We are the #ShieldGeeks and we have:
"100% more evisceration talk than expected!"
- Steve, No Ship Network.
Check out NoShip's weekly Vikings podcast recap and analysis! They are organized and intuitive as well as a lot of fun!
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: This was a beautiful, complex episode, easily the best of the season. As I was watching, I was wondering how in the world I would describe it in our chat because the structure of it makes a narrative description so difficult. It was a visual feast, and words are poor substitutes at times.
Sandi: Oh, yes. A wonderful episode. One of those you want to watch immediately after just to get the nuances. I know I will probably be enjoying it more than once in the break before Season Five, Part Tveir. History Channel could have done all the emotional stuff before the battle and then gone on to the horrors of war—but they've been there, done that (very well), and took it a step further. The bloodshed was more poignant when contrasted with the moments spent before in the immediate way in which they were presented.
Lissa: This episode was about a huge battle between Lagertha’s forces and the combined forces of Ivar, Harald, and the men Rollo sent to assist his nephews. But amid the chaotic and terrible scenes of battle were beautiful and touching scenes that happened before its start. The only way I can describe it without driving our readers mad is to discuss what happened to each set of characters. Because this really was about relationships, in the end.
Sandi: And that is really a profound truth to this and any other part of history, really. There are huge issues in the world but they are determined largely due to relationships people have with one another, as individuals or as groups. And this episode shows how touching and devastating that can be.
Lissa: The episode had a “cold open” dropping right into the action before the credits and Halfdan and Harald are singing the same war ballad on the opposing sides of the field. Their haunting voices wove through a montage of pre-battle scenes. It ended with a raven looking out over the ground where the battle will play out.
Sandi: Loved the opening. I am a huge fan of dropping a viewer/reader in where the action is happening. The brothers' war song has been part of their presence since we met them, seasons ago. It has always been haunting, the notes alone telling of the strength and pathos of battle, and this was never more evocative than it was in this episode. And the raven? Oh yeah. First episode, season one, Ragnar. I will always think of him when I see a raven and I did in this episode as well.
Lissa: Lagertha meets with Heahmund. She tells him this may be the last time they meet, for if they die, he’ll go off to his Christian heaven and she will go to Valhalla. She thinks this may be the day she dies. He tells her he doesn’t intend to die today, and she is amused that he still believes he gets to choose whether he lives or dies. She asks him to kiss her and after he does, she says, “Now I can die.”
Sandi: This moment still puzzles me. I don't doubt that Lagertha and Heahmund shared "a moment" (or however many). I don't doubt that a woman who has been greatly loved and then lost the love of her life can find passion and satisfaction in a new relationship. But if she were going to say this to anyone, I would have thought it would have been Joan Jett, not Bishop Heahmund. As quickly as they drew together, we the viewers were not privy to the varied nuances of a relationship that might seem to lead to a "and now I can die" kind of statement. Unless, of course, it was merely just something she said to him, since she couldn't say it to another.
Lissa: We see her say this line in several different tones throughout the episode. “Now I can die.” This one sounds wistful and almost fatalistic, but when she utters it on the battlefield, it sounds fierce and powerful.
Sandi: Which, really, is much more like her. Fierce and powerful have always been adjectives which applied to Lagertha and it was good to see them so evident in battle. Lagertha is, first and last, a shield maiden.
Lissa: Hvitserk talks with Ivar in camp.
Sandi: Ivar is . . . a cunning fellow. A manipulative man, first, last, and always.
Lissa: Ivar asks him if he has any regrets, and Hvitserk says he regrets he hasn’t had any children, but in that regard, he and Ivar are the same. Ivar says he will have many children, so many children that they will populate the earth. There’s a dude with ambition. He was Duggar-ing before Duggar-ing was cool.
Sandi: And yet, for all his braggadocio, Ivar left no known descendants. Here, I truly believe, he was either boasting of his non-existent sex life to his more, er, able brother or he was doing his usual one-upmanship thing. He has never viewed Hvitserk as an equal.
Lissa: Hvitserk laughs at that, and he thinks Ivar is laughing along with him until Ivar grabs him and puts a knife to his throat. He says Hvisterk has doubted that he’d made the right choice to get off Ubbe’s ship and join Ivar. He doubts Hvitserk ever loved him. Hvitserk tries to plead, and Ivar relents, saying he’s sorry, he’s nervous about the battle. Harald interrupts and says the drums have sounded for battle.
Sandi: Why Ivar decided that just before battle was the time to disconcert his brother is beyond me. Unless, of course, he did so with the wish to have his brother fall. Which wouldn't surprise me. Hvitserk is a son of Ragnar and, though he might be a "dog" to Ivar, he is also an older brother and that matters.
Lissa: In the battle, he is injured, and we see him think back to the moment he climbed off Ubbe’s ship. Ubbe spots him in the midst of the fighting and he makes his way over. He lifts his sword and swings it at Hvitserk with a scream, but stops the blade at his brother’s throat. He can’t do it. He can’t kill him. Hvitserk looks almost disappointed when Ubbe strides away.
Sandi: You mentioned, last night, that Ubbe didn't give Hvitserk the honor of a fight, here. This could be construed that way, yes. But I think that, for Ubbe, he can't kill his brother and though Hvitserk may have, at that juncture, welcomed the opportunity for battle, he is left standing as if he weren't worthy of one. Which was not, I don't think, Ubbe's intention.
Ivar, I think Ubbe might have been able to kill. Maybe.
Lissa: Torvi runs across the battlefield screaming when she sees her son Guthrum take an ax to the chest at Hvitserk’s hands, but it’s too late. He falls and Hvitserk reaches out to almost touch a weeping Torvi’s cheek.
Sandi: This was so, so sad, I think. Guthrum, Torvi's firstborn, dying right in front of her. I thought it was him or his memory (?) that reached out to touch his mother. I told you, I really have to watch this episode a few times!
Lissa: I thought she would die at that moment, too, but the battle resumes, and Hvitserk turns to strike down another enemy. Björn runs over and crouches over his dead stepson. He tells the boy that now he’ll be dining with his Valhalla.
Sandi: One kind of wishes Ubbe had been able to summon the intestinal fortitude to at least wound his brother in order to prevent this death. If, indeed, it was preventable. Björn's dash to say his farewell was good to see, simply because he was there to do it. Which may be weird, but at this point, his firstborn died when he was gone, and his other children were in the questionable care of a woman no one likes. Probably not even her husband.
Lissa: Joan Jett is painted bright blue on the sides of her cheeks for battle, but her expression is far bluer.
Sandi: And this is the part where I'm thinking, Okay, so, here is where we find out why there was a Joan Jett character. Even in the still image above, we can see the emptiness of her expression. She is clearly distancing herself from her caring spouse here and the viewer just knows something bad is going to happen.
Lissa: Harald asks her to share her sorrows with him, but she says she can’t. Harald points to his hair, and tells her to cut it. She’s surprised, because he said he would only cut it – “Cut it if I married the woman of my dreams,” he interrupts. “And I have.” She cuts the long braid and holds it to her lips.
Sandi: Clearly, Harald is doing everything in his power, just before the battle, to ease the heart of his wife. Reminding her of how important she is to him, kneeling before her, asking her to cut his braid—all these things bespeak his wish to please. That she is so emotionally unresponsive (for all her braid-kissing) is kind of wrenching. At least, it is for me. Peter Franzén is a wonderful actor.
Lissa: Halfdan talks with Björn. He tells him he has a connection with his brother, but he owes Björn greater loyalty. Björn took him on an incredible adventure. He gave his life meaning – showed him that life was more than fighting for worthless glory against his own Viking brothers - and Halfdan will always be grateful for that. If he dies today, he’s fine with that. He says he’s ready for Valhalla.
Sandi: Halfdan certainly emerged fully from his brother's shadow over this season. That he found so much meaning in his relationship with Björn—bromantic as it all was—was a bit of a surprise perhaps, but there is no doubting the man's sincerity.
Lissa: Later, Halfdan is on the battlefield when suddenly, everything goes quiet. He sees the churning field around him empty, and then it turns into the deserts of Africa. He bends down and picks up a handful of sand, which sifts through his fingers and becomes the soil of Kattegat again.
Sandi: This bit of the Other Side as seen in Halfdan's psyche was intriguing. He envisions the desert—not because it is arid and empty, but because it was where he grew strong, I think, in himself.
Lissa: He turns and sees Harald standing there. Harald says he didn’t want to have to kill him, and then brings his sword down on Haldfan, hacking him where the shoulder meets the neck. As Halfdan falls, Harald tenderly cradles him and says he’ll meet him in Valhalla.
Sandi: Harald did what Ubbe couldn't, here. He met his brother who had chosen the opposition and cut him down. Looking him in the eye, with a clean stroke. .It was brutal, but honest, and both brothers understood that it would have happened. Harald loves his brother; you can see that. But he loves more than his brother. This relationship, though important, did not cause him to veer from his greater cause. His greater vision, perhaps, with a bow to the episode's title.
Lissa: Princess Snuffles has a tender moment with Björn, snuggled up against his chest.
Sandi: Looking at the picture in this post, they could have been at Woodstock in 1969, listening to a ballad or something. But no, this couple is preparing to separate, with the keen understanding that life can be brutal and abrupt, so they are taking what they can and giving what they can to each other in silence, here.
So much of their relationship—such as it was—was without deep conversation before the audience at home. We lack a connection with the pair of them, though Björn will likely always have a home in our Viking fandom-heart.
Lissa: After they’ve dressed for battle and she’s adorned her face with streaks of black paint so she can blend in with the trees, he nestles his nose against her neck.
Sandi: The sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, I have read. In this way, he draws her in, to keep her near.
Lissa: She goes with her father into the forest where they blend in with the trees, waiting for a band of Vikings on the crest of the hill. When they start down, to the sound of war drums, the Sami hit them with a round of darts. But the men swarm down and overwhelm them. Snuffles’ dad falls first, and then she is slain. When Björn finds her body after the battle, he weeps over her, stroking her face.
Sandi: The cinematography, here, was more moving for me than the deaths were, alas. I enjoyed the angles and lighting. It was sad, yes, that Björn lost another loved one, but as you said in your tweet, Lissa, we hardly knew Princess Snuffles ourselves.
Lissa: Margrethe walks into the creek that borders Kattegat. Around her, she sees the bodies of those on the battlefield floating. She turns the bodies over and recognizes faces. She lifts one from the water and walks out with it in her arms. It turns into a log as she strides from the water toward Torvi’s children. She lays the wood at their feet and tells them that “This one is dead. Soon they’ll all be dead. All of them fighting.”
Sandi: Margrethe's visions are disconcerting. She is obsessed and it shows in her mental wanderings. Her focus on Torvi's children, on their losing their mother to death, on all kinds of negativity makes one uneasy and I had to wonder if anyone could see that, in Kattegat. Did no one keep an eye on the kids?
Well, Margrethe wanted answers, so she went to find them. No holds barred.
Lissa: She goes in to visit the Seer. He is sitting askew in a pile of robes, and his voice is very faint.
Sandi: At this point, we estimate twenty-five years or so have come and gone since we met the Seer in the first place. He was pretty old then, for a Norseman. By the time Margrethe consults him? He's gotta be ancient. Still, he must command respect. At least from some.
Lissa: She asks him if he knows her, and he says, “Yes, Margrethe, slave woman.”
Sandi: Oh, yeah. The murmurings on twitter last night were all mentioning this. Insulting, as Dee Donuts says below. Dismissive. Belittling. We all liked it because no one likes her. Does anyone in the fandom?
Lissa: She asks him if Ubbe will be king of Kattegat and if she will be queen and both times he says a curt ”No.”
Sandi: If there was anyone, anywhere who didn't comprehend that Margrethe was only in it for the status? I'm guessing they are no longer deceived.
Lissa: She tells him she has Torvi’s children in her custody and if she kills them, Ubbe will be closer to the crown. He tells her she’s insane, and she’s dismissive.
Sandi: The callousness of her suggestion regarding killing the children was appalling. It's like she has a checklist and she's going to ask all her questions, tick off all her boxes, whether they be lives or positions or even rationality.
Lissa: She asks him again about Ubbe being a king, and he says, “Because you asked if he’d be king of Kattegat.” She doesn’t pursue this interesting line of questioning, and that’s regrettable because it opens a lot of possibilities. Ubbe will be a king, but not king of Kattegat, and she will not be the queen (she didn’t specify a location when she asked about being a queen.)
Sandi: I haven't seen anything in history indicating that Ubbe Ragnarsson was a king, though he is noted as a battle leader in the Great Army. (Guthrum, in history, was apparently alive and campaigning with Ubbe in the middle of the 9th Century in Wessex.)
Lissa: Later, we see Torvi arrive home and she sees Margrethe standing in the doorway, her hair tangled down around her arms. “Where are my children?” Torvi asks. Margrethe gives her a slow, chilling grin. Torvi repeats the question and then draws her sword. Margrethe retreats into her bedroom and Torvi follows, her blade extended, but as soon as she enters the room, she sees the little ones sitting by the wall and grabs them into hugs.
Sandi: Oh, I was SO relieved to see that the children were alive and well. I mean, they probably have Our Babysitter was a Troll! stories to tell Torvi and Björn in the future, but hey, at least they can tell them. The suspense created by careful scene framing and the movement into the rooms in question was well handled by the director and film crew.
Lissa: Lagertha is fighting on the battlefield. At one point, we see something I’ve never seen before in film or television and is best described in the following Tweet.
Sandi: This is a clear example of using what is at hand to accomplish a task, yeah?
Lissa:Uh huh. That happened. I’m just going to quietly back away from that one.
Sandi: I think everyone will join you.
Lissa: Anyhoo, the moment changes when she sees a vision of herself as a young girl. Little Lagertha runs across the battlefield to a man plowing a field. She cries to her father that she’s frightened. He crouches down and smiles at her and hands her his own necklace, a Thor’s hammer. He tells her to never be afraid because Thor will always protect her. We saw her kiss this same necklace in the opening scene with Heahmund.
Sandi: This scene was charming, for all its brevity. Seeing Little Lags, there, in such a comforting moment was healing in the midst of an episode rife with bloodshed. The gift of an amulet of Mjøllnir was precious and that Lagertha still has it speaks of its importance to her, at a time that she deems pivotal.
Lissa: Joan Jett appears. “You have to kill me!” she cries. Lagertha asks her why, and Joan Jett first says unless Lagertha kills her, that she and Harald will kill Lagertha. Lagertha assures her that she knows Joan Jett didn’t betray her, that Joan Jett loves her. Joan Jett cries that she cannot bear this child. “Child?” Lagertha whispers; she didn’t know of Joan Jett’s pregnancy.
Sandi: Was this Joan Jett's plan all along? To confront Lagertha, if she couldn't fight at her side, to get her former lover to kill her? To bring up a child to Lagertha, of all people, was either thoughtless (an entire possibility, given the time and circumstances) or calculated for effect. As I don't personally deem Joan Jett to be the most effective strategist, I just have to figure she didn't consider what effect her words might have.
Lissa: The battle is raging on around them, but it’s as though they’re the only two people there. The view shifts briefly to show that around them, people are dying in hideous fashion, but returns right back to them. “You have to kill me!” Joan Jett cries and rushes toward Lagertha’s extended blade.
Sandi: This was a beautiful moment, though it was fatal and devastating to the characters.
Lissa: Impaled upon it, Joan Jett falls, and Lagertha cradles her on the ground as she bleeds out and dies. “May Freya lift you up and take you gently to her hall.”
Sandi: Lagertha was shocked, but she went with Joan Jett's wishes. I wonder if she would have responded differently if approached in a non-battle setting?
Lissa: We had a brief discussion about this last night. Brief because so much was happening in the episode that it was hard to keep up. You suggested it might be because Joan Jett didn’t want to bear a child that might be the result of gang rape instead of Harald’s.
Sandi: I still tend to side with the "gang rape" angle for her, here. Though she could have found a way to end the pregnancy without ending her life (possibly) such procedures/treatments would have whispered their ways back to Harald, to deleterious effect. Dying in battle, or at the scene of one, anyway, carries more honor and disguises her wish to end the pregnancy.
She was not stupid, for all her lack of wisdom. Marrying a man and then having apparently enthusiastic sex with him, without any method of birth control available (one presumes), she had to know pregnancy was a possibility when she made her marriage oath. So if she had not been assaulted, the pregnancy might not have been the traumatic thing it was, to her. Such a horrible attack could well have made her wish for death, which led to her seeking it from Lagertha's hand on a field of war.
Lissa: And then a quiet moment comes. We see Floki’s True Believers building a boat grave for Eyvind’s son. He tells him gently that this new world cannot repeat the cycle of vengeance and violence that rent their homeland asunder. Floki tells him he knows Eyvind’s pain. He, too, has lost a child – his only child. And then shortly thereafter Helga died, and it destroyed his world. But this is not the way. They must be better people. He offers Eyvind the position of lovsigeman, or “law-giver.” He tells Eyvind that it will give him the power and status he’s been craving.
Sandi: Yeah. Consolation prize behind burnt temple number one. Or something. Not well-considered, from where I sit, but I do believe, sincerely, that Floki was seeking to bring peace from violence.
Lissa: But peace is not achieved so easily. Aud runs to fetch Floki and show him something. It turns out to be the body of Thorgrim, drowned in one of the hot springs.
Sandi: I have to wonder where they're going with the Iceland story, here. Their numbers, small to begin with, have dwindled significantly. And, of course, no farms. But, back to relationships...
Lissa: Floki has to tell Ketjil that his son is dead. In front of Thor’s burnt temple, Floki tells the people that they’ve failed. They acted like humans when the gods had given them a chance to rise above. Something drastic has to be done to atone for this and perhaps persuade the gods to give them another chance. A sacrifice must be made. Floki offers himself to be that sacrifice as everyone gasps.
Sandi: And I get it. Floki is devout. He sees his life and current mission as blatant offerings to his gods. So when a life is required, his should be the one offered. Even if he is the notional leader, the inspiration. Even if there might be a more concrete/practical solution.
Lissa: Do you remember in the early seasons when Floki tried to offer himself as a sacrifice? One was called for and when no one immediately volunteered, Floki looked around and then made to stand up, but Helga put her hand gently on his chest and shook her head.
Sandi: He's consistent, and one must give him credit for being that way. Even if some of his methods are at odds with practicality.
Lissa: We return to the battlefield. Ivar gives an awesome speech in Norse to his troops. “We will not die as old men in our beds! We are bound for Valhalla!” He speaks of how victory is much sweeter when it’s difficult to attain, slapping the shields of his men who roar with approval. As they prepare to charge, Ivar spots Heahmund fighting for Lagertha. For a moment, I genuinely felt sorry for him, but as always with Ivar, pain became rage.
Sandi: Their nonverbal communication has always been eloquent. Even here.
Lissa: Ivar also sees Lagertha, but through his eyes, she’s fighting skeletons – fighting men who are already dead, as I interpreted it. She turns and looks at Ivar, then points her sword at him. He sends in the troops, along with Rollo’s army. Spotting this huge horde, Heahmund shouts for their army to retreat. Lagertha stops fighting and runs with them.
Sandi: "He who fights and runs away . . . lives to fight another day." I can't remember where, but I read that once upon a time. Retreat to homes and families might not grant immediate entrance into Valhalla, but it does bring strength and comfort.
And frustration lacing the victory with those left on the field.
Lissa: Behind the lines, Ivar lounges against the hill. “Come on, Lagertha,” he murmurs. “Come fight with me.”
Sandi: And here is the thing with this half of the season. Ivar's driving desire has been to avenge the death of Aslaug by slaying Lagertha. Personally, one presumes. And here, at the midseason finale, she evades his sword.
All that drive and determination . . . is left to simmer in the angry heart of a young man while we wait for the second half of the season later this year.
Lissa: Back in the Kattegat hall, Björn is telling people to pack up to leave. Ivar will be here soon to celebrate his victory. The camera pans over and we see Lagertha, sitting against the wall. Her hair has turned white, and her face is haggard and blank. She is a broken, defeated woman.
Sandi: Truly, if Björn hadn't said what he did about Ivar's presumed victory celebration, we might have concluded that one of the famous/infamous time-jumps had occurred between one scene and the next. Lagertha is defeated, as you said, with a thousand-yard stare that sees only yesterday.
Lissa: We talked a bit about what did it… what was the final straw that broke Lagertha’s indomitable spirit. Joan Jett’s death? The loss of Kattegat?
Sandi: I think it was the loss of everything more than "only" the loss of Joan Jett. That death might have been the one to make her retreat, but it wasn't the only loss suffered. She has had a lifetime of loss, really. Or perhaps she felt that Joan Jett's demand for death at her hands was, after all, a betrayal. By a woman she had loved and considered a friend, if nothing else. And Lagertha had, as she stated often, been betrayed many times.
The "straw that breaks the camel's back" is a figure of speech, but it's an accurate description for many who develop that stare into yesterday.
Lissa: Boats row toward Kattegat and sitting in one of them is Rollo, Duke of Normandy. His features are downcast and he looks sad and defeated himself.
Sandi: Well, he's been away from us for quite some time, but the Duke of Normandy has had his own trials and burdens as he's carved a niche out for himself. Normandy is, remember, a way to say Land of the Northmen. Vikings' Land. Has he worn that appellation with pride or derision? Has he had to prove himself over and again to family and the court of the Franks?
All of this is likely, yet he came after the battle. Was he sent for or did he come of his own volition?
So many questions! I am very much looking forward to the second half of this season.
And as soon as I know when that is, I'll make sure to tweet about it. :)
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!
Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!
Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways!
– Vafþrúðnismál 4