Season 4 Episode 2
“Kill the Queen”
After the jam packed hour we had last week on Vikings, we get some breathing room this episode. One of the things this show has always done well is balance their plot between large plot-filled episodes and ones that simply allow for character moments. It’s something that shows rarely do well, and it’s a trend that I hope that Vikings can continue.
Sure enough, this episode is a quieter one. Due to the structure (each plot is separated geographically), I’m going to focus this review by area this week. Before I start, I will say the one major flaw I found is that we bounced around each area quickly, sometimes spending only a few minutes in Wessex before heading back to Kattegat, and vise versa. Within the first five minutes we had already visited three locations. While I don’t think it ended up detracting from the episode as a whole, there are times where they could have simply shifted scenes to stay in certain places longer and maintained a better structure.
But let us get to the plot and start with our first major area:
It isn’t a surprise that we spend a good amount of the episode in Wessex; our story there isn’t done yet, and last week we didn’t visit at all. King Ecbert and his son Prince Aethelwulf inform their nobles that Mercia is in revolt, and Queen Kwenthrith has been imprisoned by her nobles in a tower. No doubt, the title of the episode comes from this plotline. When Ecbert’s nobles balk at the idea of going to war to secure Mercia, the King uses the threat of Ragnar as incentive. It’s an interesting gambit, given no one else but Aethelwulf and Ecbert know the true parentage of Kwenthrith’s child. However, it seems to work, and the nobles set about training their men for battle. The scouts that had been sent off to Mercia have returned to Wessex, finally, but there is one small problem: …they are all now in small pieces. Except one, that is–how convenient! The last scout standing states that he can lead the Wessex men to the Queen’s tower. Interestingly, Ecbert doesn’t want to trust him, while Aethelwulf wants to, which leads the latter to storm off with the men to save Queen Crazy herself. I actually think this is going to prove to be interesting. There is no love lost between me and Aethelwulf–I find him pretty disgusting, if still a compelling character. If he ends up aligning himself with Kwenthrith against his father, the Wessex plot is going to get seriously interesting.
I am actually surprised to see that Judith is displeased with this entire situation, but–ah, clearly she isn’t too keen on having to continue to share a bed with Ecbert. This entire scene between the two of them is dynamic, complicated, and captivating as hell. The King plays to Judith’s desire for freedom, stating that she has never been free in her entire life–she’s been ‘protected’ but never free. Judith concedes that it’s true, but doesn’t see how that could ever change, and seems just at the end of her rope. I adore her, like I adore all the women on this show, but she is the most conventional, and most ‘true to form’ of her time period–she is trapped by her station and her sex. When asked what she truly wishes to do with her life, Judith says she wishes to become an artist and work on the sacred texts like Athelstan did, but doesn’t believe that Ecbert can actually make this happen for her. But really, let’s be honest–Ecbert is manipulative and brilliant. If anyone can make the Church bend the rules, it’s him. Judith is going to become a damn artist.
Sure enough, Ecbert brings in a monk who at first is recalcitrant over training Judith. In typical English fashion (and a nice foreshadowing of what will happen in the very far far future), Echbert simply has the Bishop convince the monk that there is nothing wrong with a woman working on the sacred Texts. Basically, if a reformed whore could wash Jesus, a woman can paint some paper. I know it’s all a gambit to get Judith into bed with him more willingly, but honestly, if it’s a chance to stick it to the backwards notions of their Church, good. For the first time since Athelstan left, Judith seems genuinely happy.
Our final adventure in England is the battle for Queen Kwenthrith in her tower. It’s like some really demented fairy tale, where both the prince and princess are varying degrees of bloodthirsty and borderline insane. Prince Aethelwulf fights hard to capture the tower, and as he approaches the men holding it, screams to “kill the Queen!” Ahh, the episode title. While Aethelwulf has a hilariously rough time getting up to Kwenthrith, that woman fights tooth and nail to protect herself and her son. She may be a ridiculously unpredictable character, but she sure as hell can fight. She even asks Aethelwulf what took him so long to save her. Damn, I genuinely love the women on this show. Seriously, kick all the men out of power and promote them–things would probably run a lot better.
Now let’s head to Paris, where very little happens, but there are some interesting plot developments. First we learn that Rollo is attempting to get the city ready for another incursion by Ragnar. He instructs Count Odo and Roland,Odo’s second-in-command, to build two towers across the river, where a large chain can be raised between them–a way to block any advancing raiding ships. It’s an ingenious plan and reminds me of the chain used in Game of Thrones in King’s Landing (both of which come from historical uses).
We also find out that Therese, Odo’s mistress, is also mistress to Roland, and is feeding any information she gains from Odo to his second-in-command, who is ready to try and elevate his own standing above his commander. Basically, a lot of court intrigue,which, compared to the intrigue going on England, is a lot more interesting to me. I like the intelligence and the backhanded nature of it all, and I can’t wait to see how the cards fall when the hands are finally dealt.
In the funniest scene of the episode, Rollo proceeds to get the ugliest haircut (apparently in French fashion), and dress himself in proper Parisian style. At first I thought that he was being required to dress that way, but once Gisla came into the room with her handmaidens–the motive is abundantly clear: bless his stupid Viking heart, Rollo is actually trying to please Gisla! He stands up and makes a great showing of bowing towards her. And for his trouble, Gisla laughs in his face. He actually looks devastated, and yet doesn’t lose his temper. Seriously, the scene was actually cute (I never thought I’d say that something Rollo did was ‘cute’), and I can already tell that I’m going to love these two as a couple. They are perfect for each other, they just don’t know it yet.
And on to our last location, Kattegat. Guess who escaped–oh that’s right! To no one’s surprise, it seems Floki finally managed to get Helga to help him escape. Here’s the thing, Floki–you can’t escape yourself. The majority of the time spent in the episode is spent on the chase, with Rangar in Kattegat speaking with Helga, while his children lead the rest of the men after Floki in the wilderness. Helga seems to be suffering in a bad way, and while Ragnar does provide her some food for the upcoming winter, she seems despondent. I’ve always adored Helga–it’s sad to see her struggling like this, but I blame Floki, ultimately. His selfishness and jealousy has lead to these struggles.
Sure enough, he is caught, screaming like a man possessed. He is brought before Ragnar, who looks utterly amused. While we know that Ragnar didn’t release Floki, he certainly anticipated this–and obviously wanted this to be part of some great punishment. He starts taunting Floki with a severe punishment; one that won’t impress the gods, but will invoke great suffering. All the while, Floki still refuses to budge on his reasoning behind killing the priest. Since Athelstan’s death, Ragnar has been plotting and exacting punishment upon Floki in one way or another, and it certainly isn’t letting up now. I know some people aren’t going to agree with this, in any way–but as someone who genuinely loved Athelstan and Ragnar’s relationship with him… I can’t help but feel a bit vindicated in all of this.
In probably the most shocking scene of the episode, Aslaug comes upon Ragnar in the empty meeting hall. Ragnar is conflicted, still upset that Floki won’t admit that he killed Athelstan out of jealousy instead of for the Gods as he continues to claim. Aslaug, who apparently never was fond of Athelstan’s sway over Ragnar, simply says Floki was right to kill the priest for the Gods.
Ragnar slaps her to the ground. I literally shouted ‘oh my god’ to my computer screen. He keeps yelling that this has nothing to do with Christianity or faith, but with loyalty and trust, something that Aslaug could never understand. I under no circumstance condone hitting a woman (Aslaug is no shield maiden), but–the scene is so incredibly powerful. It again shows the expanse that has grown between the two of them, the sheer depth of feeling that Ragnar continues to feel over the loss of Athelstan, and the wide gulf it has put around him and everyone else in his life.
Not soon after, Ragnar comes upon Helga digging at the ground, crying. Floki’s and her child has died. Again, it seems that for all Floki has done, others suffer. Ragnar helps her dig the grave, and after they bury Angrboda, he simply holds Helga as she cries. It’s a touching scene–and I truly feel for Helga. She deserves better.
But what is Floki’s punishment? We cut to a cave, where he is tied up between the two walls, in a mock-crucifixion pose, toes barely touching the rocks below his feet. He is naked except for a loin-cloth, and water drips from the rocks above his head, seemingly driving him mad. He cries out in anguish, and we cut to black. It seems he is truly living up to his near-namesake. Like I thought in the previous episode, we are getting the trials of Loki, who was doomed for many years to be tied to rocks, and have acid drip onto his forehead for angering the Gods (a story that Floki told himself in earlier seasons).
Oh–and were you wondering what happened to Bjorn? He’s…ice fishing. That’s it! Alive, and ice fishing. So rest assured, he is defying his father so far, and surviving. Cold and eating raw fish.
Overall, despite the jumping around, and occasional disjointed nature of this episode, I still think this season is off to a strong start, and I can’t wait to see what will happen when the plotlines start to converge in a real meaningful way.