The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS 5.19 "What Happens in the Cave"

“They're nice women, really. They just know a lot about hangings." 

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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Hey, everyone! Lissa here. I’m on my own this week because Sandi is traveling, so you’re going to have just me narrating the episode without Sandi’s interjections of wisdom. But she’ll be back next week for the finale and the next-day analysis. 

The title of this episode made me speculate all week long. Was it going to be somehow based on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? And I think I see a vague connection, but more about that later.

 We start out with Floki making his way through the Gnat Cave of Mystery, holding a torch aloft for light.

The cave is unstable, with ominous rumbles and falling rock that Floki says is the anvils of the dwarves. He follows the sound deeper into the earth, and, he believes, toward the gods themselves.

Next, we head to Wessex, where everyone is strangely still and silent. The whole city stands as if they’re transfixed to their spots, their heads bowed. The only sound is the mournful toll of a church bell. Inside the palace, everyone is gathered in Judith’s bedroom. Alfred hovers over his mother, his hand clasping hers. As we watch, Judith takes her last, shuddering breath and goes still.

Alfred kisses her hand and begins to weep. Lagertha steps up from behind him and offers wise counsel. He should not mourn for Judith. She spent her life trying to get him where he is, King of Wessex, and she lived to see that victory. Now his task is to become the great king she knew he would be. Alfred the Great. Get it? (Sometimes this show just wallops you over the head with the message.) His people now need him to be strong.

Lagertha leaves the chamber and walks down the hall, her pace a bit jolting from the limp her leg injury left her with. Suddenly, she is dizzy and falls against a wall. She’s transported back in memory.

She sees the battle and Heahmund’s death. Through a mist, she sees a shrouded figure and follows after it, only to collapse. We next see her lying in a bed in the hut of the herb-woman Judith consulted about her cancer. The herb woman tells Lagertha that she was on the verge of death when the herb-woman found her, and her old life is dead, but now she has been reborn. She pulls out a knife. Lagertha whimpers as she approaches and holds up her hands helplessly to ward her off, but the herb-woman intends no harm. She leans down and cuts off Lagertha’s braid and throws it into the fire.
Ubbe begins his battle with King Frodo. The rules of the battle are announced beforehand, all civilized-like. I half expected them to walk ten paces. Frodo’s first powerful sword swing breaks Ubbe’s shield and he has to request another. The fight is incredibly brutal and bloody as they resort to scrapping on the ground.
Both men are exhausted and injured. Ubbe is thrown to the ground and he stares up at the sky with his blue eyes wide.

 He tries to pray a Christian prayer, but suddenly he begins to pray to the gods of his father. It gives him the strength he needs to reach for a blade, and when Frodo tries to chop him with his ax, Ubbe leaps up and stabs him.

 As the crowd stares at Frodo falling to the ground, dead, Torvi grabs another of the kings (I think it was the one who dissed her for talking during the meeting) and runs him through with her blade. Ubbe drops into the leaf litter, seriously injured, staring sightlessly at the sky.

Torvi kneels over him. And honest-to-heaven, she's wearing a chainmail headband. She calls out that he was the winner – the son of Ragnar was the winner. The men begin to chant his name and pound their shields, but he cannot hear them. She has him put on a wagon to be transported back to the palace.

She sees Lagertha in the yard and they have a quick, but joyful reunion. Lagertha says jokingly that Torvi can see she’s nearly impossible to kill. But they both turn back in concern to the injured Ubbe.

 Freydis is shouting at Ivar, demanding to know where her baby is. It’s light outside, which means it would be at least twelve hours since Ivar slipped outside with the baby in his arms. Ivar munches on an apple (a rather crisp apple, given that in the story, it’s late winter and the Vikings didn’t have trade routes with California for year-round produce.)

He drops carelessly into a chair as she throws small objects at him. He gets angry at her and says she promised him a beautiful child. She says the baby was their child and grapples with him. He slaps her.

Floki finally makes it to the center of the cave, and he’s stunned to find a Christian cross has been erected in the center. He giggles a little at first, turning into chuckles, and then into sobbing laughter. He falls to his knees, moaning and crying with anguish.

 His screams echo through the cave and rocks fall. A rumble tears through it and an explosion comes from the top of the volcano. A cascade of ash and rock sweeps down the side.

We all wondered about this on Twitter.
Last week, there was a lot of protest of Aud’s death since she’s credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland, and commanding her own ships. Perhaps Floki finding Christianity where he expected to find the home of the gods speaks to their presence in Iceland, despite the fact he thought it would be a home only for those who were firm in the faith of the Northmen’s gods.

But this is what I was talking about when I mentioned the Allegory of the Cave at the beginning of the post. In Plato’s story, the men in the cave are trapped in there, unaware of the outside world. They could only guess at what was out there from the shadows dancing on the walls of their prison, shadows they interpreted as best they could. A man who was dragged from the cave, Plato said, would fight and resist, and would be in pain from the bright lights he’d never seen before. When he returned, his eyes would be blinded by the darkness, and his fellow prisoners would think his sight had been damaged by the experience. They would be terrified of having their own illusions shattered and would refuse to leave what they knew.

Floki has gone into the cave and his illusions have been shattered by what the flickering light revealed. (At this point, I wish Sandi were here to comment, because I betcha she’d have a great insight into this, so please pretend she has added a brilliant comment here.)

Björn’s ships are being tossed by a violent storm. Harald shouts at Björn that he told him so.

Near the prowl of the ship, Magnus kneels, clutching a rope. He calls out for Jesus to save him. Amma, a Viking shieldmaiden that Björn asked to watch over Magnus, turns to him with surprise and asks him why he’s praying to the Christian god. She challenges him later after the ship approaches land and Magnus claims he lived with the Saxons for a long while and had to pretend to worship their god.
She asks why he would call out to that same god if he didn’t believe, and doesn’t get a straight answer. As they get off the ships, Amma asks Björn if he knew his little brother was a Christian.
When they land, Harald bristles at Björn telling him where they’ll go next. He says that it’s his army. Björn demands to know if Harald has changed his mind. Is he going to attack Kattegat and Ivar or not? Harald says maybe he will, maybe he won’t. If Björn wants to command his army, he’ll have to kill Harald, and if Harald wants to rejoin Ivar, he’ll have to kill Björn. He says he knows Björn Ironside is supposedly unkillable, blessed by the gods, but he thinks Björn is just a man like any other. He pulls his blade.

 The two men begin to fight and then Gunnhild steps between them. She strikes Björn and demands they stop. They’ll be able to fight over Kattegat once it’s taken. Björn and Harald bump arms like. “‘kay, bro,” and go their separate ways.

Lagertha rides with Alfred as he goes out to show the Vikings their new lands. She’s wearing what can most charitably be referred to a Renaissance-styled prom dress and a black headband which holds back her tastefully tousled beach waves. The gown is green, snug to the figure with wide, arrow-like detailing over the bodice.
Alfred speaks to the Vikings and formally cedes them the land. He tells them, quite kindly, we all thought, that the land is blessed by God and their gods, too.

Lagertha gets off her horse and picks up a handful of earth. “Are you watching this, Ragnar?” she asks. This was his dream, and it’s come to pass.

Ivar limps his way through his hall as his people stare. He tries to wave it off, and then orders them sharply to go back to what they’re doing. It’s an abrupt change from his theatrical methods of having them come in to the room to have him revealed with a flourish in his seat of power, his disability carefully concealed. Now, he’s a flesh-and-blood man walking among them, and obviously struggling with his painful braces.

He goes back behind the throne to meet with Freyids. She tells him that their child has been found, or what was left of him. Hunters found the baby’s corpse in the woods, after it had been dragged to a fox den. She’s furious at Ivar for what he’s done.

He demands to know whether it was his baby and strangles her until she almost passes out, the second time he’s been physically abusive to her this episode.

She stares up at him with a strange expression on her face.
Olaf and Hvitserk are approaching Kattegat. They pause to chat a bit, and Olaf expresses doubts that he’s made the right decision.

 Hvitsy says the gods work in mysterious ways. Olaf frets that they could all be willingly marching to their deaths. Then he looks over at Hvitserk and they both laugh ruefully.
Torvi is at Ubbe’s bedside. He’s still recovering from his injuries. He asks Torvi to bring him his cross. He holds it up and says it’s just an object to him. When he was in danger of losing his life, he called out to the gods and their spirits filled him. Torvi asks him if he’s no longer a Christian. Ubbe says he wasn’t ever really a Christian. He wanted the benefits that being a Christian would give to him, and his people. Torvi climbs into bed beside him.
Ubbe and Torvi pack up their wagon to go. Alfred meets with them and asks God’s blessings on him and his family. Ubbe nods and pops one of Torvi’s kids in the wagon. Lagertha rides up behind them and asks to come. She wants to go “home,” with them.

It will be an interesting dynamic. While we know Lagertha probably won’t be able to settle down to a peaceful life as a farmer, it would be interesting to see how the power structure between herself, Ubbe, and Torvi comes to settle. Torvi has Lagertha’s grandsons in tow, but Ubbe is not Lagertha’s son, and their relationship would always be a smidge uneasy. Torvi has always been fiercely loyal to Lagertha, but now her loyalty belongs to her husband and children. Ubbe is now the de facto leader of this colony, but Lagertha was once known as the Queen of the Vikings -- or to the Northmen, Queen of Kattegat. To obey her stepson would be a little bit of a hard pill to swallow, one would think.

Björn finds a military camp and enters one of the tents. He finds Hvitserk eating at the table. He asks him why he’s here, at the head of such a large army. Hvitserk admits that he’s going to Kattegat for the same reason as Björn – to attack Ivar. Björn stares at him for a fraction of a second and then grabs him into a hug. They will join forces to attack. Hvitserk says that he’s always been unsure what his fate was, but now he knows. His destiny is to kill Ivar.
Ivar speaks to his people from his throne. He tells them that he and Freydis had a beautiful child, a child that he loved, but the gods took it away. He glances over at Freydis and says it’s hard for a mother to accept, but the gods will not be denied. The crowd gasps softly in sympathy. He tells them that Hvitserk was supposed to bring Olaf’s army because they were going to invade York and add it to Kattegat’s empire, but Hvitsy has not returned. An invasion is imminent, but they will strengthen Kattegat’s defenses and it will never fall.

 As his people cheer, he stands and holds out a hand to Freydis. She takes it reluctantly and pulls away as soon as possible, wiping her hand on her dress, or soothing her flattened belly.
And so, the stage is set. Two armies are about to converge on Kattegat. Lagertha begins a new life. And Floki is dealing with the devastation of shattered faith.

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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

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