From my blog...

Vikings 3, Episode VI: BORN AGAIN

Vikings-BR-Review-00This week, an open letter to series writer, Michael Hirst.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Dear Mr. Hirst,

I have a bone to pick with you. Don’t worry, I am not going to call you out for going all George R. R. Martin on us in this latest season of THE VIKINGS, although many of your fans will. Death was a constant presence in the Dark Ages, and in your series Death is practically one of the main characters. People die, and in ways that are savage and shocking. Frankly, it’s a wonder that any of the major characters in the show are still alive because they’ve been in terrible peril week after week. So I shall not complain about any sudden deaths that may occur on your show.

MichaelHirstIndeed, I’ve even forgiven you for messing with the historical time line. (Am I not generous?) I’ve accepted that this is story, not history. I’ve come to think of it as a saga on film, so I’m willing to ignore the fact that Ragnar Lothbrok, if he existed at all, was not precisely contemporary with King Ecbert, who certainly did exist; and I’m even willing to accept that Rollo is probably going to get his hands on land in Frankia, although that didn’t happen until 910, which would make Rollo about 110 years old. If you feel it’s necessary to collapse time in order to tell your story, I will agree to go along with it. This period of history is pretty hazy to most people, and the figures that inhabit it even more so. Your attitude seems to be, What are a few decades and a few misplaced, unfamiliar historical figures when there have been 1200 plus years between then and now? I don’t agree, but I sympathize with that point of view.

HOWEVER…

In the recent episode titled Born Again, you have resurrected a historical figure whose name is very familiar indeed, and I’m gnashing my teeth at your cavalier attitude toward one of early Britain’s greatest kings. Talk about Born Again!!! Perhaps you thought you were being clever – even brilliant. I think you must have been lost in a creative fog.

The scene in question should have been removed with a hand seax, stricken from the script before it was filmed. You remember the one – it’s all about Judith. Having made her the wife of King Ecbert’s son Æthelwulf, you’ve given her an illicit passion for our favorite monk (and Ecbert’s favorite monk, and Ragnar’s favorite monk) Athelstan.

In this scene Judith delivers a son. We all know that Æthelwulf is not the child’s father. What’s worse, Æthelwulf knows it, and so Judith is dragged from childbed, hustled outside and tied to a stake. She is accused of adultery, and she’s told that she will lose her ears and nose. Much screaming ensues, followed by the removal of an ear.

Really, Mr. Hirst? Was this necessary? There were so many other directions you could have taken…why this one? It is not only gruesome, it’s unbelievable. Ecbert and Æthelwulf would not have tortured Judith, a high status woman and the daughter of King Aella, in this way. They never would have risked having her father arrive on their doorstep with an army seeking revenge; they would have put her in a convent and forgotten about her – or sent her home and demanded return of her bride price. Perhaps you were thinking about the Arthur/Lancelot/Guenevere love triangle when you wrote this? It was certainly on my mind as I watched the scene. I was wondering who was going to ride in, like Lancelot, to Judith’s rescue. Her father?

But no. Her rescuer is King Ecbert himself, only way past the time when he should have stepped in and put a stop to this (and saved us all from having to watch it). Judith names her lover, and at this point the wily king, pretending astonishment that Athelstan is the father of the child, insists that because Athelstan is a holy man, God must have had a hand in this conception. Judith has given birth to a very special child, he insists, and should not be punished.

At this point I am muttering aloud, “No. Don’t do it. Don’t you DARE do it.”

But you, Mr. Hirst, had already done it.

“There will be a christening after all,” Ecbert announces, “and the child will be called Alfred.”

So in your Wessex World, Mr. Hirst, Alfred (the Great) is not the fifth son of Aethelwulf and Osburh, but the illegitimate son of one-eared Judith and a monk named Athelstan. In fact, he is no blood relation to King Ecbert at all. This is ridiculous, because no king worth the name would have allowed a child not of his blood to be accepted as throne worthy, not even the son of his favorite monk. The entire scenario is ludicrous. It feels as though you wrote yourself into a knot and grasped at an easy way out.

Mr. Hirst, much of your writing in this show has been brilliant, but in this instance you lost your touch. This entire scene felt wrong.

I presume that you are playing fast and loose with the Anglo-Saxons, their historical figures and their history because your real interest is in what’s happening with Ragnar and company. The show is called THE VIKINGS after all; the Anglo-Saxons are merely props for you to manipulate at will in order to highlight that other culture across the sea.

But guess what? Some of us are fans of the Anglo-Saxons, too. And we know the history. And while I applaud your use of Old English in your scripts this season, (that was SO AWESOME!) you’ve made a very large misstep with this latest episode. What a disappointment! What a lame way to end this fascinating rivalry (your invention!) between Ragnar and Ecbert. You are capable of far better than this, and your fans demand it. Please.

Very truly yours,
Patricia Bracewell

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5 Responses to Vikings 3, Episode VI: BORN AGAIN

  1. I’m with you 100% Pat. When he said the child’s name was Alfred, I yelled at the TV “oh nooooo…” Then something funny happened. Views of my article on Alfred’s mother Osburh on my blog went viral! This makes me happy because people are seeking the truth about King Alfred. I’m looking into writing an article on Aethelwulf’s wife Judith to get the truth out about her too.

    • Patricia Bracewell says:

      What a great result! Does this come under ‘Every cloud has a silver lining?’ I’ve always been intrigued by Judith (the REAL Judith). Her marriages and the history surrounding them would make a good mini-series. But in one of Michael Hirst’s interviews he claims that Judith is Alfred’s mother. I think that he’s getting faulty information from somebody.

  2. Judy Workman says:

    Ohhhh I just found this! So glad I did because I have had so many of my own similar thoughts on how Hirst is choosing to deal with Anglo-Saxon history. I often wonder where he is finding his so called accurate historical facts that he keeps alluding to and assuring us that he is referencing. I too, do not fault him so much for playing with the timeline, I understand the basic reasoning for that. I do however take great issue with the way he incorporates real historical figures into the story, manipulates them and thus changes the story and history completely. While I do appreciate and like Judith in the story- she’s probably one of my favorite characters, I find myself thinking, “Why didn’t he just incorporate the real story of Judith?”

    That is my greatest irritation and frustration with his saga. There are so many real events that would be fascinating and exciting to watch, why does he feel such need to change all of it into history according to Michael Hirst!

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Judy.
      I just spent an hour reading your post about Judith on your wonderful blog site. Despite your reservations about Hirst that you mention above, you embraced the story of Judith that he chose to invent, on its own terms, and you re-told it quite beautifully and perceptively. It will be interesting to see if your theories about the future of the Wessex royal family in Hirst’s universe – quite good theories, I think – come to pass. As to why Hirst feels the need to change history according to Hirst, my guess is that it’s because he is a storyteller, not a historian. He’s using historical figures for his own purposes. I am hugely impressed by his writing, especially when I think of how quickly he must produce his scripts. I wonder, too, how far out he has plotted his story lines. Even as I wring my hands over what he’s done with Alfred, I have to bow to his brilliance as a writer.

  3. Judy Workman says:

    I agree with you on his writing abilities! I give him much acclaim for his success with this saga and creating such a wide audience and interest in this time period. I also agree wholeheartedly with your theory of him being a story teller first and foremost. I do try for the most part to set aside my concerns and reservations about his historical accuracy and as you say, embrace the story for what it is and what general aspects of history it gives us.

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