Vikings: Murder Most Foul (S5, E12)
[All images from the Vikings show are the property of History Channel. Used here only to illustrate/comment on the show itself.]
We are the #ShieldGeeks, out to protect the innocent from anachronisms!
I totally missed Lissa Bryan on twitter last night! My deep gratitude to @DeeDonuts of Project Fandom for hanging out with me for an hour and bringing on the killer GIFs!
. . .
On to the show!
Let's begin at the beginning, shall we? The episode opened in Wessex, where Heahmund (can we even call him Bishop Heahmund anymore? Well . . .) has taken his "prisoners" to King Alfred-the-not-yet-Great. There is some conflict among the Anglo-Saxons as to whether or not Heahmund is still loyal to them or if he's gone Viking. Alfred wonders if Heahmund has been changed by the Vikings or not and prepares to call him on it.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have been tossed into gaol for a bit, and as a group they go back and forth over Heahmund's dis/loyalty as well as personal issues. Björn snipes at his mother over being a "fool for love" and Torvi retorts that he, Björn, was never a fool for love.
So, they are eventually brought before King Alfred, who gives them a nice song and dance about understanding that, wow, they're all allies now. "I know the love you bore him," he said, referencing King Ecbert, his grandfather.
This serves a couple of purposes. One, it puts Lagertha in a central position, as she was actually acquainted (cough, one-time lover, cough) with Ecbert and so has a truly personal knowledge of him. Two, it reminds the audience of Ecbert's treachery regarding the granting of lands and alliance and all with the Northmen. The land wasn't his to grant, if you'll recall, as he'd made Aethelwulf king by that time, so it was all a big smokescreen.
Alfred has to know that, and he does. But Björn doesn't seem to. Hmm. I said that a few times last night. "Hmm."
Alfred then calls Heahmund on the carpet about the former bishop's loyalty, explaining that Cuthbert has the Bishopric of Sherbourne (Heahmund's former seat), as Heahmund was believed to be dead. But as he's not, Alfred implies, Heahmund could perhaps look toward eventual reinstatement.
This, as you can imagine, is not going to go over well. (Hint: It doesn't!)
In Iceland, no one is currently calling Floki on the carpet. No, he's doing that to himself. Not a lot of time for the best shipwright of Kattegat in this episode, but what there is is fraught with uncertainty.
Floki's having doubts. Sad, teary, emotion-ridden doubts. Are the gods real? Did he really see what he thought he had? Had he done the right thing, dragging a bunch of true believers across an ocean and over land and not letting them build houses and start farms before insisting all their resources go to building a temple first?
Sorry. I tend to beat that horse and it's been dead for a long time.
Anyway . . . Floki is having what one might call Prophet's Remorse or something. When you get your people someplace and things are a mess and you call into question everything you've ever believed. This is not an uncommon thing among anyone who leads anyone else into a new situation, by the way. But it is always a bit painful to watch, even if you think it's deserved.
The Vikings were a hardy breed and history shows they do manage to pull it together eventually.
Aud, here, is another one of those characters that is making my nose twitch. She's a huge supporter of Floki and his vision and all. She's backing him up, facing all comers, playing a fairly prominent role, and there for him when he is having his crisis of faith. But is she legitimate? Or is she angling for something more?
I've been asking myself that a lot so far.
Now, back to Kattegat! Where Ivar is announcing that he's getting married!
Historically? This is not documented. Indeed, as I've said before, there is no record of any progeny or wife or anything. But, hey, this is drama, right? And he's marrying Freydis, who might be the object of Ivar's first real "crush" or something. Because even if he's intimidating and ruthless and all that, he can't resist her appeal.
There is discussion among the folks in the Hall, of course. Hvitserk has Margarethe with him and she wavers between the insanity and the clear sight/visionary. When Ivar makes his announcement, she's quick to inform those in earshot that Ivar cannot father children. Which gets her some looks but Hvitserk is not entirely ignorant of the rumors, of course. Ivar's voyeuristic antics of their younger years had to be in his memory.
King Harald is there as well, and he is . . . less enthusiastic.
Franzen's portrayal of King Harald continues solidly, and his jaded attitude is clear, here.
Ivar's new bride is next seen in the presumptive nuptial bed, telling Ivar he's a god. Because his ego needs the extra boost, we know. She's all confidence, devotion, seduction, and blood play. Yep. "We can totally make a baby," she assures him, despite his careful avoidance of the topic. "Really." And she proceeds to make him believe it with some legit pain and more legit pleasure until he's clearly of a mind to agree to try, anyway.
And I was, at that point, SO very convinced she was not to be trusted.
But Vikings, true to form, whisks us away back to Wessex and Heahmund, who is having a confrontation with Bishop Cuthbert (who got the Sherborne seat that used to be Heahmund's) There is a conflict, here, as to whether or not either thinks the other deserves the office.
For that, I leave it to the viewer. But, Heahmund has much to say in his own defense, of course.
Cuthbert, though, is as ambitious as the next ranking cleric, so he sets a man to spy on his rival . . . to proven effect, as it turns out.
But not yet! Because we are brought back to Floki who is still dealing with his faith crisis in Iceland and then we return to Kattegat where there is an actual betrayal happening.
Yep, Freydis, whom I have never trusted, is betraying Ivar. By having sex with another man. Because Freydis got what she wanted in marrying Ivar and now she wants to solidify her position by having "his" baby. And since she's couched it in the concepts of his proposed divinity and fate and all that, she's figuring she'll get away with it.
I am guessing the poor man in question will eventually buy the farm, but not before her pregnancy is proven viable. Because, you know, she might need to do this more than once, yeah?
One can hope that she will be found out. I am not a fan of Ivar the Psycho, but betrayal is never a good thing.
And while we are fresh on the heels of that betrayal, we are brought back to Wessex. Because Judith, in her role as Dowager Queen, is performing the traditional role of getting a wife for her son. Which is fine, all things being equal. I just am constantly irritated by Judith and her presumptive, grasping, impatience.
Historically, Alfred met and wooed Ealhswith of Mercia when he was off fighting in the company of his brother. They met, he pursued her in whatever fashion, and they married to seal an alliance between Mercia and Wessex. All. Very. Proper. Sure.
However, Björn Ironside was never part of that historical ensemble. He is in the show, however, and of course Ealhswith sees him and . . .
This is one of those cringe-worthy things, in my point of view, that the show does on occasion. At this juncture, I can see no purpose for this. Björn's character as a man who takes what he wants his already established. Princesses. Daughters. Someone else's wife...yeah. He's been there and done that and I am sure there are even t-shirts. Somewhere. But why mess with King Alfred's promised wife?
I dunno. But there the two of them go. And if it had been left with the heated gazes? I would have sighed and carried on. The eyes, after all, were of huge significance in medieval sexuality.
You know the show. We can't just leave it there, can we? Could Björn?
Ealhswith is a forward-thinking woman, in the show. Interested in the apparent martial equality the Viking women display, she's not afraid to speak her mind or show her interest in a man not strictly intended for her.
But before we go too far at that point, we move on to Björn's mother, who is with Heahmund.
But not before we have another Ragnarsson being offered a different kind of deal from none other than King Alfred. Yes, Ubbe is being encouraged to leave the gods of his people and instead turn to the God of Christianity, in good faith, the king assures him, and to placate the nobles who are concerned that having the Vikings as neighbors will be worrisome.
Alfred, here, pulls out some punches, Ubbe is noncommittal. We don't get a definitive yes or no . . . And I am reminded of Queen Elizabeth I of England who temporized her way out of many, many diplomatic crises with equivocating offers.
And then, History Channel pulled off a fake-out that was quite effective. Now, granted, when I saw the trailer for the episode, I had a feeling something of the sort would happen, but still, I rode along and yeah.
Intimate sequence where Freydis tells Ivar she's pregnant. He's teary eyed with joy and then she stabs him in the heart and —
Yeah. He wakes up.
So. Ivar is not murdered at this time. However, he is unhappy and orders the death of none other than Margarethe . . . who has told others he's impotent and who would know (she'd done his bidding, ahem, before).
Then, the episode roller-coasters to its conclusion with a series of eye-popping events:
1. Ealhswith goes to Björn's bed. Yep. Eyes open, looking a bit as if a smirk is lurking on her face, she tells him she's a virgin. In the medieval era, a bride (of high birth, who was going to wed someone also of high birth) was expected to be a virgin. This was supposed to be the case so that it would be certain that when the marriage was consummated, no other father for her child other than her husband would be feasible. The king's son, then, was the king's son. This was the ideal, as all young women would know. Once an heir was provided, her fidelity was a matter of pride, perhaps, but not of succession, in general purposes. So, I was irked that Ealhswith apparently was willing to give up this security, this point of honor, this indicator of her worth in terms of the ideals of the day, for a what she had to know would be a transitory relationship. I am going to think that History Channel isn't planning on derailing the historical Alfred/Ealhswith marriage, but are they planning on introducing a child not of Alfred's line to the royal family? Hmmm?
And Judith, of course, could say absolutely nothing about it. Ealhswith is her cousin, and, well . . . yeah.
2. Assassins creep into the Margarethe's room and murder her in the middle of the night. Her crime? Knowing Ivar was impotent? Knowing more than she should? Being with Hvitserk? All of the above? It was a sad, sad end for a character who rankled more than many others have done. I never liked the woman, but this is a terrible way to go. It does, though, further illustrate Ivar's influence, power, and ruthlessness.
What will it do to the deteriorating relationships of the sons of Ragnar?
Murder Number One
3. Heahmund—a man who has been through a lot, certainly, but whose ambition is taking hold of him once again as he is in his home country—goes after Cuthbert. Cuthbert is not a worthy man for the office, as Alfred has "confided" to the warrior-priest. Heahmund knows this. So he goes to Cuthbert as the other man was doing something all clerical in his full ceremonial garb. They fight. In church! A sacred and holy place for both men, one would presume, is desecrated by murder when Heahmund prevails and kills Cuthbert on the very altar.
He then seems to ask a blessing, but to me, it feels as if he's making a mockery out of the action.
Murder Number Two.
So! We have some drama (manufactured and organic-feeling), we have angst (Floki is really having a hard time of it and I hope he is back to himself soon!), and we have situations that will undoubtedly develop into some messy—and interesting!—outcomes in the coming episodes.
VIKINGS is back and the sons of Ragnar are still influencing the wider world of their acquaintance.
The Seer said, back in Season 2:
"The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok will be spoken of as long as men have tongues to speak."
And so it is proving to be.
If you’re looking for incisive comments on the show, please check out Project Fandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the Shield Maiden with the sword, there, and she always has sharp things to say as well as being our go-to gal on deep background. Mwahaha!
Looking for an amazing, insightful podcast on VIKINGS? You have GOT to check out the NoShip Network. They haven't missed an episode yet and always have keen insights!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!
– Vafþrúðnismál 4