Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Vikings "Trial"

Non Spoiler Review:
As Ragnar oversees his second raid in Northumbria, he raises the ire of the Saxon King Aelle. Back home, Haraldson takes Ragnar to task for events that occurred on the voyage, leading to retaliation against his friends. Brother Rollo is offered an interesting proposition, and Athelstan continues to integrate into the Lothbrok family while questioning his faith.

Vikings has really hit its stride with Trial, an episode that had plenty of action, political schemes and twists. The pacing is brisk and there's no moment where it feels the series is spinning its wheels with filler. Fans of Lagertha will be pleased she gets more of the spotlight this week.

Ragnar remains an intriguing figure whose hubris may lead to his downfall, as well as anyone unfortunate to be associated with him. It's clear the rest of the series will be dealing with his rivalry with the Earl, but has he also created an enemy across the sea?

Spoilers Now!
Ragnar has taken a surviving soldier prisoner to find out where the village is. They make their way there and Rollo wants to attack right away, but Ragnar decides to postpone until the next day given it's a large town and they have few men. It's Saturday and Ragnar teases they'll soon understand why attacking the next day will be beneficial. 

Ragnar advises his wife not to take any foolish risks or get separated from the others. By morning he attempts to quell the impatience of his men and tells them to wait and listen. They hear church bells, and he then leads them off, leaving their captive tied to a tree.

The men scale the walls of the village and proceed inside where they open up the vacant houses. Ragnar hears the church service in the chapel and they break in. Some men rise to attack but are cut down by the northmen while the rest cower. Ragnar calmly tells the priest he will not hurt them if they don't resist, and then begin to plunder the treasures.

Rollo finds a sick old man in his home, but instead of killing him he fills his water and gives him the cup to drink from (though he takes it when he's finished). Meanwhile, Floki horrifies the congregation by drinking the communion wine, then kills the priest himself.

Knut scavenges another house and finds two children inside. He begins to rape the girl but is discovered by Lagertha who orders him to leave her alone. Knut shoves her away so she stabs him. He slams her head into a rock, deciding to rape her instead. She manages to stab him again and finishes him off. 

The surviving soldier who escaped the battle makes his way to King Aelle, who wants to know who attacked. They believe it's the same men who raided the monastery. 

Lagertha rendezvous with the others and Ragnar notices Knut is missing. She explains she killed him given he raped a Saxon and tried to rape her. Ragnar angrily asks his brother where he was when all this was happening. They head back to shore only to find a contingent of soldiers waiting on the beach for them. 

Ragnar leads them onto the beach where they secure themselves behind a wall of shields to fend off the first volley of arrows. The soldiers rush them but they stay their ground, pressing forward against the onslaught of spears. They slowly pick off the Saxons by maintaining their shield wall. The Saxon leaders watch from horseback as their men are routed and the northmen charge after them, forcing them to flee.

Ragnar and his men bury their fallen and Eric vows King Aelle must suffer for it. Ragnar assures him one day he will if the gods will it. Then he thanks his prisoner for keeping his word directing them to the town, and lets him have a drink. He asks if he wants to live and the man nods. So he leaves Rollo to kill him.

King Aelle is advised of the fierce nature of the northmen. Two of them who were guarding the boat were captured and killed, but they did give up one word—Ragnar.

Back on the farm Athelstan is dealing with Bjorn's rebellion. He refuses to allow Bjorn to go off on his own, so the boy suggests the three of them go to the village. Later, Athelstan wonders where his lord is, asking if it's His will that he's living with heathens. He admits he's angry with Him for allowing his brothers to be slaughtered. Athelstan sees an owl watching him from the rafters, then goes to talk to Bjorn and tells them they'll all go together as he wished.

The ship returns home again and the northmen haul their treasure to Haraldson. Ragnar explains the Saxons attacked them in great force but they defeated them. Haraldson is happy to salute his achievements and share in his profit, but asks where Knut is. Ragnar admits he's dead and he killed him because he tried to rape his wife. Haraldson finds that too convenient and orders him arrested. Ragnar stills his men and is taken away.

Haraldson summons Rollo to his table asking about his brother's character. He suggests Ragnar considers himself first among equals and takes credit for everything. Haraldson can give him a great deal and offers him a large portion of the treasure. But it's time he stepped out from under his brother's shadow. He brings in his daughter who needs to be married to someone with ambition and prospect. His two boys were killed, so the man he chooses will hold a high place, as if he were his own. Siggy enters and introduces herself, commenting she has heard he is a great warrior.

Lagertha is reunited with her children and they and Athelstan attend Ragnar's trial. Haraldson admits Knut was his half-brother and he loved him. Ragnar is an ambitious man who doesn't respect their traditions or his loyalty to his chief. Ragnar confesses he killed Knut but did so when he found him trying to rape his wife. He asks all free men what they would have done in his place. Even if he had known he was his brother he would have done it. Lagertha speaks up that she can confirm the story. Haraldson accuses her of lying for her husband, so she tells Thor to strike him down. She reveals she killed Knut when he tried to rape her. 

Haraldson can't believe she killed his brother and reiterates that Ragnar did, and they have a witness. Rollo steps forward declaring he saw Ragnar murder Knut, but then adds he had good reason. He explains Knut was caught trying to rape Lagertha, his lawful wife, and so he cannot punish him. Haraldson was not expecting that and Ragnar is freed.

Ragnar celebrates with his men and suggests he owes Rollo a debt. His brother looks forward to collecting it. He toasts to his friends and freedom. Then he sits with Athelstan, asking him to drink with him and thanks him for taking care of his children. Lagertha is equally grateful to Rollo for what he did, but he admits he didn't do it for his brother, but for her. She doesn't want to believe that.

The party is attacked by several men, leading to a bloody battle where Eric is killed. Furious, Ragnar ends up leaving the farm to sit alone on the cliff. Athelstan is curious at his behaviour, but then tells Lagertha he realizes what he's doing. He's preparing himself. 

Haraldson consults the oracle to ask if he's under threat. There is a quarrel, there will be violence, the priest explains. If Ragnar kills Haraldson, he will be earl. Haraldson always thought the gods favored him, but he reminds the Earl the gods allowed his sons to die. Haraldson asks if they really exist, and the oracle laughs. 

The Verdict:
Trial was a healthy mix of blood, politics and drama, including an impressive battle scene that highlighted the viking fighting style. Will King Aelle retaliate, or do the Saxons have the ability to cross the sea?

The rest of the cast continues to evolve and Lagertha is certainly shining as a strong ally to her husband. Rollo managed to redeem himself significantly (if not curiously) for refusing to betray his brother, but equally in sparing the old man in the village.

Once again Ragnar—this time blatantly—let's Rollo do his dirty work by killing the prisoner. That in itself was perhaps more odious than had he been bold enough to do it himself. What's behind his need to keep his hands clean? He told the priest he was safe, but Floki killed him too, and there seems to be no repercussions when his will is disobeyed.

Ragnar is clearly ambitious and arrogant, and if he believes the gods are on his side he can lead many more of his friends to their doom. It's inevitable he confronts Haraldson, but will the series end with him being named chief? If so, will he be the type of leader who lets his henchmen do all his dirty work?

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