Previously on Vikings, “Portage”
For an episode named “Death All ‘Round,” the significant character body count was not quite as notable as last week’s loose-end cleanup, but we can all finally celebrate one big death: Erlendur! Besides him, death came for Lagertha’s baby, little Siggy, and Frankish peasants, and it lurks still through Harald and Halfdan’s watching eyes, Ragnar’s addiction struggle, Aelle’s seething resentment, and the upcoming raid. This penultimate episode was an excellent, essentially perfect set up for next week’s mid-season finale, “The Last Ship.”
Continuing the contrast between Ragnar and the Hairdo brothers, Harald and Halfdan take a foraging party to a little farm. Harald tosses a large crucifix on the floor, directly juxtaposing Ragnar’s raid of Lindesfarne in S1. In a hair-raising silent hunt, the party rapes and graphically slaughters the family, leaving the father blinded. They sing as they saunter away with the loot while the farm burns.
My mother told me
One day I would buy
A galley with good oars
Sail to distant shores
Stand upon the prow
Noble barq I steer
Steady course for the haven
Hew many foe-men, hew many foe-men
As the farmer turned a blind eye to the Vikings’ crossing and was rewarded with actual blinding and destruction, turning a blind eye to Hairdo brothers’ threatening presence isn’t something Ragnar can afford. Harald’s behavior eventually grows to shape the Vikings’ reputation for centuries to come as he becomes known for his unusual cruelty. Imagine a man such as this moving in on Ragnar’s little kingdom. There is the true danger, not just the battle ahead.
Question: Could the farmer be the “blind man” from the Seer’s prophecy, heralding Ragnar’s death in Paris?
Floki plugs into Kattegat Vision and sees Aslaug crying and screaming for Harbard in the rain, falling to her knees in the wet street, while Lagertha in reality screams as she gives premature birth to her dead child. Ragnar and Bjorn kneel on either side as she says she had hoped to cheat the Fates. Ragnar strokes her hair as she cries, but then she dismisses them. The two men glance at each other, then scoot back 2 feet. And sit. This moment is such a beautifully poignant one for their little family in its grim but intimate silence.
The Hairdo brothers interrupt the portage with news—water at last, and Paris on the horizon. The warriors erupt into cheers for Ragnar, but, even as the same song breaks out, this time in Old Norse, he pulls a dose from his pouch, then puts it back. Ragnar whispers to Floki that he has one more task.
How grateful I am that we were not subjected to The Alfred & Aethelwulf Hardship Road Show, which could only have been wretchedly unpleasant. #Blessed
When the three reach Rome, the Pope exhorts them to care for their flock and encourage repentance, lest they be destroyed by invaders. He allows Alfred to kiss a thorn from Christ’s crown, which calls back to when his real father, Athelstan, was crucified by Ecbert’s men and crushed a crown of thorns into his head. Neither a truly holy relic, most likely, but both venerated in their own ways.
Later during a formal mass, the Pope blesses Alfred and honors him with a sword and crown, naming him a Consul of Rome. Simultaneously in Wessex, Ecbert is crowned king of Mercia. Aethelwulf watches Alfred so proudly, but Aelle confronts Ecbert over the betrayal and inequity. Ecbert’s response? Get used to it.
Given that Aelle is one white cat away from epic villainy, that seems unlikely.
Closest to the Emperor
Emperor Charles proudly announces Gisla’s pregnancy and follows up by naming Roland a Count and the Defender of Paris for his part in Odo’s downfall. Privately, Charles asks Roland’s permission to take Therese as his mistress, and… something else…
In their much-less-gauzy bedroom, Gisla decries this development. Since the person closest to the Emperor has the most power, she begins to feel Rollo’s duchy is hollow now that Roland will control Paris, deciding he must be killed. Rollo amusedly agrees, then disappears below the fur comforter for sex, but she laughingly declines in advance for the next 9 months due to her “sacred condition.” He huffs:
“Many things are better here. Just a few things which were better before.”
As far as I can recall, Rollo has never slept with a pregnant woman, nor has he verifiably ever fathered a child, other than Lagertha’s implication that he might have fathered Bjorn 25 years ago, so I’m not sure what he was talking about. But that’s not the good part anyway. That something else Charles wanted? To go to bed with Roland. Are we about to get a twincest/Emperor ménage à trois? My brain hurts.
Rest in Valhalla, Wee Siglet
Until Harbard left a second time, Vikings made a point of showing that Aslaug was a good Norse wife and queen—caring for the children, hosting guests, overseeing conflicts, catching babies, and dyeing cloth. But in his absence, she quickly falls apart, getting sloppy drunk while playing hnefatafl with Ivar. Sigurd finds Bjorn’s neglected daughter dead in the stream, and when he reports it accusingly, Aslaug says, “Who?” Ivar laughs, “Nobody cares!”
Until this point I’ve never been against Aslaug, but this is monstrous. No better, and perhaps worse, than the detoxing husband she despises so much, Aslaug has entirely lost herself and her dignity, and apparently nobody else in this Harbard-forsaken village thought to look after Bjorn Ironside’s daughter. She encourages Ivar’s sociopathy by smiling, rather than impressing upon him the responsibility of their subjects’ lives, like Ragnar has done so often with Bjorn. Shockingly awful.
(Don’t) Rest in Hel, MF’er
Under the blue moonlight, Bjorn and Torvi have sex in their tent. He appreciates her wildness, accepts that she might not love him, and likes that she doesn’t care who he is. Erlendur prowls outside with his crossbow, but Torvi gets in the way. It isn’t clear if she’s aware that Erlendur is out there, but I do like that this conversation places her in a kind of relationship purgatory—not entirely out of one and not entirely into the other.
The next morning, the boats splash into the water. While everyone is distracted, Erlendur whispers over a small animal sacrifice. Vikings, he says, never let go of vengeance. Inspired by the gods, he decides Torvi should kill Bjorn, forcing her to drink the sacrificial blood, and shoves his crossbow into her hand.
“No one expects you to be able to fire properly.”
Famous last words, Greasy—Torvi also once boldly proclaimed herself a Viking to Bjorn. Blood dripping from her chin, she tells Bjorn what she’s been instructed to do, then turns and shoots Erlendur, straight to the heart. Free, at last. After an embrace, Bjorn takes off Horik’s ring and puts it on the arrow shaft as Erlendur dies. Even Ragnar stumbles out of his black tent to acknowledge the moment.
I was most impressed with all three of the young actors in this drama. Sometimes the turnabout play can seem hokey and obvious, but each were deadly serious and sold it completely. With the blood dripping, Torvi has a Khaleesi moment, earning her place next to Bjorn. Satisfying in every way.
Who said anything about Paris?
On Bjorn’s vision quest, an icy spider web seemed to foreshadow impending traps and raised questions about which characters might be spiders. This image returns as Ragnar wretches through the DTs and smashes hallucinated spiders. Bjorn reports that the boats await his command, but when he sees his father struggling, he urges him to take more of the “medicine” so that Ragnar can help him take Paris. Validating Odo’s belief as Bjorn’s jaw hits the floor, Ragnar responds:
“I don’t care about Paris. I came for Rollo.”
Ragnar saving his last stash for the battle seems crazy considering that it did nothing for his acumen and alertness, but that is what he plans to do, nevertheless.
As the boats strike out toward Paris, Lagertha’s game face is back on and so. is. Torvi’s. After several episodes in a peach peasant dress, she triples down on her Viking identity with kohl, a ponytail, and black leather. Commence fist pumping. Again.
The camera draws back to reveal the coolest Floki Original since his siege towers: landing craft strapped between 3 longships each. Wardruna kicking in as the sails flap, Ragnar swears:
“I have to kill you. I must kill you. I will kill you.”
Basically a perfect episode. Nothing dragged or seemed awkwardly placed, and every single person acted their hearts out in every plot point. So many times I cheered, especially when the boats splashed into the water for the first time, and I was surprised, horrified, worried, and thrilled in turn. Overall, pretty amazing.
Vikings S4E9 = 10/10