Two Historical Fiction Authors Review #VIKINGS Finale: "The Dead."

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The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you 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 third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: Wow that was a finale!

​Sandi: It really was. A roller coaster of an episode. I was still gasping by the end.​

Lissa: Rollo and Lagertha are talking and they say they can't believe Ragnar has really become a Christian. "Not in his heart," Lagertha insists. She points out that Rollo was baptized, but he says the gods protected him from the Christian magic. They won't protect Ragnar, and it's all because of Athelstan poisoning Ragnar's mind. Behind him, the other men grumble. A Christian can never be king of the Vikings.

​Sandi: The around-the-camp conversations on this I felt were really authentic sounding. Often, we forget there are many people surrounding protagonists in life as in fiction. Here, Michael Hirst (as he has so often) nailed it with the discontented gossip that swirled around the Viking encampment.​

Lissa: The Franks deliver the wagon full of treasure to Ragnar's camp and say that they've held up their end of the bargain. It's time for the Vikings to do the same and leave. After the troops depart, the Viking warriors swarm the cart to start divvying up the loot. I think we both had the same thought at this scene - they wouldn't have dared been so grabby if Ragnar was there to divide it up in an orderly, fair fashion.

​​​Sandi: Yep. I was rather appalled that someone didn't think to handle this better, but this early on in the Viking Era, there weren't a lot of protocols in place, yet. I would have expected fighting and so on, as well. ​

Lissa: Björn goes into his father's tent to tell him the treasure is there, but Ragnar says he doesn't care. He looks awful, pale and sweat-soaked, trembling in his cot. He's dying, he says.

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 He rolls over and clutches at his gold cross and says at least he'll see Athelstan again.

Courtesy of canislupusalces on Tumblr

​​​Sandi​I am firmly convinced that Ragnar is dying at this point. Really, the man's a mess. He's been holding on for weeks, but yeah.  I'm still not sure that we're seeing dysentery, here, as a cause for his debilitation. The symptoms aren't entirely consistent. ​I believe, too, that his wish to see Athelstan is sincere. However, I'm also sure that his actual thoughts on the matter are more like what we heard when he was alone and burying Athelstan on the hill where they prayed together last season. He said, then, that he was pretty sure the Christian God wouldn't want to see him. And this, I think, is something to hold on to as the finale unfolds.

Lissa: The king of the Franks is in church, giving thanks for his "victory" over the Vikings.

​​​Sandi​I think he plays this like a politician. And the courtiers appear to eat it up. As well as how they treat Gisla. Which, as I mentioned last night, would give me the willies. I'm not a touchy-feely person.

Lissa: I loved the beautiful set and the air of authenticity, except for the fact Charles is wearing his crown. I don't know why TV and movies have royalty wearing those things around all day, every day.

Boot sole file, as you said. Same thing with Gisla's hair loose and uncovered, but I've given up protesting that one. Actresses want their shiny tresses on display, after all, and those heavy veils are so unbecoming.

​​​​Sandi: Yep. We do, on occasion, have to sacrifice historical fitness to drama. But overall, the producers of this show get a lot very, very right. Clive Standen, who plays Rollo, has mentioned the care to use the languages of the time, too. Which I know you and I both geek out over!

Lissa: Gisla is a little snarky about the so-called victory and says they paid the Vikings to go away. Her father more-or-less ignores her and says he wishes his grandfather, Charlemagne, could be here to see this glorious day.

I will have to search the internet diligently for an eye roll gif that will appropriately express my emotions at the moment.

This will do nicely
Sandi: Politician time again.​ When one cannot produce proof of one's own awesomeness, one should remind everyone of your awesome antecedents. 

Lissa: In the camp, the Vikings are celebrating their newfound riches. Floki sees Helga and tries to talk to her, but Helga is having none of it. She still hasn't forgiven him for killing Athelstan.

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She stomps away. It seems their relationship is not going to be repaired this season. She has been so patient and understanding with him, but she has her limits, and it seems Floki has finally crossed them. It will be interesting next year to see if he can find his way back to her after all that has happened.

Sandi: Those who know him best will be of two minds, I'm sure. On the one hand, Floki is known to be in communion with their gods, so his actions might be sanctioned on that score. Many do sympathize with him to a degree. On the other hand, he murdered their king's best friend. How is that a display of love and loyalty? 

So I remind everyone for a final time this season that one saying of the Northmen was that a wise man waits to take his revenge. That was considered praiseworthy. We'll see what happens next season with this issue.​

Lissa: Ragnar is talking to Björn. He tells him that soon, Björn may find himself in the position of having to assume leadership. But when he does, he needs to make sure he leads with his head, not his heart. Ah, many times over the last three seasons, we've seen Ragnar fight that particular battle within himself! He then tells Björn he has a job for him to do - a job that only Björn can do.

​​Sandi: This is a pretty neat set-up for Ragnar. Björn has long understood that he's the heir-apparent (as such things go in this time and place) to Ragnar's leadership. He would have to be vetted and approved and followed by the men, but he's in a good place for it. To be given a Super Secret Important Job is attractive for such a man, to be sure, no matter what it is that he's being asked to do. And the viewers don't know, then, what that job is!

Ragnar is also, as you said, speaking from experience that has nothing whatsoever to do with his own private plotting. He wants his son to be successful—in fact, the Seer has said his sons will be vastly famous—and he is trying to be a good dad in passing along wisdom. 

Perhaps he has forgotten the arrogance of young men everywhere. Wisdom is often not appreciated until one has acted without it.​

Lissa: Next, we see Count Odo getting the attentions of a grateful Frankish lady named Therese who is happy he "saved" the city from the invaders. He invites her back to his Red Room of Pain to express her gratitude properly. Seriously ... He has cuffs suspended from chains and various whips, which he is happy to explain to her as inflicting varied levels of discomfort.

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 I am surprised he didn't pull out an NDA and a contract for her on the spot.

​​​Sandi: This really, really puzzled me as to why it was included, here. There was no real resolution to my confusion in this season, either. I am wondering if the #50ShadesofOdo tag will resurface next season. Was this all about titillation for the audience or is there a secret history of this man somewhere? Is the Therese here also the Theodrate de Troyes who later becomes Mrs. Count Odo?

Lissa: BDSM takes on a whole different dimension in an era in which a man was encouraged to employ corporal punishment on his wife, doesn't it? In any case, he indicates that the person he really wants to submit to him is Gisla.

​​​​Sandi: That was just wrong. (*Note: I have no objection to Safe, Sane, and Consensual, understand. But my impression is that Odo isn't all that concerned with these things.) I mean, sure, contracts and safe words (he mentioned it but also said he'd rather not have them - shudder) weren't in play here, but this was really, really odd. 

Not the Gisla aspect, though. I can totally see him wanting her at his mercy. He's taken a lot from her. I'm thinking his "playtime" with her would be punitive in nature. ​

Lissa: Helga and Floki speak one last time. She sees him on the beach working and asks him what he's doing. He says Ragnar has asked him to build one last boat for him.

Sandi​She is here trying to build a bridge back to her husband, however angry she might be. This bodes well for their future, I'd like to think.​

Lissa: It's been a month, but the Vikings are still camped outside of Paris. The Franks send someone to find out why - Odo the Odious, who else? - and Björn tells him Ragnar is to ill to be moved. Odo asks to see him, and Björn leads Odo in to where Ragnar is lying, even in worse shape than we saw him before. Björn tells them that Ragnar's dying wish is to be given a Christian burial in their cathedral, and they won't leave until it's done. Odo agrees, as long as the Viking men accompanying his burial retinue are unarmed.

Sandi: So, what one might wonder here is if the mere notion that The Barbarian King became a Christian was enough to bring down these barriers between the people that they would willingly open their city for the burial. Does this speak to their faith and how protected they feel by it or is this mere expediency? "Give the heathens what they want so they'll go away?"​

Lissa: The next scenes were hard to watch. Björn tenderly fits a coffin lid over his father's still form, and then goes outside the tent. Inside, on its bier, the coffin is a beauty. It's crafted in the shape of a ship, with beautifully shaped planks and a carved prows.

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There are crosses carved into the lid (I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume Floki didn't make that part!)

​​Sandi: Ha! Who else would have carved crosses into it? Would Floki have done it if Ragnar insisted? Maybe he did, remembering the pain Athelstan experiences or something?​
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Lissa: As I mentioned last night, Vikings loved to bury their dead in ship-like vessels whenever possible. The very rich or blue-blooded might actually be buried in a ship itself, like the famous Oseberg Ship burial. Those of lesser means tried to replicate it as best they could. The poor might put an outline of stones shaped like a ship around an earthen grave, for example.

​​Sandi It really is a gorgeous coffin​. "One final boat" indeed.​ 

Lissa: The Vikings are gathered around Ragnar's tent, standing motionless in the cold rain. Lagertha crouches down, her eyes swollen with tears. Björn says to her that she can go inside now.

Sandi Björn, here, is playing it pretty well. Especially since it's raining - I think that makes his role easier.​

Lissa: Lagertha touches the coffin and speaks to her dead ex-husband, telling him of all the things she hopes they'll do together in Valhalla. They'll live, they'll drink, they'll love. Emotion chokes every word.

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We next see Rollo sitting by his brother's coffin, his head resting against the wood as he speaks to him, and confesses his life-long jealousy. He feels that the gods always favored Ragnar. But he never thought Ragnar would go first in this regard.

​​Sandi These two moved me during their farewell speeches. The passion is still there between Ragnar and Lagertha—it always has been, really. And Rollo, too, is so honest and open. Very casual, though. Sitting as if chatting with his brother. This could be interpreted a couple of ways, I think. One, he feels very close to Ragnar at that moment and is comfortable with being honest and treating a coffin-closure as an everyday conversation without tension. Two, he isn't too emotional as he's already planning for a future without his brother. Without feeling lesser than or anything. Hard to say for sure.​

Lissa: Floki enters next. Bitterness coats every word as he spits out angry denunciations of Ragnar for betraying him and the gods. But there is pain there, too.

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​​​Sandi There really is. A very emotional time for him. I can't help but feel for him, even as I'm still mad about what he did to Athelstan.​

Lissa: Ragnar's casket is carried by his men into the cathedral, where the nobles of Paris have also gathered for the funeral. Nice of them to show the courtesy, I suppose. Gisla is shooting daggers out of her eyes, and has a look of disgust pursing her features, so I'm assuming her father forced her to attend.

​​​​SandiI very much appreciated the contrast in processionals, here. Outside, with the Northmen, there was one kind of music, the round shields of their warriors and shield maidens, chanting. Then within the walls, there is an abrupt transfer of theme. Elongated shields with crosses on them, priests replace shield maidens, and there is prayer and incense as they walk through the surprisingly clean streets of Paris. (Come on, we know those streets were just awful with offal at this time period. Unless someone opted to clean?)​

Lissa: The coffin is laid down and censed, and the priest sprinkles it with holy water as he starts the words of the burial mass. Suddenly, the lid flies off and Ragnar pops up, still quite ill, but in the land of the living yet.

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He had been lying on a pile of weapons, which he distributes to his warriors as the crowd stands there and stares in shock. Ragnar takes a blade and slays the priest as the crowd gasps in shock.
Courtesy of historyvikings on Tumblr

He grabs Gisla around the neck and drags her back toward the hallway (where the Rolling Barrel of Doom has apparently been removed.)

​​​​​SandiThis. Was. Awesome. Okay, so we knew this was a possibility, right? And SagaPodThing on Twitter said she was thinking Ragnar wasn't dead yet, too.​ 

Ragnar could have killed any number of people, but killing the priest (bishop? I'm kind of thinking it was a bishop due to the rank not only of the Frankish king but also of Ragnar) made a statement about where his loyalties actually were. Quite strongly, in fact.

His choice of hostage was brilliant, though Gisla herself seemed less so after her capture. 

Lissa: His men open the doors to show the rest of the Viking horde waiting to come in. Ragnar looks back at them and then at the princess squirming in his arms. He releases her and she just stands there, gaping at him.

He gives her a "go on, shoo!" motion, but she still stands there, jaw hanging down.

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He has to give her a hard shove before she starts running back toward the church. After she is out of the way, Björn throws up his arms to signal for the men to storm in and they swarm the city of Paris.

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​​​​​​Sandi: Her utter "What??" expression cracked me up. Normally, Gisla is vastly self-possessed and in control. Take her into an unfamiliar environment, she flails, apparently. 

Nice coordination between father and son as Björn has the gates opened to the Viking Horde. A spool-free invading force is unleashed!​

Lissa: Ragnar stumbles outside into his son's arms and collapses to his knees. He seems to have used up the last of his energy with this "Surprise, I'm only MOSTLY dead!" routine.

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​​​​​​​Sandi: Björn's job, here, was to wait for his father so he could get the ailing man away, it seems. So he didn't get to stride in with the invading force.  ​

Lissa: The sack of Paris is a success. The Vikings are loaded with loot. But Lagertha is pretty steamed that Björn let her think the love of her life was dead. Björn tells her and Rollo that he did only as his father - the king - commanded.

​​​​​​​​Sandi: Oh, yeah. That was good. I can bet that there will be repercussions on that one into next season. Björn is projectile-proof, here. That the ruse worked so well and so many of them were enriched thereby can only make him moreso. And Ragnar's legend grows. 

As if the man himself didn't plan that!​

Lissa: They decide to head home, and take Ragnar with them, but they'll come back in the spring. They leave Rollo in charge of a force of Viking warriors to keep up their threatening presence outside of the gates.

​​​​​​​​Sandi: Okay. There was a moment in here that was a bit odd. Rollo and Björn have a silent eye-conversation while this is being decided. Rollo says he'll stay and....silence. Then, out of the blue, his nephew agrees and so does everyone else. Björn did, by the way, do a good job of chairing this meeting. He seems to be coming more into his own all the time.​

How will this play out in the future?

Lissa: It made me think of one of those horrid komodo dragons that poisons its prey with the bacteria in its bite and then just lies there to wait, watching with pitiless eyes until the critter dies. The citizens of Paris would have to look over the walls at their own doom, knowing there was nothing they could do to chase these merciless invaders away.

SandiIt was very tense. The Parisians were safe, but under the eye of the Barbarian Horde, so what could they do? And if the Vikings could take ransom money and STILL INVADE (bad form, guys, bad form) then what did this mean regarding the safety of their citizenry?​

Lissa: Inside the church, the Frankish king is slumped on the floor. Gisla tells him to get up because it's all over now. I said out loud, "Don't worry, there aren't any kingly duties for you to fail at right now." The king looks at the body of the priest in horror and says the cathedral has been desecrated. Gisla isn't very impressed with the job her father has done, to say the least.

Sandi​Is anyone? ​

Lissa: That night at dinner, her father notes the Viking men still camped outside and realizes it means they're in for more pillaging in the near future. He says he has decided he must give them something more precious than gold or silver... He'll give them his daughter in marriage.

Sandi: ​Did you note the huge appearance of fat tears that spilled onto his cheeks as he said this? Still, the notion was not unheard of. They should both have been thinking it over from the moment they saw there were men of rank among the Northmen.​

Lissa: Gisla throws what can most charitably be called a hissy fit. She says in an impassioned heat that she would kill herself for Paris, but she will not marry one of those barbarians. She claims Odo is behind this, because she refused to marry him.

Sandi: ​What happened to Miss I-Totally-Own-This, anyway? How old is she, twelve? No. I can't see an historical princess pulling this stunt in front of her father. In front of her maids, maybe. Because a girl has to vent somewhere. ​

Lissa: I joked with you last night that I would have to create a Princess Gisla "I forgot how to princess" meme. She is shocked, shocked that her father didn't consult her about the marriage.

Sandi: ​​This was brilliant of you, by the way. :)​

Lissa: Gisla seems surprised to discover that being a princess entails marrying the man your father picks without considering your opinion on the matter.

Okay, I think I need to use it again.

Was this chick dropped in from another movie where a modern American girl discovers that she's actually royalty? Because she seems to have no idea what royalty has been doing for most of human history. The king reminds her that she has to obey him not only as a father, but also as her emperor.

But it gets worse.

When the marriage was offered to Rollo, he was given the promise of lands, a title, money, and the hand of the princess. Rollo asked what he'd have to do in return, and he was told he would have to defend Paris against his brother.

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We've seen in this series that Ragnar and Rollo have no problems making false promises to their enemies. Rollo has had his struggles with Ragnar's authority in the past. What do you think? Do you think he is giving a false oath in order to gain the keys to the kingdom, which he will hand over to Ragnar, or do you think he has finally been tempted too strongly to resist?

​Sandi: ​​I am thinking that Rollo will play it all sincere and his men will back him because they've seen how he has supported his brother time and again. Even if Ragnar is dying, there is Björn, and the relationship between uncle and nephew remains intact.

False oath? Rollo? Of course it's a possibility. History shows us a Rollo who does become a Christian - but history was written by the victors. The dirty truth of the matter might be hidden in bloodied flagstones in a church.

Lissa: We next see them bringing in Rollo for the wedding, and Gisla stands up and goes on a rant in front of God-and-everyone, insulting Rollo as a "filthy pagan animal."

"I'm a princess of the blood," she says, "not a cheap whore." She vows she would rather be burned alive or give her virginity to a dog than allow Rollo to lay a hand on her.

​Sandi: ​​​I was appalled. No one said anything to her. No one laughed a little and made excuses. And the whole time, Rollo is just watching with that kind of open expression on his face.​

Lissa: Rollo's response is to say "bonjour" to the emperor and grin.

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Sacking the city = Several hundred dead Vikings.
Cost of a coffin = Several silver pieces
Dat grin? = Priceless

Courtesy of crayjoy on Tumblr

​Sandi: ​​​And can we give props to the man for even TRYING to learn Frankish? Just a word or two? It showed a consideration for the lady in question, the option of a Frankish lordship, and the people themselves that no one seems to appreciate. That irked me. Because here, I'm liking Rollo.​

Lissa: The episode ends with Ragnar still clinging to life as he lays on the deck of the ship. He calls softly to Floki and he comes over to crouch down by Ragnar's side. Ragnar looks him in the eye and says, "I know you killed Athelstan."

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​​​Sandi: ​​​What a way to end this season! Like many, I'm sure, I was all bug-eyed with this line and the unusual expression on Floki's face. A bit hesitant, guarded, but also worried. Ragnar IS his king. And his friend, even yet. 

Isn't he?

An amazing season. Brilliant acting, thrilling writing. A few more items in the Boot Sole file, but we can live with that as long as we get our geek on. :)

Looking forward to next year! ​

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Thanks for joining us for this season, shieldmaidens! Until the next...

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4


  1. The only moment that really challenged credibility for me was when Floki said he was going to build one last boat and he built the coffin boat. Okay, how long was it between the time he decided to build it and the time Bjorn stuffed Ragnar inside? Because that doesn't look like something from Ikea to me. Looks like it might have taken a significant amount of time to make. Did they give a time frame and I missed it?

    1. I think the timeframe was that month between the raid and Ragnar's "death." Floki may have already been working on it for a while before Helga asked him that question - we don't know. You're right that a lot of work and care went into crafting it. Even with Floki's skills, he couldn't have popped that out over the weekend. I'm thinking at least a couple of weeks.

  2. Next: I suspect Rollo really enjoyed Gisla's little rant. Hmm, the kitty has claws. How cute. Me-yow I think I could marry her. "Bonjour" :D I like Gisla's spunk. She'd make a good Shieldmaiden.

    1. I think you're right on that one. He didn't know what she was saying, but he could surely see the disdain on her face and the venom in her words. She has spirit, in his eyes, even if her manners leave a bit to be desired.

      In the first season, we saw him use a slave girl roughly and his relationship with Siggy certainly had its ups and downs, but I think (hope, at least) that Rollo would treat his wife with respect, especially given her high status.

  3. I did not understand the BDSM. Surely, if they wanted to show off the torture chamber, there were enough possible victims standing around. What is Therese's motivation? She's obviously not a fan of the idea.

    1. I don't really understand it, either, in a historical context. BDSM didn't have the same "taboo" in those days when corporal punishment of women was seen as beneficial for their spiritual welfare. At times, authorites even gave advice on how large of a rod a man should employ when beating his wife. Male domination was the absolute norm in that world.

      It seems like Odo's fantasy is to cause Gisla pain, possibly because of her haughty rejection of him (as if she'd have a choice in the real world!) and he's using Therese as a substitute.

  4. I saw someone mention that Odo's torture chamber was shown to contrast her suitors - Odo and Rollo. One man is really nasty behind the fine clothes, wealth, and prestige, and the other is a barbarian with honor that hides a soft side. I think the idea has merit. Gisla's eyes will pop out of her head when she hears that Rollo was baptized in the past.

    Such an epic episode. So beautifully filmed. I cried.

    There's an interview with Michael Hirst at if you haven't already seen it. 2016 can't come fast enough.


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