Let’s start with where the rats were living.
Was the ground underneath 9th century York really honeycombed with Roman tunnels? I do not know. Let’s think about it.
Ground level in Viking Age York was 21 feet below today’s ground level. Could ground level of Roman Age York have been another 9 feet below that? Well, my mathematical calculation, positing .2 inches of rising ground level per year, indicates that it was possible. (I majored in English, so take my calculation with a grain of salt.) And Roman barracks have been found beneath York minster. But sewers? With trap doors leading up into the streets of Viking Age York? That seems a little too unlikely. Nevertheless, Ivar needed a plan for winning his battle, so series creator Michael Hirst gave him one. This. Is. Fiction.
I have to say, though, that it was kind of ludicrous that the Vikings were able to come boiling out of their underground lair to meet with so little resistance. They had to emerge one at a time and it seems to me that a simple game of whack-a-Viking was called for, yet the Saxons were incredibly inept at it.
The title of the episode, THE PRISONER refers, most obviously, to Bishop Heahmund who midway through the hour becomes Ivar’s prisoner. Ivar apparently admires the bishop for his fighting prowess. Indeed, he stops the battle at one point, just to give the bishop a horse. Poor Richard III, many years later, would not be given that advantage, although it didn’t really help Heahmund much. Also, I don’t know about you but I kept wondering why some Saxon archer didn’t just send an arrow into Ivar, who was standing on top of a wall making a target of himself. Maybe nobody had time to look up. I’ve never fought a battle in the streets of Viking Age York, so what do I know.
The Saxons lost, of course, but Queen Judith, tending to the wounded, made a wonderful contrast to the glamorous Kassia, down in Africa. I bet Kassia wouldn’t have done that!
Heahmund, portrayed accurately as a man of his time, is not only Ivar’s prisoner by episode’s end, but also a prisoner of his own prejudices and convictions and hatreds, don’t you think? And now, he is being transported to the Viking homeland by Ivar. What will Hirst explore in the conflict he has set up between these two characters that he has not already touched upon with Ragnar and Athelstan? Perhaps a great deal, since Ivar does not have his father’s insatiable curiosity and the bishop does not have Athelstan’s merciful nature.
Speaking of the Viking Homeland, Floki has returned to Kattegat in order to recruit true believers like himself and lead them to the gods’ promised land. He has to do it in secret because Lagertha is not keen on losing warriors. Ubbe expresses doubt that Floki actually found the land of the gods and tells Floki he’s nuts. But Floki knows what he knows, and our last glimpse of Ubbe is of a man who is not sure what to believe. I’m wondering what Hirst is planning for Ubbe. He is in marked contrast to his far more lethal brothers, Ivar and Hvitserk. Does Hirst see him as a foil? Or will Ubbe somehow prevail?
Down in Africa, Bjorn is riding a camel and he looks horribly uncomfortable doing it. Camels are the ships of the desert, and poor Bjorn, stuck on this thing because he’s accepted the job of Euphemius’ bodyguard, looks like he’d give anything to be back on a real ship.
And now we pick up the theme of PRISONER again, because while his bodyguards are being seduced by drugs and sex, poor Euphemius has been imprisoned by Ziyadat Allah at Kassia’s request, and although he escapes, neither he nor the guards who let him get away survive the episode. The showrunners regale us with a little light-hearted butchery humor which I didn’t find funny. I liked the final scene though, a great cliff-hanger. Bjorn and Halfdan are now the prisoners,
with a blood-thirsty Kassia eager to see murder done, a massive windstorm approaching, and Bjorn with a little something up his sleeve. Nice.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel