The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "The Message"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fifth season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


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: We started up right where we left off with Björn and Halfdan moments away from execution. Björn whips out the blade he quickly palmed before they were dragged away and stabs a swordsman. He and Halfdan fight them off as the sandstorm hits. They steal a pair of camels and jounce off into the desert.

Sandi: Nice save by Ironsides, there. I liked the swish of his hair, too. Cinematic! The drama of the sandstorm was appreciated as well, and not just by me—the characters benefited, too. And can we have a moment of cliché appreciation for the "riding off on camels" scene?

Lissa: Harald and Astrid are having a romantic romp through the woods when a horn sounds. They run to the crest of the hill and see ships approaching the city. Ivar and Hvitserk have arrived. They host them in a feast in their sea critter-bedecked great hall.

Sandi: Nice attention to the visuals, Lissa. The design of the Hall is not, in my mind, so much a tribute to Harald and his fishy-smelling demesne as much as it is a quick visual clue on the part of the scene dressers/producers to remind us where we are. These are important details when there are multiple venues of like type in a production. It works!

Lissa: Joan Jett wears… *sigh* (Am I still doing this? Guess so…) a rather medieval-looking prom dress with a tiny circlet of rubies atop her head. It looks like a crown made for a much smaller woman, or a re-purposed choker from Hot Topic.

Sandi: We are both still doing this, alas. History Channel, we love you, but the costume department needs to review their historical source materials and/or perhaps provide notes on the website about where they're getting their ideas for the anachronistic pieces. Show us where in 9th Century Scandinavia this was happening and we'll nod and (maybe) stop consigning this stuff to the erstwhile Boot Sole File. I thought that the gown Joan Jett wore at the banquet was reminiscent of perhaps 13th Century France, and Harald's ensemble could have been from a lot of places. Save his crown. That, we think, is period-doable. Even if not terrible attractive.

Lissa: Ivar brings in Heahmund and announces he’s going to get this “very great warrior” to fight for them. Heahmund prays aloud and they laugh at him.

Sandi: First, as I said last night, I am appreciating how Jonathan Rhys Meyers is handling this role. He's rolling with it just right, hitting all the nuances—I think—impeccably. Ivar, here, is experiencing his own version of "feeling his oats" in this episode—getting a sense of his power and influence and relishing that feeling.  

Lissa: Aethelwulf picks up a burned cross from the rubble. Aethelred tells him they must move on, because the Northmen will be back. He thinks they should return to the swamp. Alfred makes a grunt of disgust and dismounts from his horse. He doesn’t want to give up on Ecbert’s vision of becoming king of all England.

Sandi: Alfred is portrayed here as having a fairly tight focus on his long-term mission. This could be shown to be in sympathy with Aethelwulf (whom the audience and fans are generally in favor of) and in contrast to Aethelred, whom we are still getting to know.

Lissa: We see him kneeling in a chapel in front of the altar where Ecbert’s grave lies. It’s a well-done scene. The grave stone is period-appropriate, a humble slab inscribed in Latin. Alfred vows to Ecbert that he will see his vision through.

Sandi: In general, my understanding is that the medieval Christian was encouraged to offer up prayers for the dead, but not so much as prayers tothe dead, unless the dead person were a saint or on the way to becoming such. One example I found, though, was that medieval families offered "commemorative prayers to their ancestors" (Scientific American) This was more of a devotional circumstance, though, rather than a supplication. 

However, I do think that talking things out is important and I can't deny that comfort would have been found by those who were praying to those who had gone before. Alfred certainly gains confidence and reinforces his own plans by so doing.

Lissa: Ivar tells king Harald that he and Hvitserk have no desire to be kings of Kattegat. They just want revenge for their slain mother. I noticed Harald wearing a beautiful gold collar, which was one of those lovely historical touches. It was a “kingly” piece of jewelry for the era – intricate goldsmith work with a Thor’s Hammer ornament dangling from the center. Later, Hvitserk and Ivar talk together and Hvitserk asks him if he really meant what he said to Harald. Ivar is jovial and sarcastic at the same time as he replies that it suits them for the moment to have that agreement, but things can change from moment to moment. Hvitserk says he wishes he knew what Ivar really wanted. Who Ivar really was, actually, because he’s not sure. Ivar says of course he knows who he is – he’s Hvitserk’s crippled brother, whom Hvitserk used to pull around on a sledge.

Sandi: I like the collar as well. (I went poking about to study it a bit more this morning!) This is the type of piece that is largely recognized by others in the era as being an indicator of rank, wealth, and influence. King Harald, of course, has all three. 

The interaction between Ivar and Hvitserk made me sigh. While in battle, Hvitserk is confident and almost carefree, but with Ivar, he generally returns to the supplicant puppy (Woof) of earlier in the season. Ivar enjoys having the upper hand, one can be sure, and he keeps his brother "leashed" and uncertain to keep that upper hand. 

Me? I don't believe a word of Ivar's protestations that he's just Hvitserk's "crippled brother", with the implications that there's nothing more for Hvitserk to fret over, there. Ivar's attitude is not to be trusted. 

Lissa: Floki’s “true believers” are hastily loading boats so they can depart to the Land of the Gods Floki discovered. Suddenly, Lagertha appears with her warriors. Torvi’s son Guthrum was the one who informed on the group.

Sandi: So, I guess "betrayal" (the word Lagertha is tossing about a good deal this season) works in Lagertha's favor on occasion? I am guessing she doesn't complain about that. And we see that Floki did indeed intend to abscond with craft that didn't necessarily belong to him—unless I missed that some of the longships they are taking belong to his followers. Which is entirely possible in this culture and would account for the ability to leave so soon rather than waiting for months as a new fleet is designed and constructed.

Lissa: She confronts Floki and the people on the shore, saying they’re skilled warriors from prominent families. How can they leave Kattegat with Harald’s threat looming?

Sandi: I do appreciate Lagertha's stated rationale of wanting all able-bodied warriors and shield-maidens on hand with the current threat level, but . . . I mistrust it. I feel that this is Lagertha exerting control. She told Floki "Don't recruit my people" and he did it anyway and she does not like being thwarted, here. 

Her own power is as much under threat as the safety of Kattegat. 

Lissa: Floki asks only that she not imprison him again. He asks to be killed quickly, with an axe or a sword. Lagertha says she isn’t going to kill him. In fact, she’s going to let everyone who wants to leave go. She warns them that she’s known Floki a long time, and he’s a brilliant boatbuilder, but he’s also a trickster.

Sandi: All of which is true, and I wondered if Floki was bluffing or if he would have faced death with such insouciance if she had decided to execute him.

However, she relents, and everyone's free to go. But make no mistake, she is not happy about this, even if she lays some of the blame of it on Loki, after whom Floki is named and patterned in many ways. 

Lissa: As she rides away, Margrethe says to Ubbe that Lagertha is weak and this has proven it. Ubbe doesn’t answer; just rides away behind Lagertha.

Sandi: Margrethe really needs to keep her tongue in her head . . . Ubbe is wise is not responding. One, no need to disagree with one's wife in front of folks and two, it is never a good idea to talk about a ruler behind their back, unless you are lauding them exorbitantly.

Lissa: Ivar goes into Heahmund’s cell and asks him to fight with Ivar’s men to take back Kattegat. Heahmund replies that he would rather die than betray his faith. Who’s asking him to betray his beliefs, Ivar demands. All he’s asking is that Heahmund kill some heathens, something Heahmund wants to do anyway. Heahmund asks why he’s doing this, and Ivar says that he’s jealous of Heahmund, of his strength of faith and prowess as a warrior.

Sandi: The thing with Ivar is that one never knows exactly how much truth he's got in his words. Here, he seems to see the bishop as worthy of respect, YET he's got him beaten and battered and in iron and so it's hard to say how  much of that regard is legit. One could argue that the confining is a mark of respect—Heahmund is formidable when free—but it's not the kind of respect that lends itself to treating the other man well, exactly is it? 

Lissa: Floki hears the cry of “Land!” He jumps to his feet and looks at Iceland, and his eyes twinkle with delight. He bursts out in that “tetched” little giggle he used to give. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it until I heard it. It was a glimpse of the old Floki that charmed/shocked/unsettled us in the first seasons.

Sandi: As much as Early Floki sat ill with me personally, it is nice to see him again. Here, he's a man who has brought his people with him. Followers. Disciples? That remains to be seen.

Lissa: His Pilgrims aren’t as enthralled. “It… it can’t be as bad as it looks,” one of them says to his wife.

Sandi: It does indeed look pretty bad. We know from history that the migrations to Iceland—and later to Greenland—were not uniformly auspicious. It is rare indeed that any new land is going to be perfectly welcoming—lands are generally shaped by societies, in terms of what is expected and achieved. But here, the people had had the idea that there would be green evidence of fertility in the land. Perhaps a sense of home, with trees and so on, and there really isn't. What have they done, you know?

Lissa: Alfred is in his room packing when Judith enters. He tells her he’s going on a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne. “That’s where your father trained as a priest,” she says. Alfred knows. He wants to walk in his father’s footsteps and learn who he was as a person.

Sandi: This was an interesting conversation, brief as it was. Alfred confronting his mother on what occurred between her and Athelstan was, for me, a really good thing. 

Lissa: Joan Jett strolls down to the dock and speaks to a sailor. She asks if he’s headed out whaling again, and where he’s going. Is he going near Kattegat? He says he could be there in two days. She asks if his crew is loyal, and he tells her that they’re all members of his family.

Sandi: How ignorant is Joan Jett, here? Does she really think that she, a relative newcomer, is impervious to threat? At all? Queen or not, she hasn't truly proven herself, has she? I don't think so, and a woman without proof of power is vulnerable, in this society as in many others. Additionally, she is going out of her way to put herself in jeopardy. For whatever "greater good" she wants to hold to, the fact remains that she is in the wrong in terms of Harald's people.

Lissa: Joan motions him to follow her inside a building. She wants to know if he will deliver a message for her. She opens her pocket to show him a pile of fine jewelry. She will give him more if he will promise to deliver the message and tell no one. He says he will, but he wants one more payment – her body. “Who doesn’t want to have sex with a queen?”

Sandi: And though she pauses, she consents to this. She is determined to accomplish her goal and her body is, after all, hers to do what she wants with  . . . or is it? Viking culture was not thrilled with infidelity, as I believe we've mentioned once or twice, but the big thing is consent—as well as any resulting offspring. One common penalty for sleeping with another man's wife was to pay him for the dishonor. Sometimes in cash, actually. This prevented bad blood and kept the violence down. Here, the messenger might face more of a consequence as he has propositioned the king's wife, but . . . he perhaps thought it was worth it.

Lissa: The Pilgrims aren’t happy with their new homeland. “I thought you said it was a land of milk and honey!” one of them says indignantly to Floki.

Sandi: I'd say "Can you all spell 'foreshadowing'? here except that, well, we know it's gonna be a job, yeah?

Lissa: It struck all of us as an extremely Christian phraseology for Floki.

Sandi: It really did. Did Floki pay much closer attention to Athelstan eons ago? Has he been listening to priests lately? Or is this a slip of writing? And will the words echo in the future or just fade away?

Lissa: Floki talks to the Pilgrims and tells them life will be hard here at first. They will come to curse the man who brought them here, but eventually, they will be grateful.

Sandi: Is this a classic example of CYOA? We have the impression, here, that Floki never shared about the stark beauty of the land; only its promise, perhaps. Iceland is beautiful and it has housed populations for centuries, but it was not an easy place to call home in the 9th Century. 

Lissa: Joan Jett is sharpening a blade. She heads down to the docks, passing a young boy who is obviously on the look-out. She goes inside the Hut of Treason and the sailor enters. He asks her if she has the payment. She hands him more gold. He asks her the message, and she tells him to tell Lagertha that Harald and Ivar will attack in two moons. He dutifully swears to the gods he will deliver the message. Joan turns to go and that’s when he grabs her. He says he wants the rest of his payment – to have sex with a queen.

Sandi: Yeah. So. Astrid is not wise, here. She's endeavoring to be crafty and loyal to Lagertha and I get that, but she's acting foolishly. A lot. Paying for loyalty with gold only works if you've got more gold than the next guy, for starters. And she'd consented to adultery, which puts her even more in the power of the man she's trusting to deliver her important message. "You know nothing, Joan Jett." (Sorry. I had to.)

Lissa: Joan submits to it and he is quick about it. He pulls back and the door opens, more sailors streaming into the room. “Who are these men?” Joan Jett demands, and he tells her that they’re his crew. As he’d asked before, what man doesn’t want to lie with a queen? She tries to refuse and fight, but he tells her that if she doesn’t allow it, he’ll tell Harald of her betrayal.

Sandi: Uh huh. "The family that molests the queen together, stays together," or something. With the original sailor, it wasn't rape. It was unsavory, but it was consensual. What followed was not and I'm still not sure why it happened. 

Lissa: The sailor is as good as his word. We see him in Lagertha’s hall, telling her of the impending attack. He tells her that he has no idea how many men or how many ships, but Ivar is with Harald. Lagertha asks a couple of pointed questions about the sailor’s service to Joan Jett, and he’s pretty smarmy in his answers. I don’t think it was lost on Lagertha that Joan had to endure a lot more than the loss of her jewels.

Sandi: Uh HUH. And I'm guessing that this was intentional on the messenger's part. Either that or he really is an idiot. I wonder if he will get his comeuppance or if this will be let to slide by the way?

Lissa: She orders that his sailors be hosted comfortably then turns to her own people to discuss. She tells Ubbe he will lead Kattegat’s armies.

Sandi: There could be multiple reasons for this. One, she might be unwilling to leave her seat of power to go fight—shield maiden she is, but she's also (supposedly) in her fifties in all likelihood and it is easier to play general than captain at that age in such rough warfare. Two, she might want all to see that Ubbe will perform less powerfully than she might have done herself—making him less in her peoples' eyes while still holding true to their agreement. Three, she might truly be wanting to bolster Ubbe in his bid to succession in Kattegat. Or "D": All of the above!

Lissa: Margrethe predictably pipes up and Lags snaps at her that if Margrethe cannot hold her tongue, Lagertha will cut it out and enslave Margrethe once more. Margrethe tries to hold her own, and retorts that Ubbe would have something to say about that. Lagertha retorts that Ubbe doesn’t rule here in Kattegat.

Sandi: In the fandom, twitter-feeds cheered, here. 

Lissa: I wasn’t impressed by her threat. After all, she already warned Margrethe once.

Sandi: True, but Lagertha's hold on the reins is not as secure as it was a few years ago, maybe. If you have to tell someone you're in charge, you're not as in charge as you think you are, it is said. Same here. The sentiment is, I believe, valid in terms of wanting to render Margrethe tongueless, but Lagertha's will lacks a bit in the force of things. 

I'm with SagaThing, here. 

Lissa: Heahmund is led through a jeering crowd to where Ivar is sitting. Ivar says that we’ll now find out if Heahmund will now fight for the Northmen or if he will die.

Sandi: The crowd is key, here, I think to how this is played. Ivar has a show to put on, power to wield, and he has a wicked sense of humor. 

Lissa: He holds up a knife as he says this and Heahmund says Ivar should give it to him. Heahmund puts the point of the blade against his own belly and walks toward the crowd. One Northman taunts him and asks if he’s afraid to die. Heahmund rams the blade through the man’s under-jaw. Ivar, behind him, laughs and applauds.

Sandi: And the way JRM played this was fantastic. His face alight, his triumph evident, though he's in manacles. It was great. Yeah, he'll fight with Ivar.

Lissa: It seems Ivar now has a warrior of great renown on his side, and he couldn’t be happier.

Sandi: I wonder how much of the bishop will survive the battle, and how much the warrior?

I hope to find out next week!

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday 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. Astrid's story this week....seemed not entirely in character. From how I remember her last season, she wouldn't have been so naive with the whaler. The sex/rape scene also proved why you put your knife on your thigh like Lagertha and other women before on this show, not behind your back so it ends up out of reach on the table. If she wanted to play spy in Harald's court, that's fine, but please let her be a tiny bit smart about it.


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