Welcome back! It is great, as always, to work and watch VIKINGS with Lissa Bryan, author, history whiz, and all-around woman of awesome.
We're back on twitter, if you're looking for our Vikings snark and commentary, at #ShieldGeeks.
We are the #ShieldGeeks, out to protect the innocent from anachronisms!
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: Here we are again and it feels like it’s been forever! I really missed this show during the hiatus!
Sandi: Oh, me too. My website indicated that the last update for Vikings was posted back in January. Eleven months is, after all, a long time between the first and second half of a season.
Lissa: Only a few days have elapsed in the show’s timeline since the great battle occurred and Lagertha’s forces were defeated. Ivar rides into Kattegat with bound captives behind his chariot, laughing in delight over his victory. He shouts at the crowd to bow before him, King Ivar. He urinates on Lagertha’s throne and calls for “the queen” to be brought before him. Since Lagertha has fled, a goat with a floral crown is brought into the hall to peals of laughter. Ivar offers it a drink of mead.
Sandi: Ivar's glee was offensive and, in my interpretation, tinted with insecurity. If you have to declare the obvious to people there is something inherently amiss. And so it is in Kattegat. Lagertha is theirs. A local girl. A shield maiden. A tried and true leader. A mother. Ivar—though a son of Ragnar—a usurper.
Lissa: Harald confesses to Ivar that he feels hollow. He’s won the world, but lost what meant the most to him. His wife (Joan Jett) is dead. The child she carried is dead.
Sandi: Last season, we speculated that the child she bore was conceived in the horrible gang rape she suffered. There is little wonder that it troubled her so much that ending her own life was perhaps the only alternative she saw. Trauma can be that way. Harald, alas, didn't know of this assault and could only imagine that Astrid's long sorrow was due to being pregnant with his child. I wonder if she would have borne it better, if that had been the case.
Still, I did kind of feel for the man. He's rather grown on me.
Lissa: Ivar tells him that life goes on and he should take a new wife.
Sandi: Because Ivar is (at the least) a sociopath, he doesn't have any true sympathy for anyone else's pain, so his comment is one of those awkward things. Slap him? Ignore him? Challenge him?
Lissa: We head to Iceland, where Floki is repeating his offer to his people to be a sacrifice.
Sandi: I can only, ahem, quote myself:
Lissa: Aud steps forward and loudly refuses his offer. She says Floki is blessed by the gods and they need him. Eynvid is enthusiastic about the idea of sacrificing Floki. He’s undoubtedly still salty about the death of his son. A vote is taken, and Floki ends up being spared by a single vote.
Sandi: The narrow margin did surprise me, I confess. In terms of the series, I couldn't see Floki being killed off by the writers at this precise juncture, so the decision itself wasn't a surprise.
Lissa: Rollo lands and walks into Kattegat’s hall. He jokes with Ivar and Hvitserk that he doesn’t get to fight any more because he’s too important. He’s mixing a small crystal bottle of medicine while he does this, so it may be that his health is in question, but no one mentions it. Hvitserk says that Ubbe spared him during the battle, and Ivar rolls his eyes a bit at that. Harald says he killed his brother, Halfdan. Rollo counters with his own admission.
Sandi: Rollo's demeanor had a forced sort of confidence to it. I don't know if that can be attributed to ill health or just the desire to put on a face that would serve him in the circumstances, but it was clear there was an effort being made, all the way around.
Lissa: I’m not sure if Rollo and Harald are having a bonding moment over fratricide or not.
Sandi: Hard to tell with Rollo and Harald, but as a landed magnate, at this time in the story, Rollo certainly had experiences with dealing with other leaders and perhaps heads of state, such as they were at that time, so it is possible that Rollo was seeking to find any commonality between him and King Harald.
Lissa: Ivar tells Rollo that Lagertha is still alive, but they haven’t found her yet. Rollo wishes them luck.
Sandi: He is, I think, still playing both sides a bit. Keep it friendly with the nephews even if they're going after Lagertha, for whom Rollo still cherishes a regard.
Lissa: Lagertha is in a deserted hut with Björn, Torvi, Heahmund and Ubbe. Her hair is silver and her hands are trembling, but she’s a far cry from the broken, mute woman we saw at the end of last season.
Sandi: Right. Though that image we saw of her back in January was stirring, the woman we see in this episode is much more the Lagertha we are accustomed to seeing. Her shocking losses at the battle didn't destroy her, though they knocked her off her pins for a bit.
Lissa: She says she cannot believe this is how her story is supposed to end. Heahmund suggests they go to England. Lagertha scoffs at that and says they’ll be killed, but Heahmund says he’ll vouch for them as a bishop. Later, he and Lagertha take a walk to discuss the idea further and he says if they go to England, he won’t be able to keep her as a lover openly. He can’t give her up, but he must keep up the appearance of clerical celibacy.
Sandi: I am still having a problem buying into their relationship, here, to be honest. The subterfuge of Heahmund's having brought the renegade Northmen to justice—a son of Ragnar Lo∂brok as well as the renowned Lagertha—should play out well and the bishop made sure his demeanor was as detached as he could make it.
Lissa: At the time, there were many clerics who had women who lived with them (some openly married) and had families with them. The church formally condemned it, but they didn’t really crack down on it until the First Lateran Council in 1123.
Sandi: Bishop Heahmund's historical image is not so much a lusty one as the way his character has been portrayed in this series. I've also heard that he is revered as a saint, but haven't found mention of him in either an Eastern Orthodox nor Catholic listing of saints. (If someone has better information, please let me know.) His battle prowess is undisputed, however. Oddly enough, bishops who warred were seen as more acceptable than bishops who wed.
Lissa: Torvi goes outside and takes some food to Margrethe, who is tied up in the pig pen. Which I thought was a bit of an incongruous touch. It’s an abandoned hut that has pigs? Or they brought pigs with them when they were fleeing for their very lives? In any case, Margrethe is chained up to the wall. Torvi puts her food down, and Magrethe demands to speak to her husband Ubbe. Torvi says she’ll ask him. Margrethe says no chains could bind her, not even chains made by dwarves and throws the food (which was being nibbled on by her porcine companions,) at Torvi. Torvi asks Ubbe what they’re going to do with her, and Ubbe makes a soft huffing sound, obviously unsure.
Sandi: In my research on the Ostmen of Norway, livestock was often kept in huts during cold weather. The huts were also often abutted to the main longhouse of the family, thus providing both protection for the animals as well as sharing their massed body heat with the humans.
In many parts of Europe during the medieval (and later!) eras, though, pigs were often left to wander during warmer months, feeding themselves on the bounty of the land before being recovered by their owners for the cold months. So a hut for pigs could be a thing, yes, and it might indeed be empty depending upon the time of year.
Lissa: Riders come up the lane and everyone is surprised to recognize Rollo as one of the men on horseback.
Sandi: Duke Rollo, doing the rounds, yeah? As will become evident, he is trying to see how much influence he can wield and how this might serve him and his people in Normandy.
Lissa: We cut to Wessex, where Alfred is seating himself on his throne.
Sandi: Though I am disposed to like Alfred-Gonna-Be-Great-One-Day, I have to say that his coming to the throne in the manner he did in the series irked me. (Okay, I can't really like Judith, here...) And Alfred—high-minded as he is—hasn't yet learned that delicate art of management, for all his tutoring.
Lissa: Alfred tells the assembled group in the hall that he’s decided priests should give their sermons in English so the people can understand them.
Sandi: Alfred made some rather sweeping innovations in his kingdom in terms of literacy and learning, so this works for me. He seemed to be very keen on making sure people could learn on their own and understand things. Which was not at all common, then. The clergy was rather territorial in this regard.
Lissa: A priest retorts that Alfred commands the temporal; the church commands the spiritual. Alfred can no more command the church to make changes than Canute could command the tides. Alfred replies the gift of knowledge belongs to all men. He says he’s also worried about Viking raids and his brother, Aethelred, will lead the forces opposing them.
Sandi: I think the priest who was speaking was the man who—in exchange for his new office—supported Alfred's ascension as king over his brother Æthelred. Protesting against Alfred's suggestions indicates his gratitude for the new office (thanks, Judith!) has been short-lived.
Lissa: Rollo asks to speak to Lagertha. He tells her he’s trying to save her life, but she’s still a bit miffed that he fought against them. Rollo tells her he’s always loved her and he knows Björn is his son. She tries to rebut it, but he says she can’t deny it to his face.
Sandi: The possibility that Rollo and Lagertha are Björn's true parents has been hanging over the show for a few seasons, I think. Lagertha still denies this, but . . . something had to have happened between the two or telling Rollo that he was insane would have been easy. "We never had sex," for example, would have sufficed, yeah?
Clearly, that was not the case and that Björn's birth was timed so that Rollo has clearly carried this possibility with him for decades.
Lissa: Björn walks over and asks what’s going on and Rollo tells him that he’s offered Lagertha safe passage to Frankia. Björn isn’t having any of it, but Rollo pleads with him and says he doesn’t want to have a life-long rivalry like he did with Ragnar. He tells Björn that he’s his father. Björn nods. He says he’s heard that. But what matters more: some old gossip, or the father he most closely resembles in features and in spirit. Björn says Rollo made his position clear when he sided with Ivar.
Sandi: Personally? I think Rollo could be Björn's father. But Ragnar was his dad and the one Björn patterns himself after, the one whose dreams he seeks to honor.
Lissa: When talking it over with Ubbe, Björn gets so fired up, he says he’s going to kill Rollo. He’ll die a happy man. He grabs an axe and marches out, shoving Rollo to his knees. Rollo submits quietly and says if Björn wants to kill him, he should do it. Ubbe stops Björn as he raises his axe, and Björn says it’s not worth it.
Sandi: I was truly rather worried at that point that Björn would succeed in killing Rollo. This would have had dramatic fallout, but I am not sure how it would have affected whatever AltHistory thing Hirst is running behind the scenes, here.
Lissa: Björn spits on Rollo as he tries to apologize. Rollo stands and turns to leave. He tells Lagertha they will never meet again.
Sandi: See that face? To me, Lagertha seems sad at the prospect of never seeing Rollo again. I think much of this can be attributed to the wistfulness or melancholy associated with an aging person's recollection that the people they knew when they were all young are disappearing, slowly but surely, from the landscape. And for all that Katheryn Winnick is totally gorgeous and just forty years old in real life, Lagertha in the series was born in A.D. 765. The series began in 792 (S1E1, making her twenty-seven-ish when Björn was twelve) and he is about thirty-five now. So she would be about fifty. Not old by our standards, perhaps, but in the 9th Century? According to records in Viking Age Jorvik (York), "50 would be thought of as old".
Lissa: Rollo heads back to Kattegat. He tells Ivar, Harald, and Hvitserk that he knows where Lagertha is, but before he tells them, he wants to make a deal. Kattegat will pay a huge tribute in thousands of pounds of silver, furs, gems, and slaves to Frankia and they will swear on their torcs to come to his aid whenever he is attacked by enemies. Ivar chuckles a little at the amount and says Rollo is asking for a huge price. “Because I can,” Rollo replies.
Sandi: What Rollo is asking for is exorbitant, considering what we know of him. He is being asked, in essence, to betray Lagertha. Now, betrayal and Rollo are traditionally uneasy bedfellows, as we've seen over the years. I have to think that he gives Lagertha & Co. a lot of credit and knows they'll relocated as soon as possible.
Thus, again, trying to play both sides, here. Rollo, Rollo . . .
Lissa: Ivar arrives at Lagertha’s hiding place and finds it abandoned. The firepit is cold. He screams in rage. Outside, Margrethe has been left chained to the wall. They take her with them. Back in Kattegat, Hvitserk scoops her up and carries her off. Ivar calls to him that Margrethe will kill him because she’s mad and possessed by an evil spirit, but Hvitserk shrugs it off.
Unless he decides to get her better and provide a safe and loving place for her to spend her days.
Yeah . . . I don't think so, either.
Lissa: In Wessex, Judith is lecturing Alfred about how he needs to secure his rule.
Sandi: Yes, it was a parental job to look out for a suitable wife for a well born fellow. I know this. But still, Judith makes me cringe with her heavy-handed management.
Lissa: She says he needs to marry quickly and produce an heir. He asks if it can wait until after all the battles, but she insists it needs to be done as soon as possible. He asks how he’d go about picking a suitable bride and she tells him to let her worry about it.
Sandi: Historically, Alfred met his wife Ealhswith of Mercia when he was campaigning with his brother. Alfred "met and wooed" the princess and their marriage sealed an alliance with Mercia. (thefreelancehistorywriter.com)
I am hoping that we get a bit of romance in this for Alfred's sake, even if Judith is back their, swanning about and trying to play diplomat/queen dowager.
Lissa: Lagertha is on the shore of a river with Heahmund. She asks him whether his status as a bishop will give her protection. He says he won’t lie; everything is different now that they’re in England, but he swears he would never betray her. He loves her.
Sandi: Still shaking my head on this one. And here, Lagertha is acting more vulnerable than she might have done years before. Her world has been shaken, and she is less likely, it seems, to take on the world alone.
Lissa: Ivar is having his legs worked on and he screams in pain as one of them is straightened. He threatens the servant. After he leaves, Ivar notices a blonde woman watching, and it’s that enchanting girl he freed from slavery in England. The one who told him he was special.
Lissa: She weaves the same spell when he gestures her to come into the room and talk to him.
Sandi: The girl's whole dewy-eyed demeanor makes me suspicious, I have to say. Is she truly wanting to support Ivar the man or is she after a position or is she there to undermine him? Yeah, there's gotta be a plot somewhere. Still, it was SO cute when Ivar got to his feet and looked a bit nervous and a tad shy—for a breath—when she came into the room with him. Awww...
Lissa: Her name, she says, is Freydis. “Like Freya,” Ivar marvels.
Sandi: Now, since we know Ivar's words are never to be trusted (save his pledge to kill Lagertha, perhaps), it is hard to wonder how much of this is Ivar being Charming to Get His Own Way and how much it really is a man rather overwhelmed in this way for the first time in his life.
I wonder where this will go!
Lissa: Heahmund’s ship sails further up the river. He shouts in Saxon to the men on the shore that he’s Bishop Heahmund, friend of King Aethelwulf. The man shouts back that Aethelwulf is dead and Alfred is king now. We next see Heahmund riding up to a keep, followed by an iron-cage prison wagon, almost identical to the one Ragnar was transported in. As Lagertha, Torvi, Ubbe, and Björn climb out, the people scream at them. Heahmund looks straight ahead and doesn’t look back at them.
Sandi: The episode closes with Heahmund looking detached on horseback as his notional prisoners leave the transportation cage of their captivity. Showtime.
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