The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS Season 4, Ep. 2 "Kill the Queen"

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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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We started off this episode with Björn on his vision quest, struggling through the snow, having forgotten to pack his snowshoes. He arrives at his destination: a charming log cabin vacation rental in the Smoky Mountains. All joking aside, as you and I discussed last night, the Northmen did use wood and logs in their house construction, but they were generally a bit different than the suspiciously-modern style "hunting lodge" Björn is going to be using for his winter digs.

Sandi: Quite. Even a hunting house would have been constructed along traditional lines. At this time, the Northmen used planks or logs inserted vertically into the earth and bound with ropes to keep them tight together. For a lodging of this sort, it might also have been a steep A-frame, designed to keep the snow from settling and collapsing the roof. Some lodges might have had the logs stacked horizontally, but that wasn't the tradition during this era and they didn't have the notched joints that held the wood together, not in the 9th Century anyway. 

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In Kattegat, Ragnar is informed that Floki has escaped. He accepts this calmly, casually, as it he had fully expected it to happen sooner or later. He sends his young sons along on the hunt for him. When we see Floki on the run, he's dressed warmly in a fur cape, so someone must have assisted him.

Sandi: Ubbe led the hunt, and I enjoyed seeing Ragnar's second son taking a leadership role. I am thinking that he is being groomed for future responsibility, for his own benefit as well as that of the men he might one day lead. Floki does indeed seem to have been provisioned for his escape, and one can imagine those boots were oiled to keep out the freezing water he was traveling through. This is a relief, for during his captivity, he had been sadly under-dressed for the weather. Exposure had to have depleted his resources.

It's not long before we find out who it was. Ragnar goes to visit Helga. He asks her if she released her husband, and Helga doesn't lie to him. "I might have done."

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Sandi: I really appreciated Ragnar's obvious compassion for Helga. I mean, he didn't bring her back to his warm hall or anything, but the look in his eyes said he understood and, for Helga, that was enough.  

Ragnar merely smiles and tells her he understands it. Floki is her husband, after all, and Helga loves him. Helga replies that Floki loves Ragnar too, but on that point Ragnar disagrees. He says that Floki only loves himself, and Helga should know it better than anyone. He pulls a heavy sack from beside him over to Helga and tells her that winter is coming, and she'll need provisions. As Helga thanks him, little Angrboða coughs.

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Sandi: There is no condemnation to be seen with either of them here, which speaks of great mutual respect, I believe. They understand one another. It's a warm moment in a ver​y​ painful time. 

We turn next to Wessex, where our favorite wily king is lamenting the trouble he's continuing to have with Kwenthrith. She's been captured by opposing forces in Mercia and imprisoned in a tower with her child, Ragnar's son Magnus. (At least, she claims he's Ragnar's son. There has been no paternity tests, to my knowledge.)

Sandi: Oh, Ecbert. Yeah. So, I was noticing some details about their space, during that initial "talking to" scene. First, the obvious assumption of superiority with the elevated royalty. That's normal, but Prince Aethelwulf is really working it, here. Not something he's done before. Also, Prince Wulf is wearing his court finery. Not the usual boiled and studded leather, but rich fabrics. And his hair is a bit grown out. This speaks of not being on a battle footing, though that changes shortly. He's harder, in this season. Less emotional toward his wife ("Now that I can trust you again...." said without an ounce of sincerity. Does Prince Wulf know of the "arrangement" between his wife and his father? Are they now married on parchment only? Perhaps? 

Ecbert sends off Athelwulf to deal with the situation. Once he leaves, Ecbert has a conversation with Judith. She tells him not to assume she's going to hop back into his bed now that Athelwulf is on a business trip, and Ecbert can't force her. Ecbert says he'd never dream of doing that. My goodness! Perish the thought. That's for enemies, and she's not his enemy. He wants to see her flourish and be free. He says he imagines she never had much freedom as a princess. Very few choices at all, in fact. What would she do, he asks, if she were free to choose to do whatever she wanted? As always, Ecbert is an expert at finding what tempts each person the most and dangling it right before their eyes. Judith says she'd like to learn to paint. She remembers seeing Athelstan illuminating manuscripts and would like to learn the art. Ecbert says he'll get her a tutor.

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Sandi: I was really struck, here, by the change in Judith's demeanor. The actress has done a wonderful job of portraying the layer of cynicism that has grown on the princess since last we saw her. Our Gal Judith isn't quite as reliant upon her father-in-law as she was heretofore. Her position is likely more secure, her husband resigned to the status quo maybe. So Ecbert has to bind her to him in another way and he goes for the "freedom" concept. In return, she rubs his nose in Athelstan's memory. (Do they know Athelstan's been killed? I didn't get a sense of this one way or another.) I wonder if this relationship will become more thorny over time as they continue to dig at one another. 

In Paris, Rollo is trying to get past the mutual language barrier by using a carved table map of the Seine to demonstrate how to save Paris from another Viking invasion. His idea is to build forts on either side of the river with a chain between them that can be drawn across, blocking any ships from passing through.

Quite probably the best closed-caption EVER
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Sandi: Rollo's version of the military sandtable is really elaborate. Fortresses, chains, a fleet of ships, the whole deal. Nicely done! I am hopeful that Rollo will soon gain some command over the Frankish tongue; it might make things easier with his wife. 

Count Odo loves the idea and orders the forts to be constructed. He chats it over with his lover, Therese. He says he imagines Gisla will have her marriage to Rollo annulled for non-consummation soon. Therese browses through his collection of floggers and crops hanging from the bed frame while she says that he was always blinded by his desire for Gisla, but Odo deserves a consort with more strength in her. Presumably someone who could mesh with Odo's "unconventional tastes." She selects a brutal-looking crop for him to use on her.

Sandi: And Odo! Oh, my. So. Odo is plotting and his apparent paramour is working to get herself even further into his good graces. The look in Therese's eyes is direct and I could sense she was being purposeful in her disparagement of the Emperor and Gisla.  

In his room, Rollo is getting his hair cut, and is dressed as a Frankish nobleman. When Gisla comes into the room, Rollo stands and proudly bows to her. At this sight, Gisla bursts out in hysterical laughter. Poor Rollo can't win with this woman.

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Sandi: I thought Rollo looked quite as dashing as he could in the new gear and with the new hair. I mean, it's not the man-bun or anything, but he looks very contemporary to the age. Awkward, but kind of adorable in his way. I was really annoyed with Gisla when the girl just laughed mockingly at him. And of course, so did her attendants (maids are like that, no?) so that didn't help. However, for a power-play, it's effective so I think Gisla might be over her whiny phase. 

Back in Kattegat, Ragnar's sons are successful in tracking Floki down. They drag him from the river and return him to town in triumph, trussed like a turkey.

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Sandi: A turkey would have been cleaner... But then, turkey would have been better fed, as well. Floki had a rough time of it while he was held captive in the village square. Ubbe, the son who was leading the hunt, got good experience in responsibility and didn't it just show while he was sitting on Ragnar's chair arm? I thought that bit was very well done. Grooming sons to their future roles was part of the job of a good father, if the lad wasn't fostered out, so this was a proper moment, I think.

And...embarrassing for Floki. I do give the man credit for standing firm on his prior words and not needing to try to use more to get his freedom.

In Wessex, Judith enters the library and sees a monk standing at the desk. Her eyes widen, because from the back, he looks just like Athelstan. But when he turns, we see it's not. He introduces himself to her. His name is Prudentius. He collects geodes, apparently. When Judith tells him that she's the one he's been brought to teach the art of illuminating manuscripts, he's horrified. Women don't do that. She tosses her head and says to ask the king about that.

Sandi: Casting for Prudentius was brilliant. Just brilliant. It is easy to see how Judith could be so immediately drawn to the man. And she is. One hopes she has a care, there!  

We see Ecbert deal with the situation quickly. Prudentius goes into the barn where the bishop is tasting this year's wine production. He appears to take wine seriously, rolling the sample on his tongue, inhaling over the sip in his mouth, and then spitting it back onto the floor. The bishop is a little shocked, but quickly accepts the priest's explanation about Frankians tasting so many wines they would quickly be drunk if they swallowed them all. Ecbert tackles the subject at hand. He asks the bishop if Judith's desire to learn illumination is acceptable, giving him a hard, steady look as he does so. The bishop is no fool. He says that if Mary Magdalene wiping the feet of Jesus was acceptable, then surely it is acceptable for such a pious woman to work on the words of the Lord. When Judith sees them emerging from the barn and learns her request as been granted, she breathes the word, "Free."

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Sandi: Father Sommelier Prudentius (and did the writers choose a 5th C. Roman Christian poet's name on purpose or were they shooting for the symbolic "Prudent" meaning for this character?) certainly seemed to see which way the wind blew, here, so one gives him marks for expediency and intelligence. I do wonder how this will shake down, however. And I also wonder if Judith truly thinks her freedom will be "free" for her. 

Back in Kattegat, Ragnar comes into his house, furious, and kicks a stool. Alsaug saunters over and asks him why he's still so upset. Floki did nothing wrong in killing a Christian. I think the fandom all over the world gasped at the same moment when Ragnar struck her across the face, twice, knocking her to the ground. Aslaug had prodded Ragnar in the wound he still carries in his heart, but it was wrong of him ... so wrong...  to to strike his wife like that. Their relationship has deteriorated to the point where I'm not sure there's any hope of recovery.

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Sandi: This was quite a scene. I think it served a couple of purposes, shocking as it was to see Ragnar lash out in violence against his wife. Ragnar's issue with trust and loyalty is core, here. Upon reflection, I think that his anger with Aslaug is not the adulterous sex thing—he isn't innocent of that himself, and though hypocritical behavior is not beyond him, certainly, I don't see that as his gripe. His issue with Aslaug on the loyalty front had to do with his children. When he found she had left them to another's care last season, he was incensed. Has that been festering all along? Maybe. And Floki did kill a Christian, but Aslaug is being purposefully antagonistic as she mentions it the way she does. All of Kattegat—and, indeed, Wessex!—knew that Athelstan wasn't just Ragnar's "pet priest". He was his friend. His amchara, one could even say. A friend of his soul, as they say in Gaeilge. Aslaug knew this, and her question disparaged Athelstan to Ragnar's face. 

He never was very good at hiding his feelings, there.

The writers may have included this scene to deepen the schism between Ragnar and Aslaug for future plot purposes. It also served to further highlight that Ragnar is not always a reliable fellow. Just in case we needed a reminder. 

We return to Mercia where Athelwulf is attacking the castle where Kwenthrith is being held. He does very well as a field commander and makes it to the doors of the building itself. One of the Mercians gives the order, "Kill the queen and her child!" They don't want her falling into Ecbert's hands. In her room, Kwenthrith fights like a tiger to protect little Magnus, lying on the bed.

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The child is oddly silent as his mother covers him over, and when he pulls the blanket away to see her covered in blood, fighting for her very life. She manages to bludgeon one of her guards, but the other has her in a stranglehold when Athelwulf bursts in to save her by running the guard through with a sword.
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Sandi: Aethelwulf is certainly tenacious! The grappling hand-to-hand combat was brutal, as was Queen Kwenthrith's fight above. Magnus seemed very peaceful and wise, too, in terms of keeping out of the way and not antagonizing anyone during the fight his mum was having. Cute kid, too. Will Aethelwulf's rescue of Kwenthrith mark a new relationship dynamic? She tried and failed to seduce him before, after all. . . Then, too, Amy Bailey (who plays Kwenthrith) tweeted this last night:

Back in Paris, Therese is having the wounds that Odo left on her back tended by a handsome Frankish lord, Roland. She tells him everything that Odo said to her, including all of his disparaging remarks about Emperor Chuck. Roland tells her that as soon as the time is right, they'll reveal to Charles the duplicity of Count Odo. He appreciates the valuable information she brings him, but it wounds him that she's been so injured in trying to acquire it.

Sandi: Our guess last night was that this lord was the "drunken husband" referenced when Therese first went to Odo last season. I'm still on board with this. If he's not, then he's her handler, as they say in intelligence operations. So. Therese is the PseudoSub Spy Chick. This makes her pretty darn awesome and my perceptions of her have spun. Nice work there, History Channel! 

In Kattegat, Helga is chopping at the soil with a shovel when Ragnar comes walking up. He asks her what she's doing. It's the middle of winter, after all. She says she's digging a grave - what does it look like? Little Angrboða has died. I'm so sorry to see her go. She was such a charming character and made a big impression even after appearing in only one other episode. Ragnar takes the shovel and helps her to finish.

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Sandi: This was heartrending. Little Angrbo∂a was with us for such a short time. Her illness—"Does it matter?" Helga asks Ragnar—was unknown but likely caused at least in part by deprivation. Floki was the man of the house and while Helga was sure to be skilled at woodcrafts and so on, there wasn't a lot left in Kattegat that winter. And they were living more or less as outcasts without a lot of resources. In other circumstances, they might have taken shelter with Ragnar in the Hall, but not when Floki had done what he had. Helga didn't even feel she could ask for help. And their poor daughter paid for that I fear. 

We see Floki's punishment, something Ragnar says he came up with especially for him. It echoes Loki's punishment in the Eddic poems. Loki was bound, using the entrails of his son, and a huge serpent was mounted above his head. Venom drips down from the snake's fangs onto his forehead, causing him great torment. His wife, Sigyn, holds a bowl above his head to catch the poison, but she has to occasionally walk away to empty it. While she does, the venom causes Loki such agony that he shakes the earth itself with his roars of pain - which is where earthquakes come from.

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 Floki's punishment is to be bound inside a cave where the icy water drips down on him constantly. As Ragnar says to him, there is no honor or valor in his suffering, just the endless misery of cold...

Sandi: He was screaming as the episode ended. Chained, unable to relax, and tormented by drips of water in the freezing cave. But. May I take a moment to say that Gustaf Skarsgård looked pretty fit, even in the adverse circumstances? My kudos to the actor, who has never failed to bring his A-Game to Floki's characterization.​

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next THORSday for another episode!

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

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

1 comment:

  1. Poor Helga...

    I noted specifically when watching that Ragnar slapped Aslaug, essentially causing more hurt to her pride than her face. While I don't condone hitting someone that isn't prepared to fight back, I was glad to see her get some punishment for her bitter tongue. I miss seeing Ragnar and Lagertha together, and where for a while I pitied Aslaug when it was obvious she wanted more affection from her husband than he felt for her after the honeymoon phase, she's made her bed now.

    Kwenthrith cracked me up when she said "Took you long enough." That was awesome.

    Also liking the French spy. Ah, court politics....

    Gisla is certainly a Mean Girl. Put her in any century, and I have no doubt she'd act the same. Can't wait to see her humbled. Though in Rollo's case, I'm glad he's suffering a bit after the previous episode's slaughter of his people. Forsaking all he knew should not be easy.


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