Although this episode is set in Denmark and Iceland, there is an elegiac quality to it that reminded me of Old English poetry.
O the bright cup! O the brave warrior!
O the glory of princes! How the time passed away,
slipped into nightfall as if it had never been!’
How appropriate, that the final words we hear at episode’s end are from the spámaðr:
“We are all going into the dark.”
This somber mood begins in the opening moments with the mournful song that the battle Danes sing as they march toward slaughter. I don’t know what the words of the song mean, but it is in a minor key and their voices echo eerily through the hills. Hearing the song, the major players look skyward or close their eyes. Heahmund the Christian prays. Everyone is solemn except Ivar because this is Ivar’s party and he is oh! so happy. Everybody else is going to fight, and he is going to watch them die. Fun times!
Then the war drums begin. And after that the bells begin to toll. Meantime, two armies face each other beneath a dark sky across a field where mist is rising. The sense of doom is conveyed in everything we see and hear, from the black paint around Lagertha’s eyes to the rasp of her sword as she pulls it from its sheath, to the cry of “Loose!” as the sword comes down and we hear the sound of arrows flying.
The quick cuts between present and past time in the midst of the ongoing battle, the ‘moments of vision’ of the title—these are techniques we’ve not seen before in the show. Michael Hirst explained in a recent interview that he was bidding farewell to some of his characters as well as trying to convey what happens in the mind of a warrior in the midst of battle when death is but one sword stroke away. We see brother meet brother; we see one turn away from fratricide and another embrace it. And that dirge-like song returns to haunt us as we watch. I found the scenes with Halfdan the most moving, even though, as a character I didn’t especially like him.
Magrethe’s weird visions add to the sense of doom, and we’ve seen this kind of thing over and over. Everybody has visions! Athelstan, Ecbert, Alfred, Floki, and now Margrethe. I wish Hirst would be a little less prolific with the visions already. It’s true that not everything Margrethe envisions comes to pass, but if that’s supposed to tell us that we can’t trust her, ummm, we already knew that!
The battle continues to rage, and although many are ready to die, there is one who WANTS to die. We still cannot be sure why. And then…we’re off to Iceland where Bul, who died last week, is being mourned by his family and even by the man who killed him because, as Floki tries to convince Eyvind, it was an accident. Well, we know Eyvind by now. Floki tries to nip vengeance in the bud—quick cut back to the battlefield and the vengeance taking place there—and he tries to bargain with Eyvind while Aud observes them. Eyvind wants revenge, and Floki has to find another way to prevent his community from descending into the chaos–like that battle happening in Denmark–that he had hoped to leave behind. A sacrifice to the gods is what’s needed. How, we wonder, will that play out? But that’s a cliff hanger to be explored when the series returns.
Back on the battlefield (and, honestly, how do these people know who is who?) Ivar has a moment of eye contact with Heahmund, another with Lagertha, and finally with Bjorn, and that seems like set-up for future conflict, however this episode ends.
In Kattegat Margrethe is not so much worried about who is dying on the battlefield as she is about whether she’ll make it to queen or not. She visits the spámaðr and leaves us in no doubt that she’s mad. It’s a scene that adds creepiness to the gloom.
Can I just mention here that I don’t really buy Ivar’s miraculous ability to walk, given that he’s been ‘grounded’ from birth?
In Kattegat, when the battle is done and a good many Danes have died, Bjorn goes to his mother who is almost catatonic with grief. We have seen something similar, when she mourned her miscarriages. This goes well beyond that and, oh my goodness! She looks so much like Daenerys Targaryon I started looking for a dragon.
The very last scene made me shout ‘Yes!’ although it seems like it might be too little, too late. Still, it’s an interesting twist.
And now, we wait.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel
THE WANDERER from Old English Poetry: An Anthology, edited and translated by R.M. Liuzza