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Season 2: Episode 7 “Blood Eagle”

 

The most anticipated episode of the second season of History’s VIKINGS graced our TV screens this past Thursday night.  A slow burn built up through the episode, leading up to a lens-flared climax that would have made Michael Mann or JJ Abrams proud.  BLOOD EAGLE is an exposé on life and death in the Dark Ages, if nothing else.  The series themes of betrayal and revenge take the forefront, starting innocently enough with a pair of weddings and culminating in an enactment of one of the most gruesome and torturous executions in the Medieval era, the titular blood eagle.  In the end, I was under-whelmed by the episode, as I will explain later.  Spoilers be ahead, fair reader, and they are not for the squeamish.
BLOOD EAGLE
Synopsis:King Horik is, without a shadow of a doubt, a sneaky bastard and a snake.  But he’s smart, though not quite as smart as Ragnar.  They do understand one thing, that they need more boats and men to return to England and exact their revenge upon King Eckbert (and, of course, to retrieve Athelstan, as Ragnar reminds us, again.).  Horik talks Ragnar into staying Jarl Borg’s execution until they secure more aid.  Ragnar puts out a call for other Earls and Jarls to aid him and King Horik.  Floki, the mastership builder, learns his common law wife, Helga, is pregnant.  They decide to make it “legal,” though Floki, who has spiritual issues with Ragnar over Athelstan, says he cares not of Ragnar gives the union his blessing.  It’s almost as if Athelstan broke up Ragnar and Floki’s bromance.  Their wedding is joyous and very similar to a traditional Judeo-Christian wedding in many ways.

 

Elsewhere in Kattegat, Rollo finally confronts Siggy about sleeping with Horik.  Horik, on the other hand seemingly agrees to help Jarl Borg escape and will aid him in disposing of Ragnar so they can rule.   Ragnar gives Bjorn some advice when it comes to dating after he failed to make the battle to capture Jarl Borg’s men.  And then word comes that the formerly unknown Earl Ingstaad will aid Ragnar and Horik in their raids, making Borg, once again, disposable income.  It turns out this mysterious Earl is none other than Lagertha, now Ragnar’s equal as an Earl.

 

Meanwhile, over in England, Eckbert proposes a treaty with King Ælla to fight against the Viking hordes and their domestic enemies in the kingdom of Mercia, as well.  To seal the deal, Eckbert marries his sun, Æthelwulf, to Ælla’s daughter, Judith.  Their wedding is interposed with scenes from Floki and Helga’s wedding to show the similarities and contrasts between the two.  The Pagan wedding is almost Protestant in appearance, where as the English wedding looks mighty Catholic.

 

Jarl Borg is in his cell when someone comes in from the shadows and releases his bonds.  He assumes it is King Horik, but when he exits the jail, he finds Horik standing with the rest of Kattegat and the altar for the blood eagle at the town center, Ragnar in white ritual robes.  If Jarl Borg cries out during the execution, he will not be allowed into Odin’s hall of the slain, Valhalla.  There is no sound, nor is there a clear visual of the deed until the very end of the episode.  Lens flares make the act appear surreal as blood splatters and axes chop.

 

It’s this very ending segment that disappointed me the most with the episode.  We didn’t see anything.  No, I’m not a gore-hound, I wasn’t watching this to see a man executed in a snuff film.  But if shows like HANNIBAL can show the gruesome aftermath of the good Doctor’s murders, why couldn’t we clearly see the execution?  Was it a censor issue?  I don’t see how it could be.  The last moment of the show reveals a clear image of the act from above, and it certainly looks horrific, but it’s so far in the distance of the shot that it makes no impact on the viewer.  It was as if we had watched hard-core porn for months only to have the money shot be soft-core.  Now, I realize the intent of the producers was to empathize the pain that a man suffering a blood eagle would endure, I just expected more of a visual effects pay off.

 

The blood eagle was utilized by Vikings in the most severe of cases and has gained a near mythical status as the ultimate fuck you to an opponent who has gone that extra step to piss you off.  A blow torch and pliers has nothing on this when it comes to getting Medieval on someone.  The ritual is so barbaric that some scholars doubt its authenticity.  Now, considering the Vikings were already prone to act of intense violence, it can be safely assumed that the blood eagle could have been used as indicated in the Eddas.  People of note that have received the blood eagle, according to the Eddas, include King Ælla of Northumbria.  Yes, this is the same King Ælla on the show, the fat bastard that reminds you of Danny McBride on a cupcake binge.  His blood eagle is in retribution for Ælla’s eventual capture and execution of Ragnar in his snake pit.  Ivar, one of Ragnar’s many sons through Aslaug, has the pleasure of executing the sentence on King Ælla.  Now, I’m of the opinion that on the show it shall be Bjorn, as he has been “preparing” for this since witnessing his first execution in the first episode of the series.  Dealing the deathblow to the prisoner from earlier this season only further cemented my belief that when Ragnar finally dies on the show, it shall be Bjorn who takes his revenge on King Ælla in what will most likely be the series finale, whenever that comes.  This also casts light on what the fate of King Eckbert and his alliance to Ælla might eventually be, as it is Ælla that eventually captures Ragnar leading to the siege of York.  It doesn’t help that King Eckbert of Wessex lived and died decades before King Ælla.

 

Recap by This is Infamous

 


 

Trivia

  • The title is a reference to the fabled execution method of the Vikings. It was performed by slicing open the back of the victim, then hacking the ribs away from the spine, causing them to spring apart to resemble bloody wings, then drawing the lungs out of victim’s back and draping them over the shoulders. Salt was often thrown into the wound. The victim would most likely have died before the process was finished.  Some have suggested that the blood eagle was never actually practiced, arguing that such accounts are based upon unsupported folklore or upon inaccurate translations.
  • Kings Ecbert of Wessex and Aella of Northumbria were not exact contemporaries in real life. Ecbert of Wessex lived from 769 until 839, while Aella lived as late as 867, around the time that the Great Heathen Army invaded Northumbria.
  • The marriage between Judith and Aethelwulf of Wessex took place in 856 CE, more than fifty years later than depicted in the series. Also, Judith was Aethelwulf’s second wife, whom he married many years after becoming king of Wessex. And Judith was a daughter of the Frankish King Charles the Bald, not the Northumbrian King Aella.
  • The song played during the carving of the blood eagle is “Loeyndomsriss” by Wardruna. The song is part of a larger invocation of Thurses.

Source: Vikings Wikia

Inside Look: Ep 207 Blood Eagle

Writer and executive producer Michael Hirst takes an in-depth look at the myth and practice of the Blood Eagle performed on Jarl Borg by Ragnar.

Our Gallery of Screencaps and Stills for Episode 2×07

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