Freyr, we summon you. With the blood of this sacrifice, now is the time.
That chant will have enormous significance by the end of the episode. But first: I love the title this week! PROMISED plays out in so many relationships.
In Wessex, Kwenthrith is singing the same old song that we’ve heard before.
“You kings must invade Mercia,” she tells Ecbert, Æthelwulf and Ælla. She certainly has delusions of grandeur in a world where women rulers were completely unacceptable. The role of an Anglo-Saxon queen was to counsel, not rule. Yet Kwenthrith declares herself “the only legitimate ruler of that poor, ravaged, raped land” of Mercia. And…no. That is never going to happen.
Although the men agree to an alliance and promise to place her back on the throne, there are meaningful glances exchanged between Ecbert and Æthelwulf that do not bode well for Kwenthrith, Ælla or the promises that Ecbert has made to them.
Judith, having asserted, at least to herself, that she is a free woman, is in fact not free at all. She may think she is free of her husband. But their scene together, in which she refuses to service him in bed, sheds light on royal marriages throughout the medieval period. They were political alliances, not love matches, with a distinct double standard that Judith does not seem to recognize although she should, having already lost an ear because of her extramarital activities. (Do these people not remember ANYTHING that happened last season???) A king needed to be certain that his wife’s child was, in fact, his. So although the husband in a royal marriage might do as he wished when it came to sleeping around, the wife could not. Because Judith’s lover is the king himself (her husband’s father) she has a kind of advantage there. She’s chosen to sleep with the current ruler, not the ruler-to-be.
King Ecbert, who has made a promise never to marry again, now offers Judith his dead wife’s ring. Is this a promise of something? Can we believe anything that Ecbert says or does? Well, yes, we can. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
In Kattegat Lagertha promises Kalf that she will marry him. And anyway, she is carrying his child. But she made another promise to Kalf last season in Paris, and that is the one that she will keep and the one that will refer back to that opening chant to Freyr. Freyr was the god of fertility, well-being and prosperity, and sacrifices were made to him at weddings and harvest celebrations.The opening chant is a foreshadowing of a wedding and a sacrifice, with Lagertha as bride and high priestess. In this show, Lagertha is the only woman with real power, and she uses it to add an item other than ‘something borrowed’ and ‘something blue’ to her wedding gown accessories.
Moving on to Ragnar, he promises Yidu that he will tell her his secrets when she tells him the truth about her parentage. Their relationship is a strange one, sexy and threatening at the same time, but it seems clear to me that despite Yidu’s efforts to control Ragnar through his growing dependence on her drugs, nobody can really control Ragnar. Not even Ragnar.
Among the youngsters, Bjorn is looking promising as a leader. He has secrets – a map that nobody else sees (although we’ve seen it a couple of times now) that I find utterly intriguing. I want to know more about that map. Bjorn is emulating Ragnar more and more – in his silences and in his facial expressions. He seems to be mastering that inscrutable, threatening, not-quite-smiling, creeps-me-out gaze as he listens to Harald Finehair natter. At the same time, Ragnar seems to be looking for a way to go his son one better, so he has adopted bloody-looking teeth and chin (reminiscent of Skorpa in The Last Kingdom), and a manic intensity at knife-throwing that I would find mildly off-putting if I were trying to converse with him.
Another promising young ‘un is darling little Ivar who gives us a glimpse of what he will become in the future: the fearsome viking Ivar the Boneless. And as a mother I could not help wondering why there was an axe in Ivar’s little wagon. Aslaug was right, what happened was not Ivar’s fault. It was hers. The scene, I’ve learned, was drawn from one of the sagas about a Viking hero other than Ivar.
Over in Frankia Rollo promises Odo that he will defend Paris. How he will do this without any Viking warriors – having slaughtered them all – remains to be seen. Historically, Rollo and his shipmen added to their Norman power base between Paris and the Channel through force of arms. Here, Rollo appears to be without armed followers to fight beside him, and I’m wondering how Hirst is going to backfill that plot hole.
The subplot of Emperor Charles vs. Odo vs. Roland continues. It strikes me that Charles is as cunning as Ecbert. He stutters with fear, he quakes, he pleads with Roland to promise to spy on Odo for him. And then, when he is alone, he smiles a wicked smile. It was all an act. But to what end?
And now, back to Ecbert the Awesome. Alone in the church Ecbert speaks to his God. The king knows that he is going to suffer in purgatory or hell, and he admits that he would like to return to God’s good grace. But his first concern is his kingdom.
“I would sup with the Devil if he would show me how to achieve my earthly goals.”
Ecbert reveals his true nature, and for once, I believe his every word.