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.)
And then, ATHELSTAN RETURNS.
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.