It’s Friday again, which means it is time to sit down with a glass of wine and rant, vent, love, and watch Vikings with my favorite people. Seriously! Even if I don’t show it and even if I don’t have time to reply to all of the comments week after week, it is honestly such an amazing and spectacular part of my week that I always look forward to. Seeing and reading what you guys feel about each episode, noting the popular moments and the most what-the-hell??-moments with a virtual friend circle (I assure you, I’m sharing virtual popcorn with you all at this very moment) is one of my favorite parts of the week. Ahh. It seriously warms my heart.
Get onto it!
Last week was a rough one. We had some lows (also known as horrendously weak plots, like Kalf&Co. staying absolutely basic and boring, with the possibility of redemption falling farther and farther away) and some highs (disguised as lows, because even though I will miss Siggy so much, her death was a strong and confident one that was one of the cinematic high points of the season thus far), and I had so many feelings about the episode involving death, urine, and hello obvious future betrayals. Where will this episode fall? Will it be filler or continue the rigorous pace this season has set? Considering the title of this episode is called The Usurper, I am sensing some serious drama brewing. If the writers of Vikings are anything, it isn’t subtle.
Ragnar and his brood are returning back to Kattegat when the episode starts, because they had to go home eventually and after the Wessex ordeal, they probably need a little T.L.C. Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) is usually excited about his return home, but this time around he is filled with nothing but grimaces. Could it be the stab wound in his abdomen? Could it be that they aren’t returning come with literal tons of swag from raiding? Could it be that they’re returning empty handed and Ragnar is trying to figure out how to tell so many loyal subjects that people have died in the vague cause of greater good, which always seems elusive to the audience until they’re experiencing the greater good taking place (eg every large foe in this series, Floki’s long con….I find it hard to believe that Ragnar never has a few tricks up his sleeve, but the nature of tricks means that he can’t exactly talk about them around the Viking campfire or the surprise would be ruined. You know? I know you know. I’m just saying, he’s probably grimacing because he’s thinking about proper and correct phrasing so people don’t get pissed at him).
So, he does what a lot of us do in the time of intense stress: he distracts himself. He wants Athelstan (George Balgden) to tell him about Paris. Again. Athelstan, liberated from the bizarre sexual tension of Judith, happily tells Ragnar about his singular trip to Paris. He went during his former monastery days and that’s when he saw it, with it’s huge walls and marble structures and giant bells that tolled when church was in session. Screw all that though. What Athelstan really remembers was the hot ladies in Paris. Really Athelstan? Really? Apparently, Judith liberated him in more ways than one. Also, this is where we learn that Athelstan actually wishes that he had roots! Actually, all I can think is please don’t get Judith pregnant as you wish for kids! But, knowing Vikings, she is totally pregnant.
Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) side eyes this in a way that warms the cold, dead chambers of my heart. Sure, he just doesn’t like to see the resumed bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan (who he sees as Ultimate Christ Guy, despite dude believing in both faiths – he’s still a traitor to what he perceives as a master faith, and that’s extremist…but true to Floki form). Still. It’s a sassy look that I love. “It sickens me,” he says. Don’t worry, Floki. I feel the same way when I order breakfast at a restaurant and they bring me white bread instead of rye. Sometimes we are all a little Floki.
Just kidding. I think we’re all a little Rollo (Clive Standen), because when Floki voices his opinion he visibly sighs to the point of his shoulders sagging. That sort of unspoken acting in the name of “I’m tired of your bullshit, man, lay off,” is simply amazing. Rollyoda has many things to teach us.
Back on Ragnar’s ship, he murmurs, “I would not come back here if it were not for my children.” He thinks Athelstan is lucky that he has not been married, though I actually view this out of a desire to wander than a hatred for his homelife – even if he has seemed more disinterested in his homelife from the second season on than when we were first introduced to him. He’s just got the wanderlust that can only be sated by power, gold, and land. Basic life necessities.
Also, probably on another ship, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) visits a scarred and maimed (but alive!) Thorunn (Gaia Weiss). It actually tugs at my heart a little (just a smidge), because Bjorn doesn’t shy away from looking at Thorunn even though she’s not pristinely beautiful, while she absolutely avoids avoiding eye contact with him, because she’s convinced that without her looks she is nothing to him. There have been so many pop songs written about this exact subject. Will you sing them with me? Let’s have a musical interlude. Have you had your fill of pop? Good. Let’s continue.
Where other Kattegat arrivals have been signified with gold glimmering in literal sunshine, the tone of this one has been set with dreary colors and weather. The main characters are desperately clamoring for their loved ones and carrying the wounded onto dry land. Torstein’s (RIP!) two babymamas, for instance, awaited his arrival and did not take his being in Valhalla as an ultimate comfort. And, the commentators on the last episode reminded me that I totally forgot about Rollo’s possibly horrible reaction to Siggy being gone, considering she was his main squeeze and pretty much the only one that ordered his ass to get in line when he had hit the very bottom. I waited for this part of the episode after that, because she really was a rock for Rollo and I knew it would end in…well, sadness. And anger. And guilt, at least on the part of Aslaug, who had left Siggy to care for her sons while she boned the Wanderer (not shaming her sex drive here, just sighing at her aloofness before running off with a vagrant for booty. Priorities, Aslaug, you should have had them). Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) delivers the news (about Siggy) to Ragnar amidst cries from Rollo for her presence. The news that Ragnar’s sons are alive because of her, but she is dead from the deed of saving them, hits everyone hard. For the first time since it has happened, it feels solidified.
Aslaug can’t keep eye contact with Rollo, but he places the blame on himself. The gods took her back because he “did not treat her well,” which spirals him into the pit that Siggy had pulled him out of. It’s filled with guilt, it’s very pragmatically sad, and he takes his sorrow away from the pier.
Ragnar, after searching for his brother (he does care for him, after all, on a level that is very hard to understand but has been a thread through all the seasons), asks Aslaug why Siggy was the one taking care of their sons. Helga tries to defend her, but Ragnar extinguishes her excuses. He doesn’t like the excuse (or what he perceives as one) that Aslaug has given.
I can’t blame him. I can’t help but feel that Ragnar didn’t want to return home after this trip for a wellness check, but now he’s realizing that, because he hadn’t performed one sooner, things are in much dire straits than he thought.
Yeah, pretty sure this is not the kind of housekeeping he wanted to do.
Aslaug escapes that situation by going to visit Thorunn. I admire Aslaug’s determination to help the young woman, despite her desire not to be seen by anyone. The wound is awful – seriously – and the makeup applied makes her look like she’s about to be turned into a Resident Evil zombie. It’s shocking and Aslaug is suitably shocked…but, come on, this is a culture where raiding was something done on the regular, why would she be so shocked that Thorunn got hurt so badly during a bloody raid? They literally cut off Torstein’s arm earlier in the season.
I mean, okay. I don’t understand Aslaug’s shock at Thorunn’s visage, but I understand the grief that comes from Thorunn at her new face. Thorunn’s worry about her wounds has to be completely superficial in that she is worried at how others will perceive her with facial scars and I hope the writers don’t spin away from that twist because even if it seems silly, it is fairly valid. She thinks she won Bjorn over with her body and looks, the irrational fear that he will lose his love for her because she doesn’t look exactly the same is founded, even if seemingly ridiculous. I like that they’re playing on vulnerability, because she’s probably pretty young and she has a lot of feelings about who she will have to be now that she isn’t conventionally beautiful. I think it can be a really good stepping stone for her character if she’s going to be permanent, however, the shock that other women of the village feel in regards to her scarring is just so weird to me – it isn’t like women in combat was bizarre. I’m sure these wounds happened more often than not. Thorunn will have to grow into her new face and grow into a new person, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Besides, I feel the same way when I have a zit the morning I go to work. It’s a hard life, we heal, we go through it.
I think it is a little different….
Is it? Is it?
So. Anyway. At the news of Siggy, Rollo has gone from Sober to Drunk in .02 seconds. He’s stumbling around and drinking out his anger. That’s not surprising, that’s how he dealt with his issues before, so it’s natural that he would fall on his crutch again. The crowd he has is less sympathetic, because they all lost someone in the fighting for the Christians – what makes him so special? Well. considering Rollo has been looking for a reason to be special all of his life, he takes offense to that. They all should feel his grief. Pissed off, he takes a swing at one of the bar patrons and Bjorn, trying to defend his uncle during his emotional tirade, soon becomes to focus of his punches. Listen kid, if you see your drunk uncle – who has a violent, drunk, emotional, clusterfuck past – sometimes you honestly can’t help him. That doesn’t mean you should punch him, but sure, whatever Bjorn.
Maybe, he is like his father and he is just trying to think of the greater good.
So punching him in the gut would….what? Make him barf up the beer? I don’t think that’s what this is about. Admittedly, I have no idea what this is about, but I think Bjorn just reverted to self-defense mode. Even with that in mind, it was really hard to see Rollo calling out for his nephew to punch him. The guy seems to be in a really vulnerable space and I think Bjorn is altruistic to a fault, so he was probably trying to help him snap out of it. Bjorn, there is no snapping out of grief. Just let him feel.
I can’t say I liked the scene very much. I understood where it came from, but I guess the honesty of anger (irrational though it is) just really put me off. I assume Rollo will get his shit together without Siggy (historical canon and all), it’s just hard to watch in the meantime. I feel bad for him. I feel so bad for so many people in this show right now.
Even Aslaug. Honestly, while I watched her do the naughty tango with the Wanderer last episode, all I could think was she is going to get pregnant from this and it’s obvious from her half-hearted attempt to seduce Ragnar that she’s trying to cover up her indiscretion with another sexual encounter in the same general time frame. It doesn’t work and Ragnar walks out of their bedchambers. I don’t know, I kind of like this internal conflict in Aslaug (her nostril flare was great!) but I wish she had more of a character than “perpetually fertile woman.” I hope this season gives us that. We’ve seen hints of her fire, now I want to see what makes her burn, you know?
Meanwhile, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is telling people about the settlement (that is totally not doomed) with pride. She wants to establish more people there and she finds it to be a huge success so far. Floki laughs it off, because obviously he has no desire to work under a Christian king, he also manages to offend Athelstan and get him to leave the room prematurely. I feel like this was a part of his plan, perhaps subconsciously.
After Athelstan excuses himself, Bjorn enters and everyone is wondering what the hell happened to his face. He tells Lagertha that he got into a fight with his uncle and everyone seems mildly surprised that he got into a fight with Rollo and actually lived to to tell the tale. Also? Familial fights! Not a great sign! Anyway, within ten seconds Bjorn is off the screen and I can’t help but feel like the scene was thrown in there for exposition.
Seemingly, Lagertha has disappeared from the scene as well, because Floki pulls Helga down for a little one-on-one. He senses that something else also happened while they were gone, something that lead to the death of Siggy that the two women hadn’t told them. The two mystical-leaning characters seem similarly enraptured in the tale of Harbard (a name and detail that Floki is hung up on), and Helga tells her husband about how he seduced Aslaug, about how he was the reason that Siggy was watching over the children. Floki seems similarly seduced about the idea of this Wanderer, but for a different reason. It is obvious to Floki that the Wanderer was a god in disguise and where there is death, there is also life (that is what a god does, they grant with one hand what they take with the other), and then says it is his duty to tell Ragnar of what happened. Sure Floki, you tell Ragnar that his wife was slept with by a god and have him not take it the wrong way. You go ahead and do that.
The next morning the rain has cleared and a messenger on horseback has appeared for Earl Ingstad, aka Lagertha. Within a millisecond the messenger telling Lagertha that she has been usurped from power, he is on his knees asking for forgiveness because UH, YEAH, BRO. We have seen what happens to people who get on Lagertha’s bad side. Do you really want to be on it for this weak ass sub plot? The answer is no. Grovel away. She wants to know who it was who dared do this to her and when the name Kalf is uttered, she nearly loses it. When she gets the names of the supporters and the fury has really started to bloom, we cut to Lagertha and Ragnar. She wants Ragnar to support her fight against the usurpers on a vague promise, but Ragnar side-steps all of her assertions like a ballerino, which (rightfully) pisses Lagertha off. Oh, so he can fight for his kingship and earldom, but she can’t fight for hers? Oh, go fuck right off Ragnar. Still, that grin he had for Lagertha when she said “it is mine” was unmistakable. Was that pride? Who knows. Ragnar is unreadable in this scene, but his affection for Lagertha has never, ever wavered. Even through mistress-wives. She’s an Achilles heel.
That semi-humor is a huge contrast to the way he conducts himself around Aslaug. It always has been a purposeful contrast between the two, but in this situation it seems as black-and-white as ever. His distance is further from Aslaug than it was from Lagertha, his body language defensive, and he is asking about Harbard. Aslaug is stiff-jawed when she tells him about Harbard’s relationship with Ivar (“the son [Ragnar] leaves behind”) and focuses on the fact that Harbard was the one to take away the suffering from their child (“he sleeps now, he never slept before.”). However, word travels fast in Kattegat and Ragnar follows that with “was he good?”
Aslaug responds with, “yes. He was a good man.” And I applaud her. Fight vinegar with vinegar, apparently. What a loving relationship!
Wordlessly, Ragnar goes to pick up the now-quiet Ivar from his crib. The child begins crying. We can real between the lines here.
Back in Wessex, we spy Judith innocently needlepointing. When she pricks her finger, she sucks the bite wound and gets a semi-thrill from it, because E.L. James and her particular brand of edgy sexiness is apparently timeless. Aethelwulf. finding his wife’s new kinks disturbing on certain levels that he would rather not visit, offers to get her a monk physician to oversee her, like a good, concerned husband. She tells him that she suffers from Hornyitus and it cannot be cured by a monk physician. Just a former monk that now lives in Scandinavia and also believes that Viking gods are real. Just kidding! She didn’t say that. She just tells him that monk physicians can’t help her with her affliction. So then, she tells him that she’s with child. Does that seem weird? Does that seem strangely connected to Athelstan’s morose comment about not having progeny at the start of the episode? Yes? Well. I am sure they are not connected. No way.
Anyway, Aethelwulf threatens her with physical violence (as is this show’s way!) and she doesn’t give up the name of Athelstan of her lover, even if A+B=You’re Not The Father has pushed him over the brink of pissed-off-ness. This goes against so many of the rules he adheres to, but, like a plague King Ecbert (Linus Roache) appears to grab his son to send him on a new mission. It’s about the new northmen settlement and the displaced Englishmen. King Ecbert wants the disputes put to an end, so he sends his pissed off son to go fix the problem in the name of the treaty he has with Ragnar Lothbrok. Right! I see no problem with this plan. Surely, it’s not enough to send Aethelwulf to go and destroy the settlement with absolute abandon.
Only, it is. It definitely is.
In Kattegat, Ragnar visits the seer and asks him about Paris. The Seer (John Kavanaugh) tells him that it isn’t the living that will conquer Paris, “but the dead.” He also tells Ragnar that the “bear will be crowned by a princess,” which I can only imagine is aimed toward Rollo…which leaves me scratching my head a little. Was Siggy just a throwaway kill to make way for some princess? Ugh. Ugh. Still, the Seer laughs and Ragnar takes this into consideration.
Soon, Ragnar joins a party-thing in the great hall, but he and Aslaug do not sit together. He tells the group that their next target is Paris in the land of Frankia. Ragnar wants to know why they’re just learning now and Rollo is baffled just as to what Paris is, which is really solid ground for a raid, I think. It’s a huge city that is ripe for the picking, a city that he has dreamed of in so many ways. It is the next spot on the map and we all have known this was coming, and, honestly, the way Travis Fimmel is able to deliver the lines gets me stoked – he really nails Ragnar as a charismatic leader. The only one in the crowd not completely stoked by this idea is Lagertha, because she’s had Ragnar’s back five ways ‘til midnight and he is seemingly leaving her high and dry while she deals with her drama back at her homestead.
She follows Ragnar up on his piecrust promise a moment later they are in Hedeby looking for some answers. Man, I wish I could travel that quickly, it’d make rush hour a breeze. Lagertha approaches Kalf with 18 layers of anger, and uggh why are we even here. I can feel myself tuning out, especially as he follow Ragnar’s orders but not Lagertha’s. UGH. Still, Ragnar pulls the man aside and plays towards his ego, asking if he can call him Earl, asking him if he wants to raid with him in Paris, and all I can hope is that this is some huge grand plan to get him killed Viking style because I can’t see a reason that Ragnar would take this doe-eyed bro with him on raids except as a reason to appease his One True Only (Lagertha) and eliminate a headache. For once, prove me right, Vikings writers. Make this another predictable, annoying twist like Floki last season. Stop making me say ugh.
Kalf proceeds to be a jackass to Lagertha after he dares to call her Earldom his Earldom and knocks on the way Lagertha used to be attracted to him (NEWSFLASH: not anymore). Since he’s had so much time to practice this speech about nation pride and whatever, he speaks it like it isn’t being read by cue cards on the side of the screen and – sign – I just hate this plot so much someone make me care please. It’s such a politician speech, it feels so one-note in comparison to Ragnar’s speech to his people about Paris. Whatever Kalf is selling, I’m not buying it. Or this weak ass plot. When he tells Lagertha that he triumphed over his desire to bone her to complete his goal to become Earl and then has the cajones to ask “what do [you] want to do with that knowledge?” I just wanted her to punch him in the face or rip his beard off one hair at a time. Awful. Rude.. Get. Out. Of. Here.
We get it, you don’t like this plotline. Can you suck it up for a moment, though?
I don’t know. I mean, this episode has had a decent amount of great Ragnar moments (comedic timing is everything to convey the welcomed humor into spots of this show), but this is absolutely the weakest subplot of the season. I have read fanfiction better developed than this Kalf nonsense.
But, whatever. It is what it is.
So, Rollo visits the Seer much in the way his one-Lady-Love did. He talks about his inferiority complex candidly, telling the Seer that it has always been the Ragnar show (much in the way Jan complained about Marcia). “He is everything. He is everything I cannot be. […] He is my everything […] but tell me, why am I so angry? Tell me, oh wise one.” And even if I am paraphrasing, let me give honest props to Clive Standen’s anger as Rollo here. I believe it. You can hear the frustration in his voice as he talks about the favoritism of Ragnar (in family, in love), and it feels genuine and dark. He has so much anger about the ways that he’s failed before and so much anguish over what he has become, that the Seer just laughs. (Side note: when did the Seer become the resident bartender of everyone’s problem on this show? Do I make this observation every season? I hope so. It deserves to be made, this poor guy dealing with so many messed up people). “I will tell you as I told Ragnar,” the Seer begins, “a bear will marry a princess and you will be present at the ceremony.”
Now, Lick My Palm and get out of here.
Back at Farmville: Scandinavia Edition, Aethelwulf decides to kill all of the pagans even if they are just farming cabbages and doing lowkey shit. So they do. Men, women, children. They’re slaughtered in a scene I don’t enjoy watching because there were kids, man. There were innocent people. That makes a difference. At the end, they all pray before a burning cross and UGGGHH as if Lagertha needs more shit to deal with. I don’t know. Great music and all, I couldn’t get into that scene. It was too brutal and senseless for me, though – on some level – he might’ve been working out marital aggression and dealing with his hatred for the Pagans/Vikings in an ultimate way (read: death), but it was just so ruthless. Etc, etc, innocent people, etc. I’m sure this was a way to dehumanize Aethelwulf. It worked.
So, much like Lagertha feels like doing, I want to ride off into the sunset with middle fingers in the air.
I’m pretty sure that’s not what she is going to do.
I’m sure you’re right, so she can live vicariously through me.
She rides off in anger despite Bjorn being like “Mooooom I know you want to go to Paris and kill a bunch of people and get so much gold and marble and priceless stuff, come on moooom,”
“Bjorn, you are a man now. Act like one.”
Be. Still. My. Heart.
Really, though, everyone seems on edge right about now. So, it’s a perfect time to stir the pot further.
Floki finds Ragnar and tells him all about the ifs-ands-and-butts, about Harbard and his wife. As in, that Wanderer got dat booty. He tells Ragnar that Aslaug was seduced by this Wanderer, leaving her sons behind, and their copulation practices happened more than once (in fact, she often came home smelling like fish, from where they knocked boots in the fish market). In this giant truth!bomb drop, Floki takes a moment to tell Ragnar that Harbard is another name for Odin (is it really?), so he shouldn’t even be pressed about his wife sleeping with another man. Because it could have been Odin. Ragnar leaves in a huff. Floki gets huffy.
In Wessex, King Ecbert is goddamn (pardon the blasphemy!) pissed about the whole Farmtown incident. He did not want the Viking settlers killed (as far as we can tell) and is absolutely beside himself about how the treaty has been violated. He has 99% of the men arrested for treason for going against his word.
The .01% is left. Athelwulf stands to meet his father and King Ecbert greets him with a psychotic grin. “You did the business so well.” This was all part of a plan.
“Even Charlemagne would’ve approved, don’t you think so?”
And then we come to a close.
What’s your opinion of this episode?
Honestly, I have so many thoughts. I couldn’t get into a lot of this episode. I loved the fact that they matched the weather with the mood of their arrival (sometimes not-so-subtle details make it worth it), but the emphasis on Kalf this episode just felt like wasted minutes in this episode, as they do with every episode. I hated the raid of Lagertha’s little farmtown (even though we saw it coming episodes ago, doomed from the start) and the fact that Judith got pregnant (of course she did), because it felt easy, but I like that the hardcore mirror of Aethelwulf is Floki (and they will probably soon share a hatred of Athelstan, for veeery different reasons). Then again, I loved the development of Rollo and his ever shifting character (the change of tempo, the acknowledgement of mistakes) and I loved the snipbits of the Seer and his cryptic kind of love. Honestly, I give this episode seven bloody cabbage patches out of eleven. It tried and it was dark, but I didn’t love enough of it to tip the scales into infatuation.
What do you all give this episode?