Previously on Vikings, “Mercy”
Now this is the way to do a “holiday” episode! “Yol” gathers up all of Vikings’ locations and moves them through the Advent season of December, specifically after December 10th (Saint Eulalia’s Feast) through Epiphany/Jól in early January. The contrasts were rich as always—the spartan nature of pre-Christmas fasting in the Christian world versus the placing of the Yule Log; and, the Feast of the Three Kings versus the fiery throbbing Jól sacrifice and beach bonfire. A time for the next wheel to begin turning.
Marking his transformation with a new tattoo, Bjorn prepares to return but is ambushed by the wordless assassin, who looks markedly smaller next to the new Bear but makes up for his size in seemingly preternatural ninja skills. Cheek slashed, Bjorn manages to improvise a fishhook Cat O’ Nine Tails and catches him by the face, ties him to a tree with said face, and wrenches the telltale ring from his hand. The assassin is less than forthcoming on a name, and Bjorn guts him savagely, guts steaming on the snow.
It’s no coincidence that he shows up next in Hedeby, deadly serious. Kalf and Erlendur put on the worst poker faces in the history of history and pretend to be happy to see him. He downs a pint and declares he’s only there to say hi to Lagertha and take Torvi home. Erlendur says fine, as long as she leaves Guthrum (Jarl Borg Jr.), whom Lagertha promises to care for. Torvi is torn but Lagertha advises:
“We have one life, Torvi, so go and live it.”
*Technically, divorce would not have been this difficult. The woman needed only state she was done, and, as Guthrum is not Erlendur’s son, he would have no ownership in the matter. But, Guthrum is Kalf’s trump card, so… plot device.
Ecbert has once again gathered his allies under one roof for a simple Epiphany meal. Apparently gruel isn’t nearly enough to satisfy Aelle’s hunger…for revenge. Losing his patience for both women of power at the table, he can barely tolerate the presumption of Kwenthrith expecting to have Mercia quelled for her once again, with the prospect of Ragnar, his sworn enemy (Season 1), having a claim through his bastard son, whom Aelle unsubtly threatens.
Later at the more celebratory Feast of Three Kings, which Kwenthrith publicly toasts including herself, Aelle takes note of the open flirting between her and Aethelwulf and between Judith and Ecbert. He tracks his daughter down and insults her new life, wishing he could talk her husband into beating her. Judith throws her Freedom in his face and sashays away. Not the smartest move considering said Freedom is only an agreement between her and Ecbert, contingent upon Not-So-Much Freedom, and it is through her that Ecbert keeps Aelle in check, seeing as how, ultimately, to unite England, he would have to overthrow him, a concept which will reappear later in this episode.
With much fanfare, a Bishop from Rome arrives with Gisla’s annulment papers in hand and a great crowd of nobles delivers it to him. Quelle surprise, crétins! A scant month later, Rollo speaks Frankish perfectly. Apparently his little Abbot-tossing episode formed a respect between the two, as he affectionately pats the man’s arm and begins to plead with Gisla. He swears to defend Paris to the death, like her—smart, to tie them together in vision. She dismisses everyone, asking if he is indeed sincere; after all, killing his kinsmen might mean nothing to a Viking. What does mean something, however, is his torc, which he offers her. Perhaps there is no reason for her to know how huge this gesture is, but she seems to understand all the same.
Next thing you know, that little non-consummation issue is decidedly invalid, thanks to a gauzy, dreamy, literally toe-curling sex scene. As hot as she was cold, she shows up late to Epiphany feast with mussed hair and runs off with Rollo for loud sex in the kitchen next door. At least if she embarrassed him so publicly before, she is willing to un-embarrass him just as publicly.
If you’re interested, thanks to the ShieldGeeks’ direction, here is a “helpful” sex vs. sin flowchart, which humorously boils down how difficult it was to have non-sinful sex even between spouses. Sex on a feast day was definitely not ok, but who cares, amirite?
Floki it seems cannot bring himself to leave Kattegat. He and Helga watch from a hut in the middle of town as revelers bring the Yule log into the great hall. He uses the opportunity to visit the Seer for the first time. The now-completely-blind priest has been waiting hundreds of years for this:
“Show me that you understand. Show me who you are.”
Floki seems to integrate this new idea and offers his own palm for the Seer to lick. A bit of madness startles him, perhaps a vision with too much truth, and he giggles. Is he the Seer’s replacement? Is Floki now a higher spiritual power than the Seer? Is he Loki walking in the world of men?
Indeed, Aslaug later knocks on their door and asks if Floki will teach Ivar their “deep and ancient” ways. Suspicious at first, he nods.
Similar to Bjorn’s ice baptism, Ragnar emerges from submersion in his bath, confessing to their new slave a preoccupation with death, which continues to elude him. She chides,
“In my world, you must have a life worth living before you can even consider death.”
She unskillfully splashes him with the next bucketful and he tuts teasingly, finally asking her name—Yidu. Aslaug watches from behind his lattice, as we suspected.
During the Yule log celebration, Ragnar tries to convince Ivar to add mistletoe to the garland with his brothers, but toddlers gonna toddler. Ragnar and Aslaug end up fussing over him, again. He professes his love for Ivar, but Aslaug considers him her responsibility alone. At bedtime, Aslaug offers to set him up with Yidu, oh so casually.
“If that is what you want,” he replies. I’m pretty sure it is what she wants… for some reason.
Ragnar finds Yidu continuing to be the utter worst with the farm animals and pulls her out of the pen to roughly question her origins. She had been taken by pirates, but left unmolested; this fact catches his attention, but she doesn’t explain. Instead he takes her to his hidden menagerie of snakes and birds and somewhat humorously frees her from service for being “useless… as a slave,” gifting her with the power to stay or go if she wishes—the Ecbert Gambit.
She responds with offering him Chinese medicine for his pain, which turns out to be psychotropics, perhaps opium. They trip together while Ragnar acts like a complete fool for her—eating (?) a snake alive, swinging from the rafters in a wild mask, rowing in a toy boat, fire dancing, and an almost kiss.
Ragnar appears with elaborate face paint for the Yol sacrifice, a torchlit musical procession to the beach with Ivar on a pallet carried by his brothers and Floki bringing up the far rear. The priest sprinkles the revelers in blood and Ragnar lights a bonfire, the sparks swirling with the torch fires into the windy night. He cries while Aslaug cuts her eyes. Utterly gorgeous.
Sailing into the harbor, King Harald Finehair abruptly arrives at Kattegat, expressing awe with Ragnar, and Aslaug graciously receives him. While he challenges the boys to a game of Hnefatafl she again questions his story: he once asked “a princess” to marry him and because he wasn’t important enough, she moved on, but he still seeks to become the king over all of Norway to impress her, which of course would involve overthrowing Ragnar. He smiles dangerously. Just then, Bjorn arrives home with Torvi, noting this new development, and Ragnar pops up over his shoulder to observe before demanding an introduction.
Aslaug certainly has Ragnar’s number when distracting him with the prospect of the tantalizing unknown. I began to question where her disappointment began with him. Is it that she does, indeed, want to be married to the king of all Norway, for his attention to be solely on their land and not these expansive raids? Is it the betrayal of his will against hers in the conception of Ivar? Where did they go wrong and what does she expect of him now?
Myself distracted by all of these extra storylines, I never expected the arrival of such a formidable Viking foe, a truly intriguing twist contrasting with the expected Kalfspiracy. Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan are indeed powerful historical figures, and I am excited to see how this plays out with Ragnar’s interest being set on far off lands. The real Harald did indeed set out to unite Norway to impress a woman, although not his former fictional lover, Aslaug.
Floki’s transformation… chilling. I feared that we would lose the most unique character to exile, but his cave torture instead seems to have freed him from the bonds of his friendship to Ragnar and set him on a purely religious course. Gustaf Skarsgård’s face as he accepts this new identity was frighteningly beautiful.
Finally, the holiday isn’t just a calendar device to bind and progress the stories: Epiphany celebrates the Magi’s journey to visit the Christ child. This also seems to play out on the Viking side as the Seer recognizes Floki as a spiritual authority, a Magi, and Aslaug apprentices Ivar, carried on a manger-like pallet during the procession, to him. Is Ivar the Boneless the Chosen One of the Vikings?
Lush and unsettling, “Yol” successfully uses contrasting holiday celebrations to move Vikings into midwinter with disarming celebrations while setting up a host of dangerous dominoes. Ragnar’s interlude with Yidu provided some levity with his basic weirdness while Gisla and Rollo managed to make marital romance a sin… for the sake of Frankia, of course. Bjorn and Floki again put in fantastic performances, and I can’t say enough about the Jól beach scene. The prospect of so many foes on the edge of making their move is positively hair raising. Well done.