In this week’s episode of the Vikings we have two story lines running side by side. In Frankia, Ragnar’s fleet arrives outside Paris. In England, King Ecbert introduces us to the word Bretwalda, and sends his son Æthelwulf to negotiate with the uppity Mercian Queen Kwenthrith.
Is there any historical truth to these story lines? Yes! King Ecbert became Bretwalda (Ruler of Britain) when he conquered Mercia in 829. And Ragnar’s Vikings did indeed sail up the Seine to attack Paris. Lots of Vikings, in fact, sailed up the Seine to attack lots of places. Lots of times. I think we’re going to see all of them rolled into one.
It would be folly to look too closely for historical accuracy in this episode. The time line, the events, the historical figures are all jumbled up and tossed on to Michael Hirst’s taefl board. The result, while not exactly historical, is nevertheless gripping entertainment.
In Wessex actor Linus Roache is having a marvelous time portraying King Ecbert the Awesome as ruthless, devout, corrupt, ambitious, tender, treacherous, smooth-tongued and shrewd. Did I miss anything? Lascivious perhaps? When Ecbert whispers cozily to his daughter-in-law Judith that he will protect her, she knows exactly what he means and she looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Poor Judith, caught between a vengeful husband and an all too solicitous father-in-law. Let’s hope she lasts long enough to teach her son, Alfred (who wasn’t her son, remember) to read.
Up in Mercia Æthelwulf makes his way to the exotic lair of Queen Kwenthrith. It looks far more Byzantine than Saxon, but then, Kwenthrith has bizarre tastes. I have to confess that I was puzzled by just about everything that went on with Kwenthrith. She’s murdered a batch of Anglo-Saxon nobles,
and that strikes me as pretext enough for Ecbert to attack Mercia. But instead he sends Æthelwulf to reason with her. This must be the set-up for some future conflict, perhaps having to do with the son she claims is Ragnar’s. And do any of us believe that the child is hers? I doubt it and so does Æthelwulf. Kwenthrith is the sort who would eat her young if she had any. (The real Kwenthrith, by the way, was an abbess, was never the queen of Mercia, and never gave birth to anybody named Magnus.)
Across the sea in Frankia, a king named Charles is very concerned about the Vikings on his doorstep. Is this Charles the Bald (grandson of Charlemagne) or Charles the Simple (great-great-grandson of Charlemagne)? He’s not bald, so perhaps he’s Charles the Simple. His name, by the way, did not indicate that he was stupid. It meant straight-forward, although this fellow struck me as a wee bit slow.
Anyway, King Charles has a very strong-minded daughter named Gisela (which Charles the Simple did, supposedly) who has refused to marry a nobleman named Odo, and now we’re in romance-land because…NO! Gisela would have had no say about whom she married, and Odo was the Count of Paris before Gisela’s father became king, so he was a generation older than she was and yes, the timeline is as mixed up here in Frankia as it is in Wessex.
Meantime, Rollo takes a ship up close to the walls of the Île de la Cité, and when cross-bowmen pop up over the parapet and take aim at him, Rollo shouts, “Raise shields!” So now we know where Captain Kirk got it from.
On shore the Vikings have built a camp, and this is historically accurate. They were really good at rolling up their sleeves and throwing up fortifications very quickly. Ragnar, though, is giving us cause for concern because although he is super bent on attacking Paris, he turns the entire expedition over to Floki, which seems counter-intuitive. And besides that Ragnar’s playing with a mouse and a snake, and that’s pretty creepy. It’s worse than that time when he ate roasted rat.
Ragnar assures Floki that he needs him now more than ever, and Floki seems to believe him, but everything about Ragnar is making me edgy. I don’t trust him. Travis Fimmel is doing a heck of a job in this role. Just the look on his face sends shivers up my spine.
Floki, to his credit, builds some amazing siege towers on barges, the better to attack Paris’s walls. This, too, is an accurate historical detail, although the towers, as I understand it, were mounted on wheels because Paris was actually much larger than that city we see on the island in the Seine. It covered both banks of the Seine and the islands as well, with a wall all the way around both. We have to grant the set designers some poetic license here I think because they leave us with a beautiful tableau of our Viking leaders gazing out toward an island Paris skyline that is backlit by the setting sun. They will attack at dawn, but we have to wait until next week.