The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "Portage"

“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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Well, this episode was full of surprises! I'm still a little dazed.

Sandi: I still have hopes that one or two things will turn out differently next week. However, this was the eighth of ten weeks for this half of the season, so excitement and surprises were to be expected, I guess! 

 We started off with Lagethra in the longboat with Finehair and his brother. Finehair is complaining about the retreat and is scornful. "We bought into the magic of Ragnar Lothbrok,” Harald says. “In our world we cannot accept compromise. We cannot accept failure. Someone is always responsible for failure.”

Lagertha glares him down as she retorts, “If I were you, I wouldn’t talk like that about Ragnar Lothbrok to my face,” But when she turns away, she looks as dejected as we've ever seen her.
Courtsey of vikingshitory on Tumb

Sandi: First, kudos on getting the quotes so accurately. You rock, Lissa. Yes, Lagertha might not be Ragnar's queen, but she is the mother of his firstborn and his loyal ally. Even when he has not always been so loyal to her. She's just . . . an amazing woman. Not perfect, but amazing. 

 In the other boat, Björn murmurs to his father that the retreat has "weakened you in every way." Ragnar glances up at the cliffs they're sailing past and calls a halt. He says they'll camp there. No one has any idea why he'd want to do such a thing. Ragnar says thy ought to try listening instead of talking so much. He has an idea.

Sandi: This part was a really cool turning point for me personally. The previous episode had a decline for Ragnar, from his first weird unicorn-strategy meeting to the "talk to the head" moment at the end. (We call it the #PoorYorickMoment.) And to have Björn, his own son, publicly (because on a longship, nothing is private) decry his leadership skills must have been painful and humiliating, yet Ragnar couldn't deny the justice of the remarks. Then, we see Old Ragnar surface. Brilliant. Innovative. The man who could sail into the unknown. That man showed up again with a great idea for how to take Paris. 

 In Paris, Simple Chuck is congratulating himself over the win against Ragnar. Darth Odious warns him that "There is nothing else in the mind of the pagan Rollo but the destruction of Paris and its Emperor.” He only fought against Ragnar because they had a personal squabble. Arrest him and dispose of him, and give Gisla a husband worthy of her. Simple Chuck says he will consider it.
Sandi: Here, you've got the classic "Make nice with the Powerful Warrior then betray him when he wins" move. Odo did his best to work with Rollo when Rollo could benefit Paris—and, by extension, Odo himself—until Rollo's perceived purpose was fulfilled. Then, time to get rid of the man. I think Odo did this for two reasons: 1) To regain his role as premier military advisor and 2) To try for access to Gisla once more. Charming fellow. Ugh. 

Ragnar reveals his idea to the Vikings. He wants to lift the boats up the cliffs and carry them overland, past Rollo's forts, and slip them into the river on the other side. He asks Floki if it can be done. Floki tells him he can do it... for Ragnar. He tells him that everything he does is for Ragnar.
Sandi: We had such a fangirl moment over this, Lissa and I. Longships—skipniu, as they were called in Old Norse—were designed to be portable. The Northmen sailed them down rivers and, when the water was too shallow even for the ships, the men could pick up their craft and carry them. It wasn't a light burden, but it was possible with enough arms. Watching Ragnar put this plan into action made me very happy.

In Kattegat, Sigurd is sitting in the hall, uncomfortable with his mother's behavior around Harbard. He says he wishes his father was here and leaves the table without eating.

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Harbard starts to follow him, but Aslaug tells him not to. Harbard says he wanted to tell the boy that he loved him. He loves everyone.

Sandi: I don't even blame Sigurd for his feelings of discomfort. It wasn't that sex between parents was unknown to most children in this time. Without private bedrooms, most of domestic life was there on display for the entire household to see. But Sigurd is well aware of who his father is and he's old enough to have a sense of what is due to Ragnar. 

 Indeed, he does. Sigurd leads his mother to a cottage later and shows her Harbard making love to another girl.
A furious, screaming Aslaug goes on a rampage, smashing furniture in her chamber in a rage.

Sandi: Very soap-opera, here. I wonder if it's hormonal? If Harbard has succeeded in getting Aslaug pregnant, along with half the village?

Her actions here are a little strange, to be honest. Last week, she smiled approvingly as Harbard kissed woman after woman in the village square. And now she has become insanely jealous of the man she's having an adulterous affair with.

Rasputin-Harbard tries to soothe her, telling her he only makes love to those women because they need him to take away their pain the way he took Ivar's pain away.
He loves Aslaug, but she cannot possess him. Possession is not love. Neither is monogamy, apparently.

Sandi: It does seem an abrupt turn-about for her. Whether this is due to an increase in her attachment to him or to her feeling of what is due her—she can be jealous of her prerogatives just as much as she can her heart—she has certainly taken a sharp left in her reactions. 

 Ecbert arrives back in Wessex after having apparently battled off-camera with the council forces and beaten them squarely.

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He's greeted by a delighted Kwenthrith who says she's now the unchallenged Queen of Mercia. Ecbert doesn't address that particular point.

That evening, Kewnthrith goes to meet with him in his office. Ecbert quickly rolls up a map of Mercia and wipes the drool from his chin.

Kwenthrith informs him that she's pregnant. Ecbert congratulates her and asks the identity of the father. Kwenthtith is probably a bit insulted, as one can imagine, but she tells him that it's his son, Aethelwulf, and that they had a meaningful relationship. Of which Ecbert is fully aware, but that's not at issue.

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Sandi: Ecbert's ability to present any face he wishes is growing legendary. He can sup with someone and plunge a knife coolly in their back that same evening.  

 Kwenthrith starts to address some of the issues in her kingdom and Ecbert cuts her off. It's not her kingdom any longer. He has his assistant lay out the paperwork. Before their untimely demises, the council all signed documents for the abdication of Queen Kwenthrith and ceding the throne to Wigstan, who in turn handed it over to Ecbert. He is now king of Mercia.
Kwenthith screams at him that he's a monster, and Ecbert is rather untroubled by this. Because he is, and he knows it.
She asks him how he can sleep at night, and Ecbert doesn't say, "On a pile of stolen crowns, my dear," but you know he's thinking it. She's dragged away by guards.

Sandi: At this point, we were thinking that this was the point when Kwenthrith would find herself consigned to a nunnery to have her baby. She is told that she'll be under house arrest, after a fashion. Ecbert is invested in keeping her unborn child safe, too, as that child is his grandson. So 

Gisla and Odo are having dinner with Simple Chuck. He's eating with a serving fork, for some reason. I teased a bit about it during the episode, but didn't really want to get into all the history at the moment.

Sandi: That is a frustrating part of live-tweeting! There's stuff in the mind that we don't have time to explore because there's a story being told before our eyes. A fascinating story.

In any case, forks had been sort of introduced at the French court during this time, but they weren't commonly used, not for eating, anyway. They were sort of a novelty item. Not unknown, but not common by any means - sort of like chopsticks in an average American home. Your eating utensil was your spoon or your knife. Forks didn't come into common usage in France until Catherine d'Medici's time.

Sandi: So, though it was possible for the Emperor would have used a fork for his personal food consumption, it was highly unlikely at this time. Good manners would have dictated he use his knife for spearing his meat or veggies and carrying them to his mouth.  

 But I digress. Gisla announces she is pregnant. A baby Viking is on his or her way! Pepe Le Bébé?

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 Simple Chuck praises Rollo the defeat of his brother but Rollo reminds him it's not really a defeat.

Sandi: Part of what the Franks need, though they don't acknowledge it as such at this juncture, is the knowledge of how the Northman thinks. It's a mindset different from that of the Franks' own. The Northman doesn't necessarily need to live past the battle; the warriors are content to die and go on to Valhalla. So conquering is a goal, but not the only goal. Valhalla is a noble one. 

Therese meets with Darth Odious, and says he hasn't visited her in a long while.

Sandi: As he reminds her, he was fighting (and winning!) important battles and so on. "Quit yer whining, girlie. I was busy doing man-stuff." 
She asks him if he'd like to try a little something different. How would he like to be tied up and whipped for a change? Odious is excited by the idea, and manacles himself.

Therese tries a couple of strikes and he scoffs at them as being too soft. He cries out in real pain when a long cat o' nine tails strikes his back. It's being wielded by Roland, who gives Therese a kiss in front of Odious. He lays into Odious with vigor while Therese watches.

Blood spatters her face and she seems to get quite... excited by the sight.
Sandi: No safewords were used in that session, I daresay. I actually felt a bit bad for Darth Odious. He trusted Therese, and then found himself completely at their mercy. And . . . they weren't merciful. Not at all.​

Kwenthrith approaches Judith and tells her she needs to confess. She's pregnant by Judith's husband, Athelwulf. Judith says she knows, and she forgives Kwenthrith. Kwenthrith asks for her help in escaping.

Sandi: One would think that Kwenthrith would know better than to trust anyone who has appeared to prosper in Ecbert's court. Cunning and double-dealing is a way of life, there, and Kwenthrith is no stranger to these herself. Sadly, she may have thought she was smarter than anyone she encountered, there. 

 That evening, Judith goes to Ecbert's chamber. He's gazing out at the moon. He says he wants to ask her forgiveness. He's already beyond God's forgiveness, but perhaps he can get forgiveness from her. He feels he didn't have a choice but to take Kwenthtith's throne. She was unstable. “You may treat this statement as compromised, disingenuous, perhaps even as a lie. And why shouldn’t you. But the funny thing is, it’s true. I have lied about many, many things, both to others and to myself, but I find, to my surprise, that I cannot lie to you, nor escape your judgment. Please, Judith. Don’t forsake me.”
Sandi: I have to think/hope that Judith has learned enough of her father-in-law by this time not to be completely drawn in by Ecbert's words. His track record for reliability is so not good. Unless it's for his own self-interest. He might treat Judith well, for the time and place, but can she trust him to see to her welfare for her own sake? I doubt it. Highly.

We cut to a scenes of the Vikings till moving the boats.
It's beautifully period-accurate.
Lifting the boats up from the docks, they're loaded on to sledges and rolled over logs along the ground. It's one of those delightful historical touches that makes my geeky little heart so happy. Even Finehair seems happy. He admits he was wrong to doubt Ragnar. “You’re insane! But this is beautiful. After everything we heard and thought, we feel stupid.”

Sandi: Me being me (read: suspicious) I tend to take Harald's claim of feeling stupid with a whole block of salt. He has said this to placate a man he now perceives to be more powerful than he might have done not too long ago. Now, Ragnar is a king in his element, not a defeated warrior who'd had a faulty plan. Now, Ragnar has a chance of winning and leading the way to treasure and renown. Now, Harald Finehair will pay him lip service. 

 Torvi is watching from the dock as Björn rides one of the boats up. She has a vision of Erlendur shooting him with a crossbow and Björn falling to the water below.

But Erlendur hasn't moved. He's just watching Björn with grim eyes.

Sandi: Yep, we were psyched out to see Björn shot through the throat. But no! History Channel was messing with us. But did this mean that Torvi is an incipient Seer herself or was it just a momentary fear?  

Back in Paris, Darth Odious's bloody, dripping corpse still hangs from the chains, whipped to death.
Simple Chuck announces from his throne that Odious was executed for his disloyalty. Rollo is granted the metal hand that Darth Odious always wore. Which is gross and a-historical. At least I've never heard of it. "He rules his realm with an iron hand," doesn't have an actual historical basis in a physical object, as far as I know.

After they leave, Simple Chuck has a moment with Therese. He says he feels she carries a terrible burden, and she carries it alone.

Sandi: Nice of Charles to put an official face on the revenge-murder of his former favorite. I can't find a reference to an actual "iron hand" either, at first scan, but it does make a nice (if macabre) symbol, here. I wonder if a warning is also attached thereto? Or maybe not, as Duke Rollo has officially gifted his wife with a baby? 

 Kwenthrith tries her escape, hiding her face and that of Magnus under large cloaks.
She doesn't even make it as far as the gates before she's captured and brought back inside the villa. She's told by Ecbert that he wants to have Ragnar's son, safe and sound in his hands when Ragnar returns. She will not be allowed to leave. Guards will keep her inside the villa.

Sandi: Ecbert takes it as his right—I won't say "divine right" as he seems to have abdicated that option—to maneuver and manipulate all in his purview. It's as if Kwenthrith couldn't possibly think otherwise. His sense of entitlement here is overwhelming. 
 Back at the Viking camp, Floki talks to Helga, who seems to be on the mend, which made me happy. She wasn't burned, thankfully. It must have simply been mud covering her when we saw her last. He asks her to remain at the camp, where she'll be safe, while he goes onward with the boats toward Paris.

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He's tender and concerned with her, and even better than that he seems more stable than he's been in a long time. "Don't die, Floki," she says to him, with a haunting sadness.
Down at the beach, Ragnar tells Yidu to remain behind. He only brought her along for the medicine she had. She tells him there isn't any left, and so Ragnar says he doesn't need her any more. Yidu says she came along because she was a free woman. Ragnar scoffs and told her he never said she was free, only that she could come and go as she pleased.

Sandi: I see this as a parallel to Ecbert's keeping Kwenthrith (and Judith and anyone else) tied to him. A captive, willing or not. 

"You’re a liar,” Yidu hisses to him. “You’ve lied to me, and you’ve lied to your people. But you made the mistake of telling me the secret of the slaughter of the families in Wessex.” She starts to march off, but Ragnar seizes her, dragging her into the water. He holds her beneath the surface. Yidu's arms wave frantically as she fights for her life and then they slowly fall back, limp and lifeless.

Her body bobs in the water. Ragnar searches her bag and grabs her drug stash before he sloshes out of the water.
Sandi: So . . . she had a drug stash. So she lied to him, too. For the record and all. The drug was her hold over him and it would have been singularly foolish of her to let this hold disappear at this juncture. 

I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. Ragnar has never been brutal with women, even slave women. His cold-blooded murder of Yidu is bizarrely out of character for him, and now that he's past his drug withdrawals, there isn't even that excuse. I didn't understand this scene at all. Ragnar goes Tony Soprano, and it's devastating.

Sandi: This will sound horrid, perhaps, but I was not even remotely put off by this action. I saw this killing as expected and even a bit rational from a certain point of view. Yidu represented a threat and he handled it. She was also taunting him and doubting him and maybe even making him doubt himself - intolerable - so killing her was an expedient option. I don't agree with it, mind, but I guess I wasn't as flabbergasted as many. 

Ubbe and Hvistserk have seen it from the beach and are staring at their father as he sloshes up out of the river, leaving Yidu's corpse floating behind him.

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"It's all right. It's all right." He tries to reassure the boys, but he's obviously jittery. He shoos the boys away and goes back to give Yidu's body a shove out into the current.

Sandi: Now, here, I had to cringe. Ragnar has by and large done his best to be a good father on campaign, but here? He loses that. His need for the drug, and to see to the secret of Wessex, overpowered his need to be a good father and role model for his sons. I kept hoping that Yidu would sneak off, out of breath but alive, while Ubbe watched the water carefully beyond his father's shoulder. But. No.  

 It's late at night in Wessex and Kwenthrith hurries through the hallway toward Ecbert's room. She's stopped by a guard who tells her she's been banned from his chamber. A desperate Kwenthrith pulls out a knife and stabs him in the neck. King Ecbert wakes to find her dagger at his throat.

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Sandi: This is where Kwenthrith's imbalance is most tragic. She seems to think she can pull one over on a man who has demonstrated himself to be her superior in terms of military might, strategy, and manipulation. That she thinks she can actually pose a threat to him is ludicrous. Tragically ludicrous. 

She tells him it didn't have to be this way. She asks him what it's like to be at the threshold of death. "Do you know what would have been better for me" she asks. "Can you even imagine? To have been born a man."

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She's half-crying-half laughing as she says this, and she's about to drive the dagger through his neck when suddenly, she's hit by a knife from behind. Judith has stabbed her.

Kwenthrith falls over, and murmurs. "Poor Judith, you have killed twice over," referring to her unborn child. With a gurgle, Queen Kwenthrith of Mercia is no more.

Sandi: I was stunned to see that Judith had killed Kwenthrith. That was the murder that had me blinking in this episode. But, Judith was doing a few things with this. One, she was protecting her Sugar Daddy/liege lord/father-in-law. This was her duty. The corpse at the door to Ecbert's chamber likely clued her in as to the need for her knife. Two, she was preserving the roles of her sons in Ecbert's realm and influence. This was a princess's duty in a royal court. Three, she was perhaps enacting her vengeance on the woman who had slept and been impregnated by her husband. "I forgive you," she said. But Judith is a student in Ecbert's school; words can be said without being binding.

Judith looks down at Kwenthrith's corpse and says to Ecbert, "Look what you have made me become."

Sandi: This is Judith refusing responsibility for her own actions. For each step she has taken to get to where she is. A far cry from the girl she may have been when even looking at Athelstan made her blush.  

 What an episode! We lost Yidu, Kwenthrith, and Darth Odious (though he won't be missed.) We never got an answer to the question of #YorickTheMysteryHead, but so much was going on, I don't think any of us noticed at the time.

Sandi: I certainly didn't notice the last, no. I was too happy to see Ragnar take on a new challenge to invade Paris. Again. Two more weeks to go in this first half of this season. I can't wait to see what they hold! 

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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

1 comment:

  1. There are interviews with the departed ladies at, if you haven't seen them.


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