Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Vikings "Wrath of the Northmen"

Non Spoiler Review:
Ragnar sets about assembling a crew to sail west. A paranoid Haraldson weeds out the disloyal among him.

The second episode kicks the plot into action with the maiden voyage of Floki's ship. We also get a closer look at Haraldson's home life and his relationship with wife Siggy.

The series continues to hit its mark with its impressive visuals and well-rounded characterization. The pacing is brisk and doesn't lack for momentum or action. However, I'm left feeling the writers are making special exception to keep Ragnar's hands clean compared to the rest of his viking comrades' bloody acts. If they make him too saintly, they risk diminishing the realism of the series.

Spoilers Now!
Ragnar and Rollo attempt to recruit sailors through an old friend, Eric. He has assembled some men who have been sworn to secrecy. Ragnar reveals they've built a new boat to go west to England where they will share equally the spoils of their raid. Haraldson knows nothing of it or the new way of navigating. They agree to join in.

Haraldson is advised of the meeting by his spy, but it's too soon to kill Ragnar. He wants to watch and wait. He notices his man making eyes with Siggy, and asks if he wishes to bed his wife. Taken aback, he says no, but Haraldson takes him aside and suggests he would give his permission if Siggy wants to sleep with him. His spy finds that agreeable and is later brought to her in bed. She abruptly turns on him and Haraldson enters with his men, revealing he knows who to trust and not to trust, and orders the man taken away and killed. Afterwards, Haraldson muses on how little his man thought of honor. There are few he can trust. Siggy agrees that their enemies are everywhere.

Ragnar refuses to let his wife join them even though Lagertha has dreamed of coming along on such a voyage. Their children can't afford to lose both parents, plus Haraldson might steal the farm in their absence, he protests. She decides to challenge him to a fight to prove her value and reminds him she saved his life once. After a boisterous wrestling match Bjorn breaks them up. Lagertha concedes to remain at home with the children. 

While the sailors assemble, the blacksmith delivers the new anchor purchased with the last of Ragnar's money. However one of their number, Knut, hasn't shown up, which is troubling for Ragnar. As they make final preparations, Rollo rapes the blacksmith's daughter, and they then set sail, minus Knut. He's actually been spying for Haraldson, and reports that they've departed. Haraldson is pleased they'll likely never hear from them again. 

On the open sea Ragnar employs his sun disk and sunstone to keep them on course. The ship runs into a fierce storm but holds together, but not before some of the men begin to believe they're sailing to their deaths on the open ocean. Ragnar is forced to kill one who challenges him, and so they release two ravens to find land. If they come back there is no land to be found.

At a monastery in Northumbria, England, a monk named Athelstan sees a sign in the same storm, believing judgement day is at hand. The priest thinks he's being ridiculous and the storm will pass.

Haraldson goes to see the blacksmith, inquiring about anchors and any recent ones he may have made. He says no, but Haraldson demands the truth. The man admits to forging Ragnar's anchor. Haraldson promises no harm will come to his daughter, but tells him to look into the flames of his forge, where he will see his future. The blacksmith admits he sees his death, and so they kill him as Haraldson leaves.

The northmen hear birds and believe the ravens have come back. But they quickly realize there are sea gulls, and the coast appears through the fog. On the beach a monk sees the approaching ship and runs to warn the monastery. Making their way ashore, Ragnar's men approach the walls and easily break through the gate. The monks lock themselves inside and attempt to hide, but Ragnar knocks the door down. Rollo kills the priest which leads to a massacre. 

In the church they find the treasures of the monastery and muse about their dead god nailed to a cross. Ragnar finds Athelstan hiding behind the altar. The young man can speak their language as he's travelled to carry the word of God. Ragnar is intrigued by him and his devotion to his god. Rollo arrives to comment they found no women. Ragnar decides to keep Athelstan alive to sell as a slave, but Rollo wants him dead. He challenges his brother that he's not their leader, but Ragnar stands his ground. Rollo leaves in a huff after smashing the cross.

Floki goes exploring and finds that the monk's books burn quite well. The raiders return to the boat with their treasure and a few surviving monks, including Athelstan, as the monastery goes up in flames behind them. They set sail for home.

The Verdict:
Wrath of the Northmen was an enjoyable second episode. The series looks beautiful, especially with the ship at sea. Ragnar and Lagertha appear to be the viking supercouple, right down to their fun dispute over who gets to go on the raid. It's interesting in this first look at the ravaging northmen the writers carefully separated Ragnar from his fellow vikings' murder and pillaging. And the writer certainly endeavors to create a sharp contrast to even worse bad boy Rollo. How realistic is this? He's stated to Lagertha he probably isn't raping women when he's out on his voyages, and he didn't appear to be partaking in the killing of the monks, making a point of saving Athelstan. But he has no problem killing a fellow dissenting viking on the ship. For that matter, is Rollo especially bad for raping the blacksmith's daughter? Is there a rule that the men are not to rape their own women, and save that for the raids? Hopefully more insight is forthcoming in future episodes.

While too early to judge, I thought Athelstan's character was a contradiction. He's likely more learned than his peers given he can speak the viking language and has travelled. Yet why does he jump to the immediate conclusion that the end of days is at hand? The monastery sits on the coast. That can't be his first fierce storm.

With a closer look at Haraldson, we see he's chief because he can dispatch with his enemies without hesitation and Siggy exerts more influence than it appears. Does he know more about England than he lets on? And why not go after Lagertha if he really wants to punish Ragnar rather than take his wrath out on the blacksmith (whose daughter was the real victim this week). I get the impression there is a lot more going on between Haraldson and the Lothbroks.

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