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“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”
“These chicks are machines!”
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS and interviews! And Yes, we did one, too!)
Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you to our ongoing series on the History Channel show Vikings.
Lissa Bryan is a delightful historian as well as being a wonderful writer. Her latest book, Dominion, is a dystopian romance taking place at a time in the not-too-far-distant future.
Lissa: This episode had me excited. I couldn’t wait to see the Great Heathen Army, the scourge of the Anglo-Saxons. Though the actual size of the GHA is in dispute among scholars, it was undoubtedly the largest Viking force to attack the British aisles and it left a lasting mark on the history of the realm. Not only in regards to DNA, but the Danelaw… and Oh, I could go on! It was a formative time, to say the least.
Sandi: Now, now, it was likely King Aelle who said it was the Great Heathen Army. Floki would likely just say it was a Great Army. Aelle was biased, as we know. I am very eager to see this army on the move, no matter what we call it, however. This time, as you say, was formative and so much of what our society currently holds to be bedrock found its beginnings in this era.
Lissa: We started the episode in the Ragnarssons household. Ivar is doing what he does best, needling his kin. He gripes that Sigurd is using his knife. It belonged to his father, and he intends to use it to kill Lagertha. Ivar mocks him about it and the dispute ends in a scuffle, but Ubbe breaks it up with no harm done. The discussion turns to their more pressing concern: avenging Ragnar. While Aelle was primarily the instrument of Ragnar’s death, none can forget that it was Ecbert who betrayed him, and besides, Ecbert’s kingdom is far larger and richer than Aelle’s. They decide that it’s time to raise an army, the greatest army ever assembled. They’ll call in every favor, summon every ally they can to their side. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” Ivar declares. Little sociopath looks kinda cute when he’s genuinely smiling.
Sandi: History Channel has done a pretty good job at giving us a look at all the brothers here. Their familial dynamics are likely going to continue to be important. Ubbe is the Big Brother, who looks (I am sure intentionally) the most like their sire. We have established the hashtag #UbbesLunchNotes because we see him giving advice and soothing the waters. But though the boys squabble, they are basically united in their wish to avenge their father’s death and Ivar will make sure that both Aelle and Ecbert pay. It is interesting to note, here, that the young men seem to have no doubt that they will be able to gather a mighty force in their quest for vengeance. They have the supreme confidence of their breeding, I think, and that tells. I can’t see some random fisherman’s progeny having that kind of assurance. But then, Aslaug’s sons only know of being the sons of King Ragnar. They have no memory of his more humble beginnings, as Björn does.
Lissa: Their plan means someone needs to talk to Lagertha. The Queen of Kattegat is working alongside her people on the fortifications, covered in mud when Ubbe goes to speak with her. She’s reluctant to leave. Kattegat has become too prosperous to leave undefended. One of the people on Tumblr mentioned a good point: Lagertha implied that Aslaug sort of let things go to the dogs, but Aslaug had to be doing something right if Kattegat became the most important trading post in Norway. “[W]e’re supposed to believe Aslaug, the REASON Kattegat grew and became the major center of trade, was SUCH a [poor] ruler for not building a wall. … Did she tax the [heck] out of her people? Seize public land for private use? Be unnecessarily cruel to slaves or smallfolk? Elect a horse to the Senate??“
Sandi: Lagertha is a good worker, and nothing is beneath her notice. She, too, remembers her humble beginnings. Later in history, it was said that the lady of a manor had to know how to do all the different chores on the estate, so that she could see that they were done properly. I see Lagertha as being like-minded. LadyAslaug on Tumblr implies, though, Lagertha doesn’t give her predecessor her due, nor her people. All that growth didn’t just come from the hands of one person.
Lissa: Lagertha tells Ubbe she remembers Kattegat when it was just a small cluster of houses. Ubbe smiles, and reminds her that he was born in Kattegat, so he knows how much it’s changed.
Sandi: There is an undercurrent of one-upmanship between Ubbe and Lagertha. Could the undercurrent be about more than Who Knows What? Is there some kind of odd chemistry? Only time will tell; neither of these two is at all attached to chastity as far as I can ascertain. Ubbe, though, cannot have Lagertha’s perspective and it is rather prideful of him to think he can. However, out of all of Aslaug’s sons, his memory will stretch back further, so he is the only one of them who can meet her even halfway on such a matter.
Lissa: Ubbe starts to tell her that Ragnar would have wanted them to avenge him, but Lagertha shakes that off. She, more than anyone, knows what Ragnar would have wanted. Ragnar wanted to build something that would last.
Sandi: Well, it’s true that Ragnar wanted to build something, but I think Lagertha is a bit behind the times as far as the Psychology of Ragnar Lo∂brok is concerned. Ragnar expected to have his sons join him with tales of great adventures. He expected Ivar to avenge his death. Ragnar wanted that, probably even more than he wanted to see greatness come to Kattegat.
Lissa: After their conversation ends, Ubbe talks with Margrethe. He tells her she is no longer a slave. She asks if he can do that, and he makes a bold statement about being able to do as he likes because he’s the son of Ragnar Lothbrook. He holds out a hand and Margrethe sticks her muddy palm into it. Off they go, a royal prince and a slave girl. It must run in their blood or something.
Sandi: Now, when Big Brother Bear (Björn) wanted to make nice with Porunn, she seemed to be amenable to being with him. Margrethe, however, seems more confused and resigned than anything. I do not have happy feelings about these two. One, I can’t trust the girl, and neither can Ubbe, really. And he knows it. I feel that part of this is a one-upmanship thing, again, with Lagertha. “See? I can free the slave because my mum got her for our family. So, dibs!” Or something.
Lissa: Speaking of dudes who made the bad choice of marrying a slave girl, we next go to Björn’s fleet. They’re on their way back to Frankia. Rollo doesn’t look terribly stoked about the idea of going home. Helga has her Shiny New Kid perched beside her, but there’s something badly wrong with the girl. She stares blankly into space, despite Helga’s attempts at mothering.
Sandi: Rollo feels much more true to himself when he’s out a-viking, I daresay, and coming home to a wife who said, basically said, “We are SO over if you go out raiding with your boys” is not something he’s looking forward to. And Helga and her “adopted daughter”? I am still weirded out by this. The girl has likely withdrawn—a not-uncommon response for people who are abducted and separated from all they know. It’s like Helga doesn’t even care, which is not like the Helga we have come to know and love over the years. The Northmen did take slaves from other cultures, and they made it a practice to compel the slave to accept a new name, new clothes, etc. But one does not hear of the Northmen adopting people into their families. There’s a lot of obligation there, and I’m still baffled as to why Helga did it.
Lissa: Torvi and Joan Jett tell Lagertha that they don’t trust Ubbe. They urge Lagertha to increase her personal security. But the Seer’s prophecy that one of Ragnar’s sons would kill her seems to have freed Lagertha from her anxiety about it. She shrugs and says if the gods can’t protect her, who can?
Sandi: Lagertha seems to give herself over to her fate again and again. In terms of having more children, in terms of her eventual death. But it’s as if she has to keep checking. She has faith, but she doesn’t keep it as a firm floor. It’s more of a floating carpet she has to catch up and check out again and again.
Lissa: Ivar is in the blacksmith shop, sharpening weapons with his brothers. He says that Sigurd isn’t all that enthused about the plan to kill Lagertha, and Sigurd says it’s because he and Ivar had a much different relationship with their mother. She adored Ivar, but with Sigurd, she was cold and distant. Ivar mocks him again, saying Sigurd was a bad son, and Sigurd calls him a momma’s boy. Ivar slings an ax at Sigurd’s throat but another blacksmith blocks the blade before it can strike. The blacksmith says no one would guess that they were brothers from the way they act.
Sandi: Well . . . I’d have to disagree with the smith, though I honor that craft as a rule. I think brothers act like this a lot. Thing is, Sigurd was ignored by Aslaug compared to Ivar. And Ivar was a “momma’s boy”. And siblings have been known to throw dangerous weapons at one another. No, really. Happened in my family and we grew up very happy and well-adjusted.
Lissa: In Northumbria, Judith has come home for dinner. Neither of her parents are particularly welcoming. Judith tells them she’s come with a warning about the vengeance of Ragnar’s sons. Aelle is dismissive. He assures her that Northumbria is prepared for any invasion. Judith gives a humorless laugh and says she doesn’t think he realizes how big this incursion might be. Mrs. Aelle, a sad and dour woman, covered in a wimple (topped with a ubiquitous crown – in case we forgot, you know, that she’s a queen) says to her daughter that they pray every day that she turns away from her sinful affair with Ecbert and returns to her husband as a decent Christian wife. If she doesn’t, she’ll burn in hell. Judith chortles again and says, “As for you, Father, you may enjoy the erudities of heaven without my discomforting presence, and that of every other woman whose only crime was a desire to be free.” In any case, she has something she needs to tell them.
Sandi: Judith, I believe, is doing two things here. She’s actively trying to get her father, a powerful king, to see sense. And she’s reminding her family that she’s in a position to know what IS sense because of the family she’s married into and the man with whom she sleeps. She has no shame for her position as Princess Concubine; she is content with that part of her life, it would seem. As viewers, we tend to have no sympathy for King Aelle (he killed Ragnar!) and that relative apathy extends to Queen WimpleCrown. Her marriage to Aethelwulf would have originally been arranged for just such an exchange of needed political and military information, as well as having an ear in a neighboring court, but it seems that Judith has lost her value in that regard due to her personal choices. Which, honestly, doesn’t make a lot of practical sense.
Lissa: Duke-Viking Rollo is on the ship with Björn’s crew. they tell him they can drop him off at home, or he can come back with them to Kattegat. Of course, he’ll be killed the second he steps off the ship in Kattegat, so… They head for the port of Frankia and there Rollo extends an offer to his fellow Vikings.
Sandi: See? He’d really rather NOT go back. But historically, of course, he does, so . . .
Lissa: Any of them who wish to settle in Frankia and farm its rich lands are welcome in his duchy. He tells them that he is now a part of Frankia, and Frankia is now a part of the Viking people. Floki scoffs and tells Rollo that he’s no longer one of them. Rollo replies that what they are is changing. Floki is the one who can’t accept that. Björn says that once a betrayer, always a betrayer. As Rollo gets off the ship, Floki spits and tells Björn that they should have killed Rollo. He he has a bad feeling that Rollo will achieve more fame than any of them. He’s right, to a certain extent. Duke Rollo is remembered as an inportant part of Normandy’s history, the founder of a dynasty.
Sandi: Indeed. Rollo was the first Duke of Normandy (b. c. 860, d. c.932) and gave his duchy over to his son William (who greets him in the Frankish harbor) in 927. Though Rollo was baptized as a Christian, he is said to have died a pagan. Though History Channel is not holding true to the historical timeline, they sure seem to have Rollo’s character down, yeah?
Lissa:Rollo strides into his hall and finds Gisla with the children. She praises God that he’s returned to them and kneels to kiss his hand. She dismisses everyone from the chamber.
Sandi: All sweetness and light she is in front of the family and any retainers… but then…
Lissa: Gisla whacks Rollo multiple times while cursing him a blue streak in French. Welcome home, honey! But, on the upside, it does appear she’s learned a small bit about princessing during his absence. She at least dismissed the witnesses before losing her royal wits.
Sandi: It was quite a horrid display, really. We know she was angry and she certainly has the courage of her convictions, but she really went far beyond the boundaries of her rank and breeding. I don’t think, Lissa, that she really ever did learn to princess.
Lissa: We shift to Wessex, where Ecbert is giving sweet Alfred lessons in… well, books, and drinking and philosophy, I suppose. He starts off by showing Alfred a book writen by Gregory the Great (540-604) a pope, saint, and educational philosopher. He urges Alfred to drink more wine, which doesn’t sit well with the young man. Ecbert then chuckles and says it was a trick – he was drinking water while urging wine on Alfred.
Sandi: I didn’t trust Ecbert during that whole thing. He is corrupt. He will always be corrupt. And he teaches via not-entirely-beneficent means.
Lissa: It’s supposed to be a lesson about keeping one’s wits, but it comes off as a somewhat sad call-back to conversations that Ecbert once greatly enjoyed, but now can never have again.
Sandi: Well, yeah, but how much of that is by design, I wonder? Part of me thinks that Ecbert is in no way broken, but he wants folks to think he is diminished, you know?
Lissa: We’re back at Ragnar’s grave site. The pit is gaping just a bit at the top. Judith peers inside, and asks if this is where Ragnar met his end. Aelle says it is, and Judith declares a monument should be built here, scandalizing her family. Judith rises and warns them again about the danger coming. She turns to her sister and tells her if she cares about the welfare of her soul, she needs to learn to read. She departs, having probably not convinced anyone of anything.
Sandi: And that, what you said right there, is what has me wondering why she is in there. The crew at No Ship Network have also speculated on Judith’s role at this point in the story. Why is she here? What is her purpose?
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Lagertha is holding court for all of the earls who have gathered with their forces to join the Great Army. She’s wearing that awful, awful high collar again. One of the earl’s ambassadors presents Lagertha with a sword. He tells her that there were many tiresome poems he’s heard detailing her exploits. She smiles and says she wishes she’d been more interesting, and he insists it was the fault of the poets, not her.
Sandi: We’re still griping about her collar. I grant you, the construction of such a collar was not beyond the capabilities of the people of this time and place, but that they would actually make something so intricate, with so much metal involved, that wasn’t explicitly battle armor is highly unlikely. Which makes me think that it is possible that Lagertha is indeed armored at all times.
Lissa: Across the room, Sigurd is regaling the hall with tunes.
Sandi: Had we seen him at all musically oriented before this time? I can’t recall.
Lissa: Ubbe strolls through the hall and greets one of the men. The guy doesn’t recognize him and asks his name, and as soon as he hears it, his demeanor completely changes. He compliments Ragnar’s legacy. Ivar crawls toward him and the men mock him. Ubbe says that’s his brother and they should stop laughing if they want to live. He gives Ivar a drink in full view of the hall and they tap cups. Next Ubbe chats with Margrethe. When Lagertha comes up behind him, he gives her a quick kiss. Lagertha tells Ubbe she is a little irked that Ubbe freed her slave without asking, but she doesn’t challenge the legitimacy of him doing so.
Sandi: That’s the competition between them, again. I wonder if Margrethe is part of that interpersonal friction or if Ubbe does have genuine feeling for the girl.
Lissa: Ubbe retorts that she had no right to kill his mother, and Lagertha replies that was different. Which kinda goes without saying. Murderin’ someone ≠ freeing someone else’s slave.
Sandi: Well, yeah. And the constant threat of “We ARE going to avenge our mother” is a repeated reminder of that. But really, Lagertha doesn’t have a lot else she can hold up on her end at this juncture. She’s on the throne, but the Ragnarssons don’t seem enamored of ruling anybody, at this point. All she has is this “You took MY person” thing that she can pretend to be all gracious about. I’m not sure where she’s focusing right now. She’s got a lot of plates to spin, I think.
Lissa: Halfdan and Finehair meet an interesting new fellow in Lagertha’s hall. Egil, the illegitimate son of an earl, sports a facial scar and is, as Halfdan describes him, “ambitious.” And we all know how much trouble ambitious bastards have caused throughout history.
Sandi: Oh, history is rife with them. William the Conqueror being one notable one that shows up sooner rather than later. William was previously known as William the Bastard and he was a direct descendent of our Duke Rollo, here.
Lissa: Rachel Tsoumbakos speculated in her recap that this character may be based on Egill Skallagrimsson, who wrote Egil’s Saga. He seems to have suffered from Paget’s disease, given the description of his physical issues.
Sandi: I don’t know about Paget’s disease (not being medically educated) but if his appearance was due to an ailment as opposed to a battle wound, that would definitely affect his character, I think, due to the mores of the day.
Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan note that they have need of ambitious men if they’re to fulfil Finehair’s dream of being king of Norway.
Sandi: Harald is certainly dedicated to this and he’s playing the long game, here. Befriending those he’d likely oust given the opportunity, making allies amongst the influential, gathering spies and intelligence. A sound strategy that, it seems, will pay off eventually.
Lissa: Ubbe and Ivar decide to move on Lagertha. At a signal, Lagertha’s shieldmaidens are all frozen in place with knives at their throats. Ivar makes his way down the hall, driving pikes into the floor to pull himself along toward his target. It’s a striking scene. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Sandi: That really was highly effective. Twitter buzzed for a moment over that moment. Now, Ivar being developed as “wise” and canny in battle, I am thinking that he knew exactly how he’d sound, bringing himself forward as he did. It was very well done.
Lissa: Lagertha stares them down without an iota of fear, rising from her throne with lethal grace. She picks up the newly gifted sword to defend herself, but just as the action is about to go down, the door opens and Björn strides inside. He’s either gotten wind of the plot, or he’s taken appraisal of the situation quickly. He tells his brothers if they’re going to kill Lagertha, they’ll have to kill him, too.
Sandi: The timing, of course, is perfect. Drama, enter the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood character who will save his mother, etc. Björn actually has an odd role in the family and he probably has to weigh all of his actions if he wants to be best understood and—of course—obeyed. He is a son of Ragnar with all that that entails. He is the son of Lagertha the Legendary and though she is capable, he IS her son and thus is bound to defend her. Yet his brothers have a righteous claim of their own against his mother that he can’t deny, exactly . . . still, he must defend her, stand beside her, for she is his mum. It can be complicated, being the firstborn.
Lissa: They seem amenable to that notion until Björn mentions they have an invasion looming. Ubbe backs down. Ivar slams his pike into the floor in frustration, but he leaves, too.
Sandi: Complicated. But Björn is not to be gainsaid, here. He’s 100% right, and no one can deny it. I imagine, though, that more than one person in the Great Hall was ready to lay odds on the outcome of Lagertha v. Lads.
Lissa: Soon afterward, we see Björn at the dinner table with Torvi. Torvi complains about something, and Björn loses his temper. He shouts at her that he didn’t come back here to be told what to do. He flings his plate off the table and their three children begin screaming hysterically.
Sandi: This is another one of those scenes that I don’t quite get. That Björn is having temper issues, maybe? That all is not sunshine and rainbows in La Casa de Oso? That even Viking kids freak out during a domestic squabble? No clue. With the season having only three more episodes to go, I’m wondering if this unrest portends a break-up of housekeeping, death, or some other tragedy to befall Björn.
Lissa: Ivar is out on the docks looking out at the gathering of ships in the bay. The Great Heathen Army is coming together. This scene, visually, wasn’t quite as striking as a quick scene we saw of Kattegat surrounded by tents and campfires, showing the huge number of warriors gathered. Ubbe ruffles his brother’s hair and they both look satisfied as they talk about the force they’re building.
Sandi: More of the Fraternal Dynamic thing happening here. We see how the men relate as equals. There is no “looking down” at Ivar, for all the difference in height. There is no sense of inadequacy or envy. Just brothers being brothers. There isn’t the resentment between these two that there is between Ivar and Sigurd. I wonder how big a role that will play in the future?
Lissa: Ivar goes to Helga and Floki’s house. Helga is trying to feed her Shiny New Kid, but the girl won’t open her mouth for the bite of stew Helga offers her.
Sandi: I have nothing, here. I still don’t see the rationale in this either for the writers or for the characters. Floki being an indulgent husband, okay. But he’s always loved Helga. Forever. So that’s not a big revelation. Plus, the girl is part of the religious system he seemed to find fascinating in the warmer south. Okay. But otherwise? I’m clueless.
Lissa: Ivar asks who she is and Helga introduces her. Ivar says, “nice new slave,” and Helga reacts vehemently. She is not a slave! They’re adopting her. “Yeah. Adopting her.” Floki says with a shrug and an air of tired resignation. Ivar sticks out his hand and the girl reacts in terror, shrinking back and screaming. Helga hurriedly leads her away.
Sandi: Can’t blame the girl one iota. Not even. That Ivar roused her from her withdrawal may be significant, though.
Lissa: Ivar tells Floki that he’s here for help with something that will allow him to fight. The two of them have great chemistry, giggling like the madmen they are, though Ivar always has that edge of menace.
Sandi: This was cute. Badmouthing each other with apparent derision only to break down into the giggles that Lissa says sound a bit “tetched”. Floki did spend a long time teaching Ivar in the younger man’s childhood. He was there when Ivar murdered his first innocent and all that. There’s a bond.
Lissa: Finehair and Halfdan meet on top of Lagertha’s new fortification. Egil the Bastard is with them. The brothers are a bit nervous about their plans for conquering Kattegat with the fortifications in place, but Egil says a clever leader can always get around walls and barriers. And yes, he is a clever man.
Sandi: This reinforces Harald’s goal of taking over Kattegat and, thus, Norway. It also lets us know that yes, we have a definite alliance happening, here.
Lissa: Björn heads inside the throne room to talk to his mom, but Lagertha is nowhere to be found. He asks Joan Jett, who is weaving, where Lagertha is, and Joan says Lagertha doesn’t tell her everything. As the episode closes, Björn and Joan kiss passionately.
Sandi: We get the lovely view of a drop-weight loom again. Yay, History Channel! But then, we are all . . . WHAT? Okay, so Joan Jett has seemed to have an unusual attitude with some of the men around Lagertha, but this? This seemed to be a kiss between people who’d definitely done that before. Together. And though Björn is bigger and all that, the scene was careful to demonstrate that Joan Jett took the final move to make the kiss actually happen. So, consent is assured. But how long has this been going on?
Lissa: First of all, Björn… Gross. I mean, like, really gross. That’s your momma’s girl, and she is going to be wicked chapped to have her girlfriend cheating on her with her own baby bear.
Sandi: But will she? Hard to say with Lagertha. She and Björn have a strong bond that is multilayered and flexible, I think. And Joan Jett hasn’t struck any of us as particularly necessary to Lagertha, has she? Great at hand-to-hand combat. Awesome sparring partner. Makes the Lady of Legend smile. But necessary? No.
Lissa: Floki carries Ivar out to the snowy forest to show him his newest creation.
There stands a sleek war chariot. Sort of Romanesque in construction, not what I would expect from Floki’s design studio. There isn’t even a dragon’s head prow mounted on it. I tried to think of where Floki might have seen such a design… one of Athelstan’s manuscripts… But I got nuthin’.
Sandi: The war chariot was not unknown in this part of the world. In Ireland, indeed, the Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, rode a chariot into battle.
By Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874 – 1951) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When I saw the chariot in previews for this show, I thought immediately of the Irish legend, as I’d read it as a little girl and the image stayed with me.
Lissa: It’s been designed with his needs in mind, to hold Ivar upright. Ivar reacts with boyish glee, and after Floki hooks a horse to it, Ivar flies around the roads, cheering and shouting while Floki claps in delight. From behind a tree, Björn watches grimly.
Sandi: Why so grim, Brother Bear? Is he thinking of how dangerous Ivar might truly be once given this era’s equivalent of a new car? Perhaps. Perhaps in the future, he and his brother will come to blows over the death of Aslaug and this troubles Björn. Perhaps he is just thinking that no one else has such a cool chariot. I hope we find out next week.
Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!
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Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4