Season 2: Episode 1 “Brother’s War”
No Fury Like Lagertha Scorned – Megan Applegate recaps the first episode of Vikings season 2…
Well, not so much fury as agonizing heart break, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
So Long, One Eye
The eye-patched Viking rides across the battle field, reminding Rollo (Clive Standen) how they’ve fought bravely many times together, and would he just reconsider this whole “kill your brother” thing so we can all shake hands and get back to poking sticks at Northumberland’s King Aelle? That was so much more fun.
Rollo won’t be swayed to give up his support of Jarl Borg and in short time, the battle between Borg’s supporters and King Horik’s Ragnar-led troops begin. It isn’t long before Rollo does his best to dispatch Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard). Thankfully he fails, but it isn’t without a lot of damage and a few bitten-down fingernails on this side of the screen.
With Floki down, Rangar (Travis Fimmel) (and the rest of us) watch Rollo run a spear through One Eye’s mid-section and hoist him overhead as some sort of morbid battle standard. Bloody stuff.
It’s not long before the brothers are facing one another and in a show of post-rampage remorse, Rollo stands down and states that he cannot fight his brother.
Can’t We All Get Along?
Borg refuses King Horik’s attempt to make a deal (one third of the disputed property’s income) and it looks like we’re all headed back to the battlefield when Ragnar stands up and tells everyone to go to their corners. In actuality, he tells the politicians that there’s more than enough farmland and gold in the west that every fighting man could profit instead of killing one another. Logic prevails and cooler heads win.
Look Homeward, Viking
Arriving back home, things have changed. Remember last season’s awful plague that killed Ragnar’s daughter, Gyda?
Bjorn, disgusted at his father’s philandering, drops the name Aslaug (that gorgeous princess he tangled with a time or two while at war, played by Alyssa Sutherland) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) confronts her husband. Ragnar swears it was a one-time thing and placates his angry wife.
Rollo stands trial for betraying his kinsmen and as all the warriors around him are calling for his head on a platter, the village law man grants him a pardon. The scene closes with the man flipping a very large, very gold coin through his fingers and we realize Ragnar has bribed the man in exchange for his brother’s life.
The chief takes time to properly mourn his daughter in a touching scene, inviting the ghost of his child to come and speak with him if she’s able. Instead of Gyda, however, a boat bearing a very, very pregnant Aslaug arrives and life as Lagertha knew it appears to be over.
Everyone Else Is Doing It…
We’re subjected to a few awkward dinners with Ragnar flanked by his two leading ladies. Poor Lagertha does her best to be civil (not what I expected from our fierce shield maiden) but when Ragnar has the gall to suggest they make some sort of sister wives “arrangement” (with Aslaug nodding in approval), it’s all she can do not to rip her husband’s lips off her shoulders and toss them into the sea.
Lagertha’s mind is made up and in the next scene, Siggy’s helping her pack a few trunks onto the donkey cart. Bjorn has a choice to make and chooses his father. In a tear-jerking scene, Lagertha kisses her boy goodbye and rides off into the sunset.
Ragnar plays the jilted lover scene and rides after his wife, wondering why she’d ever think of leaving.
“You have humiliated and insulted me,” Largertha tells him. “You leave me no choice but to leave and divorce you.”
Boom. Just like that, Lagertha has chosen her path. It’s not long before Bjorn comes running into the scene, announcing his changed his mind—he’s going with his mother.
Ragnar watches his family leave him and returns to the village where Aslaug and her big ol’ belly wait to comfort him.
Last spring’s sleeper hit, The History Channel’s VIKINGS, returned this week with a spectacle of blood, steel and human drama found in too few television programs today. Well written and produced with as much historical accuracy as they can muster into a shield wall, as well as the subject matter being what essentially amounts to history’s bacon, most anything is better with Vikings in it. Another boon comes with show runner Michael Hirst. In his quest to keep the show’s aesthetics historically accurate as possible, Hirst has followed certain source materials, mostly the Ragnar Sagas, to recreate the rich a visceral world of the Vikings. The final product has interpreted them in realistic terms to create a stunning work of historical accuracy and brutal violence. It’s GAME OF THRONES for the SONS OF ANARCHY crowd.
Brother’s War is the Season 2 opener, and it starts us off shortly after the events that closed Season 1, wherein the episode’s titular brothers, Ragnar and Rollo, find themselves on opposite sides of a land dispute. We begin with a violent battle between the sides, one in which Rollo kills and wounds many of his former brothers in battle. Eventually, the seditious Lord and his men are defeated, but not before Rollo kicks the shit out of the unorthodox shipbuilder, Floki, and impales his own shield brother. The gore level is high here, with spectacular kills and well choreographed stunts. Rollo attempts to fight Ragnar, but cannot fight his own brother. Ragnar tells Rollo of his niece’s death from a plague and the battle ends. Terms are agreed on by Ragnar and the Lords in dispute, they shall pool their sources and raid England.
Upon returning to his village, not only must Ragnar decide what to do with his brother, he must also find time to mourn his dead child and finally he must confront his wife, Lagertha; as their son, Bjorn, has filled her in on Ragnar’s affair with Princess Aslaug. Ragnar confesses to the deed but professes his love to the mother of his children, promising to never talk to Aslaug again.
Ragnar defers passing judgment on Rollo for his crimes because of their relationship. The Lawgiver feels that if the gods had wanted Rollo to die, he would have been killed in the battle, thus he frees him to the disdain of the villagers. After he makes his decision, he walks away, flipping a gold coin Ragnar had given to Bjorn earlier. Rollo packs his shit to leave, but Siggie (his common law wife and widow of the former Jarl) persuades him to stay. He confesses to Ragnar that he was trying to step out of Ragnar’s shadow, but found that once he got there, he saw there was no sun. We find that Floki is recovering from his wounds and healing up nicely, which is good, because he has a fleet of boats to make for their invasion of England.
Ragnar mourns his deceased daughter, lamenting her at the water’s edge. The next morning Aslaug arrives at Raganr’s village by boat, and much to his surprise, he learns she is pregnant with his child. Lagertha tries to accept Aslaug and her unborn child but can’t. Ragnar complicates matters worse by suggesting they all cohabitate, thinking of his unborn child. She has enough, the next day she leaves. Ragnar attempts to stop her but she is a headstrong shield-maiden and sticks to her guns…err…her shield and sword. Bjorn, who first felt pressured into staying with his father, leaves with Lagertha, promising his father he will watch over his mother.
I like the subtleties of the show, especially in the writing and the visuals. Travis Fimmel’s facial expressions say more than words in most scenes, a trait well spent on a stoic Viking. Despite this, the character is witty and sophisticated and Fimmel brings the ambitious warlord to life as a multi dimensional, likeable character. He is charismatic and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. With this said, I believe The History Channel has created a wonderful interpretation of how the real Ragnar may have secured his legendary status. Wait a moment. This is a show on The History Channel, how can you say Ragnar isn’t real? I didn’t say that, however the historical accuracy of the show is a bit questionable.
The first obstacle in presenting any narrative on Vikings is the climate in northern Europe. It’s wet and paper, well, it doesn’t last long in water. The oldest living manuscript from that era and geographic area is BEOWULF, and that survived by accident. Metal? Well iron rusts then turns into dirt. Then there is that little Viking tradition of burning their honored dead in boats with their worldly goods which does a number on gold and silver. The Vikings unwittingly burned much of their own legacy with their dead, leaving them a mystery. Too many accounts of them are from the peoples they conquered, whom portrayed the conquering Scandinavian warriors as demons at the very least. But it was these stalwart adventurers that first discovered North America nearly 500 years before Columbus landed in the Bahamas, and they also conquered most of the known world by assimilating themselves into the very peoples they raided. Ragnar Lothbrok, the main protagonist, is a near mythical Viking hero and king, most likely he was many different people. According to the Sagas written about him, Ragnar was a descendant of the Norse god Odin and he was destined for greatness. Nordic histories tended to be a bit more embellished than even our own American tales of the Old West, imagine Buffalo Bill shooting it out with a dragon, for example. But, in spite of the free form taken with history, there is no doubt that The History Channel has raided the hearts of adventurous viewers out there with their first hourly dramatic series, and the Norn Fates seem to agree.
Recap by Tom Clark at This Is Infamous
“One must always think the worst, Ragnar, even of your own kin. That way you avoid too much disappointment in life.” — Floki to Ragnar Lothbrok
The season premiere of Vikings starts off as it should – with a big battle scene! Ragnar Lothbrok and Rollo have joined opposing sides in the conflict between King Horik and Jarl Borg. After a few minutes of wondering if Rollo will actually fight against his brother, the two forces meet in battle.
This large fight scene shows how Vikings is a bit different from the typical Hollywood portrayal of medieval warfare – here both sides fight in shield walls, and instead of seeing everyone break off into one-on-one combats, they seem to be fighting together. We see that if one opponent breaks away from the group, three or four men from the other side attack him. Another interesting aspect occurs when Floki goes after Rollo and Jarl Borg – the two men quickly overmatch Floki and strike him numerous time, which leaves him badly injured but not killed. As I watched the scene I fully expected him to die, and was nicely surprised to see he had survived (if just barely).
The battle ends when Ragnar confronts Rollo, and after a tense moment, the latter decides he cannot fight his brother. This leads to a truce in the battle, allowing the king and the jarl to once again to try to make peace. Ragnar again is instrumental here, giving a speech where he talks about how they should not be killing each other but instead prepare to go together to the west and claim the riches of the wider world.
While the first part of this episode shows that Ragnar is a leader of men, the second half reveals how terrible he is with women! On his return to Kattegat he finds that Lagertha is very upset about his affair with the Princess Aslaug – Ragnar manages to assuage for her for a short time, but then Aslaug arrives at the town with her group of followers and looking very pregnant.
With the two women around him, Ragnar is at a loss for what to do – at one point he even looks like he wants to hide. The Viking leader wants to keep his wife, but at the same time does not want to turn Aslaug and the unborn child (which he believes is his) away. He even meekly suggests to Lagertha that it would be ok for him to have two wives, to which Aslaug readily agrees. This infuriates Lagertha so much that she packs up and leaves, and their son Bjorn eventually goes with her to. One might think that Ragnar could have handled the situation better!
The episode has its share of interesting moments. The scene where Ragnar gives Bjorn advice on happiness – “I know it is hard for you to accept, but unhappiness is more common than happiness. Who told you you should be happy? You have come to an age where you must grow up and be responsible about such things. When I was your age, I had many friends. All are dead.” – struck me as both quite funny and poignant for the medieval world.
The fate of Rollo gets decided by a new character – the Lawgiver – which makes me wonder where was he in the first season? After noting that Rollo betrayed his brother and their group by joining Jarl Borg, the Lawgiver gives a flimsy excuse about the gods sparring Rollo so so should we. At the end its revealed that Ragnar has bribed the Lawgiver into giving a ruling to release his brother – a nice touch!
The first episode of the second season does a good job of tying up the story-lines from the previous season, and helps set up some new stories – one suspects the love-triangle between Ragnar, Lagertha and Aslaug still has a few more plot-twists to it. It will be a pleasing episode for most fans of Vikings – it gives you a good battle scene and some medieval drama. ~ PK
Recap by: Medievalists
February 27, 2014 Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
“Brother’s War” dives directly into the conflict that the Vikings Season 1 finale “All Change” introduced. The seeds of change were planted in last season’s closer, but they really played out in tonight’s entry. There were so many profound shifts in the character’s lives, in fact, that the premiere may have left some viewers with a bit of emotional whiplash.
Part of the nature of this series is that it moves through time rather quickly. Vikings is condensing months, and sometimes years, into just a handful of episodes. Because the show is basing the characters on real-world figures, and aiming to touch on specific historical events, it occasionally seems as if there’s a race to get through what are in many ways the most significant portions of these character’s lives.
Of course we’ll want Ragnar to get back on the open water; back to his exploration and raids, and the show can’t very well linger on the years that it would take them to prepare for their return journey West. There are certain key character interactions that may have been nice to play out a bit more, though. We were set up for a huge showdown between Rollo and Ragnar, and we did get some of that, but Rollo’s nearly immediate submission on the battle-field felt abrupt. This was really more of a Brother’s skirmish than war.
It may have been more effective if we’d spent some time with him while he was away from his brother. “There was no sunlight when I left your shadow,” Rollo says later in the episode. His story would have been better served if we’d seen some of what it was like for him to struggle to make his own mark. If we’d seen that, in truth, at this point in his life Rollo needs Ragnar. That he doesn’t have the leadership skills, not the vision, that his brother has. That would be a hard truth for Rollo to face, and an engaging arc for us to watch unfold.
Additionally, the negotiations after the initial fray seemed fairly easy and quickly resolved. It left me wondering why they didn’t have this very rational conversation before they started wielding axes at one another’s heads! Being Vikings, they may have needed to taste the bite of blood and death before they were willing to settle in for a nice chat, though.
As to the action, I enjoy the raw, brute combat on the show. This isn’t about stylistic flourish, but efficient, gritty, and no-bs death-dealing. There’s something that feels more real, more dirt, and grit and Viking-like about the way they simply launch at each unassisted by heavy CGI. This is not the fanciful version of Vikings that we may have imagined or seen previously, but a far earthier look at men and women who survived by force of will and the ability to kill for what they needed. I will say that shaky camera does occasionally make it difficult to see what’s happening, though.
The tension and sense of relentless violence might be elevated with a few more camera angels, inserts of an arm being broken or torn apart, a face being sliced in half…things like that. Though, I must say that poor One Eye on a stick like a human shish kabob was viscerally fierce, wretched, and cruel. That one act of madness gave us a sharp window into Rollo’s state of mind. He was lost to blood-lust, grief, regret, and desire for what he was not able to attain – his brother’s greatness. Perhaps in that moment, he realized that he’d gone too far, and had no desire to go further.
There were several effective individual scenes and moments in the episodes, but as a whole, the story was dealing with major, life-altering events in what felt like a cursory manner. It’s as if the show was saying, “Okay, we know we need to address Gyda’s death, so we’ll give Ragnar this beautiful moment of grief, but we won’t delve too deeply into the hole that the loss of a child would leave.” It’s true that death was far more common for these people, but a moment of shared intimacy with his wife over their little girl’s death may have heightened the stakes, given that their marriage was about to dissolve.
Some of the most evocative moments on the series have been Ragnar sitting in quiet contemplation. However, if Ragnar and Lagertha had fought not just because she was jealous, but because he was sleeping with another woman while she watched their daughter die, it may have given their sexual re-connection more emotional heat and a far deeper meaning. If we’d truly felt their shared bond, then their separation would have hurt them, and us as the viewer. all the more.
In truth. Ragnar did marry Aslaug, so the series needed to go there, but it could have made those final moments between Lagertha and Ragnar, the longtime friends and lovers, sting all the more. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes between the three, actually. I just felt it could have been seasoned a bit with some deeper expression. As it was, their goodbye was moving, it inspired sadness and hurt, but it also left me wondering why he would abandon one woman and child so easily, for another one who he hardly knew. I did appreciate that Lagertha left, though, as that was in line with the woman we’d known her to be.
That little conversation between Bjorn and his father in which Ragnar tells his son, not pitilessly, but just with a sense of practicality, that their life is a harsh one, that happiness is not a guarantee and that, essentially, you must grab onto moments of pleasure as you can, was beautiful. It was a gorgeous exchange because it showed his father’s desire to raise this boy, to ready him for the world, but also his desire to explain a complex situation, a choice that he’d made. Of course that choice, to invite Aslaug into their lives, would rob Ragnar of his chance to watch Bjorn grow into a man.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the series is its world creation. It’s as if we get a little snapshot of what a Vikings life may have looked like. The show creates a stunning sense of expanse with its visual aesthetic, and a very grounded sense of place with the attention that is given to even the most mundane details. As to small details, I nearly missed that a Ragnar – who is as driven by a sense of fate and the Gods as any of his people – was still willing to bribe the lawgiver to save his brother.
“Brother’s War” speed its way through some of last Season’s big questions and conflicts, but it set us up for a new year of fresh storylines. Lagertha is a standout on the series, so we’ll need to see how her life with Bjorn develops just as much as we’ll want to trace Ragnar’s increasingly bold raids. The series greatest strength is the sense that we’re visiting a culture, a people that has been so mysterious; that we’re seeing both the mundane and extraordinary aspects of what a Viking’s life may have been. I look forward to 9 more episodes of exploring that world.
Recap by IGN
- The chanting heard during the battle is taken from Darraðarljóð, a Norse poem about twelve valkyries weaving the fate of the warriors at the Battle of Clontarf. The translated lyrics are: Let us now wind the web of war, Where the warrior banners are, forging forward, Let his life not be taken, Only the Valkyries can choose the slain!
- This episode marks the beginning of the collaboration between composer Trevor Morris and Norweigan composer Einar Selvik.
Source: Vikings Wikia
Inside Look: Ep 201 Brother’s War
Writer and executive producer Michael Hirst takes an in-depth look at the events of Season 2 premiere: Ragnar and Rollo are ready to fight against each other; Princess Aslaug arrives; and Ragnar’s relationship with Lagertha is strained.