The first half of this episode rockets around from Lagertha’s camp to Vestfold to Floki’s Iceland settlement and back around again. We’re all used to this by now, right? The episode begins with the aftermath of last week’s battle, but I want to jump, first, to Iceland.
This series has forced me to do some research about the settlement of Iceland. I have learned (and I am certain that many of you already knew this) that our Floki is based upon Raven-Floki (Hrafna-Floki), a great viking who was the first Norseman to set foot on Iceland, which led to the settlement of Iceland by his countrymen. His story is told in the Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) written in 13th century Iceland. Raven-Floki took 3 ravens with him to help him find land, and that’s how he got his nickname and why we see the raven, Odin’s bird, with him in the show. He stayed a season with his companions in Iceland, returned to Norway, and eventually went back to Iceland. What we are seeing in these episodes are fictional stories, sprinkled with characters from Iceland’s history, about what difficulties Floki and company may have had to cope with as they settled this new land.
Floki’s dream of a community where internal strife is resolved through negotiation is shattered by the end of the episode.
Meantime, in Norway, all the war leaders survived last week’s battle, which means that nothing has been resolved. Nobody is going to back down. At Hvitserk’s suggestion Ivar sends him to Uncle Rollo, across the sea and about fifty years into the future, to ask for help. Rollo, as we know, is no stranger to brotherly strife. He agrees to help Ivar, and you may have heard the wail from thousands of yearning Rollo fans when the man himself didn’t appear in person but sent ships and men. Today it would take two weeks to sail round trip between Oslo and Rouen. It would have taken far longer in the 9th century. Then you have to add in time for negotiation, gathering troops and supplies, weather complications and their impact on a fleet – so we are looking at a passage of weeks if not months before the Franks actually appear.
When Lagertha and Bjorn find out about the Franks they are still in their camp somewhere. They have been in that camp a long time, apparently, but they can take it. They are vikings. Bjorn goes to Ivar and pleads with him, in the presence of Harald and Astrid, to give up this war. Ivar’s response is scornful and he gestures for his thugs to surround Bjorn. Harald puts a stop to that, protesting, “This is not our way.” I was astonished. I have been watching this series for 5 seasons now, and I would have sworn that this was exactly their way, at least in the show. Scorn, distrust, betrayal, and trickery are all part of the script. But Harald’s protest may be just one of the signs of a developing rift between the Norse king and Ivar. We shall see.
Bjorn returns to camp to report, gloomily, the arrival of the Franks. So many Franks! Ubbe wants to jump into battle, Lagertha wants to send some of their men to protect Kattegat, and Halfdan cheers them all up with his morose pronouncement that the outcome has already been decided by the gods. Never invite Halfdan to a party.
Also, I forgot to mention: Heahmund and Lagertha are now an item. Was anyone surprised?
And now a few words on my love/hate relationship with what’s going on in Wessex.
I loved Æthelwulf’s summary, right out of the history books, of the situation in which Wessex found itself: facing viking invaders from all over who were attacking the British Isles and who were putting, as the king says, ‘our land and our faith in peril’.
I loved that bee. Most of the time we do not know how Anglo-Saxon kings died. It’s up to storytellers to come up with explanations, and this was a beauty. And I can’t help wondering what they did to make his face so puffy at the end.
I loved Æthelwulf’s moving death scene. His affection for Judith almost made me forget that he had her ear cut off a while back. I loved the almost immediate meeting of the witan to choose the next king, indicating that, yes, it was the witan that made that choice.
I know this is picky, but what is Judith wearing? She has gone all high medieval on us, and it’s only the 9th century!
For comparison, here is Alfred the Great’s queen, Lady Ælswith, in THE LAST KINGDOM.
I also have to take Michael Hirst to task yet again for re-writing English history. I was taking notes as I watched this episode, and when Judith offered Cuthred the bishopric of Sherborne in return for supporting Alfred, not Æthelred, as Æthelwulf’s heir I wrote: “Oh my God I don’t believe this…”
It got worse. Judith claimed that Wessex did not need a warrior king. WRONG! Given the viking incursions, that’s EXACTLY what Wessex needed. In fact, it needed a warrior king and his brother to take on the vikings. Somehow, though, she persuades Æthelred, who is acclaimed king by the gathered nobles, to refuse the crown in favor of his younger brother Alfred. NOOOO!!!!
Here’s the thing: Even if we accept the complete elimination of King Æthelwulf’s 2 older sons who ruled Wessex or parts of it after Æthelwulf died, there are still the six years of King Æthelred’s reign, when he and Alfred TOGETHER fought against the viking invasions of Wessex. Is this where the title of the episode, A SIMPLE STORY, comes from? The oversimplification of history to fit this series? But Hirst hasn’t just simplified history. He’s changed it. It makes me nuts when he does that, and judging from the look on Æthelred’s face when Alfred is crowned he’s not too happy about it either. Also, there was never a bishop of Sherborne named Cuthred. Just saying.
On the plus side, the final few minutes of the episode were beautifully filmed. Alfred’s coronation, Heahmund’s oath of fealty to Lagertha and the temple fire in Iceland all brilliantly juxtaposed. Heahmund, then Floki, then Alfred falling to their knees. The cries of ‘Long live the king’ in Wessex echoing as the pagan temple in Iceland falls. Is the symbolism too heavy handed? Maybe. But I liked it.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel