Two Historical Fiction Authors Review #VIKINGS Episode III

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Welcome back to our review series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

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

Lissa: In this episode, we see the Vikings starting off in their element, casually strolling toward Winchester. The battle was fierce, but brief, and it left the Vikings looking around - much like their first raid in England, saying, "This can't be it?" Cautiously, they open the doors of their prize. I'm not sure if they were pleased or disappointed to find out that was, indeed, all the battle there was going to be.

Sandi: I think they were likely pleased at that juncture, as they hadn't yet seen what they were fighting for. Why fight for no purpose? Does that get a man to Valhalla? But for this scene, I was very much captivated by Athelstan's performance, as well as the developing Athelstan-Floki dynamic.

From ladyhawke81 on Tumblr
Lissa: Once inside, Floki challenges Athelstan. "You said there'd be treasure." There's almost a smirk on Athelstan's face as he reveals its location beneath the altar.

But I think Floki sees some things very clearly through those madman's eyes. There is still part of Athelstan that dwells in the heart of his abbey. We saw it when he tenderly touched the pages of those manuscripts. He struck down the priest who saw a "heathen" about to touch the pages of scripture they were copying, but there was regret, a pang for a life that was lost to him.

Temptation, now in book form
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No doubt, we'll soon see him reading that book Floki brought him after the raid was over.

SandiThat was a great sequence for Athelstan's character. I think he had made his peace with the idea of raiding his homeland, but confronted with killing monks—men he would have called "brother" not too many years before—had to have been rough on him.

Lissa: The priest's warning to Athelstan was very true: his punishment as an apostate would be awful if he was captured by the Church.

SandiNot to mention how it would turn out if word got out that Athelstan was heard to claim Odin as Supreme. Interestingly, he did not claim the pantheon of the Northern Way, but only Odin the All-Father. I am thinking he is making a mental substitution, here, and does not truly follow the Norse gods, but puts a name in place of his own. Ragnar, during training in an earlier episode, clearly indicates that Athelstan's God is separate from Ragnar's.

Lissa: I wonder if the priest's death by arrows was a set-up to see what Athelstan would do.

From ladyhawke81 on Tumblr
SandiOh, I'm sure he did. Floki doesn't trust Athelstan and I think this is a bi-level thing. One, of course, is the matter of faith and culture. Floki is devout and he is a man of his time and place. A genius for sea-craft and a mystic in many ways. But he's also jealous, I think, of Athelstan's relationship with Ragnar. He might have disparaged the arm-ring—the symbol of manhood conferred on the Northmen—that Athelstan had been given, but he understood its significance. And Ragnar talks to Athelstan. Good talks. Needful talks. For a friend of long standing, that can be seen as threatening, perhaps.

Lissa: None of the Vikings seemed terribly disappointed or surprised when he ended it with a slash of his knife. Ragnar was lurking in the doorway, and he seemed to simply roll his eyes as he departed.

SandiI was kind of thinking that Ragnar was half-prepared to step in himself at that juncture. He didn't exactly demonstrate concern toward the bishop, but he did keep an eye on Athelstan. That Athelstan took it upon himself to end the bishop's suffering was something he didn't remark upon, for good or ill. I think the approval there—for injury and the ending of it—was tacit.

From ladyhawke81 on Tumblr
Lissa: In the kitchen, Ragnar stops for a bite of fresh bread. Good stuff, too... That was manchet-style bread, made of the finest wheat flour, carefully sifted to remove the bran. It would be comparable to our wheat bread today in texture. The peasants ate heavier, darker, coarse bread made of barley and rye flour.

SandiIt was clearly good bread. And then, after having a bite, he casually opens the oven so that his men are satisfied with more treasure. But it's clear that for Ragnar, the food—and the land where it is grown—is the treasure. He's already thinking of settling here to some extent.

By ladyhawke81 on Tumblr
Lissa: He sits down to check out a bowl of grain and spies a child crouching down beside the table. Did he think of Gyda? For some reason, I thought so. He slowly got up, grabbed a rug, and used it to conceal the child. It was a lovely moment. Sad to think that poor child, who apparently got left behind when everyone else hid beneath the floor of the barn, was the only one who survived.

SandiI think he did think of Gyda—but also of his sons. He's a fond father, as we've noted before, and children are precious to him.

She wore this beautiful gown last night
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Lissa: After all this time, we finally see Lagertha again, but what a change of circumstance! She has remarried to another jarl, a man named Sigvard. He strikes her across the face and Lagertha is oddly submissive to it. She promises a concerned Björn that it won't happen again. She's quick to try to make peace both with her husband, and with her son, who is understandably upset to see his mother abused. I was intrigued... What in the world would make Lagertha accept that kind of treatment? There has to be a lot more to this story.

Later, Björn proposes that he go off on his own to try to survive in a little cabin in the mountains. Lagertha seems very pleased by this idea, but Sigvard scoffs at it and refuses. Her reminds Björn he promised Lagertha he would take care of her son.

SandiI am still wondering why Björn is not treated as a man by Jarl Sigvard. He was given his armband years ago, so he should be free to go into the woods if he likes unless there are other, more compelling, reasons for him to stay behind. As you say, there is a backstory here that I am very interested in discovering.

Lissa: Jarl Borg has gotten remarried, and used the occasion of his wedding to vow his vengeance against Ragnar and Rollo.
From ladyhawke81 on Tumblr

SandiA nice bit of theatre, as I said last night. I am fairly certain that Borg was not at all concerned about the wine being poisoned and merely acted to get any remaining support that his men might have withheld.

Lissa: Both brothers rejected him, and now Borg will use Ragnar's absence as his chance. Rollo's napping again - or sleeping off too much mead - and Siggy has to come and wake him to tell him there's an invasion underway.

SandiRollo's self-esteem really took a lot of hits, I think, which is why he was essentially skulking for years before he was forgiven (but not restored entirely) by his brother. His relationship with Siggy is likely about the only thing that has kept him even moderately afloat.

From vikings-shieldmaiden on Tumblr
Lissa: She gained back a measure of my respect again when she appeared with a shield and sword. Untrained, but willing to fight to defend her home. That takes guts.

More guts than Aslaug had, apparently. One would think the daughter of Brunhilda and Sigurd ... Well, she spent her childhood stuffed in a harp, so what can one expect?

SandiIt's interesting to see how the women are portrayed in this episode, really. You've got Siggy the Schemer (for she is, though she was willing to fight. To what end? Is she harboring jealousy over Lagertha?) who is older and accustomed to being a Leader's Consort but not unwilling to try to lead herself. Had she hoped to prove herself in that battle? And there's Aslaug who is royal and has good taste and can bear multiple sons, but beyond that has proven a bit useless in any practical way. And then there's Lagertha, who will always be a shield maiden and fierce mother. She is clearly acting with her own agenda...but to what end?
Mostly decorative
From melswilliams on Tumblr

Lissa: Rollo convinces Siggy to take Aslaug and the children to the mountains while he stays behind to defend Kattegat. I wasn't as impressed with this battle as I have been with others. Did Ragnar really leave his home completely defenseless? Was it hubris or short-sightedness that made him make such a foolish decision?

SandiThis was foolish on Ragnar's part, indeed. He seems to be away from Kattegat when he is most needed or wanted. Granted, he is doing bold things out in the world, but his first responsibilities, one could argue, were being neglected thereby. I'm not sure if it's hubris but rather short-sightedness, as you said, or possibly just not thinking.

Lissa: I was watching Borg's boats slooooooowly approach and I'm sitting there looking around. "Where are the archers? Can't someone at least throw some ROCKS at them?" It wasn't until they hopped out of the boats and started slogging toward shore that I saw a couple of arrows fall.

SandiRollo had apparently sent the archers into a fallback position. He kept them in reserve in case the others were unable to do an adequate job of protecting the village. Traditionally in medieval warfare, archers can stand behind the main fighting body as their weapons have a reach of sorts, but it would have been wiser to use them earlier. Rollo is a good man in combat, but he's not a general.

Lissa: But never the less, Ragnar's people are driven back, and Rollo flees to where Aslaug, Siggy and the children are were watching Kattegat burn. I can't imagine Ragnar being pleased to hear that Rollo fled with his wife and the children, but maybe he'll see the terrible, terrible mistake he made in leaving Kattegat utterly defenseless.

SandiIt really isn't Rollo's fault. And when the elder reminded him that his duty was to save the lives of Aslaug and Ragnar's sons, he did it. But yeah. Ragnar will not be happy. I do hope he doesn't take it out on Rollo, though. Without Rollo, it is possible that Aslaug and the boys would have been slain or captured.

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