The #ShieldGeeks Discuss #VIKINGS: The Profit and the Loss

“These chicks are machines!” – The No Ship Network


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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 opened with Ragnar seemingly back in his element, strategizing with the other Viking leaders about the new attack on Paris. Ragnar plans to sail down the river between the two forts that are perched on the banks while Lagertha leads a team over land to attack one of the forts. His speech is a little choppy, as though he struggles for breath. Ragnar's lips are noticeably red as he talks, though no one mentions it.

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Sandi: Opinion is divided about the reasons for these symptoms. Whether it's the "medicine" that Yidu has him dependent upon or his injuries or a combination thereof, he is clearly not a well man.

As Björn leaves the tent, he trots to catch up with Erlendur. He pulls the ring he took from the berserker assassin from his pocket and offers it to Erlendur, saying he believes it's his. Erlendur pretends he's never seen it before.
Sandi: Because of course Erlandur will look all happy and say, "Wow, thanks, Björn! I wondered where that went!" What did Björn expect to gain by confronting him, I wonder?

Ragnar approaches Lagertha and says he wishes she wouldn't fight. 

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Sandi was right in her speculation last week that Lagertha believes what the Seer told her: she would never bear another child, and so it doesn't matter. 

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She tells Ragnar as much, her voice tinged with bitterness. Ragnar retorts that she seems to be doing everything she can to ensure the prophecy comes true as she walks away.

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Sandi: He places great store in children, even if they're not his. And I think part of him longs to see Lagertha pregnant. Maybe to vindicate his choice to keep Aslaug?  

Ubbe and Hvitserk approach Ragnar, their bows in hand. They ask Ragnar if they can go with him to attack Paris. Ragnar tells them they're not strong enough yet before moving on to a more diplomatic tactic. He says he needs them to stay behind and guard the camp and its stores. The boys agree, obviously feeling that they've been tasked with something important.

Sandi: It can't be denied that Ragnar wants his sons to be safe. He is all for giving them advancing responsibilities, though, as we've seen this season. Just responsibilities that will entail little risk. He truly thinks that "guarding the supplies" is a good thing for them. It does provide responsibility and the expectation of safety away from the battle. Additionally, there are a lot of adult women about, so Ragnar knew his sons would have eyes on them. He is, by and large, a good father to his young sons. 

 Rollo and Gisla are atop one of the towers in the morning. Both of them look flat-out beautiful.

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 Rollo has long, curled hair, and his molded leather armor is studded with gold.

Sandi: I gotta say, Rollo wears the look better than Darth Odious. 
Sandi: On the longship. Björn says, "I hate my uncle. I want to kill him." Ragnar stands beside him and says, "Good." Because this indicates that Björn sees his error in leaving Rollo behind, I think, as well as affirming that Björn will not hesitate if the opportunity arises.

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Gisla has a breastplate of her own, and it's molded to every curve as though it's made from Spandex. Beneath it, she wears a pair of leggings and a split skirt. Her war outfit is somewhat of a departure for our prim Princess Le Pew. 

 Rollo asks Gisla if she is afraid. Gisla replies she wouldn't be up there beside him if she was afraid. 

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Sandi: Gisla must have half of Frankia making her outfits. Employment guarantor! Guarantess? Her signature smug expression has re-emerged. I was surprised when Rollo asked about her being afraid. Has he forgotten where he first saw her? Standing on a parapet, staring him down?

They watch Ragnar's ships approach. From land, Lagertha approaches, but she looks down in alarm as her boots sink into the mud.
I mean, come on... Lagertha is a seasoned warrior. She's encountered mud before and knows how to handle it, or to go around, or to do anything but stand there and churn her feet like she's never seen a mixture of earth and water before.

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 She and Rollo exchange a look at one point, and it's one of those looks which epitomize the saying of if looks could kill.

Rollo hears her voice, giving her warriors commands as he orders the men atop the walls to fire the crossbows.

Sandi: Rollo had been paying a great deal of attention to the fleet of longships, that he hadn't thought of the land behind his fortifications. He seemed a bit taken aback to see Lagertha & Co. on their way through the marshy land. I think the confusion she and her warriors experienced is due to the fact that they hadn't encountered the marshland last time they visited. This could be due to weather or to the building of the towers; a large enough project to affect the groundwater in the vicinity. 

The battle comes to a head quickly, and it's an out-and-out slaughter. Once the chain goes up, Ragnar's boats are stopped dead in the water. Trebuchets throw Greek firepots and the crossbows rain death from above. Ships are tangled in the chain and overturn, hurling the occupants into the water.  
As Rollo watches from above, he murmurs a haunting poem.

“Up onto the overturned keel.
Clamber, with a heart of steel.
Cold is the ocean’s spray…
and your death is on its way.”

Sandi: The tension before the chains go up is palpable. You can see both Rollo and Odo fidgeting and giving everything a last look. Due to the shallow draft of the longships, they are not broken by the chains, but they are capsized. This is dangerous of course, but it doesn't mean a loss of their transportation, which could have been the case if their ships had been differently made.

Floki struggles in the water and sinks below its surface.

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A hand grabs him and hauls him back. It's Ragnar. He has dived into the water to haul his friend back to safety. As he lays Floki down on the bottom of the ship. Floki looks up at him with something like wonderment in his features. He seems to have honestly believed Ragnar wouldn't risk his life to save him... Not now. Not after everything that's happened.

Sandi: The Franks launched Greek Fire, or some form of naptha, here, in packages that look like Chinese dumplings. This was followed by fired arrows and caused even more chaos. But Ragnar didn't let that distract him from Floki's distressing predicament. It was right that the king see to his shipbuilder's safety. I think Floki's surprise speaks to their estrangement rather than a secret understanding. 

Ragnar looks out over the carnage of wrecked ships, burning... floating bodies in the water and abject horror washes over his features.

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On land, Lagertha's forces are decimated as they head toward the tower.  Driven back, they have to retreat.

As the ships prepare to sail back, Ragnar shouts to his brother. He says he always defended him, even when others said he deserved death. And this... this is how Rollo repays his love.
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Rollo doesn't reply and Ragnar sinks down to lay against the prow of his ship as they limp back to their encampment.

Sandi: It is the final end, I think, of the brotherhood, here.  

But there will be no rest there.... In the meantime, we see that the Franks have also attacked the Viking camp.

Sandi: It's a slaughter, alternated with views of the retreat of Lagertha's forces as well as Ragnar's men in the water, slogging their way out of danger. An altogether depressing sequence. Excellent cinematography as the camera swings from Lagertha's people in the swamps to the ships on fire in the river. And here, we do see the damage done to the Viking fleet.

Rollo and Gisla come down from the fort and view the bodies lined up along the shore. Gisla is surprised there are so many women among them.

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 Rollo tells her the Viking women warriors are just as fierce as the men - sometimes more. He tells her about Lagertha, and Gisla doesn't seem to notice his tone.

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Sandi: "The most fierce - her name is Lagertha."
"You know her?"
"Yeah, I slept with her. Might have fathered her son. At least, that's the rumor...
" - Vikings Apocrypha

Gisla expresses interest in meeting Lagertha. 

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Yeah. That would go well.

Sandi: Meeting the leaders of the opposing army was not unheard of, after a war was fought. Terms had to be discussed and such. 

In Wessex, Ecbert is meeting with the mysterious "W" who has taken Queen Kwenthrith's kingdom from her.  He sees off a priest on his journey and draws his sword to kneel for the prelate's blessing. What was entertaining was that the priest seemed to flinch a bit when Ecbert drew that blade, as though he wasn't entirely certain what the king was going to do with it.

Sandi: The prelate has to remember that Ecbert is not the most reliable of men. His alliances are temporary. He lies and plunges in a knife. He is carrying on with his own daughter-in-law and is apparently sanctioning a relationship between his son and Queen Kwenthrith. The prelate is undoubtedly aware of these things; he's not blind and no one's hiding anything very well. 

The Vikings return to their camp to find carnage. Tents are burning and bodies lay everywhere. Ragnar first finds Helga among the wounded and shouts for Floki. Floki runs to her side and shakes her limp form. Helga is horribly burned.

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 She doesn't stir, but she seems to be breathing. The collective fandom sent up a shriek of despair when we saw her. 
Sandi: Why didn't Halfdan go closer to her when he saw her? To see if she was alive? 

Ragnar finds his boys unharmed. They hug their father as he stares around at the carnage.

Sandi: He eyed Yidu, who had run to greet him too, presumably, but he gives her no special looks or anything. His concern is all for his sons, for the moment. Though, of course, that will change. 

Back in Kattegat, Aslaug strolls with Harbard. She asks him where he's been and he's very vague about where his travels have taken him. He says he's journeyed to the place between life and death. He heard about Ragnar's sickness and wasn't sure if he would survive.

Sandi: Thing is, there are eyes everywhere. And that Aslaug and Harbard kiss in public will not go unforgotten.  

We see him meeting with the village women under Aslaug's smiling and approving gaze. He speaks to one who says she has no children. He teases her and asks her if she knows how to get them. He tells her she'll have three children and then kisses her passionately. He "counsels" the other waiting women in the same way, kissing each one in turn.

From the porch with his mother, Sigurd watches all of this. A while later, he follows Rasputin - I mean Harbard - as he goes into a house and watches as Harbard makes love to the woman inside.
Sandi: The women are in awe of him. Enthralled. They see him as holy and close to the gods and are willing to have him avail himself of them. And the men that are crowded about him don't seem in any way concerned about this behavior. 

Back in Paris, Ragnar is still dealing with the horrors of the battle and the attacked camp. The funeral pyres burn in a somber scene. Lagertha tenderly covers the face of one of her shieldmaidens before lighting her pyre and stepping back.
Björn is angry. He says this is Ragnar's fault.

Sandi: There are a lot of bodies being burnt, as one can see. The Northmen have taken a bad blow that day, both in battle and back in camp. Ragnar did not expect that, I'm sure. 

 Ragnar strides through the camp and shouts for Yidu. She comes to the opening of her tent, and he demands the medicine.

He says it's been a terrible day and he needs it. She lies and says there isn't any more and he proceeds to wreck the interior looking for her stash. It's an absolutely horrible scene because it shows the raw and ugly desperation of an addict.
Yidu finally pulls some from her bag, and he kisses her in gratitude.

Yidu jerks away in fear. Ragnar gobbles the medicine down, then goes outside to sit in the rain to wait for it to take effect.

Sandi: This was so disappointing for me. I wanted him to be seeking the medication for Helga, I guess, and to find out it was because Ragnar was clamoring for it was disheartening. I hate to see him in the thrall of an addiction. 

We debated some last night over whether the relationship between Ragnar and Yidu has become sexual or not. I said I didn't believe so, based on the way she cringed back after he kissed her. She doesn't seem to accept his touch the way one would expect from a mistress or a thrall.

Sandi: She needs to remember that his loyalty to her is now bounded (I think) by her ability to get him what he craves. If she can't, he might forget any other thing he had found pleasing about her.

Floki visits the injured Helga and gives her some of his carved runestones to aid her in healing. Heart-struck, he slowly staggers his way out of the camp into a grassy meadow.
Sandi: Did you hear the church bells in the background? I noticed it on my second watching of this episode this morning. What is the significance of this, I wonder, for two such as they, who are violently anti-Christian?

He sinks down onto the grass, and that's when we see Aslaug approach him. She kneels down beside him and gives him a tender smile before kissing him. The kiss turns into passion and she climbs atop him. Floki's eyes are wide with shock, but he goes with it, and they make love under the sky.
This scene cuts back and forth to where Aslaug is in Kattegat, making love with Harbard in the same fashion. 
Floki isn't sure what's going on, but he's enthusiastic about it. She says Harbard's name after Floki falls back to the ground, replete.

We weren't sure last night who was directing this vision. Was it Harbard, sending Floki some kind of message, or joining minds with him in some way? (Remember Floki thought Harbard might be an incarnation of Odin.) Was it Floki himself, who seems to have been tapped as a Seer? Or was it Aslaug, with her völva powers?

Sandi: It is such an odd scene. I confess I was thinking how it was filmed. I mean, they had to go through the sequence with both men separately and then cut it. My kudos to the editors for the care that was taken in the exchanges. But what was the significance of this sequence, I wonder? For Floki's spiritual awareness that all the kids that might be born in Kattegat are Harbard/Odin's? A portend of a future with Aslaug?  
Ecbert rides to a crypt with a cross atop it. I thought it was a little chapel at first, but Ecbert walks down the stone steps to find burials inside. And the mysterious "W" lurking in the shadows. He steps forward and reveals himself as Prince Wigstan of Mercia.

Wigstan details the brutal deaths his relatives buried here have suffered in the endless fighting around the throne. He wants peace to come back. He wants Mercia to be a golden kingdom as it once was, long ago, strong and powerful and secure. And to do that, he's willing to combine his army with Ecbert's in order to fight against the ruling council of nobles, whom he doesn't describe in the most flattering of terms.
Sandi: Wigstan says, "If you think Kwenthrith is a calming influence? You're insane." (Sandi paraphrase.) This in response to Ecbert's quick, "Hey I'm only backing her to keep things peaceful next door. I don't like her, or anything!" Ecbert: Making up lies since before sunrise. Or something.

Wigstan doesn't want to see Kwenthrith on the throne because she's unstable, both in her rule and in her judgment. Wigstan will fight and claim the throne for himself, with Ecbert's help, but as soon as it's achieved, he wants to renounce the throne and travel to Rome as a pilgrim. He will hand Mercia over to Ecbert to combine with Wessex into one vast kingdom.
Sandi: The interesting thing is that while Wigstan says he's lost his faith in God, Ecbert never has, not really. Ecbert still believes heartily in God, but his view of the Almighty is not in line with, er, traditional teachings. Wigstan would not be surprised, I'm guessing.

To prove his sincerity, he has his guard pull his mother's coffin from the niche on the wall. He opens the casket and reaches down among the bones.
He pulls out a dusty crown and holds it out to Ecbert. He says it's the ancient crown of Mercia. And it's his.

 Just like that, Ecbert is seemingly handed everything he's wanted.  All he has to do now is reach out and grasp the opportunity he's been given... and betray Kwenthrith.

Sandi: Wigstan says this, and is relinquishing the kingdom, apparently, but still refers to Mercia as his. "Both our countries forward," he says. He will always identify with Mercia, and will likely - even from Rome - keep an eye on dealings there. I wonder how close this story in this show will run to the historical events?

Wigstan is based on a real king by that name. He also preferred the religious life to ruling. History records that Wigstan asked his mother to serve as regent so he could go do his monastic thing. His mom attracted a suitor, but Wigstan refused the match because of consanguinity. The suitor was a mite bit miffed by this and went to have a talk with Wigstan, a chat which ended with the suitor bashing Wigstan over the head and stabbing him with his sword. Like a number of pious nobles of the era, Wigstan then became a saint. Supposedly, a great column of light shot up from the spot he was slain and stayed there for a month. Saint Arclight's remains were moved a bit later to a monastery in Evesham, but that was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution. (This is why we can't have nice things, Henry!)

Sandi: Ecbert, as a self-identified corrupt and ambitious man with dreams of having it all, is undoubtedly doing an inner Snoopy Dance here, but he contains himself admirably. He is, as always the definition of "urbane" - even before that was a word. 

Back at Ragnar's camp, Björn goes to his father to ask what they're going to do next. It's been three days. What is the plan? His father is in bad shape. Ragnar is tense and sweating, rocking as he speaks in a tight, clipped tone. He tells his son they'll depart on the morrow and head down the river. Yidu has either cut off his supply of drugs, or Ragnar has decided to kick the habit himself, cold turkey. Either way, he's suffering badly from withdrawal. Every word seems like a painful effort as he spits it out.

After Björn departs, Ragnar speaks, seemingly to himself, but he's actually addressing a severed head that lies on the floor. I couldn't make out who it was he was talking to. 

Sandi: If Yidu has truly run out (which would be extremely foolish of her, as she got Ragnar to take her with him so she could be his supplier) then I am concerned for them both. If he's decided to try to live without them, I applaud that. There is no twelve-step program here. No rehab clinic. No substitute pharmaceutical program. It will be ugly. 

Regarding the retreat, this has to be upsetting to Björn. To have sat for three days, waiting, and then be told they're to retreat? I imagine this will anger those who are hoping for more of the treasure they acquired last time they were there. Regarding the nameless head  on the floor, I haven't any idea whom that is, either.  

So much is up in the air! Will Finehair see this as an opportunity to capitalize on Ragnar's weakness as a leader? Will Harbard father a passel of children to greet the Viking warriors who return? And - most important to me - will our beloved Helga recover?

Sandi: Overall, this was a week of ups and downs. Great battle scenes - if you're Frankish. Interesting developments in characters. But I'm still left with questions! I wonder how many will be answered by the end of the first half of this extended season? 

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

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

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

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

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