Vikings: A New God (S 5, E 13)
[All images from the Vikings show are the property of History Channel. Used here only to illustrate/comment on the show itself.]
Edit: Apologies. At post-time, my image gallery on my blog is flickering and not allowing any further inclusions of images into the post. I will attempt to remedy the situation later today. - Sandi
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Lissa Bryan 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.
And if you're looking for our recaps on Seasons 1-4, check out my former blog HERE.
Lissa: A lot to unpack here with this episode.
Sandi: Uff da! Yes, there is. Stuff that has me muttering to the Spousal Unit the next morning over coffee. (Our day starts at four in the morning, so he isn't always in a position to gripe at me. Heh.)
Lissa: King Harald decides to head to York, which is probably a good idea, since Ivar is getting a bit… testy. Hvitserk confronts his brother about having killed Margrethe. Ivar’s casual and cruel about it. “She was just a crazy woman.” But Hvitserk liked her, he protests. Ivar suggests his brother might want to go to York with Harald, but Hvitserk insists his place is here. He fought at Ivar’s side. He deserves to be part of his kingdom.
Sandi: Hvitserk is starting to chafe, a bit, at his subordinate role. It's not like he wants to be The Boss, really, but he'd like to have a defined place where he can earn respect. He's still not Marlboro Man material, maybe (Have I dated myself?) but he's trying to stand on his own feet with pride.
Lissa: In Wessex, Alfred is informed of the murder of Cuthbert by Heahmund. He demands to know where Heahmund is and is told he’s in the chapel. He insists on speaking to Heahmund alone. He finds the bishop-without-a-bishopric praying by the altar, still smeared with Cuthbert’s blood. Alfred demands to know why Heahmund would have done such a blasphemous thing, and Heahmund claims Cuthbert was part of a conspiracy to dethrone Alfred. He throws Heahmund into a cell.
Sandi: Thing is, Heahmund is pretty gutsy, here. He is firm in his presentation and has, clearly, taken no prisoners. That he is then tossed into a cell seems right and proper, as Alfred has to get his head together.
Being king—especially Burger King Crown Wearer—is stressful and Alfred does not really have a ministry or cabinet on whom he can rely. At least, not one that seems to be wholly trustworthy and capable.
Lissa: Back in Kattegat, Freydis steps outside and finds her sperm donor sitting on a bench. She gives him a beatific smile and when he rises to speak with her, he’s garroted from behind.
Sandi: Well, yeah, we all knew THAT was gonna happen, didn't we? I believe it was a precipitous act and hope to the heavens that it will come back to bite her in her smug little face.
And DeeDonuts (aka Sarah Powers) was right on asking how Freydis was going to make this work for the Hit Squad. We never actually find out, do we?
Lissa: Lagertha, Björn, Ubbe, and Torvi talk over the situation with Heahmund. He can no longer protect them now that he’s incarcerated. Ubbe suggests that they all convert to Christianity, and then the nobles would have no reason to object to their presence. Björn is outraged they would think of denouncing the gods. Their father, Ragnar, is sitting at the side of the All-Father, across the table from Thor, drinking and happy. Does Ubbe not believe that?
Sandi: Ubbe is the "house-band" of the family, if anyone is. He's the one who has persistently wished for his people to be able to have farming land and the freedom to live as they wish, in peace. He's, ahem, sewn his wild oats I think and is wanting very much to settle down with Torvi to make a home. Converting to Christianity is not so much a matter of belief to him as it is a social issue.
Björn, of course, doesn't see it like that. Renouncing his faith is inconceivable, even if it was just for show.
I don't know if Ubbe's belief in the gods of his father is less than Björn's, but his commitment to striking for the smoother path is clearly his motivation, here.
Lissa: In Iceland, Floki attempts to make peace between the two warring families that threaten to tear his colony apart. Þórunn Kjetillsdottir, the pregnant woman, is the future, he says.
Sandi: Still having problems with the Iceland story arc. Is it an arc or has it flattened to the Iceland story PLANE? Anyway, don't know if Floki is a peacemaker. He's an agitator and outsider, but not usually a peacemaker. Not seeing good stuff, here.
Lissa: Alfred meets with Elsewith and tells her that if she agrees to marry him, she might be signing up for a difficult life. His throne is in jeopardy, which means she would be, too. She tells him that she would gladly join him in his fate if he’d have her as a wife.
Sandi: The way this has gone down makes me kind of sad, to be honest. I mean, yes, Alfred marries Ealhswith of Mercia. She will later become Saint Ealhswith of the Catholic Church. I am unclear, still, as to why Hirst felt it necessary to, er, muddy the waters with her character, here. And Alfred is very much not a romantic hero, but he is trying to be flexible, kind, and understanding. He can't have missed the looks that passed between his proposed bride and Björn. Can he?
Still, they shake on it (figuratively) and all is set for the Marriage of the Decade or something.
Lissa: Alfred announces his intention to marry her to his court. They’re a fractious, noisy lot, shouting back at him as he makes his announcements.
Sandi: Not altogether clear as to why they'd be all huffy about it. She IS a princess of her people and she does bring an alliance with her (at least she did in history, but I am unclear as to that, here). Perhaps it is her relationship to Dowager Queen Judith that has folks in a state?
Lissa: He also tells them he’s decided to restore Heahmund to his prior bishopric, which is conveniently vacant at the moment due to the *ahem* sudden demise of the temp. His nobles are pretty outraged at that one. He also announces that Torvi and Ubbe have decided to convert to Christianity. The nobles shout about that, too.
Sandi: I get the brouhaha about Heahmund. Everyone knows that Murder Has Happened. And Heahmund's got a rep on him, now. Alfred is clear to point out that he is aware of it, but that the bishop will answer to God for his transgressions. And the Viking Conversion? That's not going to sit well, either. Time will prove the converts or disprove them, and the cynical-slash-fractious nobles aren't going to just take their baptisms at face value.
Lissa: Aethelred walks with Judith and tells her that he, too, intends to marry. She asks whom he has chosen, and he says that she’s Cuthbert’s daughter. Judith didn’t realize he had any kids, which seems a bit odd for her, since she’s the one who made the deal with Cuthbert for him to support Alfred in exchange for the bishopric. She’s either losing her touch and not checking out her opponents, or Cuthbert was extremely good at hiding his mistress and family.
Sandi: And remember, Heahmund brought up the whole celibacy issue, so it's interesting that Cuthbert's obvious non-celibate state is brushed over without comment. Is this because he was "only" a priest when said progeny were produced (and as you've said before, Lissa, the celibacy of clergy was not necessarily a deal breaker at this point in history)? Or is it because Judith was unaware? And is Aethelred's choice of wife made to rub his mother's nose in something? He's a strong and proud man, and he's been made to take a step back from what he has expected his entire life, after all.
Lissa: Harald arrives in York and tells the Jarl that he’s no longer in charge. Later, he talks with him about his intentions to attack Wessex and its boy-king, and eventually, to take on Ivar, as well. The Jarl protests. Ivar and his brother Hvitserk are sons of Ragnar. Everyone knows that name. Every one of them is a son of Ragnar.
Sandi: For the uninitiated, Lissa's verses in the tweet above are a parody of the children's Sunday School classic, "Father Abraham". Totally works for me in this context. Jarl Olavson is making a point to Harald about the support the Sons of Ragnar have in Kattegat. Harald might be able to win a kingdom, there, but Olavson is not willing to go against the Ragnarssons.
Harald is all, Meh, they aren't Ragnar, what's the big deal? Olavson, very seriously, gives credit to Ragnar for the growth of the Kattegat region, indicating that everyone is tied together through the efforts of Ragnar and, thus, are his sons, too. Going against any of them will be problematic.
Will Harald back down...? Surely you jest.
Lissa: As the scene ends, we see Aethelred slipping down a dark hallway to hurry inside a room where men are seated around a table. It couldn’t have been any more obvious if there was a big neon sign over the door that said CONSPIRACY ROOM.
Sandi: Dun dun dunnn!!
Lissa: Back in Iceland, Þórunn’s husband is outside in the rain, screaming her name. He runs inside the lodge and tells his family that he can’t find her anywhere. She’d gone to the waterfall to pray to Freya for a safe delivery and never returned. In the afternoon light, we see Floki sitting on the rocks, staring at the waterfall with anguish in his eyes.
Sandi: Which has me all suspicious again. Floki is . . . not entirely stable, here. I am immediately thinking that Floki has either caused something dire to happen to Þórunn or that he has let it happen without his interference, such as it would be. He's been in a limbo regarding his role as his proposed Colony of True Believers hasn't panned out as he had thought it would. Disillusioned and doubting, might he have let a pregnant woman come to grief under his eyes?
Lissa: Heahmund is released and goes to bed with Lagertha. He tells her that Satan is coming and he’s glad she’s here so she can help him fight the devil. She gives him a look like she’s not sure if he means that literally.
Sandi: Lagertha's handling of the Christian faith has, consistently throughout the series, been distant. If she respects the Christian as a person, she is hands-off about it, maybe a bit disdainful but not outright negative. So she is here. She might give him A Look, but she's not going to tell Heahmund he's out of his ever-loving mind.
Lissa: Alfred marries Elsewith, and I had complaints.
Sandi: I wondered where on earth the paperwork was. An alliance of this magnitude carried KINGDOMS to bed with one another. Pledges of mutual aid, peace, trading practices, and possibly even notions about succession and What Ifs would have been handed back and forth with a great deal of pomp and circumstance that had nothing to do with the CONSPIRACY ROOM. Hirst chose to focus on Alfred's tension with the unveiling of a possible conspiracy theory and I get it, but I can have complaints, too.
Lissa: Brides didn’t commonly wear white until the Victorian era, and in the 9th century, people didn’t marry in a church. The priest would marry them at the church door and then they’d proceed inside for mass to bless the union.
Sandi: Generally, a lady married in her best gown, at this level of society. Indeed, in the medieval era among "the lessers", it was common for a woman's bridal dress to serve as a shroud or burial gown in later years.
Lissa: The Church saw marriage as a civil contract, not an activity appropriate for the sanctuary itself. Some churches added beautiful porches onto the buildings for this purpose. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the Church decided marriage was a sacrament.
Sandi: The BBC actually has a very brief rundown of the history of marriage in England. Anglo-Saxon unions are mentioned here as well.
The Anglo-Saxons saw marriage as a strategic tool to establish diplomatic and trade ties, says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. "You established peaceful relationships, trading relationships, mutual obligations with others by marrying them," Coontz says.
That the historical Alfred reportedly saw his lady whilst he was out with his brother in battle and chose to woo her is much more romantic. I confess I liked that.
Lissa: Afterward, we see a short bedding scene of the royal couple. This was a much-beloved part of the marriage festivities all the way up to the 17thcentury or so. The wedding guests would cart the couple off to their bedroom to the sounds of bawdy jokes and raucous laughter. They’d strip them down while a priest blessed the bed with holy water, and then would pop them in the bed and draw the bedcurtains. (“Privacy” was a very shaky concept.)
Sandi: It really was. The king and queen might merit a private room (meaning they didn't have to share their bed with anyone and attendants could be asked to leave during, ahem, marital relations), but in truth they likely would have at least one or two servants who slept on pallets in the room with them in every place they lived.
Lissa: Alfred and Elsewith’s bedding scene was more of a solemn occasion, and it ended as soon as the curtain was drawn, but oof, it would have been an uncomfortable time for a bridegroom as shy as Alfred. He looked distinctly nervous and disquieted.
Sandi: I still think he might have had his suspicions about his queen's interest in Björn Ironside, even if he never imagined she'd have technically betrayed him with the "living legend". Also, there were a lot of people. Historical Alfred was rather preoccupied with his own sex drive and it is possible he was feeling really weird about performing when there were expectations attached to the deed.
Lissa: Björn encounters a young man who identifies himself as Magnus – son of Ragnar and Kwenthrith. The last we saw of the poor kid, he was being abandoned beside the road after his mother’s death, sent out to try to survive on his own. He apparently has, and he wanted to meet his brothers, the other sons of Ragnar. And he wants revenge. He says Alfred is just as guilty as his grandfather when it comes to the betrayal and death of Ragnar.
Sandi: Historically, Ragnar never had an acknowledged son named Magnus, according to an article cited by author Rachel Tsoumbakos. However, in the series here, he was certainly shafted years before and it makes sense to me that he'd want payback. Clever of Central Casting to make Magnus a blond fellow, as well.
He is a canny young man, having chosen to speak to Björn at this juncture. Björn is clearly unhappy and such a spur to his anger is met with a degree of acceptance.
Lissa: Torvi and Ubbe are baptized by Heahmund beside a creek, with King Alfred, Lagertha, and a very irritable-looking Björn in attendance. At the end of the ceremony, Björn spits on the ground and walks away, obviously disgusted with the whole thing.
Sandi: I give him credit for showing up and not ranting at the situation. Clearly the alliance is important to him, though he disagrees entirely with how it is being facilitated, here.
Lissa: Ivar calls Hvitserk over to his table in the hall. He has some exciting news, he says. He tells his brother that Freydis is expecting, but more than that, she’s told him something important. All his life, he’s seen his disability as a mark of shame, when he should have been proud. Freydis told him it proves he has been chosen. They are said to be descended from Odin, but Ivar is something more. He’s an actual god himself. Hvitserk chuckles at that, not realizing that his brother is serious. Ivar says that he remembers how Hvitserk used to mock him when they were children. Hvitserk interjects; he did not mock Ivar as a child.
Lissa: Ivar brushes that aside. “But you pitied me,” he says. He goes on and says that he knows what he has to do. He’s going to reveal his divine status and he must have a sacrifice: someone whose name everyone knows.
Sandi: Ivar has been drinking Freydis's Kool-Aid (Mead-Aid? Kool-Mead?) as it has only validated every waking thought he's had all his life, I imagine.
Lissa: Hvitserk’s eyes widen, because, of course, it sounds like Ivar intends to sacrifice his brother, a son of Ragnar Lo∂brok.
Sandi: So this makes me wonder. Is History Channel going for this obvious sacrifice or will Ivar be shocking everyone? I've read rumors that the next episode is "a doozy", but I don't know how that will apply!
Will Hvitserk be the sacrifice? Online resources have not all been consistent with his timeline (though his genealogy has been the same), but pretty much all sources indicate he died around the age of 87. Will Hirst be offing another Ragnarsson before his time?
Lissa: We see the ceremony with Ivar dressed up in a strange crown and face paint, and a hooded hostage being led toward a ship, and so the episode ends on a cliffhanger as we don’t know who it is Ivar intends to sacrifice.
Sandi: We don't know the sacrifice, but we do know that the headgear he and Freydis wore was entirely odd. A cross between roasted marshmallows and roasted garlic on sticks. Also, where did they come up with the yards and yards (ells and ells?) of red fabric that Ivar used as a backdrop for his stage?
I was not thrilled with the stagecraft used at this last scene. The masks were great—they would have brought an uneasy air to the ceremony in the flickering firelight. But overall? I wonder where Ivar would have pulled all the red stuff from and how he got the coordinated cheerleaders and so on.
Clearly, Lissa and I have issues, but we will bring them with us next week when we watch "The Lost Moment."
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