VIKINGS: Homeland (S5 E2)
“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”
“These chicks are machines!”
- Steve, No Ship Network
(CHECK THEM OUT FOR THEIR PODCASTED RECAPS AND FEEDBACK ‘CASTS! AND YES, WE DID ONE, TOO!)
The Shieldmaidens of History—protecting the innocents from anachronisms—welcome you to our ongoing, avid, and sometimes snarky discussions of History Channel's VIKINGS.
As we've done since the very first episode, Lissa Bryan and I swap emailed commentary within twelve hours—!!—and here we are again!
Lissa is a noteworthy author and historian who takes a delight in finding the real truths of history. Check out her website at www.lissabryan.com.
(All Vikings images are used here are the property of the History Channel and are used solely to illustrate and/or promote their show.)
Lissa: We opened this episode with Floki, wandering lonely as a cloud around Iceland. His wounded hand is hurting and he sniffs at the wound – a nice authentic touch, since diagnosing infection was often done by smell in that era. He uses the muddy-as-chocolate water bubbling in a hot spring to soak his bandage before he wraps his hand, which was not so historical. Unless he’s got some theory about this being the home of the gods and nothing can hurt him here, this made little sense. Germ theory wasn’t a thing, but the people of the era had enough sense not to put particulate matter onto a wound. He probably would have rinsed his bandages in a clear stream, lacking anything else. Floki was the one who healed up Ragnar after he was wounded in battle and had to flee his home in the first season. He should know better.
Sandi: Ugh, yes. Even the most untrained of housewives knew not to use dirty water on a wound, and Floki is not ignorant of proper practices for basic health and healing. Not sure what he was thinking, here, unless he wasn't thinking at all. Even his own urine would have been preferable to the dirty water he used. And as we'll see later, his negligence will cost him.
Lissa: Astrid, or Joan Jett, as we dubbed her last season, pulls up to the dock in Harald’s kingdom. She’s disgusted at having to step over bones as she walks down the pier. Which… yeah… why they leavin’ bones all over their docks? That’s how you get seagulls and rats. It’s meant to contrast with Lagertha’s orderly, prosperous kingdom, I suppose.
Sandi: The No Ship Network still calls Astrid Joan Jett. I had to smile when I heard their first episodic podcast for this season!
As you said, the contrast is likely deliberate. Harald has been distracted both by his epic-fail of a romance as well as his pursuit of kingship for Norway at large and hasn't been as careful with the administration on a more local level. Now, historically the man does indeed become the first King of Nordweg—er, Norway—so he has to prove himself effective eventually, right?
Lissa: In his hall, Harald stands before his throne, dressed in a crown that’s a wide, leather-covered band with pointed triangular teeth on the top, an odd-looking thing.
Lissa: I did a little research, and the closest visual match I found was the crown of Cerdic.
Sandi: There are a lot of claims and stories regarding Cerdic's life and descendants, but most of them aren't provable beyond the fact that he founded the kingdom of Wessex in the 6th Century.
Lissa: In his new “palace,” the cathedral of York, Ivar meets a new girl, one who is utterly unafraid of him. She tells him that she’s always felt that disabled people are touched by God.
Sandi: This is not a wholly unique notion, of course. Whether a disabled person is blessed by the divine or cursed has long been discussed in different faiths the world over. This servant, though, sees Ivar's "boneless" state as a blessing. That the young man is gifted in other ways to compensate, perhaps, for his disability.
Certainly it is true that for many with different disabilities, other abilities are enhanced. The blind often have a keen sense of hearing or smell, for example. And those with weaker legs might have developed a very strong upper body, perhaps. Also, some who are disabled call upon charm and other positive personality traits to help them interact with others. This might be seen as being gifted.
Lissa: She strips on Ivar’s command and climbs into his lap, but he’s unable to perform with her. She says she understands he’s disabled, but it means he’s special and he’s destined for great things. She leaves when Ivar tells her she’s free to go. His face is that of a man utterly in love.
Sandi: I am still not sure of the object/idea that has captured Ivar's affection, here. I think it might be that he is indeed in love—but in love with the conviction the girl brings him that he is blessed. Perhaps, one might conjecture, this should be enough for him to go on with, but Ivar will forever seek to prove his superiority.
Lissa: The Wessex team has dinner, all of them seated on one side of the table, Last Supper style. They’re still planning to take back York. They’re excited, because there’s a place along the northern walls that the heathens haven’t built up or posted men to defend. Heahmund tells Aethelwulf that they’ll take the city back on the morrow and they end with prayer.
Sandi: One should keep the deliberate arrangement of the table in mind, I think. Foreshadowing? If so, for how far into the future? The Vikings producers are far too careful not to have this established without a plan. Team Wessex could indeed be facing a harrowing time ahead.
Lissa: We next see Björn, which we all cheered. He’s chatting with Halfdan, who says he came along with Björn for the same reason Björn went into the wild to have is “vision quest.” To prove himself to feel truly alive while he lives. One of his men, Sindric, suggests Björn will have more success in his upcoming venture if he splits his fleet in half while approaching land so they can appear like traders. Björn says he’s naked without his ships, and Sinric counters that it’s better to be “naked” than dead.
Sandi: It was great to see Björn again. The character has been part of the show since the first, and he provides a touchstone back to Ragnar for us. (For the record, the show is proceeding along quite well after the death of our central figure, I think, as we see life does indeed go on. In many surprising ways.) Previews show Björn riding a camel, I think? So I am guessing Björn accustoms himself to being "naked".
Lissa: In a lovely little makeup/special effects touch, Halfdan’s facial tattoos are faded with the passage of time. It’s the attention to these kinds of details that keeps me coming back, I swear.
Sandi: As I used to watch Ragnar's head for the addition of new tattoos, so I also appreciate how the designs fade on others. It is, as you say, a fantastic touch. (Though how tattoos age while Lagertha & Co. don't remains a mystery!)
Lissa: Aethelwulf breaches the wall in the weak spot Heahmund noted last episode and the Saxons flood into the city with no resistance. He splits his men into two groups and tells them to meet at the cathedral. They head down the twisting streets, and somehow it doesn’t occur to Aethelwulf that the lack of combatants is a red flag. It’s not until windows open above and arrows rain down does it seem to sink in.
Sandi: Yeah. Now, Aethelwulf has proven himself to be a fine man on the battlefield, but this is guerrilla warfare, for all intents and purposes, and that requires a different mindset.
Lissa: From the windows above, buckets of fluid are thrown on the soldiers and dropped torches set it alight.
Sandi: I really liked this. Yes, yes, I'm strange and twisted, but the cinematography on this was brilliant. Shadows and flames and fire and destruction in confined spaces. Also a great plan on behalf of the defenders.
Lissa: The screaming men try to flee down alleys, but they’ve been lined with spike pits. The first few to fall inside become living carpets for the men behind them as they try to flee death raining down on them from all sides.
Sandi: Seeing the squirming, desperate people who had been pinned down as said living carpets was really vivid for me. An image that remains, to be sure. Escape is basically impossible for them and death might be a long time coming.
Lissa: Above, Ivar watches grimly as his traps funnel Aethelwulf’s men into bottlenecks they cannot escape.
Sandi: Compared to how smug and fierce he usually is when a plan is going his way, this was quite grim of him.
Lissa: Hvitserk, in the crowd, fights like a Berserker, ridiculously exuberant.
Sandi: But unlike the berserker moments we've had in earlier seasons, this wasn't ritually so. I think it was just a young man enjoying himself . . . a lot . . . in the midst of a battle. Empathy might not be his strong suit.
Lissa: Ivar leaves his perch and jumps into a chariot to join the fray. It crashes, leaving him sitting on the ground, essentially helpless as a herd of English soldiers crowd around. His face is red with blood, which you noted, the pouring rain doesn’t seem to rinse off.
Sandi: He presents a strange, menacing-in-miniature, diabolical figure to the Christian warriors who storm the area. The red face, bloody teeth (they, at least, got cleaned quite soon), and his determined, fierce cheer had to be confounding for the opposition.
Lissa: Ivar laughs screams at them in Old English, “Do you know who I am? I’m Ivar the Boneless. You cannot kill me!”
Sandi: His name will be famous, indeed, but I think it's here that the Britons are learning to fear it.
Lissa: An arrow embeds beside him and he only finds this amusing, throwing his axe at the man who tried to shoot him. The soldiers are virtually trembling with fear as they edge closer. Heahmund notices and tries to close the distance, pointing his sword at Ivar.
Sandi: It's interesting, how the veritable company of armed men are apparently stymied by Ivar's defiance, here. They could have killed him; Ivar is not immortal, after all. A tidal wave of armed men could overthrow him, even if he is an extraordinarily fortunate fellow here. But there is a visible reluctance to do more than throw things at him. Is it the demonic aspect of his grin? The force of his personality? His claim of invincibility? Even his own men hold back.
Lissa: Ubbe stops his men from intervening for a moment, but an arrow impales Ivar’s leg. He looks down at it in annoyance, breaks it off and goes back to taunting the English. Ubbe sends in his men. Three of them shield Ivar as he giggles maniacally.
Sandi: (Ugh. My homophone issue. I cringed after I read it. Why can't one post-edit a tweet? Okay, okay....) Anyway! Yeah, the stalemate is broken when others enter into it. This kind of adds to the otherworldliness, in my opinion, of Ivar's ability to hold the Britons off.
Lissa: Heahmund tries to rally his troops with theological pronouncements, but the day is lost. The English retreat to the cheers of the Vikings. Ivar is left laughing and clapping, as if the whole battle was a comedy put on for his amusement.
Sandi: It was weird! I mean, sure, yes, battles can happen this way. Sure. Strange circumstances lead to victories that leave everyone a bit off-step. But this was an odd conclusion to this fight, in my opinion.
Lissa: Joan Jett is imprisoned in her room. An almost comically massive guard is stationed outside her door. She tosses jewelry around and scoffs as three girls come in bearing gowns that they drape over her bed. Outside, Harald is giving a feast. When he’s told Joan wouldn’t come, he stands to go get her, but in she strides, wearing one of the gowns. She feasts and drinks with Harald but eventually says she’s tired and is going to bed. The Vikings in the hall hoot as she leaves. Harald grins and follows her, which they cheer.
Sandi: I was reminded of the Biblical account of King Artaxerxes and Queen Vashti. The king, there, told his wife the queen to come display her beauty before all his guests and she told him no. She was then un-queened and a new queen was sought for and found. I had to wonder, in the time between Joan Jett's refusal to go out and her eventual capitulation, if some similar fate would happen to her. But no, she puts on a pretty gown and goes out as requested.
Even if I didn't exactly recognize her without the heavy eyeliner. And, to be honest, the gown was beautiful but it clashed with her tattoos. Her usual style is more "her", I think.
Lissa: In the bedroom, Harald tries to play off his nervousness with manful chuckles. He tries to kiss Joan Jett and gets a sound punch in the nose for his pains. He goes back outside, blood dripping from his injured schnozz and tells his people in a jovial tone that he never had any luck with women.
Sandi: He really does seem to lack basic skills in this area. Even kings have a problem getting a girl, it seems. Especially when he hasn't quite won his kingdom. Yet.
Lissa: As you said, he seems to be playing the long game with her. His people seem to take his “defeat” in good humor, but unless he eventually wins her over, he would really lose status in their eyes. In the Sagas, men often go through terrible trials to win over women, and the women often refuse their sexual advances, especially until the men offer marriage, but the men prevail in the end. The Vikings gave women higher status in their society, but it was still a sexist era, and the man was supposed to be triumphant in his “wooing.”
Sandi: In the Viking culture, the women do rather rule the roost within their homes, so this works for me.
Lissa: The Ragnarssons have a very intense meeting in Ivar’s cathedral/lair. Ubbe is looking particularly worse for wear with a beaten face he didn’t have after the battle. In the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that Ubbe woke Hvitserk in the middle of the night and urged him to come along on a secret mission.
Sandi: The transition here was rather abrupt and I was initially afraid I'd missed something. Like there was a skip "for the American Audience" (sigh). But no, it was just that abrupt. Segue, History Channel. Learn it. Live it.
I see that the effort was to build tension by going into flashback mode, but I found it disconcerting. This is likely a personal issue.
Lissa: They headed for the English camp and spoke with Heahmund and Aethelwulf. They said they didn’t want to fight any more. All they wanted was to farm the land Ecbert had granted them. After they left, Aethelwulf said to Heahmund that they had no right to that land. Alfred asked Heahmund if, as a man of God, he was in favor of peace, and said to Aethelwulf that Ecbert may have no longer been king when he granted the land, but now Aethelwulf is king and he can grant it, should he choose to do so.
Sandi: Historically, Aethelwulf was deposed as King of Wessex after his pilgrimage to Rome (A.D. 856), but he ruled in Kent and elsewhere until his death in 858. Now, how that will play out in this show is left to the History Channel. The show itself began in the year 792 (S1, E1) and Björn was what, twelve years of age at that point? (I had to check the fandom wiki!) That would make him in his seventies at least as Aethelwulf has gone to Rome already. And we know that's not the case in this show, so . . .
Will Aethelwulf give up his lands to the Danes? In history, he is a strong force against them; so I am thinking not.
Lissa: Heahmund enters the tent where Ubbe and Hvitserk are sleeping and gives Ubbe a good thrashing. He hauls both brothers outside and sends them packing, his soldiers pelting them with mud as they flee the English camp to go back to York. And now Ivar is shaming them in front of everyone for suing for peace. Ivar says they made the Vikings look weak. He says it’s time that he, Ivar, was recognized as the leader of the Great Army.
Sandi: Ubbe and Hvitserk got off quite easily, I think, for what they did, here. Heahmund did slap Ubbe around, but it could have been far worse. The humiliation at the hands of their brother, though? Not so cool. Far harder, I think, for the pride of the elder brothers.
Lissa: Ubbe says as the eldest brother, he will never tolerate this. Ubbe and Hvitserk will take their men and head home to Kattegat. Ubbe tells Ivar that their father would be outraged that Ivar sundered their family. Ivar responds he doubts that very much.
Sandi: Ivar is likely on the money with his view that Ragnar wouldn't be outraged, but . . . Ragnar might indeed be saddened by the fact that his sons are at such odds. For a long time, Ragnar tried to maintain a good relationship with his brother Rollo. This would pain him, I think.
Lissa: It was a fantastic scene, the best of the season so far. Those who follow our #ShieldGeeks discussion would have seen us all fall silent for a good five minutes while it was going on. I think that’s one of the first times that’s happened since we started our live-Tweets!
Sandi: I was, again, worried that there had been a technical failure. True story! I went poking about your twitter and a few others to see if the silence was because something went wonky, but no . . . we were all just that enthralled.
Two words: Great. Writing. (And the actors were awesome!)
Lissa: Floki is sick… bad sick. He leans heavily on a stick as he makes his way to a waterfall. He unwraps his hand and it is an infected mess, puss oozing from the wound. He sees two visions of women who dissolve into bees and birds, and falling to his back, he whispers in Old Norse that he knows now he was brought to this place to die.
Sandi: That wound? Seriously excellent makeup job. I can imagine the stench, too. Floki's gone septic, clearly, here, and that's affecting his brain.
Lissa: But in a few moments, he looks down at his hand and sees it wholly healed. A vision? A fevered dream? With Floki, it’s hard to say, but he shouts joyous praise to the gods.
Sandi: He's happy, looks good, and I am inclined to hope for his sake that he is truly healed. There are supernatural instances in the course of this story (though the producers keep them to a easily digestible minimum) so this could totally be the case.
Lissa: Ubbe and Hvitserk pack up their longships to go home. Ivar taunts them from the bank, because they’re barely filling the two boats they’ve taken. All of the men are staying with Ivar. As the ships get ready to cast off, Hvitserk gets off the boat. The expression on Ubbe’s face at that moment was just heartbreaking.
Sandi: I stand with Ubbe. He has a goal, he's off to meet that goal, and keep to what he believes to be the best thing for their people. He wants to go home and make it stable and a good place. He left Margarethe behind and, who knows, maybe the whole idea of growing his family is appealing at this juncture? Still, he had hoped for the support of his brothers and he doesn't have it.
He might just be my favorite, right here. *nods*
See you next week!
If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the Shield Maiden with the sword, 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