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Vikings 4, Episode 3: MERCY

There was a lot of howling in this episode. Did you notice?
Floki howls in pain, despair and grief.
Lagertha howls in ecstasy.
Bjorn gets howling drunk, but he also howls with triumph, with pain, and with cold.
Rollo howls – more of a roar, really – in frustration and fury.
It was a noisy episode.

We begin with Floki, still suffering the torment inflicted upon him by Ragnar as punishment for Athelstan’s murder. We’re wondering if the poor guy will ever get out of that wretched cave.

We see another side of Ragnar when his young family is gathered around him listening to his story about Thor’s meeting with the Ferryman, Harbard. Very charming; but wait. Things turn grim when he flings the name Harbard at Aslaug with that twisted, sinister smile of his. In case you’ve forgotten, last season Harbard was the name of the Wanderer who seduced Aslaug. There were strange, mystical events that took place while he was in Kattegat, suggesting that he was Odin, as in the tale that Ragnar tells. But Ragnar perceives Aslaug’s brief fling as betrayal, and we know how he feels about betrayal. (See Floki.)

In Hedeby Lagertha and Kalf are still making nice, but when he leaves her bed (okay, they were making VERY NICE), she looks thoughtful. Good thing, because outside Kalf is intriguing with the slimy Erlendur against all Lothbroks.

Enter the quintessential Viking berserker who is given a ring and an assignment. The ring appears to be significant. Well, rings were meaningful to Anglo-Saxons and Danes alike. In an age when writing and reading were rare, a ring was a seal, a sign of authority, an identification, a promise, a reward. They may even have been imbued with magical qualities. So we’ll see where this goes. The berserker is big, bearded, scary, and the only noise he makes is a growl. He reminds me of a giant Gimli on steroids.

Up in the far north Bjorn is going after a bear – a challenge he has set for himself. His name means ‘bear’ in every Scandinavian tongue, so this has totemic significance. The rigorous training that Bjorn has undertaken is certain to serve him well in a future episode. But I’ll tell you what: I saw this episode the day after I saw THE REVENANT, and I am so done with bears.

Ragnar’s link to Bjorn is underlined when, at the pivotal moment of the bear scene, we are back with Ragnar who looks up, suddenly alert. He sees a raven winging the sky, then sees a young Bjorn coming toward him. I thought it was a lovely touch.

In Paris – well, we know we’re in Paris because servants are setting out a magnificent feast. I guess even in the 10th century, Paris was the capital of haute cuisine. Rollo’s wife continues to goad him, and it is painful to watch his blundering efforts to emulate Frankish manners. I hate Rollo’s new hairdo, and I think that’s the intention. Writer Hirst underscores the differences in culture with setting and costume. Consider King Ragnar and Emperor Charles on their thrones.

On to Wessex where Ecbert’s army is still in training. We see them at this several times. They are going to be a really well-trained army. Historically, Ecbert and his sons must have spent a lot of time training as well. They were warrior kings, and right up through

Henry VIII English kings were expected to be big, strong, battle-hardened, and victorious in war. I think Ecbert should be out there with his troops. Instead he is lolling about with Judith. And his son is lolling about with Kwenthrith who, I’m sorry, is really creepy. When she first appeared in this series I described her as smarmy, deceitful and dangerous. Now she’s coming across as maternal and needy, but I still think she’s deceitful and dangerous. And creepy.

Meantime, Judith wants to be considered the king’s equal, and I have to state here that this was a concept that would probably never even have occurred to Judith. In the 10th century women were the weaker vessels, subservient to men. That being said, the real Judith was quite a gal, and she wanted to do more than paint. Maybe I’ll tell you about her some day. (Note: there were some very powerful women at that time. It’s the notion of ‘equality’ that is the problem here.)


There is symbolism: the washing of the feet evokes Christ’s action before his death; the repetition of the word MERCY, three times – 3 was a mystical number in all religions; the opening of doors signals the arrival of a visitor from the spirit world. The quick cuts back and forth between Kattegat and Winchester during this segment built suspense, and the music was instrumental (sorry) in adding to the rising tension. I enjoyed that segment enormously.

The episode concludes back in the cave with Floki, where it has been leading all along.

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6 Responses to Vikings 4, Episode 3: MERCY

  1. Kirsten says:

    I found this episode quite strange and a little disjointed but thought provoking. It won’t be one of my favourites. I’m surprised Floki has survived his torment so long and wondering what will happen now? Is he forgiven? Will he be banished?
    Lagertha…..I really like her. I was wondering why she looked so thoughtful when Kalf said he loved her. He can’t really, not if he’s planning with the hateful Erlendur to kill her son. There’s something else going on there. I didn’t get the significance of the ring they handed to the monstrous berserker until you mentioned it.
    My husband is of the opinion that Rollo will return home, penitent – again – but as I think he was an ancestor of William the Conqueror, this seems unlikely.
    I agree with you fully about Kwenthrith, she really is creepy and her child….do you really think he’s Ragnar’s son?
    I have my doubts.
    I thought the feet washing by Athelstan odd. Did it really happen or was it an illusion? What was the symbolism? I really do hope it doesn’t mean Ragnar is going to die. Some critics and reviewers think his days are numbered but I hope not. I want him to regain his strength and get back to normal. He isn’t the Rangnar of old in this series but I live in hope.

    • Patricia says:

      Floki’s fate is a mystery, I agree. We’ve been given no hints about his future other than Athelstan’s repeated MERCY. I presume that Ragnar is going to follow that exhortation. Hirst has not been shy about using spirits in his story before this. Remember that Athelstan himself frequently had visions, so I think Athelstan is just such a spirit. The foot-washing equates him with Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples in the period leading up to the Crucifixion. So that simple acts carries a great weight of symbolism: all the qualities equated with Christ (compassion, humility, forgiveness) as well as premonitions of death.
      I agree with you that Rollo is not going back to Kattegat. Yes, he has now become the Rollo that founded the Norman dynasty. (That Rollo, historically, was not the brother of Ragnar; but Hirst is ignoring the historical timeline.) Surely it is Bjorn Ironside, not Rollo, who is being groomed (by Hirst) to step into Ragnar’s place. Historically it was not Ragnar, but his sons, who were the most famous of the vikings: Bjorn on the continent, Ubba & Ivar in England. Of course, there’s no knowing how closely Hirst will stick to the historical record in weaving his tale.

  2. Susan Johnson says:

    I really appreciate you doing this recapping and explanation. I was a little lost in this episode. I am you reminded me about Habard. I was surprised about the growing hostility between Ragnar and Aslaug. Not it makes sense. I love Ragnar’s double standard. He’s been a few strange places.

    I did not know Bjorn meant bear. That really adds depth to that story.

    I am so curious about Floki but I think Ragnar will heed Athelstan’s plea of mercy. Do you think there’s a connection between the story line and Easter? The feet washing was done at Easter time.

    I really appreciate you blogging about this.

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Susan. I’m glad you like the recaps. I quite enjoy writing them! I confess, I did not connect Easter (Resurrection?) with the washing of the feet. It seemed to me more to presage death, since in the New Testament the washing of the feet happened on Holy Thursday, the day before the Crucifixion. As I mentioned elsewhere, I felt it was meant to link Athelstan to Christ-like qualities of forgiveness, compassion and humility. And we’ll see on Thursday what Ragnar has in store for Floki.

  3. Kirsten says:

    I immediately saw the feet washing as reminiscent of Jesus and his disciples also but I’ve read a TV critic who likened it to Mary Magdalene and made much of it. I must say I can’t see the connection there at all.

    • Patricia says:

      I agree with you that Mary Magdalene seems a quite a stretch, especially as that would make Ragnar a Christ figure. I can’t imagine Mr. Hirst going there.

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