The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.18 "Baldur"

“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: The episode opened with a village under a shroud of snow. Inside a busy hall, people are telling stories and drinking around the fire. The door opens and a fur-wrapped figure enters. A man we later learned is called Canute demands to know who has come in, and Hvitserk removes his hood to show a frost-bitten face.

He’s trembling badly from the cold as he explains who he is and pleads for hospitality. He asks to see King Olaf. Canute, holding an ax against his chest, says he may, but first he has to strip naked.

Sandi: This was rather abrupt and so, of course, effective. Sometimes, one welcomes a visitor with a horn of mead and a haunch of roast goat; sometimes one demands proof of neutrality, if not outright alliance. Hence the demand for nudity. There was no warning, no time to, er, hide anything, either. 

Lissa: In York, King Harald is attending a wedding.
SandiYeah, this was a bit disconcerting. Of course, it was in part a fantasy and in part reality, but the blend was skillfully done. 

Lissa: An intricate shield-dance is taking place in the center of the room, shot from above, and it looks like a spinning kaleidoscope. He imagines himself as the groom, lifting Gunnhild and making her swoon.
SandiThe whole sequence was a bit like a Disney cartoon during what might be termed their "Broadway" numbers, complete with prop-enhanced choreography and pretty, shiny things in the air. 

Lissa: She walks by him and he says something about how he thought she wanted to be queen. She says she is a queen… she just never specified which king.

Sandi: Gunnhild keeps her cards close to her vest, even here. She is Viking, and I believe a solid match for Björn, and I respect that, but she's not a terribly compassionate person, as seen in this light. 

Lissa: He is obviously a very Unhappy Camper and Gunnhild doesn’t make things any easier by kissing her husband whenever Harald is caught looking in their direction.
SandiIt certainly doesn't help that Björn is rather full of himself—which I understand—and flaunting his "triumph" over the older man. Harald really is terribly unlucky and unwise in matters of love and all that. 

Lissa:  Hvitserk walks buck-nekkid through the snow, shivering violently. There was a lot of Twittertalk about the owl.
I found a pic of the offended owl on Tumblr. You’re welcome, everyone!

SandiSadly, I must have been typing when the owl was onscreen, as I missed it during the show, but I appreciated that Lissa found an image to show me. The owl appears to have broken the Fourth Wall and is regarding the audience. 

Lissa: Canute opens the door of a hut and he walks into a steam-filled room. They have a nifty pulley-system trough over the coals that dumps water. At the other side of the room sits a large man with a round belly, difficult to discern though the thick steam.

SandiBecause possibly the only thing more intimidating than being made to walk naked in the snow in a strange place is to enter a steam-shrouded sweat lodge to find a stranger. Also, a note on sweat lodges. They were common. But the usual practice was to get hot and steamy BEFORE heading into the snow. Yeah. 

 Lissa: This is King Olaf. Hvitsy introduces himself. Olaf says he knows who he is, and he’s pleased to have a son of Ragnar Lothbrook there to talk to him.
Sandi: All of which is very polite and diplomatic. However, one cannot take a Viking king's word at face value. Diplomacy is a test of wit and balance.

 LissaOlaf asks him who Hvitsy thinks he is and Hvitsy says he thinks Olaf is the Buddha.
Sandi: This seemed to come out of left field, for me—rather too contrived, a forced tie-in to a previous episode that didn't have to be there. 

Lissa:  Olaf laughs, and we see a shot of his round belly as the camera pulls away.

Sandi:  I got it, but what was even more interesting was the fact that Olaf did, indeed, laugh. My guess, then, was that he had heard of Buddha and was amused at the comparison. If he hadn't a clue, he might have been more suspicious. A whole "Buddha Who?" conversation did not happen. 

Lissa: In Kattegat, Ivar’s Playskool Idol has been damaged, hacked in half with a sword. Ivar rides up on his chariot to stare at it in horror. The sword that did the deed is still protruding from the statue.
Sandi: First thought on this is that Ivar instigated the destruction of the Playskool Idol. I am not an avowed conspiracy theorist as a rule, but this just smells like Vintage Set-Up to me. If someone wanted to destroy an unwelcome idol (among the masses of Kattegat folk that listened to Ivar with wide eyes and shouts of acclaim), using a sword would not have been the way to go about it unless they wanted to be caught. 

Lissa: As you noted last night on Twitter, swords were known in this era. They weren’t mass-produced objects, and they were very expensive. Each one was unique. People would see you with it every day and it would become part of your personal identity. Every nick and scratch would have its own story to tell. By leaving the sword stuck in the statue, the person who vandalized it was essentially signing their work.

Sandi:  All of which led to me to believe Ivar planned this.

Lissa: His soldiers start roughing people up and dragging them from their homes. Thora, Hvitsy’s girlfriend, is terrified when Ivar sends for her, but he’s outwardly courteous when she arrives. But he asks her why she would do such a thing as destroy his idol. She doesn’t deny it, but then again, denying it would be pointless when he’s already decided she’s guilty.

Sandi:  That's the whole thing. Ivar is out to handle suspected malcontents—including his brother. As soon as we saw Hvitserk leave without Thora, we knew she was doomed. Ivar makes a show of questioning her, but there is no actual justice planned, no matter how ardently Thora tries to speak.
Lissa: He lets Thora go, but soldiers dog her steps and she runs out of the town into the forest… where she finds more soldiers herding her family into a small clearing. The soldiers throw that Magic Accelerant Oil Or Whatever It Is onto the people and set them on fire. They bump the burning people with shields to keep them together in a small group. But there are fiery people darting in all directions. Thora has to watch her family burn before she, too, is set alight.
Sandi: The Magic Accelerant Oil of Doom seemed to have a brownish cast to it, so I did wonder if it were a form of highly potent alcohol, not the ubiquitous Greek-ish Fire Stuff that we have seen before. The burning was . . . vivid and made in horrible counterpoint to Hvitserk pleading his case to Olaf. Hvitz, lad, you shouldn't have left her behind. 

Lissa:  In Iceland, Floki kneels beside a boat-shaped grave with a mound of stone in the center. It’s the grave of Aud. Kjetill enters the cemetery and Floki says something bitter about how Kjetill didn’t even tend to her burial properly. Kjetill gets in his face to taunt him, to try to get Floki to retaliate. Floki says that the man he once was would have done a series of highly-detailed horrors to Kjetill, his wife, and his son, but he’s no longer that man. Everyone in this cursed settlement has shown him that he can’t change other human beings, but he can change himself.
Sandi: Now this, here, is a major deal for Floki. For anyone, really. A man can really, truly, only be sure of the change he makes in himself. I could, perhaps, have done without Floki's graphic rendition of former possibilities, but the point was amply illustrated thereby. 

Lissa: He says Kjetill and the rest of the colonists can do what they want. He’s done with humans.

SandiAnd then he heads off and one is left, for a while, to wonder what he plans on doing, then. Where are the men who came out of nowhere to aid Kjetill in his assassination? Where will Floki go on his own? 

Lissa: Back in Olaf’s Steam Hut, Olaf asks Hvitserk if he’s here to help with the invasion of England. Hvitserk says no, he came to ask Olaf to help him attack Kattegat. He ends up getting thumped on the head.

Sandi:  Diplomacy is still not Hvitserk's best thing, maybe. Though, being brother to Ivar, he has had a lot of practice. Hvitserk is honest, though, and even in diplomacy, that is respected. 

Lissa: We next see Judith sitting in an herb-woman’s house, being smudged as the woman whispers a suggested course of treatment to her. Judith looks like hell, her face pale and drawn. As she stands, she hears a noise.

SandiThe treatment, as far as we could see, sounded more like psychology and meditation than actual medical treatment, but as we mentioned last week, breast cancer wasn't exactly treatable at this time, even when it was discovered and recognized. 

Lissa: The herb-woman tries to draw her away, but Judith investigates. She sees a woman crouched by a wall, muttering to herself and asks, “Lagertha, is that you?”

The herb-woman says to ignore her. She’s just a crazy woman found in the woods that the herb-woman is caring for.
SandiWe never find out exactly what the herbalist knows, but she is clearly trying to protect a vulnerable patient in her care. Even from the queen. Who knows what Judith's reputation is at this juncture? 

Lissa: She has Lagertha brought back to the palace. Lagertha is having visions. She first sees a glimpse of Heahmund, dressed in a long, black robe, turning away from her, and then she sees him… Ragnar. But it’s not a vision of comfort. She sees his execution as it really happened. She takes different roles in the scene. First she’s holding the snakes aloft.

Sandi It was disconcerting to see all of this in her visions, but all over twitter, the fans were happy to see Ragnar. Swoons abounded. Yep, in my living room, too. But I have to say it was good to finally see Lagertha "aged" here. Trauma-white her hair might be, but she was clearly a woman of age, in the vision sequence, and it was about time to see her thus, in my opinion. 

Lissa: Then she’s King Aella, demanding that he be delivered from his enemies, and it was oddly disconcerting to hear his voice issue from her lips.

Sandi It was! But it fit, oddly, with what was happening. 

Lissa:  She hears Ragnar’s final speech about what awaits him in Valhalla. And then she’s lying beside him in the snake pit and then they’re back in their farmhouse bed together and he’s talking about how she’s given him her heart.

SandiI am sure that this whole thing was at least in part to get Lagertha to a place where the past several years were, after a fashion, resolved in terms of Lagertha's mourning for Ragnar. They were separated when he died, but they were also kind of perfect for each other even so, and his loss had to have hit harder than it showed in the series. She lost the Kalfling, Joan Jett, and Heahmund, but they were not Ragnar and she needed to mourn his loss. Even if that meant running into the forest and going a bit mad. 

Lissa:  They coax her back to reality and Lagertha asks where she is. When Judith speaks to her, Lagertha says, “Ecbert’s villa?” and Judith nods with a smile. “Yes, Ecbert.”

SandiThat might have stung Judith a bit, but she handled it well. Also, it was a smooth way to bring the show back to the present. 

Lissa: A bit later, Lagertha is sitting at the table with Judith and Alfred. He warmly welcomes her as Queen of the Vikings. Lagertha says she’s no longer a queen, and no longer even a shieldmaiden, for she has lost her shield, and has nothing with which to protect herself any longer.
SandiShe did seem to be back in her right mind at this point, which was good. And I think this segment here was a good set-up for her eventual exit from Vikings. A solid one. Because we know it's gonna happen, right? And I am sure the fans will want her to go out in full possession of her wits. 

Lissa: Judith takes her into Athelstan’s old study and shows her some of her painting. She talks about the blue pigment, lapis lazuli, the most precious and expensive paint, and that’s why it’s used for painting the robes of the Virgin. She tells Lagertha that she, too, had sons, two of them, but one is dead now, and she was the one who killed him. She is dying. She has a lump in her breast and knows women who have died from this. Elsewith starts crying and says she can’t bear it. Lagertha glances over at her and says, “You’re young. You can bear anything.” She dips her fingers into the precious blue pigment and draws it down over Judith’s face. She says she’s a warrior, too, in her own way.
SandiI still think it was lovely. Strong women being strong even in the face of unavoidable adversity. **nods** 

Lissa: Hvitserk wakes and he’s still in the sauna. He pants from the heat and winces as Canute throws hot water on him. “This is a ridiculous way to die,” he says, noting how cold it is outside. Canute says he loves irony. He asks Hvitserk if he’s changed his mind or he still wants to attack Kattegat. Hvitsy hasn’t. Canute tells him that he should know better than to put trust in the word of kings before he unties Hvitsy and lets him fall to the floor.

SandiBest thing in that scene was Hvitserk's "way to die" complaint. Also, the wise advice not to put his trust in the words of kings. Yeah, we get that a lot in this show, don't we? 

Lissa: In Kattegat, Fecund Freydis has gone into labor. She screams in pain and Ivar, seated nearby, covers his ears. Dude is so not ready to be a father! Anyway, the baby emerges, and it’s immediately apparent all isn’t well. The midwives become tense and quiet. Ivar demands to know what the baby is and they tell him it’s a boy. Freydis asks to see her son and coos over the baby, but the midwife says to her that the child will never be able to drink milk. It sounds like the baby was born with a cleft palate, but we never see the baby directly, just the reaction of those who behold him.
Sandi: I said last night that Freydis had undoubtedly been planning what to say under ANY circumstance of the child's birth. Son, daughter, whole, or with some kind of physical anomaly, or possibly even stillborn (because it could happen). She had an answer to all circumstances, practiced to sound impromptu and sincere, so she is all ready to pick the needed one when her baby is born. 

Lissa:  Ivar demands to see the baby and as soon as he does, his eyes widen and he looks over at Freydis in horror.

 Freydis calls over that she told him the gods sent deformity to mark those who were divine.
SandiShe has to say that in light of what she's said to Ivar himself, no? His expression says it all, really. His shields are up. This is such a difference to every other time we've seen him talking about the baby he's now holding. A softness used to take possession of his eyes. He'd smile. Sometimes, there was genuine depth of emotion. But when he holds his son . . . ? No. All the walls are back and Ivar the Boneless is plotting. 

Lissa:  They’re rowed across the water to a camp.

SandiI'm just grateful they look like Vikings! 

Lissa: The soldiers, upon seeing him, begin to pound their shields and chant “Ubbe, Ubbe…” Torvi gives him a little smirk and says “See? You’re famous.” Ubbe’s eyes widen a bit as he nods and shrugs, like, “I guess so. Wow.” That was kinda cute, gotta say.

SandiTorvi is a great character. I also really appreciated the Ubbe Chant that sounded when they arrived. Before this, there isn't a sense that he's known outside his immediate sphere 

Lissa: He meets with the Danes and says that he wants to tell them a battle between them isn’t necessary. They can settle here and farm if they lay down their swords. At that point, Torvi takes over and says men tend to rush in and fight when fighting is sometimes not necessary to achieve the goal. The king at the table shoots her down.
SandiLeave it to Torvi to meet things head-on. Of course, being the parter of Ubbe Ragnarsson cannot hurt her confidence, any. Especially when they were well received. But she is unafraid to speak the truth in the hall of a king, so this is totally in character. 

 Lissa: One of the kings is named Frodo. Yes, Frodo.
Sandi: Another one is King Angantyr, who is played by Kathryn Winnick's real life brother! (Thanks @DeeDonuts from Project Fandom!) 

Lissa: Frodo is utterly uninterested in Ubbe’s proposal. Ubbe challenges him to single combat and Frodo is delighted to accept. A little bit too delighted.
Sandi: One must be a bit suspicious when someone is eager to fight one on one. They will either know of a distinct advantage or have something to prove that might be deleterious to your personal well being.

Lissa: Floki wanders toward the volcano they saw when they first came to Iceland. He kneels beside a small brook and whispers to the gods that he’s almost lost his faith. He would go into the mouth of Hel itself and walk through the halls of the Dwarves looking for the gods. King Olaf comes to visit Hvitserk, and he’s wearing a long, red loincloth. He recites a few lines in Sanskrit @smidbeach recognized from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliott.

 Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. 
 Shantih shantih shantih 

 According to what I’m reading, the three words in the first line mean giving, compassion, and self-control, Hindu precepts. They were the three things built off of Lord Vishnu’s simple answer when asked for a guide to living, “Da.” The gods, humans, and demons all took different meanings from that one syllable. The gods thought it meant self-control (damyata), the demons compassion (dayadhvam), and the humans thought it meant charity (datta).

SandiI didn't get a chance to check the episode again but other sources indicate you got the words right, Lissa. The use of Hindi terms would seem to indicate that Buddhism was not King Olaf's philosophy of choice but rather perhaps Hinduism, which is interesting coming from a man who would in history be known as someone who played a "leading role in the Christianization of Norway."

Lissa: He tells Hvitserk that he will attack Kattegat with him and Hvitserk bursts into tears of gratitude.

SandiYeah. Hvitserk tries, but he isn't good with subtle nuances, is he? Not really. 

Lissa: Ivar is outside in the dark, sitting on a snow-covered log. He talks tenderly to the baby in his arms. He says he thought the child would be Baldr, blessed among the gods. He says he knows what it’s like to grow up with a disability and what kind of father would he be if he allowed his child to suffer that way, apparently unaware his own father made the choice not to expose him.
SandiWell, Ragnar did take Ivar out to expose him. It was his initial plan. But Ragnar, unlike some psychopaths in charge of Kattegat in later years, did his best to take care of his small children. 

Lissa: He tells the baby that every time people looked at him, they would be reminded of Ivar’s disability.
SandiSo basically, "Whenever they see you, they'll remember I AM A CRIPPLE!" Which is what he says often enough in the series, to be sure. And Ivar is doing his level best to stand tall in front of others. I also think, though, that he is at least in part sincere about not wanting any child of his to have to suffer with the same kind of stigma. 

Lissa: He kisses the baby and sniffs back tears. He lays the child down and crawls away. I thought the choice to have him crawling was interesting, because here is Ivar stripped of his stagecraft and artifice. He has no need to pretend mobility. He is as raw and vulnerable as we ever see him. At one point, the child’s cries make him pause to turn back, but he continues on his course, crawling away into the night.
Sandi: I half-expected him to go back and retrieve his son, feeling that he had tried, that he wanted to do the Right Thing, the Strong Thing, but that he wouldn't be able to, in the end, abandon this longed for son to such a fate . . . but no. He kept going. 

Lissa: He almost bought into what Freydis was selling…. Such a seductive line of thinking for a boy who’s always felt like he was a reject. But as soon as he saw the baby, all of that crumbled away. He wasn’t divine or blessed, and he didn’t want his child to have to suffer as he had. In his own way, he was trying to be merciful, even though we in the modern era find the idea of exposing an infant reprehensible. He saw a lifetime of anguish ahead for this baby, as opposed to a relatively quick and painless demise.

Sandi: So will he still cling to the divinity he has claimed or will he spurn it and continue on as just a man? I think his pride might require him to believe he is divine—he's invested a lot in that—but that he will turn on those who showed him he was not beyond human pain. And giving up his son? A very human pain. 

Lissa:  Last night, people were predicting trouble for Freydis, and I concurred.
Sandi: Exactly. (And readers, if you can't see the tweets we post in here on your mobile device, I would ask you to find #ShieldGeeks on twitter. Do a search for the tag!) 

Lissa: He’s had a brutal awakening. He built a show for his people and he became enthralled himself by it for a while, but now his illusions have been brutally shattered.

SandiI have to confess here that I am very curious as to what will happen to Freydis. Still don't like her. 

Lissa: Floki approaches the mountain and spots a cave. Considering what he said to the gods while he was beside the brook, it’s no wonder he’s intrigued and heads toward it.

SandiThis, of course, is when we are introduced to a cave that might well symbolize the mouth of Hel. Add to that the sudden appearance of bugs (flies? bees?) and we have proof of life in a place that didn't seem to offer any to Floki's flagging faith. He goes to the cave and appears to be stricken with awe . . . but we have no idea why. Yet! Only two more episode to go in Season Five! I am definitely wondering how this season will close 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 5.17 "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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