I severely doubt there was a more compelling hour of television this week than what transpired in History Channel’s Vikings episode 207, “The Blood Eagle” so let’s break down some of the biggest moments, what built up to them and how they’ll impact future episodes.
The Blood Eagle
I would be remiss to begin breaking down this episode from any point except the end. Jarl Borg’s (Thorbjørn Harr) execution was the most brutal, horrific yet riveting ordeal to play out on TV in a long time. The Blood Eagle sounded like a cool visual when mentioned at the end of the previous episode, then reality started to sink in when Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) walked Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) through it. But actually seeing it? That was a game changer. I didn’t think Athelstan’s (George Blagden) crucifixion could be topped, but I was wrong. Borg said it best in that it is “astonishing to those who watch”. There were so many points to gloss and I’ll start with Ragnar actually performing the act. There wasn’t some executioner who got his hands dirty. This was Ragnar, barefoot and in white robes, so that we could see all of the blood splattered. The last five horror films I’ve seen couldn’t have horrified me more than what my mind imagined what Ragnar’s point of view was digging into Borg’s warm body to rip out his lungs. Borg wronged him, his family, and his people and there wasn’t anyone who was going to do this but him. That deserves some mad respect.
Next, as people were wincing (even Torstein) or became repulsed by the ritual it was attended by everyone. Borg’s wife even passed out understandably, but it was refreshing to see no one having trouble keeping their food down. Those are some serious hard asses in Kattegat. The toughest of them all? Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), who didn’t even blink an eye or shift her body language. Ragnar wanted Borg to scream out so he would not enter Valhalla’s portal, but after some initial cries, and after collapsing once, Borg remained tough as nails once he saw the raven. He even laughed. That meant Odin’s presence was there and that symbolized he would in fact be permitted into Valhalla. Rather than show his anger, Ragnar had to have respected that stepping off the stage.
I’ve never been so glad to see a scene play out in slow motion, because Thorbjørn Harr’s performance was savored over a longer period. The camera work, the way that scene was lit, and the cumulative assault on your eyes… THAT is how you exit a TV series and I’ll miss him dearly. Harr is an actual descendant of Vikings and his ferocious and primal performance was exactly what we needed to see to play against Fimmel’s usual reserved and contemplative take on Ragnar Lothrbok. Harr gifted the audience with rawness on camera and yet still remained a mystery whenever he talked to the skull of his first wife–which was creeeeepy! Part of me hoped that it would have been Horik (Donal Logue) on the cutting block instead, but no character has had such a ball-wrecking impact this season than Jarl Borg. I think the only scenes I had a problem building up to this was Horik’s visits with him, building up false hope of release and revenge, only to see that neither Horik or Borg were in a position to change the situation. Horik probably realizes his mistake not to bury their differences before the raid on Wessex now. There are rarely any wasted scenes so this must have some significance later.
King Ecbert (Linus Roache) of Wessex & King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) of Northumbria decided to join their kingdoms with their children to prepare for any future Viking raids and eliminate the weak kingdom in between. Ecbert’s proposal of alliance strengthens both sides, but he admitted just prior that he would easily turn on Aelle’s smaller kingdom. Remember, Athelstan told Ragnar that Ecbert is a lot like him when they first raided Wessex, that he goes against the grain, that he does the opposite of what’s expected of him. One has to question if he is a man of his word–probably not– but what is his ultimate gain in this? Obviously, his fascination with the Roman Empire when they were Pagans fuels Ecbert and he doesn’t hold his fellow countrymen in as high regards as they would think. I like Roache’s efforts. There’s probably a few ways to play this character, and most productions might play him as over-the-top, but even though he stands on the opposite side of the Vikings, he comes off as very affable.
The seer confirms Athelstan’s survival and his struggle with his identity and demons. As we saw since Ecbert spared his life, Athelstan has been blessed in his love of his work as a monk but also his open embracing of Pagan culture and religion. Is Athelstan merely blending in to survive once again, or has he fallen back into who he truly believes he is? What will he do when the Vikings and British clash once again? Is he true to any side or is just a survivor?
Two Weddings and ”Floki… the father…”
Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Helga (Maude Hirst) are expecting a child, prompting Floki to propose. The interesting conversation that comes out of this proposal though is bypassing the blessing of Ragnar. On the surface, one could see it as dissension beginning to set in with Ragnar’s people, but it could also show that Floki doesn’t want to get involved with all of the politicking that Ragnar is doing. He just wants to build warships and raid. But times have changed and Ragnar has not always had Floki’s back. He has always been suspicious of Athelstan and anyone who dares challenge the Viking culture and fundamentalist Pagan lifestyle. This could be Floki beginning to draw a line in the sand or merely wanting a moment of privacy for him and Helga. Still, it was strange seeing King Horik attend the wedding and not Ragnar considering the bond between them. We’ll see if this is Horik’s way in to betray Ragnar, or if Floki is part of an elaborate takedown of Horik, because I can tell you one thing, I do NOT want to root against Floki.
This ceremony is juxtaposed with the wedding of Aelle and Ecbert’s children in another comparison between the two religions, cultures, and spirit. As seen with Athelstan’s experience with the beaten woman, the contrast in religions show the difference in the treatment in women. Judith (Sarah Greene) is sworn to obey and serve her new husband Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford), Helga stands on equal ground with Floki and each is asked that their decision to wed is their own choices. Floki endeared himself more fans by digging through the grave sites for a sword to hold up at the ceremony. The tribal, almost tantric music in this montage underlines how much more fun Pagans have.
Ragnar Lurks in the Shadows
There was a pivotal scene showed Ragnar lurking in the shadows while watching his brother spar publicly. After explaining to Rollo (Clive Standen) that he listens to King Horik because he is the king and he knows his place as Earl, but we know he’s sizing up Horik. Every one of their meetings since roping in Jarl Borg to Kattegat has been intense and tension-filled. Here, Ragnar proceeds to observe all of the moving parts around him, or is he orchestrating it all?
He sees Bjorn’s infatuation with Porunn, Aslaug with Helga, and Floki with his son. Those seem harmless genuine scenes he was snooping in on. However, Ragnar targeting Siggy’s (Jessalyn Gilsig) bee line around the room was key, talking to Helga, Rollo, and King Horik. That doesn’t bode well for Siggy as we see later when Rollo has rough sex with her and is enraged when she comes clean about her motive for an affair with Horik was for his benefit should the alliance between Horik and Ragnar dissolve. Can she be trusted? Hard to say and Rollo is in a tough spot.
Now, Ragnar may have been looking out for his brother, but he knows that he must be careful around Siggy. Already brewing a bad taste for King Horik, he knows that Siggy is in his ear means he is going to watch her more closely. The only one who can save her in the future is her friendship with Lagertha. However, she did glance towards Ragnar’s way at the end of this scene, which leads me to believe all of this could have been orchestrated by Ragnar as an elaborate foil to Horik’s plans. We’ll have to see how this plays out and this is classic Ragnar Lothbrok though, displaying his ability to sit back and observe and then calculate his next move. This was a great contrast to other scenes in the episode where we see his more savage side coming out meant to confuse onlookers, whether it was skinning a rat in front of Horik or shooting arrows at Torstien (Jefferson Hall) while drunk.
Meet Earl Ingstad Again
Okay, Ingstad is really Lagertha and she truly is an Earl now that her husband’s head is separated from the rest of his body. As Ragnar’s horse circled Lagertha’s, the spark between these two still lives, but there is a difference. Lagertha is on equal standing with Ragnar as an Earl and holds power now. She still may fall below kings, queens, and princesses, but she now has her own people, warriors, and followers and she’s going to battle with Ragnar instead of staying at home. Aslaug respects her, likes her even, so Ragnar may be able to eat his cake and have it too after all. No one here is going to say Lagertha was wrong in leaving Kattegat, but polygamy did exist back then, and while our modern moral values have existed for a long time, there’s nothing that states that Vikings shared them in that time period. History books can be the most accessible spoiler for any fan when it comes to Vikings, but based on what’s played out so far, Lagertha appears to be sticking around for a long while, and I doubt that the approval by fans is anything but unanimous in that development. We’ll see if her forces are enough to take on the next raid to England but this is building up to what should be a great battle.
We’ll see what happens next week in “Boneless” when it appears that Horik will make his most aggressive move against Ragnar. Watch Vikings Thursday nights 10/9c on The History Channel or online here.