The underlying theme of this week’s episode of Vikings appears to be ‘Vengeance and the Alpha Male’. The women are around, to be sure, but in this episode they are mere ciphers – items to be acquired (Margrethe and Tanaruz), threatened (Lagertha), vilified (Judith) or put to whatever use the men see fit (Astrid in the final scene with Bjorn). How historically accurate is this attitude? I am sorry to say: VERY. Hey! It’s the 9th century.
In Kattegat Lagertha and her people are building some impressive fortifications, although later on a newcomer named Egil the Bastard – a name that probably reflects his personality as well as his social status – sneers to Harald (Peter Franzén) and Halfdan (Jasper Pääkkönen) that all defences have their weaknesses. These guys aren’t plotting a takeover yet, but they’re working up to it.
Meantime the Lothbrok Lads are making noises about avenging the deaths of their parents; at least, whenever they are not needling each other in what appears to be a never-ending rivalry for sibling domination. I found this alpha male snarling a bit tedious the third time around. Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), who appears to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, is always at the bottom of it, of course. And when it comes to vengeance, he doesn’t just want to go after Aelle, Ecbert and Lagertha. He wants to declare war on the whole world. I continue to find Ivar irritating, even with his new pompadour hair style. That, I’m certain, is intentional, so, well done, Alex.
Ragnar’s boys reach out to old enemies as well as old friends as they build the great army that they plan to lead to Mercia and Wessex. Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) opts out, thank you very much, which Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) seems to resent. He and Ivar finally go after Lagertha in the great hall, neutralising her defenders while Lagertha, centre stage, stays cool and collected. Ivar uses his nasty iron spikes to drag himself toward her, Ubbe circles behind, but she doesn’t even break a sweat. She casually picks up a sword, and although the tension is high we are confident that she will find a way out of this (we’ve seen her karate moves), but just then Bjorn walks in – having sailed all the way from the Mediterranean – and he intervenes.
Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), mind you, is BIG. Have you noticed? He is the ultimate, bear-like, alpha male, and his brothers know better than to defy him when he lays down the law. Harald and Halfdan seem to think that Big Bjorn will take all the profits from the women they have brought back as slaves from Algeciras. Unlikely. The Vikings shared their booty among the ships’ crews. Their leader may have taken a greater proportion, but not all of the profit. If he had, nobody would have signed on with him.
Before returning to Kattegat Bjorn and company had stopped in northern Frankia to return Rollo (Clive Standen) to his family. Rollo invited anyone who might want good, rich land to settle in his kingdom, but there were no takers. They all remembered what Rollo did to the earlier settlers, and who could blame them? Historically, though, there were plenty of Scandinavians who joined Rollo and supported him in his fierce drive to expand and control his territory. He was not just stuck at home with Gisla (Morgane Polanski) who, in this warm homecoming scene, welcomes him enthusiastically in French. I heard her call him a Northern bastard and a dog just before she smacked him on the nose.
That’s not the only marital discord this week. In Kattegat Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) is not at all happy about the slave girl that Helga (Maud Hirst) brought back from Algeciras. That three-way relationship is looking awfully rocky, especially since Helga seems mentally and emotionally fragile and the girl is traumatised. Next door, Torvi (Georgia Hirst) doesn’t want Bjorn to go with Ivar on his vengeance mission, but Bjorn resents her nagging. They now have three small children (this shield maiden has her hands full!), and there is mayhem at the dinner table when the couple begin to argue. Did you see that poor infant in Torvi’s arms burst into tears when Bjorn started to shout? Alexander Ludwig may have been acting, but that baby was not.
Speaking of children, over in Mercia Judith (Jennie Jacques) goes with her parents to visit Ragnar’s death site, suggesting it is a sacred place, and I’m with Aelle on this one: “Are you nuts?” She tries to warn her father about the wrath of the Lothbroks, with little success. He’s too convinced of his own martial superiority to heed her, which is just asking the gods for a smackdown. And in Wessex King Ecbert (Linus Roache) gives the hapless young Alfred (Isaac O’Sullivan) a nasty lesson in trust which involves drinking too much wine, poor kid. “Don’t be influenced by other people, especially people like me,” Ecbert advises. Thanks, granddad.
Ecbert hopes that Alfred will be king, which has me wondering again about his older grandson, Æthelred, the true heir, and what kind of lessons he is learning, and from whom. (What might papa Æthelwulf be teaching Æthelred behind the scenes?)
Back in Kattegat again, at Ivar’s request Floki makes him a chariot that looks just like Ben Hur’s, and he responds, predictably, like a 1950’s teenager with a new hot rod. This is Hirst’s idea of how Ivar was able to get around on the battlefield, and it’s as plausible as any other suggestion, I suppose.
We are left at the end of the episode with a final tangle to ponder. Astrid is busily weaving – and, in fact, women in that world would have spent most of their time weaving, so I love seeing her at the loom.
In Lagertha’s absence (and what, we wonder is she up to in Hedeby?) Bjorn makes a pass at Astrid; she responds willingly, and this is likely to lead to domestic trouble in any number of ways. Bjorn is like the proverbial fox in the henhouse, a development that gives Hirst all sorts of options for future conflict: rivalry, resentment, revenge. Fun times!
Patricia Bracewell is the author of the Emma of Normandy Trilogy. The latest, The Price of Blood is out now. She blogs about historical drama on her website and will be covering Vikings for Historia. Keep in touch on social media for the latest reviews.
Photos of Vikings © The History Channel