Two Historical Fiction Authors Review #VIKINGS Episode IV

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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 Moonhere.)

Lissa: WOW, what an episode! As you said, there wasn't much to speak of in the way of battles, but it was an explosive episode none the less.

First, let me say I'm in love with their costuming department. The detail on Aslaug's sleeves was just delightful. You can tell a great deal of care went into the creation of these costumes. Simply gorgeous! This show continues to dazzle me with its costumes and props, from the lovely textiles to the beautifully carved horn cups.

Sandi: Yes! The details are incredible.

From vikings-shieldmaiden on Tumblr
Lissa: We started out watching Aslaug giving a prissy, princessy huff at Siggy's choice of shelter for them, but Siggy is able to persuade her into a semblance of common sense. There ain't exactly a Four Seasons nearby, your highness.

Sandi: I could not believe her! "It's too dirty. They're going to get a disease. Ick. Ew." Never mind that that people had to move heaven and earth to get her safe. Whine, whine, whine. Did you note how Siggy was handling it all? She, who used to be a woman of such high status, toting water and wearing the plainest of garments and acting almost as a servant? Now I still think she's got an ulterior motive, but she's doing great in the circumstances.

Lissa: Jarl Borg explains to the survivors at Kattegat that he's taking over - and moreover - why. Quite courteous of him, if you think about it.
from starrose17 on Tumblr

SandiIt really was. He knows the people had to fight him initially; he would have expected no less, I'm certain. So though he isn't exactly penalizing them, he is making clear his expectations. As you say, courteous. And fair.

Lissa: He warns them he'll tolerate no defiance, and stares at the hostile expression of the Seer as he says it. But a few moments later, we see him seeking the Seer's vision. The Seer obviously isn't best pleased to be having the conversation, but he tells him he sees an "eagle" in his future, and Jarl Borg will be that eagle. Borg is pleased because he thinks of an eagle's strength and majesty in flight, but the Seer's message can have a much more sinister interpretation.

From History Channel
Sandi: AND you found the most interesting thing on tumblr last night, Lissa! You found that the Seer is Jarl Borg’s brother.

This was also referenced at Jarl Borg’s wedding. Remember, I said it was a nice bit of theatre?This was also referenced at Jarl Borg's wedding. Remember, I said it was a nice bit of theatre?

Lissa:  From the first season, episode 9:

Borg: However, I was elected at the thing.
We had a feast to celebrate.
My wife was there my young, beautiful wife we'd just gotten married and all the others who had stood for election against me.
My brother poisoned them all.
I only survived because my wife took the cup I was about to drink from and drained it herself in celebration.
I will never forget her screams.
It's my wife's screams that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
My brother denied responsibility, but his guilt was too obvious.
So I blinded him with my own hands, and then I burned him alive.
That's what I know about the love between brothers.

Lagertha offering to demonstrate last season
From fyeahkatherynwinnick on Tumblr
You and I discussed last season that the "blood eagle" may have been a mythical invention of early Christian writers, or perhaps repeated rumors of the barbaric practices of the "savages." Lagertha referred to in in one of the first episodes when she threatened to rip out Athelstan's lungs if her children came to harm under his care. But the actual documentary evidence for the practice is very slim, indeed, and many scholars doubt its veracity.

SandiIndeed. Threatening to remove essential body parts is not unique to the Vikings, of course, so I can see that someone might say it but not actually create what we have seen called a Blood Eagle. Still, great harm can be done through excruciating means, even without that particular torture.

Lissa: Next, we see Ragnar and King Ecgbert having a bath together. As you mentioned, Viking men would have been comfortable with nudity in steam houses and the like, but bathing together like this would be a little different. I think Ragnar stripped down to bathe with the king to show that he didn't feel vulnerable stripped of his armor and weapons. You noted that his scars proudly proclaim he's a warrior who has survived many battles. I'm sure Ecgbert came to the same conclusion!

No peeking!
From vikings-shieldmaiden on Tumblr
SandiYes. This was a test, of sorts as well as a tacit promise that no one was going to die during the conference. With both men naked, no weapons could be hidden up a sleeve or in a boot. Ecbert, you may have seen, didn't bear the scars of battle - at least not where we could see them. He didn't have the same war-honed body, either, though he was all groomed and so on. Still, in a bath like that, it did disconcert Ragnar. As you pointed out, Lissa, Travis Fimmel does a fantastic job with this role. He can say a lot with a twitch of his eye.

Lissa: I remember once reading in Marlene Dietrich's biography when she talked about acting with the eyes. I don't think I entirely understood what she meant until I saw this episode.

But it comes down to negotiation... "So soft your fields, so green..." Ragnar wants some of that lush, fertile land, and Ecgbert seems amenable to making a deal, especially since he has expansion plans of his own that Ragnar might be able to help him with.
"Pass the soap."
From sikanapanele on Tumblr

SandiThis interest in settling down is a very big deal, really. Initially, Ragnar wished to get rich but he is a farmer. It's not all he is, but he is a farmer, after all, and his divided priorities include finding a place where he can grow food and raise his family and live in some sort of peace, I think.

Lissa: But then he finds out about Jarl Borg's attack on Kattegat, and wants to leave immediately to find his family. He seems genuinely surprised when King Horik wants to stay and continue with the English mission, and hurt when Athelstan decides to stay on as a translator.

SandiThis worried me a great deal, as you know. Flailing did happen in my house, to be sure. Ragnar could have ordered Athelstan to be with him; they're good friends and have been close companions for years, now. But he didn't. As with so many other things, Ragnar will regret this, too.

"I don't want to say I told you so, but I TOLD YOU SO!"
From m4mbore on Tumblr
Lissa: Floki's smirk hurt almost as much. He was so pleased that Ragnar felt betrayed by Athelstan, as though Floki's opinion of Athelstan had been vindicated by the ex-priest's choice to stay behind.

SandiI, truthfully, felt all sick to my stomach. I was so scared, to be honest. I initially thought Floki would set Athelstan up to be tormented in some way once Ragnar wasn't about, but instead, the mystic shipbuilder returned to the homeland with his leader. Which as loyal. And a good move for a man who is probably feeling a bit insecure about his relationship with his lifelong friend.

From meafterdeath on Tumblr
Lissa: Finally we see Lagertha standing up for herself against that lout of a husband. I'm really hoping to find out soon why she chose to stay with him and endure that sort of treatment.

SandiYes! I saw you'd asked the History Channel, too! And I loved seeing how protective Björn is of her. He was all set to go in, knife at the ready. I was also pleased to see how loyal he is to Ragnar. Leaving his father was not easy for him, but he did it and I think it was the right choice for him. Still, Lagertha has clearly not said or done anything to make Björn think less of his father than he did already, which was good. Björn seems to have grown into a strong man without too much baggage.

Lissa: We also see Aslaug's powers as a völva in action when she envisions Ragnar's return. Soon, he's back for real, and he's full of hot-headed plans to charge back to Kattegat and whomp on Jarl Borg. But with his pitifully small band, he couldn't do much more than the harrying tactics that Rollo was suggesting without getting slaughtered.

SandiI concur. Still, I give props to Rollo for his planning on the matter, and for confronting Ragnar honestly about the situation. Rollo's whole demeanor changed, from the lagging, hopeless man he'd been to a leader. Even if his decisions aren't always solid, he is trying and making sense.

Drop it like it's hot.
From vikings-shieldmaiden on Tumblr
Lissa: Athelstan succumbs to the siren call of that book of Christian scripture Floki got for him from Westminster.

The next day, something horrible happens when the warriors are attacked and Athelstan is driven away from them by a hail of arrows. He falls asleep in a field to be woken up by a contingent of English soldiers. He surrenders ... I thought he probably would be better off charging them with his axe and dying a quick death, and I was right. In the next scene, we see him about to meet a horrifying end.

SandiWell, I don't know about right, necessarily, but surrender would have been easier on him, to be sure! Crucifixion was not a common means of execution in this time and place, even for the apostate. But I believe that the bishop responsible has his own agenda to bring forth (doesn't everyone?) and he was making his own bit of theatre with Athelstan as an example.

Lissa: The history buff in me has to interject here... I'm certainly not an expert on early Christian Church law, but I know as early as the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, clerics were expressly forbidden from shedding blood. The church itself didn't execute people - they would find the offender guilty of heresy/apostasy and turn them over to the secular arm of the law for punishment. They weren't even supposed to be present at an execution. I know it's 300 years after the time period of this show, but some areas had their own more stringent customs. Some wouldn't even allow clerics to be surgeons because of the prohibition of shedding blood. What did your research indicate?

From alecambrosios on Tumblr
SandiThere aren't any official surviving records of the punishment of the apostate in early 9th Century England, so the show's creators have some leeway in how they approach Athelstan's treatment. I am just wondering how they decided he was apostate, except that any association (successful, since Athelstan is clearly a free man) with the "Northern Pagans" would make him suspect. Crucifixion largely went out of style around the 5th Century over most of Europe. But that doesn't mean that pockets of people here and there didn't do things their own way. Oversight was minimal in the more rural areas. Still, a bishop of rank likely wouldn't have gone this far unless he had something else he was trying to accomplish as well. Medieval Multi-tasking.

From forged-by-fantasy on Tumblr
Lissa: Thank goodness, the execution is stopped when king Ecgbert decides Athelstan might have value to Ragnar.

SandiYes, but at what cost to Athelstan? What will happen to him? How will this affect his faith? His relationship with Ragnar?

Lissa: The cavalry appears on the horizon for Ragnar! Lagertha has arrived with Bjorn and a strong band of warriors in tow to help Ragnar take back his lands. It's a lovely moment of reunion for Ragnar and his son, though his conversation with Lagertha is a tad stilted. Still, the episode ends on a note of hope for Ragnar.

SandiI was surprised at the stiffness between Ragnar and Lagertha, though I don't know why I was. They are still the Viking Power Couple to me, even if they aren't, anymore. The meeting with his son, though, brought tears to my eyes for real. It was exactly what I'd hoped to see. As you said, the episode ended well, to a point. But oh, next week!
From sikanapanele on Tumblr

Lissa: Will he be able to win back his homeland? Will Lagertha and Aslaug clash, and if so, whose side will Siggy land on? How will the poor, wounded Athelstan fare in Ecgbert's clutches? I don't anticipate many warm baths in his future.

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