Two Historical Fiction Authors Review #VIKINGS Episode V

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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: Lagertha is back! Siggy seemed genuinely happy to see her as the two embraced. She was also warmly greeted by the people of Kattegat, which seemed to make Aslaug a bit jealous.

A perfectly apt summation
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I imagine it has been difficult for Aslaug to win the people's respect after Lagertha left. As hard as it is for me to have sympathy for her, it can't have been easy.

Sandi: I really enjoyed Lagertha's homecoming. Rollo's greeting was, perhaps, a bit warmer than necessary, but he didn't overdo it. Much. Siggy might feel a more genuine kinship to Lagertha at this point, as both women are kind of the in "deposed leader's mate" category. And yes, you're very kind to Aslaug. I don't imagine it's been easy for her, either, but she rejoices in her ability to provide numerous sons to the Jarl. Did you see how she had them gathered about her when Lagertha entered the hall?

Lissa: Lagertha stands at the head of the table to discuss strategy. It was a wonderful scene which showed the respect they had for her, not only as one who had come to their rescue, but as a formidable warrior in of herself.

SandiYes. She is a shieldmaiden of note and she has come with armed men at her side. Plus, Ragnar's grown son!

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Lissa: It seems Ragnar is a member of the "It's so crazy, it just may work," school of military planning. We see him sneaking in with Björn and a few others to attack the grain stores at Kattegat.

SandiNow, this approach bothered me, and I said so on twitter. Kattegat is their home, the home in which they've lived for a long time. Yes, Jarl Borg ran them out of it and they're in exile, but the people of Kattegat are his people, and he is/was their jarl. I understand the "burn their resources" idea, but how could he do that to his own people?

Lissa: I loved seeing the flint and steel. This show has been great with little details like that. (Except for the occasional boot heel, eh, Sandi?) I just saw a post online from someone complaining about one of the horse bridles that appeared last week. Apparently, there are people who make note of which horses appear over and over in the show, so that means there are actually people geekier than we are. :D

SandiThis is a relief. :) And you might notice that we haven't seen a lot of boot soles this season...

Lissa: Anyway, the flint and steel was great for building tension in the scene. Gather round little ones, and learn that arson was a much slower process in the "olden days" before Sure-Strike matches.

SandiIn this time, there was actually a tool called the fire-steel. I found a picture of one on Flickr. The Northmen could use this and often had a tinder kit that included the flint, some rope, and maybe even thin bark that they could use to start a quick fire at need. It didn't take too long, really, compared to other methods.

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Lissa: Even with the addition of Lagertha's men, I wasn't sure Ragnar was going to be able to pull off the coming battle for Kattegat. And a heck of a battle scene it was, too. That's another thing the History Channel has excelled at here, too. They've struck a balance between "cinematic" and "gritty." It was great to see Jarl Borg scuttling away in retreat. Not so great to see Ragnar criticize Björn for his performance. I thought the boy acquitted himself well for his first battle.

SandiThat was a great battle! Did your TL enjoy it? I did wonder. I thought at first that Ragnar had managed to kill Jarl Borg, but alas, no. The intruder ran away with this tail between his legs. The battle had different stages and it was evident that planning had gone into it from both sides. I really appreciated the axe work exhibited, too. Swords were quite expensive and axes and spears were much more common. And Björn's performance was very good. He did get disoriented when he was knocked down, but he recovered well. He's at least seventeen at this point, which makes him a man and of an age to go raiding and all those other manly-man things, so Ragnar's treatment of him as if he were a child irritated me.

Lissa: Afterwards, the victorious Vikings offer a sacrifice to Thor, and Ragnar indicates that Björn should swing the axe. He does, without flinching, though Lagertha looks away, seemingly unhappy about it. You and I have discussed that human sacrifice doesn't seem to have been common by this time period. But in the context of the show, she should have been happy her son was given the honor.

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SandiHonestly, I'm not sure what purpose was served by that particular scene, unless it's to showcase the difference between the treatment of Rollo and the treatment of Björn. There didn't seem to be a purpose for the sacrifice. Thanksgiving? Well, there are other ways to express this and a human sacrifice felt out of context for this time.

Lissa: This scene was interestingly contrasted with scenes of high mass ... Floki's state of euphoria as he smeared the blood on his face, versus the communion ritual. In yet another of those deft touches, they had bits of wheat bread for the host. I envision someone at History Channel saying, "Ah, a communion scene. What type of bread would they have been using as the host at the time...?" From what I saw online, there seemed to be a lot of confusion about why Athelstan didn't take communion, but that was - of course - because he was unconfessed.
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SandiAthelstan's character is so complex right now. I'm very much enjoying him raveling and unraveling.

Lissa: Athelstan is in a very disturbed state right now. He's trying to regain his faith in Christianity, and his visions have taken on a terrifying edge. Is it his guilt manifesting, or has his mind broken beneath the pressure? Does he consider himself "home" now? There was a strange moment when he met the woman with the disfigured face. He thought for a moment he was having a vision of the Virgin Mary, but she had come to thank him for interceding with King Ecbert in explaining the rights of pagan women under their laws. She kissed him on the cheek, and suddenly, not-so-religious thoughts seemed to be filling his befuddled mind.
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SandiAs the History Channel said, Athelstan has a history of such "trips" and I think that they're bringing them all in, here. He suffered severe trauma when he was enslaved years before. And he's had to undergo deep cultural displacement. It is not to be wondered at that he is walking on an uncertain edge at this juncture. I do hope, though, that he can find peace within himself this season. 

And a romance wouldn't hurt my feelings at all!

Lissa: Ragnar, too, is in a quandary. He still loves Lagertha, and he wants both women. Neither seems willing to entertain the notion. I liked the Seer's response that Ragnar was fooling himself if he thought it was his choice.

SandiRagnar remains true to character, even here. He has goals, but they're unclear—even to himself. He loves Lagertha, of course. He has come to care for Aslaug, but in a different way (I think) than he does Lagertha. He wants to honor both women as his wife, he wants all his children around him... He wants a very great deal. But his methods of choosing what is top priority lack finesse, to say the least.
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Lissa: Lagertha comes into the hall and says she has an announcement. Ragnar looks around, a little nervous, and asks if it would best be told to him in private. Lagertha replies she wants to tell everyone. She's returning to her husband, as is her duty. She tells Ragnar to take care of Björn.

SandiI get the purpose of her announcement, but I find it odd that she was formally entrusting the care of a fully adult (by their time) male into the care of his father. It was more a statement to the people than it was to Ragnar. And Björn was clearly prepared for it, though his body language seemed to indicate he was quite concerned for his mother. And, oh yes, I got a bit of a tear in my eye during that scene, I confess.

Lissa: Aslaug gives Lagertha a heartfelt thank-you for saving Kattegat and her family. She tells Lagertha she is in her debt.
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but this wasn't just an expression in those days. Lagertha could have called in a serious favor at some point because of Aslaug's statement, but she declined it by saying the debt had already been paid. 

SandiA debt was a serious thing, whether it was a debt to the positive or to the negative. That Aslaug and Lagertha discussed this in front of the village folk was like saying it in a court, of sorts. It had weight, as you indicated. And though I felt bad for Lagertha, she was completely awesome in this. Her beauty and strength of character are exemplary. She's not taking second place, she's showing honor to the sons of Ragnar, she didn't snipe, she didn't do anything to denigrate the woman who had, in fact, usurped her. I have nothing but admiration for her. But I am still wondering what is up with her current husband!


  1. Would it really have been okay for the woman with the disfigured face to kiss Athelstan?

    1. No, she wouldn't have. That was extremely forward for a woman in that society. If I heard right, she said she'd taken the veil after her husband injured her ("a bride of Christ"). She wouldn't show her face to the king, but she'll kiss a strange man? Uhh... no.

      I'm not an expert on early Church customs, but I believe both the husband and the wife had to agree to dissolve their marriage for the wife to enter a convent. She couldn't just flee her husband and say, "I'm a nun now." And since her husband was asking the king for her to be punished for adultery, he was still acting as an injured spouse, not as though their marriage had been ended.

      I'll ask Sandi to come in on this one.

    2. Hi!

      The woman whom Athelstan more or less preserved from a flogging - if not worse - was married and that marriage would not have been dissolved. Early in the 9th Century, a woman could not have entered a convent if she were married.

      I found it very odd indeed that a woman who proclaimed herself to be innocent publicly kissed a young single man, even in the lightest way. That would have been considered unchaste behavior unless it happened during Mass in the time set aside for greeting one another "with a holy kiss".

      So my guess is that the writers were giving Athelstan a hard time within the story. And the woman will be fortunate if her husband (to whom she is likely still bound unless the church freed her - unlikely) doesn't bring about retribution for her having gone to the king independently.

    3. Thanks, Sandi! I know that later on, a marriage could be dissolved if one of the couple entered into a convent. It's what they encouraged Katharine of Aragon to do when Henry VIII wanted his annulment, but she refused. But, as I mentioned, I think both parties of the marriage had to agree to end it.

  2. Thank you Lissa and Sandi. That scene made me stop the DVR and talk to my daughter about how I didn't think the woman kissing Athelstan in the public square would have been something that would have happened. Thank you for confirming it.


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