Two Historical Fiction authors Review #VIKINGS Episode VIII

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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: As Aslaug predicted, her baby was born with disabilities. It was so sad to see Ragnar tucking the blanket gently around his newborn son, even as he left him to die on that river bank.

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Sandi: I was just relieved he didn't take an axe to him so that the blood would call to predators. (Yes, my head so went there.) As twitter user @Kennethmd told me last night, the sons of Ragnar are better known that Ragnar himself, so the son was not, ultimately, killed. Though Ragnar did indeed sacrifice him. That was his intent. And he walked away from it. That's important.

Lissa: Aslaug showed a certain strength of character in defying the cultural norms regarding disabled children. Ragnar, too. Both of them decided that they loved their baby too much to expose him. It will be interesting to see how the community reacts to this situation.

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Sandi: Indeed. Though history isn't certain what the deal was with Ivar (it is possible that he wasn't physically weak at all), the story here indicates that he is. In that time, it was the responsibility of the father to accept a child of his and allow that child to live. He had the responsibility, then, of seeing to it that the child would grow into a productive member of their society, not wasting limited resources. Which was why a baby that was seen as not healthy in some way was often exposed to the elements, so that the gods would take the child back before he was named and the society wouldn't be compelled to care for someone who couldn't give back to the rest. That was the idea, anyway, as far as I have seen.

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Lissa: Historically speaking, there's some debate over Ivar's actual disability. Some people think that the "Boneless" designation came from ... ah ... his inability to father children. Others think that the nickname actually translates to "Legless" but not in the form of a disability, but because he never needed his legs to leave a battlefield (meaning he was always carried off on his warrior's shields as a celebration after victory.) Another interpretation says he couldn't walk, but he was a very big, strong warrior never the less, a powerful shot with a bow, powerful enough to earn the Northmen's respect, despite the fact he had to be carried into battle. Whether he was actually disabled or not, Ivar was a renowned warrior with many victories.

Sandi: The timeline here for the series has him born rather later than is often indicated, but it works well for the story. As the Seer said in the first season, Ragnar's sons will have more renown than their father.

Lissa: I had to raise a brow at Lagertha's bathtub. That didn't strike me as very accurate for a series that has thus far been commendable in this respect. Bathing seems to have been mostly a communal activity at hotspring pools and bath houses. It seems likely that if she'd had a personal tub, it would have been made of wood, not beaten copper.

Sandi: My research (which has mostly focused on the Norwegian people of this era) has indicated that cleansing usually happened in steam houses. One might rinse off from that in a spring, river, or from a bucket poured over a person after sweating. It is my thought, as you said, that any bathtub would not have been made from metal. Metal was far too precious to use for something as luxurious as a bathtub. Though, one has to remember that Lagertha's dead husband was - by her own word, I think -considered insane by some.

"Oh, wait, you were serious. Let me laugh harder."
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Lissa: In this scene, we see again the man who struck the fatal blow at the feast after Lagertha stabbed her husband. He wants a piece of the pie, so to speak, to marry Lagertha or at least to spend the night with her. He claims that was the deal if he helped her slay her husband and become earl. Lagertha shuts him down fast. He doesn't have the courage to carry out any of his threats.

Sandi: And the minion did not seem to fight much about it, which makes me wonder if he has other plans or if Lagertha's strength is just that overwhelming, even when she is naked and unarmed. Or, perhaps, especially when she is naked and unarmed.

"I meant, who are you to my son?"
From sikanapanele on Tumblr
Lissa: Lagertha doesn't seem too impressed with Porunn. Doubtless, the status issue comes into play. Björn is the son of two powerful earls, and his marriage would be a matter of alliances, not love. Lagertha would have no problem if Björn was just enjoying the company of a slave girl, but he seems to be getting very emotionally involved with her, and Lagertha is probably worried he will want to marry her soon.

Sandi: It would make more sense, to her, if Björn were to take Porunn as a leman, or sex slave. Someone whose job it was to keep him thusly entertained. It wouldn't surprise me if that was something Lagertha would consider: buying Porunn from her owner and giving her as a gift to her son. This would emphasize what would be considered their proper places in society as well as give Lagertha the opportunity to remind Björn of his duties. Marriage was not a thing of the heart, in this time and place. It was a business arrangement. Especially among powerful families. A man was considered to be of a good age to marry when he was perhaps twenty. Björn is close enough to this age that it is fine to consider an alliance but not with a slave.

Lissa: Floki seems to be having some issues with Ragnar, whose faith he contrasts unfavorably with that of Horik. Horik is courting him, hoping to exploit Floki's shipbuilding genius. I really enjoyed the seafaring scenes in this episode.

Courtesey of Wikipedia
Sandi: Oh, don't get me started on King Horik! He is wooing Floki away with words Floki wants to hear; he's a fine manipulator. I wonder how this will play out. Will Horik get Floki to move his family at some point and build ships for King Horik's purposes, thus leaving Ragnar without oars?

Lissa: We meet Princess Kwenthrith in this episode. She was interesting at first because she seemed to have a sharp eye for the political situation, but then... They seem to be setting her up as a sort of Messalina-type character. She seems to be based on Cynethrith, a powerful queen of Mercia about whom little is known, but who was important enough in her day to have coins minted in her own name.

Sandi: She comes in and takes no prisoners. King Ecbert's response to her was quite amusing, sending in some of his men to, ah, keep her entertained. I will have to read up on her before next week's episode.

Lissa: Ragnar's arrogance is getting him into trouble. He's acting as a sole agent, as though his allies - including King Horik - are merely his assistants in the matter of raiding England. His tone was bordering on disrespectful when he addressed Lagertha by her title Earl Ingstad. It made me wonder if it was just the situation or whether he really doesn't respect her claim to the title of her dead husband.

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Sandi: Ragnar lacks leadership skills. He is a good leader in battle, and can handle the ups and downs of a single region without incident, but he never learned how to "win friends and influence people" in terms of large-scale management. I am thinking that, in terms of Lagertha, he respects her but can't seem to work his head around treating her as a social equal. As his former marital partner, thinking back to early in last season, they were equals in terms of their society. But now that she has won a realm (of sorts) for herself, it isn't something he can mesh in his understanding. Then, too, his priorities have never been well-fixed. He would probably take her back as his wife in a heartbeat if she'd agree to share with Aslaug. Lagertha, though, is better able to adjust her perspectives.

Lissa: He sent Torstein to parlay with Ecbert and was delighted when the king's son came back to talk, carrying with him Athelstan's torc. I imagine that Athelstan is one of the first things Ragnar is going to ask for when he speaks with Ecbert.

​Unfortunately, that meeting may be a little tense, because when the prince's company leaves the camp, they're ambushed. The prince is the only one who manages to stagger away.

From shieldwife on Tumblr
Sandi: Oh, there was a sweet moment. Ragnar's relationship with Athelstan has been, for me, one of my favorite aspects of this show. Even when they're not in the same country, the friendship/brotherish bond is still there. And Ragnar is eager to see Athelstan again, and he gasps when Athelstan's armband is returned to him. But, yet again, Horik is going to mess this up. Apparently, it was he who staged the ambush. I am thinking that he did this for two reasons: One, he is wanting to emphasize to Ragnar that it is Horik, not Ragnar, who is the big dog in this game. And two, Horik isn't interested in amicable relations with the King of Wessex. Ragnar wants to relocate to Wessex. He is impressed with their resources. His interest lies in keeping the peace. But not everyone agrees with how he does things. And sometimes, his choices get people killed. However, the blame for this ambush lies entirely with Horik (and his son). As you say, things will be tense when Ecbert and Ragnar meet again.

I am guessing the conference will not take place in the bath.


  1. Fascinating discussion, ladies, about an interesting and complex show. I very much enjoyed your input. Thanks. I know little about vikings, but they are in my ancestry.

  2. What did you two think about the fact that Lagertha fought that guy with words only? I thought it added complexity to her character. She is not only sexually confident ( enough to use her nakedness as a clear showing that he was no threat to her) but also quite capable of influencing people and events in her favor. It was well hinted at when she saved that woman and child from ridicule and harm from the husband. In addition, I also think her compassion and leadership make her loved by her people no matter where she is. I think the scenes showed the viewers that Lagertha is a great politician who is very observant about people. She was also not quite as helpless with her second husband as she first seemed. Instead of just using her skills as a warrior, she used her skills as a cunning, intelligent and wise woman.

    1. She didn't use a weapon with the man in the bath because she didn't need one. As you say, not all warrior skills involve fighting with your brawn. Sometimes it's fighting with your brains... A skill Ragnar could use at times!

      All season long, I kept waiting for the "punch line" so to speak, in regards to Lagertha's second husband. I knew there had to be an important reason she wasn't fighting back; I just couldn't figure out what it was. She was never helpless. She was just biding her time.

      She really is a magnificent leader. Her strength and skill at holding her community together during the plague, when she lost Gyda, was an amazing thing to watch.

      She's one of the finest characters on television right now, certainly one of the best female roles we've seen in a long time.


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