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: So, this week, we saw the end of an arc, and the end of an era! But we’ll get into the latter point…. Uh… later.
Sandi: Good call. (Readers, scrolling is acceptable.) And once again, History Channel managed a couple of fake-outs that got our attention. Onward!
Lissa: In any case, we started where we left off, with Ivar’s sacrifice ceremony. He announces he’s sacrificing Lagertha. He yanks off the prisoner’s cloak and we see a young blond woman, clearly terrified. Some in the crowd are befuddled.
Sandi: Hey, I originally thought he wasn't going to show anyone the face and that it was maybe Margarethe's body he was burning. Because he had a corpse already and wanted to make a statement. But no! Ivar has no qualms, apparently, about slaughtering an innocent. Another innocent. His first kill was made as a preschooler, right?
Lissa: One of Lagertha’s ex-shieldmaidens steps forward and declares that it’s not Lagertha. Ivar insists it is, and she’s the woman who killed his mother. She was a witch, and her death will cleanse Kattegat of evil spirits.
Sandi: Now here is where I'm confused. (Okay, one of the confusions, anyway...) Why would Ivar claim the woman is Lagertha, slayer of his mother (which so many who are likely still around actually witnessed) when so many could refute said claim. As DeeDonuts up there caught, someone in the crowd was all, "What the Hel?" (Spelling mine. Heh. Norse.) I still, even this morning, don't know why he did that. Was it just to see how many would swallow the codswallop he was tossing them?
Lissa: While this is going on, we cut to Hvitserk, sitting on top of a hill or a house, watching the ceremony from a distance. Thora walks up behind him and asks why he’s not in the midst of the festivities. Later, she suggests that they leave together.
Sandi: Ragnar's sons do like to sow their oats, don't they? Hvitserk has not, to date, had much luck in reaping any of these oats, but they do all have an appeal. Whether it's the scary weird stalker glare of Björn this season, the social climbing slaves that sweet talk Ivar, or Ubbe and his search for the perfect settle-down-and-make-a-home bride. Like father, like sons.
Lissa: They drag NotLagertha down to a cross-shaped stake mounted in a pile of logs and hoist her up by her legs. They slit her throat, catching the blood in a silver ewer before pulling her body upward, high above the logs. They light it, and it goes up in a pyrotechnic whoosh of flames. Ivar laughs with wicked glee as the flames build.
Sandi: When a pig is slaughtered, it was sometimes hoisted and drained in like fashion, if I remember my traditional butchery correctly. Ivar has rather a fondness for bloodletting, as one can see when he watches the dreadful Blood-Eagle enacted on King Aelle in Season Four. I am unclear as to why Ivar felt a sacrifice was necessary, here. Really, there is little preparation for it in terms of narrative or in the community. It just seemed to be some bit of theater he was enacting as a "new god" of his people.
Lissa: Later, they’re in the hall, and Ivar has a horn full of blood, and he announces they’ll all drink Lagertha’s blood. Hvitserk is at a table in front of him, eating, and he says loudly that it wasn’t Lagertha. Ivar insists again that it was and his missus says that the rainstorm outside is Thor’s hammer beating in approval of what they’ve done and welcoming Ivar to the family of the gods. Hvitserk calmly says Lagertha isn’t dead and Ivar isn’t a god.
Sandi: Drinking the blood of an enemy might have some sort of significance, here, but the sacrifice made was not Ivar's enemy and he knew it full well, so I fail to see what he is trying to accomplish here. Still, it seems as if everyone but Hvitserk is drinking the Ivar-Aid without demur.
And of course Freydis is encouraging him.
In an aside, seeing Ivar the Conscienceless soften up in tiny moments of time when he contemplates daddy-hood is the sole "positive" character trait he's displaying as he does the divinity run, here.
Lissa: We move to Floki’s colony and Second Þorunn, the one who went missing the last episode. Her family is talking about where to look next when her mother-in-law says that Second Þorunn told her that she had decided she didn’t want to bring a child into this terrible place. It made it sound like Second Þorunn might have committed suicide. Then we actually see the woman in question appear to Floki, who’s sitting alone outside by a fire. She’s glowing, dressed in a flowing white gown, and yep, she’s a ghost all right.
Sandi: But we didn't immediately (Okay, *I* didn't immediately) get the ghost-vibe from her and thought she'd been hiding, so this was kind of a fake-out to me. Well done, mind you. Also, timely. Of course, I did just re-read Dickens' A Christmas Carol, so I've got communicative spirits on my mind.
Lissa: She tells Floki that she was murdered at the waterfall by her husband’s brother, Asbjorn, who called her and her child evil spirits before he smashed her over the head with a rock and buried her. Floki asks her to show him where she’s buried.
Sandi: This works for the show because Floki is so very dedicated to the world of the supernatural. He communes with the Other Side, has had visions, and is a fierce believer in his gods. That a murdered woman would appear to him is not so remarkable that we the audience are rendered mute in disbelief. Instead, we want to know where she's buried, too.
Lissa: Viking mythos has many ghostly tales. Gjenganger were the murder victims who came back to get revenge on those who’d slain them, and draugar were something like ghouls or semi-sentient zombies. Most Viking-era spirits seem to have had corporal form. I don’t think they were ever depicted as the flowy-white-dressed ghosts of our imaginings. (The white garb ghosts traditionally wore was the old-fashioned winding sheet people were buried in because, hey, clothes are expensive, so let’s save those and bury ma nekkid in a sheet.)
Sandi: Pre-Christian burial practices among the Vikings included either cremation or inhumation (burial in the earth). Usually the deceased was just buried in their daily clothes, not something newly made or especially ornamental. In other medieval societies, a woman might be buried in the same gown she was married in, though. Second Þorunn seems to have taken on another aspect of, say, Victorian spirit-hood (a la Dickens) as she is wearing the flowing white gown of such a spirit.
Lissa: Harald’s ships sail into the river and up toward York. He says he wants to see Lagertha again because he has a score to settle with her. She killed Joan Jett, his beloved wife. He says the gods must have intended for him to remain unhappy. Gunnhild, the shield maiden standing beside him, tells him she’s sure he will be happy one day. She feels it in her gut. He asks her if she’s ever loved, truly loved, from the depth of her entrails. She glances over at her husband. She says she doesn’t want to betray anyone, but that it feels right to be here and she feels like her life is about to change.
Sandi: This is getting to be a theme with Harald, the whole "I have bad luck with women" thing. I would hate for it to be so overused as to become a [bad] jest as the series continues.
Lissa: He gives her a look as the scene ends which implies that Harald’s broken heart might mend sooner, rather than later.
Sandi: Really, he should know better than to hit on women who are spoken for, already. I mean, I feel for him. I do, in spite of myself I do. His best decisions are made on the field of battle, not the minefield of relationships.
Lissa: We go over to Wessex, where Albert is showing off his new hairdo and ‘stache as he announces he intends to lead the army against the Viking invaders himself. He asks Ubbe to speak with him for a moment in private, and it turns out he’s asking for combat training.
Sandi: Yeah. The "new you" makeover King Alfred received was a bit of a startle, to be honest. On my television, anyway, his new hairstyle was much darker, as was his facial hair and so on.
Lissa: First lesson: Ubbe throws axes at his head. Supposedly, it’s to teach him not to fear, but personally, I think it was because of that ‘stache. That ‘stache is begging for an axing.
Sandi: That was a huge risk for Alfred to take, in truth. Ubbe is not a lifelong trusted retainer; he's a new ally and has not yet won the trust of, well, pretty much anyone in the court. Asking him for "private lessons" (no, we won't go there) was an expression of hopeful trust, I think, as well as a way for Alfred to just get OUT from under everyone's thumb for an afternoon. Besides, it is wise of any military leader to learn from the other side.
Lissa: Aethelred is in his apartments, getting ready to leave. His new wife, Ethel-something-or-other, the daughter of Cuthbert, comes to say goodbye. He tells her that when he returns, he’ll fulfill his husbandly duties, and she looks like a Wessexian Chris Hemsworth just threw himself across her bed with a rose clamped in his teeth.
Sandi: I was struck by how much his wife looks like Alfred's wife. And their names (I think) echo off one another. According to Britroyals.com, Aethelred I married a woman named Wulfrida. But we also know that History Channel is not writing a dedicated historical series, here. They do play with facts and timelines.
Was this a casting decision or happenstance in production?
Lissa: He’s headed out to do some plotting while Alfred is getting axes thrown at his ‘stache. He and the other council members agree to slay Alfred and make Aethelred king again.
Sandi: King again. Right. Well, Aethelred was not voted in as king officially, here in the series, if I remember correctly. He was acting as such, but hadn't had the official rites and all that to become <cue music> King. In history, though, Aethelred I was indeed succeeded as king by his brother Alfred. Now, I get that Hirst was moving us along quickly and as far as the story goes, it works the way it is, as a dissatisfied and traitorous brother makes for good drama, yeah?
Lissa: Ivar and Freydis are lounging in bed. Freydis claims the baby, which can only be like five minutes gestation at this point, seems to be kicking already, and she says that maybe the baby will crawl out, fully formed.
Sandi: Freydis's outfit at the big sacrifice production was crafted to make it look like she already had a baby bump. Not a big one, mind, but nevertheless a baby bump. Not sure if this is to show the passage of time (??) or the character's own desire to strengthen her position as Mother of the Heir. I'm gonna go with the latter, because Freydis is all about deception.
And yeah, ouch. Crawling, rolling, or walking... it's all ouch.
Lissa: Ivar later is brought a prisoner in the hall, and it’s the man who shouted during the ceremony and said it wasn’t Lagertha. Ivar tells him he needs to go into the market square, smear himself with ashes, and publicly beg for the divine forgiveness of Ivar, for he is a merciful god. The dude spits in Ivar’s face. Bravery rarely pays off with Ivar. He has the man hanged, along with others who presumably didn’t cheer NotLagertha’s death.
Sandi: Yeah. Again, not entirely sure what the purpose was, here. To illustrate how very not-right Ivar is? We know this already. To see someone spit in his face? Okaaaayyyy...but....why?
Lissa: Hvitserk goes to visit the Seer to ask if he should leave Kattegat. The Seer tells him terrible things are going to happen – you know, the usual – but he could succeed where others have failed, but if he leaves, perhaps not. The cost for that success, though, will be too high. He says everything is becoming darker and it scares him.
Sandi: It is always a good time to see the Seer. Kavanaugh has done a wonderful job with him over the years of the show. The Seer has got to be so very ancient, even by our standards, in the show at this point. He's not upright, which speaks to his physical frailty, but there is nothing frail about his understanding or courage, in my opinion.
Lissa: We next see Lagertha meeting in a dark chamber with Heahmund, who tells her she’s more beautiful than ever. He asks her if she has any problems fighting against her own countrymen, and she tells him that Harald was always her enemy.
Sandi: I doubt that Lagertha considers Harald a countryman, anyway. He is not of Kattegat, which is her home; his kingdom is (according to the wiki) in Vestfold and Rogaland. He will one day be King of Norway, as well. King Horik, from earlier seasons, was King of the Danes, but at this time, the Norse don't have a king of a nation, per se. They have jarls and lords but no "king to bind them all" or anything.
So, yeah. Lagertha will have no problem going blade to blade with Harald. She does have a debt to settle, after all.
Lissa: We’re back in Wessex and it’s the Stabbin’ Day!
Sandi: Well, that's the plan, anyway. But like all plans, there is a hitch once it comes into contact with "the enemy". In this case, when Alfred is actually making his pitch at the council and any onlookers.
Lissa: The conspirators nervously clutch knives in their hands as they enter the hall. Alfred takes his seat and they look to Aethelred to give the signal, but he chickens out and says he can’t do it.
Sandi: The actor, Darren Cahill, really got the torment Aethelred had to be feeling at that moment, too. At the end of the day, the men are brothers, after all. And though Aethelred might wish that he'd never agreed to go along with Judith's Big Plan, that doesn't mean he wants Alfred dead. Not really. Because of course, he's not Ivar the Conscienceless.
Lissa: Magnus is brought by Björn to meet with Ubbe and Lagertha. He introduces himself and insists that Alfred is intending to betray them, that he’ll never give them the lands he’s promised.
Sandi: Every time Magnus opens his mouth, I am further convinced that he's a fraud. Every single time. I felt rotten at the way the original Magnus was treated earlier in the show, but the man here? No. His agenda will be made clear eventually, and I don't think it's all about his search for a family. The vengeance wish is likely legit, though.
Lissa: Lagertha immediately questions his story, telling him that Ragnar told her that he never slept with Kwenthrith, that she’d merely urinated on his wound after he was injured. Ubbe asks Magnus if he ever met Ragnar, and Magnus tells him that he saw Ragnar in prison and that Ragnar said he loved Magnus as much as his other sons.
Sandi: Because Magnus must think they're stupid or something. Maybe he does. Or maybe he was misinformed.
Lissa: I watched this scene in confusion wondering if I’d forgotten an important scene, but it was a lie, and Ubbe seems to sense it. He tells Magnus he’s sorry, but he just doesn’t believe him. Lagertha pats him on the cheek and strolls away. Magnus stomps out, furious. Björn tells Ubbe he believes Magnus, but Ubbe says flatly that he does not. They’re at an impasse on that particular situation. Ubbe says quietly that they have choices to make.
Sandi: I have a sense that Björn is digging his feet in here out of a sense of contrariness more than a sense of justice. Ubbe going through with the baptism into the Christian faith really, really irked Björn and that colors every thing he says and thinks Ubbe-ward at this juncture. The way the script is written and the actors directed makes the tense undercurrent really clear. I enjoyed that very much.
Lissa: The consensus last night seemed to be that everyone believed Kwenthrith lied and she and Ragnar never had sex.
Sandi: As DeeDonuts said above, Father Ragnar has many sons (thank you, Lissa, for that classic)—some of the flesh and some of the spirit, as one might say. And whether Ragnar and Kwenthrith did "do the deed" for real, Magnus is not the product of their union. Nope.
I do wonder, though, what mischief will be wrought by Magnus in league with Björn.
Lissa: Floki leads his colony to the burial site of poor Second Þorunn. Her mother scrapes away the soil over the spot and sees her face. She wails in anguish. Her father asks Floki how he knew, and he tells them Second Þorunn told him herself, and who murdered her. He glances at Asbjorn and says he’s hoping the murderer will confess it. Asbjorn’s father says sharply for him to remain silent; there’s no proof. Second Þorunn’s husband stands and says he knows who killed her. He attacks his brother.
Sandi: And here is where Floki has to take a firm stand as a political, not spiritual leader. This is not his natural sphere, so it's been a struggle for him to get to this point, but he can see his colony disintegrating and he has to do something.
Lissa: The women scream as the men grapple and say it’s wrong to do so before Second Þorunn has been suitably prepared for meeting the gods. Floki later says he’s made a decision. Eyvind reminds Floki that he gave Eyevind the job of lawgiver, but Floki believes he has overstepped his bounds by avenging the accidental death of his son three times. He ejects Eyevind and his entire family from the colony, including Second Þorunn’s widower.
Eyevind says they’ll die, and Floki says that’s on them. Eyevind threatens to fight, but Floki tells him that there’s no way he could possibly win.
Sandi: And there's me, still wondering what on earth is going to happen when the colony's first pregnant woman was killed at the onset of winter, when there's no viable means of survival on the edge of their known world. I can't help but wonder how Hirst will write them out of this corner.
Lissa: Ivar goes to visit the Seer. He tells the Seer he’s a god now, which doesn’t impress the Seer much.
Sandi: I had the sense that the Seer could have been thinking, "A god? Hmph. I talk to them all the time and they've never mentioned you."
Lissa: The Seer tells him that he’s allowed a snake to hatch in his head, and that his path is strewn with filth and garbage. He starts to shout at what he sees of Ivar’s future and Ivar slams his axe into the Seer’s head.
Sandi: Though we, the audience, could see it coming in the way Ivar was speaking and the camera angles.
Sandi: It was a very psychologically gruesome kind of death, really. I mean, an axe to the forehead is a heck of a way to go. And what does Ivar hope to accomplish by this? Shutting up the voice of reason? That always goes over well.
Lissa: This is the end of an era I was referring to in my opening line. The Seer has been with us since the beginning. He’s the one who started Ragnar down the path of seeking another woman to have sons, and the great destiny that awaited all of them. And now one of those sons has ended his life in a petulant fit of anger. By now, Ivar should know the Seer’s words are true. Perhaps that’s what enraged him, but slaying the Seer doesn’t change his fate, and now he’s lost the only possible eye he had on the future.
Sandi: An end of an era, indeed. I don't think the Seer was even remotely surprised, either. The audience may have been, but only because of the timing, not the agency. Not really. It was an oddly comprehensible end to the episode and one that I think suited the show well.
And from all of us here at Shield Geeks & Co, (heh):
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