The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.17 "The Most Terrible Thing"

“They're nice women, really. They just know a lot about hangings." 

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: Okay, now we know why this episode was titled “The Most Terrible Thing,” and I’m actually still a little shaken as I type this.

Sandi: When I remember to factor in the episode titles as we watch, I play a little game with myself, endeavoring to figure out which moments the title touches. With a title like this one, it's a heavy game to play. 

Lissa: We began with an ending—the funeral of Ethelred. The stones had been lifted away from the cathedral floor and Ethelred’s coffin (sans lid, I noted) was being lowered into his grave. Judith and Ethelred’s wife stood by, wearing black lace mantillas over their hair.

SandiI actually went and tried to find some information on burial practices for Wessex in the 9th Century. Churchyard burials were not uncommon for the period. There is also archaeological evidence for some burials underneath the floor of the church, which surprised me due to the amount of work that might have entailed. However, by and large, the coffins were covered with some sort of protective slab of stone or wood to preserve the body within. Not sure if such a coffin top was underneath the lovely burial cloth, but it didn't appear so as the body was lowered.

Lissa: It triggered a vague memory for me and so I went back and searched my blog, and lo and behold, we’d talked about lace and mantillas in this show before!

The last time we saw one was the episode where Heahmund was introduced, when he seduced the widow.

SandiSo . . . yay for repeat entries in the Boot Sole File? 

Lissa:  Alfred has managed to stagger out of bed and he comes into the church to ask who is being buried in such elaborate style. Judith tells him it’s his brother. She says they were having dinner when he suddenly dropped dead for no apparent reason.
Sandi: Could not even believe that Judith opened on that one at that moment. "Let me get my tuppence in right the heck now before anyone else asks questions . . ." I am fairly certain the Sar-Chasm was deep and wide on twitter last night.

Lissa: Floki and Kjetill and Helgi are still traveling through a ferocious storm. They finally arrive at Eyvind’s house. It’s a pathetic structure of woven sticks, more of a lattice bower than a house. Rain pours down inside, unimpeded by the paltry thatching.

SandiKey elements in the abode were the uncertain lighting, the shadows, and the ability to film a good, surprisingly vicious scene there. Truly, if the inhabitants were as able as they appeared to be (weren't they said to be faltering terribly?) they should have contrived a better cover over their heads. Cold and wet combined with indifferent nutrition could be fatal and they were from a land that could have told them that. 

Lissa: Eyvind welcomes his son with a hug and sobs that they’ve changed. Floki tells them to gather their things so they can all leave and Kjetill turns to him with an odd smile and says that yes, they need to get ready. Someone grabs Floki from behind and holds him with a knife to his throat. Kjetill stabs Eyvind’s wife, whom he calls a murdering witch, and then his other son. He keeps killing until only Eyvind and Helgi are left. 

Sandi: I seem to recall us being worried that Helgi would lead the Floki-contingent into treachery last week, when it actually went the other way this week in a total surprise to me. I was all !!!! I know that you, Lissa, saw the end as the Most Terrible Thing, but to me, this was equally so, as it was so unexpected and devastating. 

Lissa: Back in Wessex, Widow Ethelfled walks into her bedroom and finds Judith there, wadding up her fine dresses and stuffing them into a trunk. She asks her what she’s doing and Judith tells her she has no place at court now that she’s a widow and she needs to return home to her mother. She’s still young enough to remarry. Ethelfled furiously tells her she hopes she never has another mother-in-law like Judith, who seems not to care about the death of her son at all.
SandiThis seemed to me to be insultingly abrupt which was, I am sure, intended. Judith wanted no reminders of her murdered son about to instigate further treachery. However, Judith should have been under more self-command. Her actions speak of a guilty conscience, of a child's need to get anything and everything that reminds one of a misdeed out of sight and out of mind. She goes on later to lecture Alfred, but Judith could use a few lectures herself on how to behave like a queen who has no reason not to sleep well at night. 

Lissa: Ivar is holding court, and it was one of those beautifully filmed scenes this show doesn’t get enough credit for. The camera panned up and over the heads of the crowd to a curtained stage. The curtains pull back and Ivar sits on his throne beside Fully Fecund Freydis. He tells the people that the rules have to change. His father, Ragnar, entrusted him with this kingdom, so he has a responsibility to run it properly.

Sandi:  This seemed to me to be so very, very contrived. I guess it is of a piece with the Playskool Idol and his "well duh!" acceptance of divinity. What is he putting in the water? How much have the natives of Kattegat forgotten about life B.I.—Before Ivar? In times of perilous societal crisis, yes, a strong and fierce leader can grab the dedication or at least obedience of such a huge population but ... this is a prosperous land. There is conflict, but there is also food. And children. And houses with roofs that don't leak. And so on. It feels inconsistent that there is very little dissent to be heard. 

Lissa: That’s why everyone can’t vote. He gives a rousing speech to his people about needing them to fully participate in his new world, and that means ratting out any who have doubts, obviously. While the people cheer, Hvitserk and Thora stand there, staring … appalled.
SandiAnd they should be appalled. What I found shocking was that they were the only ones with that stunned expression on their faces. 

Lissa: One of the neat things we’re seeing is Ivar’s emerging stagecraft, and I have to admit, he has a real flair for it. His disability is well-hidden. We know about it, so of course we can see the stiffness in his legs, but he rises from his throne to stand, holding on to a walking stick, but he makes it look like a staff of power instead of a crutch.

SandiOh yeah. And it's been a real journey, getting to this point for him. There is no sense of Insta-Awesome or anything. We've seen each painful step in the process. 

Lissa: Back in Wessex, Alfred and Judith have a private moment and he asks her about what happened to his brother. Judith tells him it wasn’t a natural death. She tells him how Aethelred had already betrayed him once and intended to do it again, and so she poisoned him. She killed one son to save another. Alfred loses control and trashes the room. Once he’s worn out, Judith asks him if they can talk now in a tone that sounds like a kindergarten teacher speaking reprovingly to a little boy who just had a tantrum. She tells him he cannot react like an ordinary person, show emotion like an ordinary person, for he is a king now.
Sandi: Granted, it's hard to be Mom and Loyal, Obedient Subject to a reigning king. I get it. Moms throughout history have had to figure out how that plays out for them. I guess, for me? I have never approved of the control that Judith has exerted over the lives of her sons. I've not trusted her for seasons. And I don't trust her here for anything save self-interest. Alfred is her son, Aethelred was Aethelwulf's for all he was born of her body. 

Lissa: We all noticed her gown, which was a metallic gray, made with overlapping flaps on the arm, like armor plate. Though they did have cloth-of-silver in the era, it was usually confined to trim pieces because it was so incredibly expensive to make.
Sandi: Wool was the foundation of clothing in the 9th Century in England. Flax provided linen, as well, but wool was the bread and butter of trade. A queen might have finer wear, but the style here was way off base. Women wore layers, layers of under and over gowns, covered to the neck, perhaps even the throat and so on. Form fitting gowns did not happen; the fabric draped over the layers. Expense was seen in embroidery (hundreds of hours of labor) and dyes (expensive minerals and plants) and perhaps gems and jewelry. But then, we've taken issue with the costumes on this show for a couple of seasons or so, now, haven't we? Our Boot Sole File is getting pretty thick! 

Lissa: Ivar talks to Freydis about what to do with Hvitserk. Freydis says that the people will always love a merciful god more than a vengeful god, and doesn’t Ivar want to be loved? He says he doesn’t know.

Sandi"Aren't you a god?" she asks, or something similar. Does Ivar want to be loved or feared? Machiavelli wrote that it is better to be feared than loved. I am thinking Ivar would say much the same. 

Lissa: Back in Iceland, Floki is talking to Kjetill as he munches on a suspiciously large leg of fowl over the fire. They’re in Eyvind’s Hut of Starvation and Illness, but suddenly, there’s… turkey?
Sandi: So I checked my reference page for birds native to Iceland and there are some that might have turkey-leg proportions. The Shellduck and many varieties of goose. But if there were so many, how come they didn't have them before and why are Floki's people reduced to rotten fish?

Lissa: Outside, Helgi and Eyvind are tied up in the mud beneath a leaky lean-to, shivering violently in the cold. He tries to tell his father that he’s sorry, but his father simply tells him to stop sniveling, and mutters that they’re only meat. He seems to accept his fate. Helgi is terrified.

Sandi: Well, yeah. I would be, too, if I were him. I didn't catch a mention of anything that sounded like, "Dad, I swear I only brought them to help you!" But I may have missed that. This is the part that had me all gasping, though. NOT what I expected. 

Lissa: Floki asks Kjetill if he’ll spare Helgi. Helgi has done nothing wrong. He loved Þórra. Kjetill nods and says if Helgi survives the night, he’ll consider it. Floki tells Kjetill that he’d believed him when he said he wanted to forgive. “You had me believing again.” Hope. Maybe for Floki, its death was the most Terrible Thing of this episode. Kjetill tells him that we are who the gods made us to be. 

SandiFloki likely saw this as a betrayal, you know? He relied on Kjetill's sense and his right to choose to aid the enemy or whatever, and was I think pleased that "Hope" was the motivator. He didn't know "Hope" could be defined as "expectation of revenge".

Lissa: Hvitserk wakes in the middle of the night to find Ivar leaning over him. He tells Hvitsy that he’s been thinking about the fact that Hvitsy has nothing to do all day, an empty life, and so he’s going to send him to York. As Hvitsy protests he wants to stay in Kattegat, Ivar asks who his bedmate is. Thora tells him her name and tells Ivar that she and Hvisty are in love. Ivar says that’s good. He’d hate to have to burn her at the stake. Hvitsy pulls a knife on Ivar and says he wouldn’t dare. Ivar says then he’d better go.
Sandi: If I had been in Hvitserk's place? I would have awakened in full-on panic mode. Maybe being Ivar's brother his whole life had enabled him to bypass that. But still, not an easy place to be, with a murdering psychopathic brother threatening to kill his current sweetheart. 

Lissa: Outside Eyvind’s hut, Kjetill is singing Rollo’s old war song.
SandiIt was good to hear the old battle song. Vikings who act like Vikings are why so many of us are fans of the show! That the battle song was sung in a sea-and-sorrow-roughened voice during what was basically an execution rather than a war was . . . a bit out of sync, but it also sounded great with the background of sky and ground. 

Lissa: His eyes are wide and fierce as Eyvind is dragged out before him. He approaches, ax in hand. Inside the hut, Helgi pleads with Floki and says he doesn’t want to die. Surely Kjetill knows he did nothing wrong. Floki says he told him so last night. And then Helgi is called outside. Floki watches him go with sad eyes. Kjetill is still singing as he approaches his next victim, blade in hand. Later, we see that he’s mounted their heads on spikes, which sort of loses its intended purpose of a warning when they’re out in the middle of nowhere with no one nearby to warn.

Sandi: Yeah. Old habits? Perhaps Kjetill just needed the monument for his vengeance? Why didn't Floki stop him if he knew Helgi was innocent of wrongdoing? I've said it before, but leadership is not actually Floki's best thing... 

Lissa: The scene cuts to York, where King Harald’s men are singing the song as Björn walks down the street. Gunnhild is sparring with some of the men as Harald watches. Björn goes up to stand beside him, and both men watch her as they speak.

SandiGunnhild, here, is very much Old School Shield Maiden as she spars with the men. Fierce, strong, confident and self-aware. I am convinced that she knew exactly what King Harald and Björn were talking about.

Lissa: Björn says he wants to attack Kattegat now. Harald says that’s not a good idea with the storms this time of year. Björn retorts that he knows there will be good sailing because his father, Ragnar, told him in a dream. Harald tells Björn that Ivar had promised him Harald would be the next king of Kattegat after he died. Björn says he’ll follow through on that promise and make Harald his heir. Harald asks how he knows Björn will keep that promise and Björn says he’ll swear it on the life of his intended bride, Gunnhild. He even says Harald could have Gunnhild, too, after he was dead. Which, you know, might not be a wise thing to say to a man known for betraying kings.

SandiA dream? Right. I don't remember a dream. (But you know it would have been SO cool to see Travis Fimmel's Ragnar show up in one!) And Harald seems to be ready to go along with Björn, here. Is it for the promise of Gunnhild-to-the-Winnah! Or the mystique surrounding the Sons of Ragnar? Or because Harald is just going on instinct? 

Lissa:  Later, Gunnhild is brushing her hair… In front of three large glass mirrors.
SandiThe mirrors that Gunnhild is looking at are straight out of the Boot Sole File. She has three, for starters. One glass mirror would have been a big deal, but there are three and they've been "antiqued". But in truth, glass mirrors with the shiny stuff were crafted with mercury, once upon a time, and they didn't really come into their own until about the year 1500. Reflections were generally seen in polished metal surfaces. Some glass, yes, but the glass was generally convex or concave in nature, and lacked the mirror quality in this episode. They were also often round or roundish if they were glass. Metal reflectors, of course, were formed in all sorts of shapes. 

 Lissa: Harald walks up behind her and says he thought she was meant to be with him. He said that she’d even said the same thing when she was still married to her previous husband.
Sandi: Yeah . . . Gunnhild keeps her cards close to her vest. You know, if she wore one in this scene. Which she isn't. We'll get to that in a second. She told him that’s not what she said – she said she thought her life was going to change. And it had. 

 Lissa: She asks him if he still wants to be king of all Norway. He tells her that’s still his ambition. She replies that she’d like to be queen.

Sandi But she doesn't say that she thinks she could be queen either way, whether Björn or Harald is king. And you know, Harald is not stupid even if he's got a recklessness about his, um, relationships.

Lissa: When Björn comes into the room, she’s wearing this bizarre, off-the-shoulder gown of shiny yellow satin with silver triangles and red circles. I have no idea what the costumers were going for, here.

Sandi: Little Mermaid meets the Renaissance Faire? "I can't even with that." 

Lissa: Anyway, she tells Björn what Harald said, that he’s still in love with her and wants to be king of all Norway. Björn says Harald is a man who always seems to need to be in love, but he’d rather have Harald’s heart than his own. He’s not sure if love has ever really touched his heart and he feels very alone. Gunnhild challenges him to tell her he loves her before she allows him to touch her. He tenderly confesses his feelings for her, which she says she will always hold in her heart. They fall back on the bed together.

Sandi: There was a cry of "But what about Porunn!" - you know the woman he loved who bore him a daughter (which he promptly abandoned, which he NEVER had to face up to, which is one of those things that will likely always be an irritant in my fangirl heart, here) and was so grievously injured and — yeah. Sorry, but here I see Björn playing a bit like Harald and being seen as unlucky in love and all that. Right. Still, there were tears in the iron eyes of Ironside and that was nice and the scene was otherwise well written with the drawn out reveal. Worthy of a romance novel, yeah? ;-)

Lissa: In Wessex, Judith is standing in front of her own large mirror. Hers looks more period-appropriate than Gunnhild’s, putting aside the huge size of the thing. It seems to be polished metal, which is more in tune with what they would have had. She’s looking down, palpating her nude breast. A maid comes in and asks her what she’s doing and Judith pulls her clothing into place and says breezily that she’s doing nothing at all. I wondered if she might have felt a lump.
Sandi: This would be a very likely thing, here. Timely on behalf of the History Channel and Michael Hirst as well. 

Lissa: There would have been nothing they could do at the time. In earlier civilizations, such as the Greeks and the Egyptians, their physicians had attempted mastectomies, but such a thing wouldn’t have been done in Wessex where the medical arts were mostly confined to the monasteries. If the lump was external, they might attempt to remove it, but deep tissue surgery was beyond their skill at this point.

Sandi: The book Health, Disease and Healing in Medieval Culture (Campbell, Hall, and Klausner, editors) mentions that internal cancers were basically unmentioned in the medical recipes of the day. Possibly because estimates were that Anglo-Saxon women who survived past eighteen might then only survive into their forties, with a small percentage surviving past age fifty. It is possible that breast cancer played a factor, but there is very little said about it, the book indicates, as it would not have been "a major feature in the population". 

Lissa: On a related historical note, my favorite president, John Adams, watched his beloved daughter Nabby go though a mastectomy. It was probably the most horrific thing you can imagine, involving a meat fork and a heated flat iron for cauterization, but the cancer returned and Nabby died in John’s arms on her family farm.

Sandi:  Adams is my favorite as well.

Lissa: Hvitserk is shown bidding goodbye to Thora.
Sandi: Yeah, I was all up in the exclamation points about this one. 

Lissa: In this, I have to argue against the producers. They should have had a small scene showing Ivar forbidding Hvitsy to take Thora with him as insurance that Hvitsy will remain loyal. Otherwise, his decision to leave Thora with a man who already threatened to burn her alive makes little sense.

SandiRight, this was not one of their better decisions, from our perspective. Prove us wrong, History Channel! 

Lissa: In Wessex, a soldier rides up, hell-for-leather, and runs into Alfred’s chamber. He tells them a new invasion has been spotted off the coast. Torvi and Ubbe are summoned. They tell Alfred it appears to be a contingent of Danes, perhaps the king whose emissary Ivar was speaking to in the last episode, Olaf the Stout. Ubbe tells Alfred that he needs to put Ubbe in charge of the army. Alfred protests… isn’t he intimidating enough? Torvi puts that idea to bed very fast, showing the spark of steel that makes her such a compelling character… when the show allows her to shine. She says she has a terrible habit of telling the truth, and the truth is that the Danes will not be terrified when they see Alfred at the head of an army. Ubbe says that unless Alfred puts him in charge, there’s no hope.

Sandi: First, major props for the tiny detail of having Ubbe and Torvi refer to the Northmen as Danes. Not "my brother's army" or anything, but Danes. Foreigners. Others. This is a fine move for Ubbe to make (and Torvi to back up!) as they seek to cement their place in this court. Still, Ubbe is clearly Alfred's warrior mentor guy, so he's got something to say and he says it without apology. Torvi doesn't apologize either. Love her character in this new country. 

Lissa: Floki returns home to the Iceland village and speaks to Aud. She sobs as he tells her that her father and her brother slaughtered Eyevind’s whole family. Floki admits he regrets having ever brought them here. The gods were never here.

SandiThis is such a terrible thing, too, as it touches on the title of the episode. Floki and Aud reaching such a nadir in their personal experiences and beliefs. So. Hard. 

Lissa:  Later, we see her running across the plain toward the waterfall. Floki walks up as she approaches the edge. He calls out to her, but she turns away from him and steps off the edge of the cliff, plunging to her death on the rocks below. Floki screams in anguish and falls to his knees.
SandiHer face was . . . wonderfully perfect for her decision. And the backdrop in the scene was so alive. The water's rushing, Aud's youth and crushed ideals, the landscape all around was vibrant and healthy, not the dark, cold, stone-crusted scene of Kjetill's vengeance earlier in the episode. 

Lissa:  I saw her standing there and I kept saying “No, it won’t… No, she wouldn’t… Not Aud! No!” She was such a strong woman, adamant in her faith, so for me, her loss was The Most Terrible Thing of this episode. It wasn’t only the loss of a great character. The show cut off one of the interesting historical aspects of the story with her death.
Sandi: We have had our issues with the Iceland storyline, for sure. But this episode was really intense, there. Where will it leave Floki? And how will the History Channel spin his history? The title of the next episode is "Baldur". In Norse mythology, Baldur is favored among all the gods . . . but you can look up more about him if you'd like. I am not sure how his role in mythology will play into the story next week. But I can't wait to find out!

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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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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.16 "The Buddha"

“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: First let me start off by saying I am so, so sorry about not showing for our Vikings Live-Tweet… I’m still in holidays mode – I forgot what day of the week it is! But luckily, the show re-airs at midnight, so here I am, watching it in my jammies, my cat resting beside me.

SandiYou are the cat's pajamas! I'm just so pleased you opted to do the midnight showing. :) 

Lissa: We started off with Lagertha standing silent and still over the recently-slain Heahmund. She looks up at the battlefield, and then the scene shifts away.

Sandi: This is all we get from her in this episode. She is alive. She is on her feet, one supposes, but we have no other information from this glimpse. It's a natural part in a life's cycle to have a significant person fade from prominence, so this type of thing works for me in the series. 

Lissa:  Björn rides back to town and insists his mother is still alive.

Sandi: As we got to see. It's a quiet opening, but Björn makes it an urgent one. His wish to find his mother is sincere; they might not have always been in close proximity, but the bond is strong.

 Lissa: Alfred announces to his court and the Vikings that the lands Ecbert promised them are now theirs, including the common people living on the land. He asks they treat the people kindly. He swears this time it will be different, and he will use his own bodyguards to protect the Vikings’ right to the land. He puts his royal seal on the contract. Handing it over to Björn, and embraces him as an ally and friend while the court applauds.

Sandi: Unlike Ecbert—the sly dog—Alfred does indeed have the power and ability to legally present the lands to the Northmen. That there will be land and people to live and work on it says a great deal in terms of trust and the wish to co-exist; for Alfred's putting his people into the hands of another. This totally matters, even if those people are little more than chattel. 

The signing of this was a shifting of tense perspectives and it reminded me a bit of a President signing a new law into being. People watching, postures tense but expecting. Björn was determined not to be impressed, Ubbe wasn't going to believe it was for real until the paper was signed and everyone agreed it was done, but then, he was on board. Alfred's body language clearly indicated he knew he was under the anachronistic microscope, but he was doing this his way anyway, and the court could say what they liked. He kept his part of the deal. Excellent directing for such a scene.  

Lissa: He then turns to his court and says there’s one last bit of business. He tells the guards to arrest the traitors, Cyneheard’s men. Aethelred and his Mrs. are left standing where they were, quite relieved to have escaped justice.

Sandi: They will learn (cue ominous music) that AethelBed will still have to answer to . . . Mum. 

Lissa:  King Harald returns to York defeated, and his taunted by one of his men. Harald says that the men he lost, including Olavson, are now in Valhalla. The man says why should he care that Olavson is in Valhalla. Harald says he needs to trust his leaders, and the guy says he doesn’t believe in second chances. He shoves Harald calls him a fool. So Harald whips out his sword and slays the guy and his pals. Harald then introduces Magnus to the gaping and horrified crowd. He gives a speech, rousing them to cheers, claiming they will rally and win again.

Sandi: Harald holds his own with clear confidence. He is a KING. And among all those who might claim that title during this juncture of the show, Harald has held the title longest and his feet are firmer under him as he lives and breathes authority. I really felt this was well portrayed in this scene.  

Lissa:  Björn meets with Gunnhild, who sits on a bed, her hands bound in front of her. He says she killed the great warrior Heahmund. She says she did. Many men were lost. It’s a pity her husband was killed, too. He was a good husband to her. She’s pretty hostile when she finds out Björn’s name and mocks his fame. Björn says he wants to get to know her better. She points out she’s tied up and can’t resist his advances. He says he’ll cut the ropes if she answers a question. He asks her if she saw Lagertha when Heahmund fell – what happened to her? Gunnhild says she saw nothing. Björn sighs and cuts her ropes and tells her she’s a free woman who can now do whatever she likes. So she decks him.

When he asks what that was for, she says she was exercising her freedom and dismisses him from her chamber. Björn goes, but he pauses to look over his shoulder in amused disbelief.

Sandi: Now, I wasn't a Gunnhild fan, prior to this scene. She seemed to disregard her marriage in order to test the Waters of Fate with King Harald without committing herself. But here? I thought she was great. Her personal strength and confidence are obvious and that she does her best to deck Björn is a completely perfect moment for me.

Lissa:  Björn talks to Ubbe about Lagertha’s disappearance. How is it possible for her just to completely vanish? Ubbe says it’s kind of like Ragnar’s disappearance. It must have been the last comparison Björn would want to hear because Ragnar was gone for a decade or so. Torvi says she knew Lagertha -- she loved and trusted her -- and she wouldn’t have left without a reason. Björn asks what that means, and Torvi says she must have come “to the end of reason.

Sandi: That is still up for debate. Though the death of Heahmund may have been—odd as it might seem to some of us—the proverbial, critical straw, Lagertha did not look as if she'd lost her reason in the introductory moment of the episode. Instead, I think she has a reason that is all her own and we'll find out what it is when it's time. I just hope it's soon.

Lissa:  Alfred tells Judith he intends to forgive Aethelred. Judith says he has to confront his brother before he can do that. “If you won’t talk to him, please give me your permission to do so. I need to know why, so perhaps I can forgive him.” Alfred nods.

Sandi: So, do we call it an Achilles Heel, the fact that neither brother can bring themselves to distrust their own mother? Or to fail to recognize how very conniving she is? Or are they just unaware that a female can BE this . . . determined and single minded?

Lissa: Cyneheard stands on a scaffold, and the words “Death to the king” gargle out of his bloody mouth. He was hanged, and this was one of those delightful historical details that always thrill my geeky little heart. It was a period-appropriate method. He stood on the back of a cart and at the signal, it was drawn from beneath his feet. They were still using this method in the time of Henry VIII.
Sandi: You're so good. Well, it makes sense that this would be the way it would go. There wasn't as much pre-construction required, nor was there a lot of math. The process was simple and the view . . . might have been an effective deterrent. Maybe. 

Lissa: As you noted, it was an awful way to die – slow strangulation instead of a swift and merciful snap of the neck in the “drop method” as was used in the Victorian era. They actually had a mathematical formula calculating rope length and the person’s weight to ensure a neck breakage. It didn’t always work out that way, but that was the intent. As the camera pulls away, we see Cyneheard’s confederates have already been hanged and lie dead in the mud.

SandiA traitor's death was supposed to be a huge deterrent for there was little that caused more concern than a traitor. Only someone who is trusted can truly betray someone else, so the perfidy cuts deep. This is one reason why the executions of traitors are often so very gruesome. I imagine, too, that's a bit of vengeance is responsible for the execution style.  

Lissa:  In Iceland, Floki’s colonists unveil some rotten fish. Floki gives his little “tetched” giggle that I’ve missed so much and says “Food!”
Sandi: As I poked about Twitter, I found there was a general consensus that it was good to see Floki smile again. 

 Lissa: They hear a shout outside and Floki goes outside to find Helgi staggering through the driving, icy rain. He has blackened fingers from frostbite. He says his starving family is all sick and he’s pretty sure Eyevind is dying. He begs Floki for mercy. Floki begins to heat an ax. He tells Helgi to think of Thor’s hammer, for strength, and then cuts off one of the blackened digits.

SandiSo . . . yeah. With the treachery theme still prevalent, I am not terribly convinced that mercy will yield a trustworthy co-existence, to be honest.  

I liked the amputation. Every good medieval movie should have at least one frostbite amputation. (We've had tooth-pulling, strangulation hanging, and now amputation in addition to the usual battle and sword fighting stuff. Good season, yeah?)

 Lissa: Judith calls Aethelred to come speak to her. He claims to not know why she’s summoned him. Judith says Cyneheard confessed. Aethelred says it’s true. He was angry that he was shoved aside for Alfred, and if he agreed to replace him, the coup would be bloodless. He points out that at the last moment, he refused to put it in motion. He regrets ever listening to them, and he risked his own life in battle to save Alfred.

SandiSo, this was a bit disappointing. I mean, I wanted to believe that AethelBed got it out of his system before collapsing and not killing his brother. I did. But alas, I was wrong. The man is still harboring totally comprehensible bitterness, even if he says he regrets what happened.
Facial and body cues are, in fact, tells, when one is not an accomplished liar. 

Lissa:  Hvitserk walks through Kattegat and sees an Asian man sitting by a wall. He picks up an ivory Buddha and asks if it’s a god. The man laughs when he asks who the Buddha is.

SandiHere, let me diverge and give credit to Rachel Tsoumbakos, aka @mrszoomby on twitter, who posted on Inquisitr about Buddha's significance for the episode. 

Tsoumbakos is an author with a special interest in Vikings as well, and she is a great source of information! She discusses the trade routes of the Vikings and how a statue of Buddha was indeed found in Helgö, Sweden, which undoubtedly inspired Hirst's inclusion of the philosophy into this episode. That Hvitserk is introduced to Buddhism by a random fellow and we get a brief mention of Buddhism. However, there isn't a lot of time to delve in to all the ramifications of the philosophy, so I am thinking that it will not hold a lot of sway, later. Instead, it seems to be a tool Hvitserk uses for his own purposes.

Which could, after all, be a commentary on religion in general. The season does include a conversion to Christianity for pragmatic reasons and indeed, this kind of relationship between professions of belief and expediency is far from uncommon in human history. 

Lissa: Ivar is hearing reports in his hall and he tells Hvitsy about the defeat of Harald, assisted by Björn, Ubbe and Lagertha. Hvitsy points out that means Ivar knew he hadn’t sacrificed Lagertha after all. Ivar brushes over that and says it’s time to return to England. He picks up a chess piece and says he’d like to play with Alfred again, but this time on the battlefield.

Sandi"Yeah, and so? Let's go play with Alfie again!" Right. If Ivar genuinely believes he's being utterly trusted and unquestioned, he will, I sincerely hope, come in for an abrupt awakening. Soon. That Hvitserk is persisting in his mild confrontations gives me hope. 

Lissa:  Alfred, Ubbe, and Torvi kneel at an altar and are given communion. Alfred instructs Ubbe in how to properly cross himself after receiving the host.

It probably wasn’t so much a “bonding rite” as a way of showing the honest intentions of all the parties involved. In some court proceedings, they would have people swear out a statement and then take communion. The thought was that no one would ever dare approach the Body of Christ with an unconfessed lie on their lips. It would instantly damn their souls. So, likely, Alfred was trying to assure his newly-Christian friends that he intended to do right by them, and swearing it on his immortal soul.

Sandi: So not so much a bonding rite as a pledge of mutual support? This might not be a formal bond, but I do think it functions a bit as such, at least in the eyes of the court. 

Lissa: Björn rides into a village with Alfred and Gunnhild behind him.

SandiI appreciate that Björn, for all his displeasure regarding the new faith his brother Ubbe is espousing, rode in company and acted in a civil, almost coordinated manner with him. I also liked that Ubbe is not taking a back seat—saddle?—to his elder brother. Björn, as the season has progressed, has clearly been "aged". His face and limbs are growing heavier, his aspect is more weighty, and so is his posture. I'm really enjoying the work that goes into all of that. 

Lissa:  The people run out of their huts crying, “It’s the king!” Alfred says to the Viking contingent that this is the border of their new lands and everything east is theirs. Ubbe picks up a large handful of soil and says “Look at this treasure!” It calls to mind a scene we saw with Lagertha and Ragnar, years ago, when he picked up a handful of rich, black English soil and the farmer in him recognized its fertility.

Sandi: We have, here, Ubbe fulfilling part of Ragnar's dream. A dream for a safe, fertile place for his people to live. To grow food, raise livestock, and be healthy and (hopefully) safe. Björn is also determined to fulfill his father's vision, and he will do so in his own way. The sons are men, now, and though they are the SONS of Ragnar, one should remember that the Seer said that Ragnar's sons would have more renown than Ragnar did himself. There are more of them, for one thing, and they've got strong—if divergent—foci.

Lissa:  There’s a beautiful scene of the Northern Lights. Floki says Helgi betrayed the settlement and his dreams, but they are still his family. Ald asks what he’s thinking, and Floki says he’s thinking the settlement is starting to work, but now he wants to bring them back. Helgi promises that Eyevind is filled with remorse. And that Floki promised they would live differently here, that people could change.

SandiStill not trusting everyone. Eyvind, in my opinion, has been a pebble in the boot since they landed, if not before. And now that the colony is "working" (eating, having shelter, even if the foot is . . . not so fresh . . . and the shelters are small), is it a good time to bring in divisive elements? This is a leadership issue and as inspirational as Floki can be, leadership is a different quality altogether. 

Lissa:  Alfred walks with Ubbe and Torvi back into church. Gunnhild and Björn refuse to go inside and walk away. Gunnhild says they worship a false god as they stalk down the hill toward a barn. She asks Björn if he wants to talk. Björn says he’s lost his father and his mother, but now here is his father’s dream. How strange! Gunnhild leans toward him, as if to give him a kiss, but he draws away too quickly and walks to the other side of the room. She follows him to say everything will be all right. Then he kisses her.

SandiSo. Gunnhild is clearly making her preference known. Sorry, Harald. And I like her, here, as she feels as if she's Björn's equal and does not take any guff from him. But really, Björn? Another love interest? There'll be lots and lots of GRANDsons of Ragnar, yeah? 

Lissa: Judith runs outside as soldiers return and says, “It’s the king.” It’s an echo of what the villagers said in the last scene with Alfred, but this isn’t an exclamation of delight.
SandiNope, no Third Grand Royal Entrance for this episode. Instead, we find out that King Alfred-the-not-yet-Great is sick enough to make it necessary to a) Call Mom and b) Call the Heir Apparent. 
Because of course AethelBed is the next fellow up, should the worst happen and Hirst kills off Alfred the Great.  

Lissa: She gasps. They carry him inside, and Alfred is limp and pale. They lay him on his bed. Judith tells Elsewith that this isn’t the first time Alfred has been struck by this sickness.

SandiAlfred might have been struck by sickness before, but he wasn't the king the last time. This is a huge deal, as the life of the king affects so many more people, for so many more reasons, than the life of the son of the king's wife. 


Lissa: Elsewith cups her belly and Judith notices. She asks Elsewith if she’s pregnant. Elsewith says she is, and Judith’s eyes shine with excitement.
Lissa: She says she mustn’t lose the baby; it’s the future of England. Aethelred comes to his bedside to take his brother’s hand and says tenderly that Alfred must live for the sake of the country.

Sandi: Now, I don't remember what Judith actually said, but my understanding is that England wasn't really called England as such until King Athelstan did so in the 10th Century. He wrote"I Aethelstan, King of the English..." or something to that effect. (Source.) 

Will we also have to deal with the whole "Is this Alfred's baby or Björn's?" question? I am sincerely hoping NOT, but one can never tell, yeah?

Lissa:  Hvitsy has taken Buddhism’s principles seriously. He recites them to Thora as they lie in bed. He says he’s going to go talk to the man again to learn more. He starts to make love to her and pauses to turns Buddha around so he can’t see.

Sandi: Not sure HOW to take that. Is he serious or is he messing around?  

Lissa:  The next day, he’s turning the ivory Buddha in his hands in the hall.

Ivar and Ever-Bulging Freydis (or do you prefer Fully Fecund Freydis?) are in the background. Ivar comes over and says the emissary he was speaking to was from another king, and was about joining together and invading England. But he wants to wait until spring until after his divine child has been born. When Hvitsy doesn’t fall to his knees in praise, Ivar tells him cynicism poisons the mind.
Sandi: Again, this is me shaking my head. How far is Ivar's divine identity real and how much is it a head game and how much is he truly expecting to be taken seriously? I get that he wants to be obeyed, but believed? Really? 

Lissa: He notes that Hvitsy jumped ship to be with Ivar, but now everything Ivar does displeases him. Hvitsy says there may be no contradiction, that everything may lead to one path and turns the Buddha in his hand. Ivar tells him he’s starting to sound crazy, like Margrethe, and look what happened to her. He gives a mock grimace and sucks in a breath through his teeth as he stands up to leave.

Sandi: There is a sense that Hvitserk is truly getting one over on his brother, here, but I'm not so sure. Time will tell if Hvitserk is truly coming into his own or only finding other ways to, well, lurk about the edges.

Lissa:  In their new village, Gunnhild sits down beside Björn. Björn says they need to perform a sacrifice, and the lack of one may be why Lagertha is gone. Gunnhild asks if he thinks the gods are angry and Björn says of course they are, now that Ubbe and Torvi are Christian and have betrayed them. Björn says he doesn’t belong here. He wants to take Kattegat back from Ivar.

He says Harald has an army and he’ll convince Harald to attack Kattegat with him. Gunnhild reveals her husband told her that was the original plan; her husband and Harald intended to return and attack Ivar once they’d conquered England.

Sandi: So we have a partnership that, to me, feels totally equal.

Floki is speaking to Kjetill about what they should do about Eyvind’s dying family. Kjetill says “I cannot live without hope.” His hope is that people can change in this new world. They decide to try to save Eyevind’s family, and Kjetill swears if necessary, he will carry Eyvind home on his own back. They set off through the driving rain. It’s a dangerous journey and Helgi falls down a small cliff.

Björn tells Ubbe that he needs to retake Kattegat. Ubbe says they need him here. They have to defend Ragnar’s dream of a settlement in England. Björn agrees, but some of them have different ways of defending Ragnar’s dreams. He cannot take the path Ubbe has taken.

 Björn has a gentle, touching scene with Torvi. He says that she was never angry or spiteful, even when he abandoned her and their children. She says she loves their children and she will always make sure they are them proud of him. He says she was always loyal to his mother and she says simply that she loves Lagertha. He pauses for a moment and says, “Thank you.”

Judith addresses the court and reassures them that Alfred will recover, though no one really knows the origin of his illness. When the courtiers start to question her, Aethelred steps forward to say Alfred has had these attacks before and has always survived. Though others say they cannot afford a sick king, Aethelred says they need to trust him, that he knows Alfred will be fine. Alfred’s wife notes how popular Aethelred is, how everyone is turning to him and he seems to be encouraging it.

 Judith goes over after the court leaves to ask Aethelred what he said to them to reassure them when he should simply be asking them to pray for his brother. Aethelred grabs Judith’s arm roughly and says he’ll say what he likes and she should go make some stinking porridge for his brother. Essentially saying to Judith “Go make me a sandwich,” probably wasn’t the wisest decision Aethelred ever made.
Judith goes for a stroll in the woods and picks some mushrooms. I have a feeling they ain’t for porridge. She grinds and distills and boils.
Aethelred is making love to his wife. When they finish, his wife snuggles up to him and says “Poor brother… if he died, would you be king?” He says he would be. She giggles and says in that case, she hopes he dies. Aethelred looks up at the ceiling and smiles slightly.

Björn walks to the church where Harald holds court – the same church Ivar used to use for his own throne room. Magnus embraces him enthusiastically. “Brother!”
Harald says he’s happy to see Björn too. Who knows what the gods had in store for us. He is a bit less happy to see Gunnhild at Björn’s side. Later, Harald watches Gunnhild whispering with Björn, his eyes narrowed.
Judith has lunch with Aethelred and says he’s not doing well. She made some potions to try to cure him. Aethelred tucks into his meal. She says at least she knows he cares about Alfred. She says it’s just sooo terrible how the nobles conspire once they saw Alfred was sick. They have no charity in their souls. Alfred says she must understand their fears, and then doubles over in pain. He gulps down some wine, but it doesn’t help. Judith watches him Purple Wedding-ing in front of her, eyes wide. She stands and turns her back as she tells him she understands, but surely they can see that Alfred is the best for Wessex and England. Aethelred asks her what she’s done, and she turns to him as she says she doesn’t think he ever accepted Alfred as king. Aethelred chokes out, “You poisoned me!” and she starts weeping hard.

What kind of mother are you?” he asks and collapses with a hard thud against the table.
Lissa: Judith sits down with her dead son on the floor and weeps, holding him all Pietà-like in her arms.

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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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