found interesting was that Ragnar's baldness works for him in a significant manner: Aelle cannot grab his hair to compel any kind of physical obedience. He just can't. Ragnar has even more self-control as demonstrated here.
Aella then produces a knife and carves a cross on Ragnar's face, blinding him in one eye. Ragnar barely makes a sound.
When Aella has finished, Ragnar indicates he wants to speak and the ropes are loosened. His line is a slightly modified version of what he's reported to have said in the Sagas as he was dying, "How the young pigs would squeal if they knew what the old boar suffers!"
Sandi: He is basically informing his captors that his sons will have something to say about this. They might not be there at the moment, but they will come to know that Ragnar died at Aelle's hands. And Ecbert's. Even if they do not find out how he suffered, precisely.
Aella steps back and his soldiers beat Ragnar before they shove him back in his cage. But that night, they don't harass him any further. I got the feeling they were in awe, or slightly frightened of this man with his preternatural tolerance for pain. Or perhaps torture loses its fun if the subject reacts like they're impervious to it.
Sandi: Oh, it really does. An impassive victim loses his flavor for the average soldier. But I also believe, as you said, that the men might indeed be more frightened of him than they were before. Even if he was likely very hungry, hadn't been given food or drink in more than a day, and they knew that he would then be weak. He is still seen as stronger than they are, which is why they keep him caged.
As Ragnar dozes in his cage, he flashes back over his life. Kissing his young wife, Lagertha ... meeting Athelstan ... teaching the young Björn swordplay ... Lagertha divorcing him ... Floki giggling and then tied to the pole in the center of Kattegat ... Rollo calling him "brother" before their final battle on the river ... and Athelstan teaching him the Lord's Prayer in front of the waterfall.
Sandi: "I saw my life flash before my eyes..." Ragnar, I feel, welcomes these flashes. They remind him of the most significant times of his life and are what he will take with him, nearest to his heart, to keep him strong in the coming final trial. I didn't see Gyda, though, and I kind of thought I would have.
We "kind of" did see Gyda in his memories - at least a reference to her. We saw a flashback to the moment he sat on the beach and spoke his goodbyes to her, letting the sand drift through his fingers.
He snaps awake hearing the crowd reciting the same prayer and spots Ecbert weaving his way through the crowd, still disguised in his monk's robe. Ecbert looks considerably better. Got a good night's sleep at a Holiday Inn, perhaps.
Sandi: Or something! Perhaps his inner torment is over, now that he's here and it's happening and there really isn't any struggle for him. The slaying of Ragnar is in the hands of another and Ecbert, the pragmatist that he always will be, lets it go and just . . . watches.
The men pull ropes and drag apart a pair of doors on the ground beneath Ragnar's cage. A square pit is revealed, lined with logs. Does Aella keep one of these on standby, or did he have time to build it in the 24 hours since Ragnar left Wessex?
Sandi: "Many hands make light work?" Or it could be that Aelle has had a pit in place forEVer. A multipurpose destination for those whom he wished to end. Torture? Captivity? Basic humiliation? Here, it will be a site of death.
Men stand by, holding snakes aloft, which they toss into the pit. I noted last night that handsome portion of those snakes were of the nonvenomous type.
But, as Sandi said, St. Patrick did a number on the amount of venomous serpents in the British isles, so one does what one must, even if that means padding the amount of snakes with the likes of the boa constrictor, which is only found in the Americas, which technically hadn't been discovered yet and... I'm digressing, aren't I?@sandyquill @DeeDonuts "We've run low@on vipers, so we included these boas for visual effect." #VIKINGS #ShieldGeeks— Lissa Bryan (@LissaBryan) December 29, 2016
Sandi: Always a good place for the random extraneous boa constrictor.
Anyway, it suddenly seems very cold. You can see the breath of the people as they speak. When the prayer is finished, Ragnar stands, and after exchanging a smile with Ecbert, he suddenly has back his energy and defiance. He shouts out his final words.
“It gladdens me to know that Odin prepares for a feast! Soon I shall be drinking ale from curved horns. This hero that comes into Valhalla does not lament his death. I shall not enter Odin’s hall with fear. There, I shall wait for my sons to join me. And when they do, I will bask in their tales of triumph. The Aesir will welcome me. My death comes without apology. And I welcome the Valkyries to summon me home!”
Sandi: This is the moment he's been preparing for. This is the Viking King. The explorer. The adventurer. The mighty warrior. This is Ragnar Lo∂brok and he is making sure that no one would leave that place without knowing exactly what he stands for. He wants his words to be remembered, to fly back to Kattegat where his sons are, to call them to action. It's a strong speech, for all its made from a cage, and he makes it without hesitation on any front, despite all the sufferings and deprivations he's recently experienced.
Was I the only one that was applauding as I watched? I mean, Ragnar is unconquerable.
Aella shouts, "Lord, deliver me from mine enemies!" The soldiers pull the ropes attached to Ragnar's cage, and the bottom drops out. He plunges into the pit.
Sandi: As a closing line, King Aelle's lacks all that Ragnar's delivered. Oh yes, your enemy, great king. Beaten up, bloodied, caged, hanging over a pit of snakes. So very, very terrifying.@sandyquill @DeeDonuts "Um, there was a flaw in our plan. The falling man crushed all the snakes." #AlternateEnding #VIKINGS #ShieldGeeks— Lissa Bryan (@LissaBryan) December 29, 2016
Ecbert shuffles forward with the rest of the audience, peering down into the pit. Ragnar is covered in snakes.
Sandi: And still, Ragnar says nothing. He doesn't cry out, though we see him grimace and jerk with the different bites he is receiving. He meets his fate with his eyes as open as they can be until he can do so no longer.
He looks up at Ecbert and their eyes meet. Ecbert gives him a genuine smile, and Ragnar closes his eyes.
He is gone, and an era has ended. But he never once screamed or begged. Like Jarl Borg and the Blood Eagle, Ragnar endured his torture silently, and thus earned a place in Valhalla.
Sandi: And because it has to be said again, many kudos to Travis Fimmel. The man deserves all the awards for his portrayal of a legend. I didn't know who he was when the show started, but now? I'll watch him in just about anything. Maybe it's the eyes?@LissaBryan @DeeDonuts @NoShipNetwork @HistoryVikings I feel like we've just . . . reached the end of a cliff and I don't know what to do.— Sandi Layne (@sandyquill) December 29, 2016
The pit is covered over again. It becomes the tomb of Ragnar Loðbrók and the hundreds of innocent non-native snakes.
Sandi: Well, if he is so careless with his snakes, it is no wonder that Aelle has to use nonvenomous ones for his executions. Terrible treatment of the reptiles.
Ecbert remains after everyone is gone. The empty cage remains above, swaying in the cold wind. He pauses for another long moment, and then drifts away.
Sandi: It is an odd image to have, of the last place where Ragnar drew breath. But it is also a reminder of mortality that even the Seer might appreciate. Our lives are short and sharp, ending in violence (if one is a splendid Viking), or otherwise, and we leave the world. It is only our reputation that will live on afterward. Our words. And Ragnar's words will travel far.
Ivar lands in Kattegat and is carried off the ship.
Lagertha exchanges a look with Joan Jett. Lagertha has to see the significance in the fact that Ragnar isn't there.
Sandi: But still, she's troubled.
And I'd like to take a moment to appreciate this episode. Until this point, this episode has kept its focus tight on Ragnar and his end. No cut-aways to Kattegat or even Frankia. Just Ragnar. If we have to say goodbye to the man, we got to do it with respect and consideration. Thank you, History Channel.
Ivar's taken to his brothers' house, and they ask him where Ragnar is. He tells them that Ragnar is likely dead now, and that King Ecbert turned him over to King Aella. They must get their revenge.
Sigurd tells Ivar that Aslaug is also dead, killed by Lagertha. The last thing we see is Ivar squeezing the chess piece that Alfred gave him so tightly that his hand bleeds. His eyes are glowing blue again.
Sandi: So, the Ragnarssons are orphaned in a very big world, with many expectations set before them. We have been guided, as an audience, to heed the future of Ivar over his brothers, and I am eager to see where this will take us.
The Vikings were around a long time, historically. The Viking Age is generally seen to be from the late 8th Century all the way into the 11th Century, before they ceased to raid as their primary objective and instead settled down all over Europe.
Next week, I imagine we'll take steps on this new road. Perhaps more than one road. Should be interesting!
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