Previously on Vikings, “The Vision”
Vikings – S4E13 – “Two Journeys” | Starring: Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Alexander Ludwig, Alyssa Sutherland, Alex Høgh, Marco Ilsø, David Lindström, Jordan Patrick Smith, Josefin Asplund, Maude Hirst, Ida Nielsen, Georgia Hirst, Peter Franzén, Jasper Pääkkönen, Moe Dunford, Linus Roache, Jennie Jacques, Morgane Polanski
With episode titles like “The Outsider,” “The Vision,” and “Two Journeys,” Vikings may have the trials of Ragnar, Bjorn, and Ivar primarily in mind, but those themes are not exclusive to its male protagonists. As an exotic princess that seduced Ragnar with her wit and legendary parents, Aslaug entered the picture as an Outsider. Rather than countenance the insult, Lagertha then became the Outsider, quietly managing the neighboring village as an ally for a decade until determining enough was enough. Aslaug foresees the coup, setting the rivals on a path towards inevitable conflict and a divergence of their fates. There can be only one Queen in Kattegat.
After two seasons of homeland melodrama, this Clash of the Valkyries is welcome. In “Two Journeys,” not only does Lagertha’s army cut a quick swath through Kattegat, but Torvi proves once again that she’s no pampered princess. Since we’ve never seen her train for combat, Aslaug seems less threatening, but with her volva magic, wicked wit, and heritage as the daughter of Brynhild and Sigurd the dragon killer, she may have more to show than expected. At the very least, she approaches the showdown with more dignity than she’s displayed in years, giving poignancy to an impending Viking funeral for either woman. Will Aslaug’s magic even the odds, or has her purpose come to an end? Can loyalty to Lagertha still be found in Kattegat, or have their riches made them soft? With a few short scenes, series writer Michael Hirst has given this conflict unexpected doubt and tension.
A surprising number of Ragnar’s Crew of Dregs makes it to shore, only to renew their curses against their former/current king. The dissent lasts for a mere day before Ragnar decrees that he and Ivar will be going it alone, quietly slaughtering the rest. To me, this was the only outcome possible. He could never have mounted any kind of raid against Wessex with the Dregs, who were too weak in both body and integrity, nor could he let their barbs go unanswered. Left at home, they were as big of a threat to Kattegat’s sovereignty from the inside as Harald Finehair was from the outside. They had to go, from the start.
This episode might easily have been called “Two Baptisms.” Ivar doesn’t die, and Ragnar, as father and All-Father substitute, facilitates his rebirth as a true Viking warrior, leaving Aslaug, her coddling, and his crutches behind. They strike out across England as the Old Man and the Cripple, Odin and Tyr. Like Tyr, the crippled Norse god of justice and war, Ivar’s disfigurements are essential to his nature, in Ragnar’s estimation. The second baptism is for the oft-baptized Rollo. While Harald and Halfdan challenge Bjorn’s favor with the gods and Rollo attempts to buy his way into the raid, neither gets the last laugh. Using the maritime torture keel-hauling, Bjorn metes out a public punishment that not even Floki can deride, “killing” Rollo the Frank and rebirthing Rollo the Viking back into the narrative and therefore our interest. What is dead may never die.
As a transitional episode, “Two Journeys” has several high points to recommend it and one false note that didn’t work for me. Always a fan of the language differences between cultures, I especially enjoyed the Saxon girl’s song, subtly demonstrating a decade-plus of linguistics evolution since Athelstan translated Ecbert’s flirtations—half of the lyrics are brushing modern English. Contrasting the girl’s innocence is the tension of potential discovery/death and relief when it passes. I also loved the drums behind Rollo’s confession to Gisla, the physical comedy of Ragnar throwing Ivar down to escape notice, and the dark satisfaction of Ragnar and Ivar slaughtering their hateful crew. Less successful, however, was Lagertha and Astrid’s sham to draw Ubbe and Sigurd out of town. The setup of Margrethe demanding they decide who gets her scarcely makes sense from a logical standpoint. Is there something in the cut scenes that explains why their father’s ex-wife’s girlfriend can require them to compete for their own slave’s hand? “Plot shenanigans” doesn’t count as a reason.
Ivar and Ragnar
Ivar and Ragnar awake on the shores of England, along with a reduced, angry crew. Ragnar loses patience with Ivar’s brace and makes him crawl, casually acknowledging his crew’s blame and placating them by agreeing that stealing a boat to return is “the only thing” they can do. After the survivors escape notice twice and make camp, Ragnar pulls Ivar aside, admitting that he didn’t come to go back.
“And that is why we can no longer travel with our friends.”
That night, the two kill everyone, some less stealthily than others.
Having found the wreckage, Aethelwulf reports back to Ecbert. Conveniently, Ecbert finds a reason to leave while the “Eternal Wolf” hauls Ivar over his shoulder through the countryside, confiding his realization:
“Your legs have given you a strength that even your brothers don’t have… You are special, not in spite of your legs, but because of them.”
They joke and jostle, pretending Ragnar is a donkey. Interestingly, this is the first time Ivar has spent any significant time with his father, learning Ragnar’s true nature while riding on his back. Ivar surmises that Ragnar cannot accept the verdict of the gods, realizing that this stubbornness defines him. After coming to a mutual understanding, they arrive in Wessex. Certain Ragnar will be tortured, he counsels Ivar to hide his true nature no matter what and kisses him solemnly before they approach the gates, as Ivar names them, an old man and a cripple. Ragnar lifts his hands in surrender, but smiles twitchily.
Bjorn’s fleet approaches the Frankish Norman (Northman) coast where Rollo’s kingdom controls access to the Mediterranean. Norman long ships row out and escort them to shore where Rollo awaits in a throne room with Gisla and their three children. Speaking Frankish at first, he refuses to apologize. His middle son, William*, sticks a tongue out at Floki. Bjorn shows Rollo the map, asking safe passage in exchange for not pillaging his villages, according to Floki. Unsurprisingly, Rollo snatches the map and has them all arrested.
Imprisoned, Bjorn remains silent despite harassment from Harald and Halfdan. As if they were listening, the guards come for Bjorn. Rollo presents a “Parisian librarian*” who counsels them on their approach via a full map of the former Roman Empire around the Mediterranean. Between Muslim caliphates and notorious seas, Rollo relishes the danger ahead and strikes a bargain for passage: only if he can come.
*Historical notes: William becomes William Longsword, successor to Rollo, Count of Rouen, and struggles often with blending the Franks and Northmen. Credit: SagaThing
The “librarian” is Johannes Scottus Eriugena, an Irish theologian, philosopher, and noted Greek scholar hired by Charles the Simple. Translated literally “John, the Irish-born Gael,” he even shared what must be one of the earliest recorded Irishman jokes with Charles who once asked “What separates a drunkard from an Irishman?” Johannes reportedly quipped, “Only a table.” A controversial figure, one legend says he was stabbed to death by his own students’ pens.
Returning to her whiny ways, Gisla protests Rollo’s decision, threatening to leave him, but he cannot deny that he’s still a Viking inside. Undeterred, he sets out smugly with Bjorn, but the fleet halts for a bit of revenge. In full view of the entire fleet, Bjorn has Rollo tied and dragged under the boat, sitting calmly while he drowns, then has him pulled up at the last possible second. Floki pouts as Rollo wretches up seawater, laughing.
The Battle for Kattegat
While Aslaug has another vision which reveals the raid of Kattegat and a Viking funeral, Lagertha finishes training her army, telling Astrid that she’s taking it all back, ideally with Ragnar’s sons “with a witch” out of the way. Conspiring with Torvi, they enlist Margrethe and host a dinner for Ubbe and Sigurd at which Astrid explains that Margrethe is in love with them, but they must choose… unless they can share her. Ubbe takes Margrethe to bed, letting down his guard long enough for Astrid to quite politely arrest both boys.
Ragnar’s sons safely stashed, Lagertha unleashes her army on Kattegat from the mountains and sea. They deadlock with a wall of Kattegat’s defenders in the city center until Torvi pops up on a rooftop, summoning a team of embedded archers. The line broken, Lagertha halts the fight to protect “her people” and Aslaug dresses herself for battle.
Vikings S4E13 = 8/10