Season 3: Episode 2 “Brother’s War”
By Matt Fowler
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow. . .
I’m still waiting for something to pop here in Vikings’ third season. Not that anything I’m seeing is bad, but it’s perhaps all a bit too familiar for the startup of a new crop of episodes. Wessex. Mercia. Betrayals that go down back home as soon as our heroes’ ships set sail. Another enemy (Earl Kalf!) with his sights set on Ragnar. I’m totally willing to accept that “this is the show right now,” but that also means the show is sacrificing some of its stakes and intrigue.
Some of the best moments of “The Wanderer” involved the down time after Ragnar’s defeat of King Brihtwulf, which featured Torstein slowly succumbing to his battle wound. Eventually, he opted to have his arm removed, but it appeared to be too late for him. Some of the show’s best moments come from when our stoic heroes are forced to meet excruciating pain head-on. Like in Season 2’s “Blood Eagle.”
We also got a bit more insight into Kwenthrith’s semi-madness when she stabbed her uncle’s severed head over and over out of pure wrath and hatred. She explained to Ragnar that her desire to kill her uncle and brother stems from the fact that they (along with many others years ago) raped her as a young girl. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but it’s clear that she harbors untamable hatred and carries herself in a bit of an unbalanced manner. Perhaps due to the trauma she suffered. And to be clear, when I predicted that she and Ragnar would get together last week in my review, it wasn’t because Ragnar was in danger of falling for her. I just combined some of the old cliched coupling “rules of TV” with Ragnar’s penchant for making unwise choices with women
The other interesting part of “The Wanderer” was, well, the Wanderer himself – played by Kevin Durand (when we eventually saw his face in the end). Sure, I usually have a very low tolerance for Aslaug and Siggy, but the whole “shared dream” experience they had, along with Helga, took the show in a whole new supernatural direction. It was basically the first time that something mystical happened outright. Yes, there have been prophecies and rituals that various characters have interpreted in varying ways, but these three women were dreaming about the same man. Bloody hand. Snowball on fire. It was a big move.
It’s actually kind of sweet how much Lagertha seems to be taken with Ecbert. I don’t think anyone of us thinks she’s a fool in any manner, but I also suspect that viking courting customs aren’t all that polite and respectful. So perhaps she’s actually getting swept off her feet a little despite the fact that Ecbert probably doesn’t have many of the qualities she’d usually look for in a partner.
Meanwhile, with Aethelwulf away (and not being as much of a dick as he was back home – even sparing a Mercian soldier’s life), Judith got very forward with Athelstan. Even using his own godliness as a means to confess her desires for him. Ecbert seemed amused by her attraction. Another indication that he’s not being portrayed the way one one might expect a king and father to be portrayed on a sword-and-shield period drama.
“The Wanderer” was a direct continuation of last week’s season premiere, with Ragnar actively seeking to wipe out the Mercian enemies on the other side of the river. So not much was new in terms of stories. Ragnar sent men looking for Burgred (after scaring him off with a boat decorated in heads – A LOT OF HEADS!), and Lagertha continues to farm and flirt.
What did stand out this week was the active use of dreams and altered states – including one big shared dream featuring a mystery man and a few moments at Ragnar’s camp when it seemed like everyone was on psychedelic mushrooms. It also remains to be seen if, at the end, Athelstan’s stigmata marks were actually bleeding or if Lagertha was dreaming up some part of her own prophecy.
- “The Wanderer” is a kenning (a figurative allusion heavily used in Norse poetry) for Odin.
- In this episode, King Echbert, having been taught by Athelstan, is now able to converse in Old Norse with Lagertha as seen in the scene where he offered the lump of soil to her as a gift.
- The episode features archaic languages: Old Norse spoken by the Northmen (e.g. when Ragnar asks Floki to fetch King Brithwulf head) and Olde English by the Saxons (e.g. when King Echbert was asking Lagertha if she was a free woman)