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Vikings - Series 1.03 - "Dispossessed" - Recap and Review (Spoilers)

We are back with another new episode of Vikings and enough religious themes to wet my appetite for the rest of the season. If you haven't realized by now, let me start this review by saying these reviews are half recaps/half reviews, and if you would just like the review part you can always scroll down to the What Worked/What Didnít Work section at the bottom. Though I canít promise I wonít throw some analysis into the recap as well.

This week's episode entitled "Dispossessed" brings Ragnar back home with his haul and knowledge that there is in fact a west. Ragnar and his merry band of warriors are on their journey home with a few extra passengers and by the looks of it these monks arenít really enjoying this particular cruise ship.

At Ragnar's farm, Haraldson's right hand man shows up to be threatening and look for Ragnar but Lagertha assures him that Ragnar is just fishing. This guy is not as dumb as he looks and decides to take a servant boy with him just in case Lagertha might be lying.

On the boat Ragnar is pretty excited about their trip west but Rollo is still skeptical and worried that the Earl might be a little upset. Ragnar thinks Rollo should relax a little bit and I'm inclined to agree. Look at all the monks you have now! Speaking of monks, Ragnar decides to have a chat with his new best friend Athelstan and Athelstan tells him that judgment day is upon them and that is why he has ended up in this position. Ragnar assures him that he's in this position because he saved him, and it has nothing to do with Athelstanís God. When Athelstan questions why Ragnar choose to spare him, Ragnar takes a deep long look at Rollo and says he doesn't know.

Also in a scene that I'm going to deem as "very important," one of our new monk friends perishes on the journey and Ragnar and his men unceremoniously throw him overboard as the other monks look on aghast. There's a couple ways to view this scene, but what I think is most significant about it is it starts to show some of the major cultural differences between these two societies which will come into play throughout the series. *

Ragnar presents his plunder to the Earl, but he's in for a surprise when the Earl says that everything they brought back is now his. Ragnar argues that the crew should be paid and the Earl agrees that they can each take just one thing. We again get to see that Ragnar is not just out for gold and glory, and is actually a very intelligent character, because out of all those riches presented there, he chooses Athelstan as his brand new slave.

Ragnar brings his new slave home to meet the family and the children are very impressed with Athelstan's bald spot (called a tonsure). Ragnar assures them that they can touch it and then begin to rub his head like he's a dog. Or maybe a Buddha. The kids continue exploring their new monk and Ragnar and Lagertha go off to fulfill some marital duties. Speaking of marital duties, the happy couple invites the monk into their bed to have some with them! He refuses but you can tell he must be awfully tempted. I mean have you seen Lagertha?

In one of the most poignant scenes of the episode we see Athelstan contemplate his new circumstances and come to terms with the fact that his life has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. He realizes that his hair is growing back and attempts to shave it himself, which doesn't necessarily work out. It's incredibly easy to sympathize with Athelstan in this situation, partly because the acting is so fantastic in this scene the audience really does feel his pain, and also because Athelstan is the character the audience is suppose to sympathize with. What's important to remember about the character is that he has almost no choice in anything that happens to him. Even in the scene where he is propositioned, and even though he is actually treated relatively well by Ragnar, you can't lose sight of the fact that he does not have any control in these situations. Whether or not that will change in some respects remains to be seen.

We continue to see the Earl's dark side, when he kills the boy who he had taken from Ragnar's farm, and buries him with all the treasure he had stolen from Ragnar. This scene actually gives us another glimpse into the mythology of this universe, and expands the Earl's story a little even though I,m still not sure if we are supposed to sympathize with him or root against him.

Ragnar decides to bond with his new slave over a few pints of ale, and it's clear that Athelstan doesn't really know how to hold his liquor. Ragnar is very curious about England and hopes that Athelstan will provide him with some information he plans to use on his next raid. Ragnar asks him to teach him his language and also a little more about the customs of Athelstan's home.

We find out very quickly that Ragnar wants to know this information because he plans on going west again, and this time he asks for the Earl's permission. We again get to see Ragnar's intelligence, as he manipulates not only Athelstan for information, but also the Earl into letting him raid in the west again. While it's unclear if Ragnar is hoping to obtain wealth, glory, or knowledge from these raids, we know enough to surmise that whatever he's after, he's smart enough to know how to get it.

There is an interesting moment where Athelstan sees some of his former brothers hanging in the town square. It's unclear whether they were punished or being used as an example to other slaves, but it affects Athelstan and he kneels down to pray in a moment of defiance. Ragnar cuts the rope around his neck and tells him he is free to leave if he wishes. We can see just a moment of contemplation as the monk weighs his options, but in the end decides to follow Ragnar. Perhaps he realizes his chances on his own are not that great?

Ragnar comes home to tell the family that he is going raiding again, and it is clear that Lagertha is not happy that he plans on leaving the next day. The nerve of some men thinking they can go off raiding whenever they feel like it, and leave the women home to run a farm and raise the children. She puts on a tough face though and says they all wish him success. Ragnar informs her that she is actually coming with them! But who will watch the children? Turns out monks make great babysitters. Bjorn isn't too happy about a slave having authority over him, but Ragnar insists that he doesn't see him as a slave, and that Athelstan is a responsible person. This is incredibly interesting, and I'm curious about Athelstan's role in this family. Ragnar decides that Gyda should decide and she proclaims that she likes the monk. So it's decided that Ragnar and Lagertha will go off to the west again, while Athelstan and the kids play house. I always let small children make most of my important life decisions.

Ragnar and his band set off again, this time with Lagertha and Knut, who is going on behalf of the Earl. They successfully reach England again and are greeted by the sheriff and asked if they are traders. Ragnar speaks to the sheriff, since Athelstan taught him to speak the language (wow, you learn languages fast!) and assures him they are traders. Rollo is nervous though and argues with Ragnar saying they should kill them. This scene is very well done, full of tension, and really illustrates the difficulties of these two cultures coming together. In the end the misunderstanding leads to a fight between the two groups, which leaves the Englishmen slaughtered on the shore, and the episode ends with a beautiful shot of blood washing away into the ocean.

What Worked?
 - The tension between the brothers is so subtle and wonderfully done especially when it's coming from Ragnar's side. We always get the sense of some sort of resentment on the part of Rollo, but Fimmel underplays this a bit and it's beautiful to watch. This relationship will be at the focus of one of the storylines for next week.

 - Athelstan's struggle to adapt to his new surroundings but also keeps his faith which is great to watch. I love that the audience is learning about this Viking culture through the eyes of this character.

- Additionally, I think Athelstan's journey from slave to "family member" stresses what this show is trying to get across, which is that the bonds of family are incredibly important. †They are portraying Vikings as warriors, yes, but the most important message I think in the show is that family bonds are incredibly strong, whether it's the warrior family (like we see in the closeness of those who go with Ragnar to the west), the community family, or your actual family. Athelstan taking part in the ways of the Vikings doesn't necessarily mean he is losing his Christian values, but he is beginning to see Ragnar's family as his own and forming that family bond. This is another way for the show to express to the viewer just how important that bond is to the overall theme of the show.

- I didn't mention Floki much in this review, but he continues to be charismatic, and there is one scene in the episode where he hugs his boat. It is probably one of my favorite scenes the show has done so far.

- More instances of Viking mythology, which is always going to be something that works in this show since it is a fascinating subject to learn about. In the coming episodes we get to learn even more and continue to explore the dichotomy between the Viking Gods and Christian Gods.

- I have to admire the pacing of this episode. Quite a bit happened but it didn't feel too fast or too slow,    and I felt they found a nice balance between giving us information while keeping the story moving.

What Didn't Work?
- I think I'm still struggling with the Earl as a character, simply because I can't decide how the show wants us to feel about him. I felt there was a bit more character development on that front this week and I'm hopeful it can come together as the series continues.

Overall, this was a strong episode of the series, and there were a lot of different elements at play here. We are getting past the set up and delving into plot now, and being introduced to a lot of themes that will drive the series forward. What did you guys think? Will the Earl retaliate against Ragnar? Will Ragnar have another successful raid in the west? Where do you think Rollo's allegiances lie? Most importantly, will we get a spin off of Athelstan's adventures in babysitting?

*Like I mentioned, this scene is significant for a couple reasons but I like that they used death and burial, or lack there of, to illustrate the difference between these two cultures. As a Christian Monk, burial practices would have been very important to Athelstan and his fellow monks, and to see his brother so unceremoniously dumped over the side of the boat must have been jarring for the monk. We also know, however, that when Ragnar killed a member of his own crew, the body was also dumped overboard. This may have been an act of necessity rather than one of cruelty. Although Athelstan doesn't know that, and for him it may have seemed absolutely barbaric.

See you next week, let me know what you thought of the episode here or on twitter!  

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