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Vikings - Series 1 - "Wrath of the Northmen" - Recap/Review (Spoilers)

Welcome back to another week of Vikings! This week’s episode “Wrath of the Northman” opens on a secret meeting between Ragnar and some men he thinks he can trust. Ragnar is fully committed to the decision to sail west, now he just needs a few recruits! He assures everyone that there will be plenty of riches to the west in England and that he has a new way of navigating (that fancy sun board GPS system we saw last week). The others agree to defy the Earl and go with Ragnar on his trip west.

But alas, there was a spy at their meeting; he goes to inform the Earl about the nefarious ploy to sail west. The spy reveals that there was a meeting and Ragnar was there. Should we give him the axe? No, let’s just wait and see what happens. Haralson’s wife Siggy is a big believer in waiting and seeing what happens. Siggy speaks and the spy smiles and Haraldson asks if he is propositioning his wife…when he asks if he’s slept with her and he assures Haraldson that no, he has not, Haraldson simply asks him if he’d like to. There’s quite a bit of sexual propositioning in the show actually. Should we mark that down as another theme? It might be too early to tell.

Meanwhile, back at casa de power couple, Lagertha wants to know how the beaches are in England and if she should pack some sunscreen. Ragnar informs her that she is not coming on this voyage, because someone must stay and take care of children and the farm. She doesn’t take it well, because this was supposed to be the most exciting voyage of their lives! Ragnar, in his mocking yet adorable way, says she can go, but he’ll stay and look after the children. Lagertha is not amused.

Haraldson’s spy comes to fulfill his promise of sleeping with Siggy and she plays him for a fool. Apparently the whole thing was a set up so Haraldson could test who was loyal to him. Ok. Well this is why YOU guys aren’t the power couple. We’ll say things don’t work out very well for our poor spy. After all that hard work he put in, guy doesn’t even get a retirement package.

Turns out Lagertha is still a little ticked off that she’s not coming on the boat and she decides the best way to show it is to beat up her husband. Reigning power couple. They fight and it's brutal and erotic all at the same time. These two are actually a perfect match. Bjorn puts a stop to it and they insist they were just having a little argument. That’s what they call it these days!

The first half of this episode really juxtaposes the two main couples and we are back to Siggy and Haraldson discussing honor and trust and enemies. I think the main difference here, is that Siggy has the potential to as strong of a women as Lagertha, but she doesn’t have an husband who believes her to be an equal.

The day of the big journey west has finally come and Ragnar and his men prepare the boat. Rollo prepares by having his way with a servant girl. It should be clear that this girl is a slave as that will be important later on in the series, but what’s clear here is that maybe Rollo is not so nice of a guy. The boat sets off, and one of my favorite parts about this scene is you can really feel the excitement. The actors play the moment well and all of a sudden I’m as anxious and excited about this trip as they are.

Moment of truth for our crew on the boat as they test their GPS system to see if it works. Ragnar insists that it does, but Rollo remains skeptical. You just have to believe, Rollo. I do believe in the west, I do, I do.

As our crew sails over the open ocean these scenes are cut together with a bit of Viking mythology, as Lagertha tells a story to her children. This tale tells the story of Jörmungandr, the serpent who encircles the sea and keeps his tail in his mouth to complete the circle. Lagertha continues telling of the time the god Thor was fishing in the sea for the serpent and the ensuing fight. This scene does a few things for the audience, first and foremost it brings in some Norse mythology, which we haven’t gotten to see much of yet, which is a shame because it’s incredibly fascinating. It also makes the scene of them sailing across the ocean much more tolerable.

And then we have our first new location of the episode, a monastery in North Umbria, England called Lindisfarne. As you would expect to find in a monastery, there are monks hard at work transcribing manuscripts, but they are a little freaked out about the thunderstorm. Apparently no one ever told them it’s just God bowling. Someone has told them it means the end of days though so they are going to go with that.

The Vikings are caught in the same storm, and Floki is pretty terrified for his boat, but he insists that this thunderstorm is Thor beating his hammer in joy, not anger.

The monks are still concerned that this storm is the wrath of God and not Thor laying down a beat on his anvil. We meet the monk Athelstan and he expresses his concern to his elder monk. Elder monk is not amused, and he insists that this is not judgement and Athelstan should pray to God for forgiveness. 

Back to Scandinavia, and Haraldson goes to visit the blacksmith that sold Ragnar the anchor for the boat. He wants to know if Ragnar sailed west, which seems redundant because he’s already been told by two people that the has indeed sailed west. In order to save his daughter, the black smith admits that he did forge the anchor. Turns out this is the wrong answer, and we won’t be seeing the blacksmith again.

On the open sea with Ragnar’s band of merry misfits, there seems to be some decent among the troops as one insists there actually is no west, and they are sailing to their deaths. Ragnar sees that this man is clearly losing it a bit, and decides to put an end to his talking…with a knife. So we know Ragnar is a leader who gets things done. Ragnar decides it's time to release the ravens. If the birds do not come back there is land, but if they do then there is no land. The group waits with anticipation, and the birds come back. All is seemingly lost until they hear seagulls! Rejoice! The west actually exists! And the only group of people to ever be so happy to hear seagulls. And this land they found? Why it’s only the Lindisfarne monastery! Those monks are in for a surprise!

But not before we are treated to a lovely treat of some monks singing in Latin. My, but that Athelstan has a lovely voice. If he plays his cards right he could cut an album. Latin Chants and Beats. I predict top of the charts success.

Unfortunately we’re not treated to these dulcet sounds very long cause the Vikings are here and the monks seem to know these are the bad guys. Head monk instructs them to lock the doors and stay inside but that doesn’t do much to keep Ragnar and his men out.

The monks unfortunately don’t stand much of a chance and Ragnar and his men ransack the place, surprised at how easy it all is, another thing that will play a big part in episodes to come. Here we see our first glimpse into Viking brutality that everyone seems to know so well about the Vikings. This show is doing its best to show that Vikings were not just brutal killers, but the fact remains that it is an aspect of their culture and we can see that clearly as they dispense with most of the monks fairly quickly.

One of our monks manages to sneak away though and Ragnar finds Athelstan hidden away in another room protecting a book. Ragnar questions why out of all the goods in this room he chose to save a book and Athelstan replies that without the word of God there is only darkness. It is also revealed that Athelstan speaks their language and he asks for his life to be spared. This monk and his Gods immediately intrigue Ragnar, and we see that Ragnar is not just motivated by fame and riches. Ragnar is a very smart man, and sees the potential of Athelstan very early on.

Rollo is less impressed. He thinks this place is strange because it lacks anyone of the female persuasion. He wants to kill Athelstan and get going. Ragnar insists that Athelstan will be coming with them, to be sold as a slave. Rollo is not happy with his brother pulling rank. Rollo takes out his anger on Jesus and I think this is actually an important part of this scene because it’s allowing Athelstan to see two sides to these Viking conquers. The different dichotomies of Ragnar and Rollo play really well off each other.

There is a gorgeous scene with Floki burning many of the manuscripts of the monks, which is gorgeous not only visually, but the score that plays is absolutely enchanting. It really gives you an idea of who Floki is as a character, and the fact that the show can do that in a 30 second scene with no dialogue is quite impressive.

And so the west is found and a select number of monks are chosen by the Vikings to be taken back as slaves. The monks are cold and wet and shivering and it’s clear that this is the start of something entirely new for them.

This episode is as much a set up episode as the first one was, and still pulls it off incredibly well. In the first episode we met the characters, talked about the west, and found out where people’s motivation and ambitions lie. This episode set up the concept of actually having been to the west, and what that will imply for not only the people who live there, but for the Vikings themselves.

What worked
• Ragnar and Lagertha’s relationship works very well in this series. I call them our resident power couple and that is really what they are. This is a marriage based on mutual respect and trust and at the central of it is a very strong female character. I have to commend Katheryn Winnick’s performance here as she pulls off just the right blend of supportive wife who will also kick your ass if you cross her (and then make up for it later.)

• The introduction of Athelstan and western religion into the series is going to play a huge role, and I think is one of the most interesting concepts of the series. The number one thing Athelstan provides to the audience is someone for them to relate to. One of the biggest issues with doing these historical shows, or learning about history in general, is much of what we know or have been taught is either skewed or just plain wrong. It is very hard for people to identify with certain characters that they can’t understand. Athelstan will provide the audience with a way to identify with not only himself, but the Vikings as well. And I cannot praise the performance of George Blagden enough, and his ability (as always) to portray the slightest detail or emotion with just one well-timed look. This is a strong addition to the cast, both as a character and an actor.

• The religion aspects are really doing the show some favors, as we begin to see that religion plays a big part in not just the lives of our monks, like Athelstan, but in the lives of our Vikings as well. The show will play up that similarity as it progresses, and to me it has been one of the most interesting things to watch the show take on.

What didn’t work: 
• I would say my biggest complaint this week would be Earl Haraldson. His story lines this week seemed unnecessary or redundant and I think he plays best as a character when he’s interacting with Ragnar directly. And unfortunately Siggy suffers as well. I think these two are still finding their feet and place in the show, and I hold out hope that next week we’ll get a bit more usefulness out of them.

That’s it from me this week, how did you guys like the second episode? Do you think the introduction of a new character, one that is not a Viking will help or hurt the show? How do you think the performances were? And of course, did you enjoy the Floki scenes as much as I did?

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