The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5X05 "The Prisoner"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

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

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

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

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


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

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Lissa: At the close of the last episode, we were all waiting to see what Ivar’s master plan was, why the rats were fleeing above ground. Since Ivar mentioned the clever Romans last episode, my mind immediately jumped to the tunnels of Dura and the horrific death the Persians unleased on them by burning sulfur and bitumen in the tunnels when the Romans crept inside. I thought the gas – a test run, perhaps – was what was forcing the rats topside. 

Sandi: That would have been so cool. I was thinking oil in the sewers and then setting it on fire, trapping the Saxons in the building above. Fried Wessexians would have been exciting and on par with the contemporary battle themes of "attack without regard for collateral damage". Or would that be roasted Wessexians? Either or both, it doesn't matter as that's not exactly what went down. Or, er, up.  

Lissa: I think anyone reading our live-Tweet last night would have seen how incredulous I was to find that Ivar’s brilliant plan was to hide in the sewers and pop out of the manholes (which weren’t… really… a thing in the 9th century?) one and two men at a time, attacking the Saxon soldiers who were celebrating their “victory.”

Sandi: Manholes were not so much a thing at that point, though York did have sewers. I haven't seen them so I don't know if they are as elaborate as portrayed—though they could have been mores a thousand years ago—but there is evidence in other parts of the Roman Empire for such things. York was a significant seat of Roman government for Britain (two emperors were briefly in residence) and the fortress was built to last. I think the grates they used in the show made period-sense. Grated metal over a hole in the ground. But that was a lot of metal. And metal was hard to work and expensive.  

Lissa:  It was a underwhelming moment, to say the very least.
Sandi: The hubbub over Ivar's great plan was, for me, kind of disappointing. I would have expected something different after all his build-up. But, this could be a character-building thing on the part of Hirst. Ivar can fluff up his own genius; it would certainly be in character. 

Lissa: The battle wages fierce in the streets and Aethelwulf staggers around, sometimes getting in the spirit of things, but ultimately deciding he needs to protect his son, Alfred. He encounters a Viking with a comically huge hammer. Judith’s cousin falls. 

Sandi: That hammer was very comic-book, in my view. It is possible that such a hammer would have been in imitation of Mjøllnir, belonging to Thor, but the Vikings themselves found it insulting to be struck with something other than a proper weapon such as a sword, spear, or knife. If the insult was intended, it wasn't apparent in the episode. If not, it wasn't a great inclusion; the Northmen didn't have war-hammers, as such. The evidence, anyway, is negligible

Lissa: Heahmund finds himself surrounded by Vikings. Ivar, from the ramparts, calls down to his men to halt and give Heahmund a horse because such a warrior should not fight on foot. He and Heahmund exchange spiteful, sarcastic bows, and Heahmund mounts the horse he’s brought.

Sandi: The bows were nicely done. Heahmund has a dignity on the occasion, despite the mud and the blood and his being at a disadvantage, that Ivar lacks. Ivar, though, has the upper hand, clearly.  

Lissa: Heahmund battles again until he is unhorsed and captured by the Vikings. Ivar examines Heahmund’s sword and takes the beautiful blade for himself. 

Sandi: Swords were expensive. Vikings usually fought with spears or axes—sometimes rocks—in the average raid. Knives were good, too. A sword, well made and all, took time and resources and an expert and they don't come cheap. So of course Ivar wanted the historical blade!

Lissa: The aftermath of the battle finds Aethelwulf badly shaken. Judith is helping to nurse the wounded. 

When she finds him, Aethelwulf says he thought God was going to have mercy on them, but they must suffer more. He then buries his face in his hands.

Sandi: Again, I appreciate Aethelwulf devout nature, here. He's a true believer. This is a very human reaction, which does (in my opinion) contrast with Ivar's more over-the-top War Guru image that we get on the "other side".  

Lissa: Björn rides a camel in a caravan through twisting sand dunes.

Sandi: Somewhere, I want to have a signpost: Scene Change! or something. The calm serenity of the desert sands is a big contrast to the bloody chaos we had just prior. @DeeDonuts at Project Fandom and I both agreed that he scene reminded us of a Christian Nativity story, where the Magi/Wise Men/Three Kings are traveling across the desert in search of the king they saw in the heavens. Björn, of course, would not appreciate such a comparison.

Lissa: He doesn’t look terribly comfortable atop the beast. They arrive at a camp, a stop along the way, and the Imram welcomes him. The Imram says he wants to trade with the Vikings for furs, whale meat, and slaves. The Vikings slaves are the best, he says, but then everyone looks at the Singing Nun.

Sandi: The Emir is very polished, every inch the confident statesman, here, which is whom Björn was seeking anyway. Björn is seems very distant, though, with his dealings with him. We see that he is much grown and tempered from his more youthful years. (How old is he supposed to be, now?) 

Lissa: The Imram and the Singing Nun seem to have a ”thing” because they’re quickly in bed together. 

Björn and Halfdan are both offered a hookah and each a slave. The next morning, Halfdan mentions his assigned slave wasn’t a she, but a he. Björn takes that news in stride and asks Halfdan if it bothered him. Halfdan changes the subject.

Sandi: The sensuality of this section was a bit of a shock, but then I guess we haven't seen a lot of sex lately, so it might have been a decision for that reason to include it. The Singing Nun evidently has the Emir's number! (Is that a euphemism?) Kassia is fully aware, it would appear, of what the Emir is planning. 

And about Halfdan and his evening . . . ? As I told you, Lissa, I originally thought that his response to Björn was that the slave offered to him wasn't a sheep. That made me wrinkle my face a bit . . . but there are rumors. Ew. 

Lissa: In Kattegat, Floki has returned. He goes into the hall to tell Lagertha of the marvelous place he found, and his intent to collect highly-religious people to settle it.
Sandi: This whole bit smells like a set-up to me. Lagertha and Floki are distant relations, or something, in terms of their behavior, here. (Not that they are, understanding, but the social cues and posterings felt like that awkward family reunion or wake where folks are not sure of where they stand, exactly.) Her walking about, his missing Ragnar and even Earl Haraldson (!!) . . . discomfort brought about by time and distance and a sense that they didn't know where they stood.

Lagertha is not a "true believer" as Floki would judge using his own rubric, and this is offensive to her. So she tries to fix the situation in her own way. 

Lissa: Lagertha forbids Floki from taking her people. She needs them all in the defense of the city against King Harald, and she can’t have him taking her finest warriors. She repeats to him that she forbids it – does he understand?

Sandi: Thing is, the way she speaks, you know she is attempting to make her authority clear, rather than assuming she has it. She wants to impose her will, which is different than stating it, you know? It's clear in her tone and everything - great acting and directing for conveying the mood in this room. Really well done, IMO. 

 Lissa: He never replies to this, but there were people watching around the room, paying attention to the things Floki was saying about the “land of the gods.” 

Sandi: There were several new faces in the Great Hall, to be sure. I am thinking this is showing the passage of time (yay!) as well as giving a clue as to the shift of power, perhaps, or influence in Kattegat at this part of the story. Who stays with Lagertha all day? Where might others be? 

Lissa: Back in Wessex, they must have quickly cleaned the cathedral after re-taking the city, because last we saw it, there were horses stabled inside. But now Ivar has it back as his headquarters and Heahmund is chained to a pillar, on the floor, shaking from cold or anxiety. A cross lies on the floor, just out of his reach. As he stares toward it, Ivar crawls around the pillar and grins at him. 

Sandi: Time is a nebulous thing this season, to be sure. Heahmund's entire aspect here is so evocative. The wounded, bleeding face. His shaking hand. The taunting of the weapon out of reach. Very well staged when contrasted with Ivar's fierce mobility. 

Lissa: It’s the following morning in the sand dunes, and Björn and Halfdan learn that Euphemius was accused by the Imram of trying to betray him the night before. He and his two guards are beheaded. Björn leans over to whisper to Halfdan that they’re not very good bodyguards. 

Sandi: Nope, they're really not but then, they never really intended to be. What strikes me, here, is how nonchalant they are about it all. 

On twitter, we all appreciated the pairing/bromance/comedic possibilities inherent in the partnership of Björn and Halfdan (Björndan, for those who name ships. Thanks to @TemplarConspir on twitter for that one!). They play off one another well. Björn lacks some of his earlier drive, at this juncture, but perhaps he's keeping it low key due to being in a foreign land surrounded by so many different things.

They didn't have a real attachment to Euphemius, after all, so they could hardly be expected to feel any real loss or shame. [Euphemius is reported to have actually died as a victim of treachery in Enna, and his head was cut off.]

 Lissa: We see Euphemius’s body on a table and chefs debating which part of him to cook.

Sandi: Charming, yeah? The entire lack of any kind of emotive response here was . . . weird, for me. Now, granted, Euphemius was judged a traitor, but still. Cannibalism is frowned upon over the greater majority of the world, even in the 9th Century. 

 Lissa: Björn and Halfdan are seated near the Imram and the Singing Nun. They are told by the Imram the feast was created for them and the chefs will be very hurt if they don’t eat their fill. They taste the food and say how good it is before tucking in. Afterward, the Imram tells them their dinner was Euphemius.
Sandi: My point exactly. *Shrug*. Really? Now, I get that this makes a point regarding the ruthlessness of the Emir (and possibly of the Singing Nun!) but really?  

Lissa: In York, Hvitserk chats with Ivar and says they should return to their homeland now. They need to kill Lagertha and Ubbe and crown Ivar as king of Kattegat before Björn returns. Ivar thinks that’s a fine idea. 

Sandi: This is a total contrast to the last time we saw these two brothers discussing future moves. What happened to the dog and his master? Did Ivar suddenly gain respect for his brother (and his giddy-during-battle ways) since last we saw them or is he just hiding that feeling for the nonce, as even Ivar knows one can push one's clueless brother too far?

Or is it that Ivar had already PLANNED to go back to Kattegat at this juncture and was seeming to go along with Hvitserk's suggestion as it was actually his own idea? 

Lissa:  Floki meets with Ubbe by the docks. Ubbe tells him that he and Ivar had a “falling out” and Floki asks if there’s any chance of a reconciliation. Ubbe says he doesn’t think so, and he thinks that sooner or later, he and Ivar will end up going to war against one another. 

Sandi: At this point, I figure that Floki is all about his mission, so his questions likely tend toward that. He and Ivar have always had a good relationship, so perhaps he is evaluating Ubbe in this light. If so, it seems either foolish or quite open of Ubbe to display his at-odds relationship with Floki's Favorite at this juncture; what kind of support can Ubbe claim, here, anyway? Is Kattegat fracturing internally or is this just a very personal, human wish for an Elder Statesman/Pilgrim figure to find out how the sons of his best friend (RIP, Ragnar!) are doing? 

Lissa:  Later, Floki meets in secret with a group of about twenty people. He marks some of them with blood and tells them they are the chosen ones. Four of them are responsible for getting all the families ready to travel. They must keep everything secret. He will go to his boatyard and get boats ready to travel. In nine days time, they’re to meet him at his boatyard for departure.

Sandi: Not just any blood, either. His own blood, it looked like. Does this deepen the bond? Is there a ritual significance?

That so many folks are willing to go against the stated will of their leader, Lagertha, does not bode well for the woman. But then, she is aging and the community has grown by leaps and bounds during her life so . . . it is not to be wondered at.  

Lissa:  Is… Is Floki gonna build several ships in nine days? I mean, he’s a remarkable builder, there’s no doubt, but last I saw, he only had one boat, and he needs more than that for this voyage. 

Sandi: I am baffled, here. He sails with no definite idea of time, though the quickest voyages could have been accomplished in three to five days. This isn't long enough to have left Floki in the depleted state he was in earlier, so that's likely out. And he'll have to build ships which could take months each to complete. Unless he plans on absconding with an already established fleet (?) that will be a problem. He might indeed take other boats as he believes in the purity and importance of this colonizing.

Lissa: Ivar goes out to taunt Heahmund in an alley where the bishop is chained in the mud. 

Heahmund tells Ivar there is only one God, and he could save Ivar’s soul, which makes Ivar laugh heartily. “Do you know who I am?” he demands. Ivar decides to take Heahmund along on the journey back to Kattegat.
Heahmund is chained to a mast and he prays while they get ready for departure. Ivar asks Heahmund if this is a disruption in his journey, or part of it.

Sandi: Interesting question. Whether Ivar is sincere or mocking, we can decide as we go along. I think that Ivar sees that Heahmund is a spiritual man, though of course their beliefs vary greatly. Still, Ivar can appreciate the idea, anyway. 

 Lissa: Björn and Halfdan are walking through the camp and notice everyone is looking at them. At a hand movement from the Imram, they’re seized by his men and forced into a kneeling position, swords at their throats. Sindric is right there with them. 

Sandi: It would seem a dreadful anticlimax for Björn's journey to come to an end, here. And Halfdan has so very much potential, I think, for more now that he is out of Harald's shadow. Historically, of course, Björn was a king of Sweden in the 9th Century, so dying here isn't happening . . . but Hirst has not always stuck to actual history when telling this tale. He is supposed to be in Italy and be all conquering Viking and so on, though, so I have hope.  

Lissa: Sindric listens for a moment and says a storm is coming and it may delay their execution, but right as the sandstorm approaches the camp, the Singing Nun shouts for the soldiers to execute them and Björn says, “Too late!” just as the blade at his neck starts to move.

Sandi: Sinric seems to land on his feet no matter what, you know? Stick with him, lads, if you want to live . . .

Kassia is quite the bloodthirsty Singing Nun, isn't she? Granted, abbesses of the medieval era were powerful women of high birth, in many instances, so Kassia is likely in good company there, but still . . . !

And then, we have the haboob—what we called a sandstorm when I lived in Phoenix. I've been in sandstorms and they can be exciting. Ahem. Disorienting? Painful? Yes to all of that. Looks like such a storm is upon this crowd as we are left with lo, another cliffy.

Hopefully, this one won't be resolved with soldiers emerging from the sewer.

We'll find out next week! 

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

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

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

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