Vikings S4E3 Review: “Mercy”

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Season 4 Episode 3

“Mercy”

Warning: Spoilers

I have a feeling with the way these episodes have been going, it would still be best to review things by geography for a little while longer. While some storylines are starting to move closer towards one another, none have yet to touch in any meaningful way, except one. However, due to that plot point, I’m going to refrain from recapping by area, and instead review in a linear fashion. This episode’s theme of ‘Mercy’ is strong, but there is also a theme of breaking the shackles of the past away, and attempting to push forward. Pushing forward towards what? Well, time will tell.
But let’s get started.

We open up on Floki, still suffering in the cave. He’s starting to reach the end of his rope, obviously, slipping in and out of madness. We see snatches of his fever dreams, which include the large circle that Ragnar drew around him when he was chained up in Kattegat. The flashes come quicker, and he starts to moan, which cuts to–

–Lagertha’s moaning, as she and Kalf have sex in Hedeby. In an incredibly awkward scene, Kalf admits that while he’s always desired her, he realizes now that it wasn’t just power he wanted, but her love and children as well. Which, of course, is devastating for Lagertha, who has been told by the Seer that she will never have children. Katheryn Winnick does some amazing acting in this scene; dealing with the double whammy of both a love confession and having to hide the truth of her fertility. For all her dalliances with Kalf, I believe this is the first time she might truly believe he cares for her.

But let’s be honest, Kalf is really out for himself. When confronted by Erlendur (who somehow has sorted out where Bjorn has run off to) over avenging his father against all of Ragnar’s kin, he agrees to hire a Berserker to assassinate Bjorn.  ….Somehow I don’t think that is going to go over well with Lagertha if she finds out. And there is no way in Hel she isn’t going to find out by the end of the season. Oh well–she did promise she would kill Kalf, one day.

Bjorn is having a grand old time, meanwhile, being a mountain man–setting out bear traps, enjoying the horribly cold weather. You know, Viking Things.

As we move back to the Trials of Floki, we see Helga holding a bowl above his head to stop the water from dripping onto him, just as Loki’s wife Sigyn did in the myth. At least you’re luckier than Loki in that, Floki–it wasn’t water, but poison that was dripping onto his face. Helga has clearly been trying to keep that bowl aloft for a while and is exhausted, but the moment she takes a break, it starts up again and sends Floki screaming. She hurries to hold the bowl once more, and as she does, he finally apologizes to her. Step one in his redemption, I hope.

Let’s head over to Paris, now, where Emperor Charles is holding a large feast in honor of a martyred saint. In typical fashion, everyone is very pious in their devotion (and very French) while Rollo continues to look very lost as he can’t speak the language. He continues to try so hard to please Gisla despite the language barrier and it destroys me. He’s trying to give her fond looks and it’s adorable (I never thought I’d say anything Rollo did was adorable), and for his trouble…? Gisla announces to everyone that she is quite sure that Rollo would love to burn her at the stake and chop off her head. Rollo, who has no idea why she’s so angry, tries to protest against her anger, gets a glass of water thrown in his face, and her screaming for divorce. She storms out, leaving a shocked room to deal with the aftermath.

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As much as I love Gisla’s fire, she’s being utterly cruel to him, when he has actually been pretty damn good to her (…despite the whole ‘forced marriage’ thing). Publicly embarrassed, Rollo storms out of the banquet hall as well, but not before screaming at a few patrons, clearly frustrated that they all see him as nothing more than a savage, despite all his attempts to prove otherwise. When Count Odo goes to find him in his room later, though, the wind has completely left his sails. The language barrier is still a struggle, but again, in a rare scene of humility, Rollo practically begs Odo to find someone to teach him to read and write French. These developments in Rollo (despite some setbacks later on in this episode) have been profound. He clearly is trying and cares for Gisla’s good opinion. I’m really rooting for them, and I hope she comes around to him.  

Ragnar comes to visit Floki and Helga, and finally convinces her to tell Floki the truth about the death of his daughter. While he is genuinely distraught over the news, the show cuts to commercial in mid-anguished cry. It’s a jarring transition and I genuinely think it pulled away from the scene too soon. While I understand there was a lot of ground to cover within this episode, that revelation, as the final humbling of Folki, was huge.  The moment is too quickly ended, for when we return from break, we’re with Bjorn now, who is struggling with a bear who is eating all the food in his traps. We won’t return to Floki until later on in the episode, and when we do, it isn’t about Floki. Though I am hopeful that the show will deal with all this aftermath in later episodes.

We now head over to Wessex, where Judith is learning how to make paints from Prudentius. (The French priest has a name!) She asks about the attack on Paris, basically trying to find out if Athelstan is dead or not; while gaining no concrete information, she shares what she learned with Ecbert. For all their faults, they are both bound by their love of Athelstan, completely.

 

We’re going back to Paris for a minute–and remember how I said there was a setback with Rollo? …yeah. Odo, true to his word, found a priest to give Rollo language lessons. However, he becomes easily frustrated and ends up attacking the priest. While I can’t really blame him for blowing up (he’s completely alone, and struggling), throwing an old man over a table probably isn’t the best way to handle it.  But that’s just me.

On the way back to Wessex from Mercia, we see Aethelwulf and Queen Kwenthrith have a touching moment–it’s pretty clear something is brewing between them, which, given what is going on between Judith and Aethelwulf’s father Ecbert, might be for the best. Though I’m sure it is going to cause a blow up of gigantic proportions later down the line.

But let’s head back to the hunting with Bjorn, where he’s definitely found the thing that has been eating all his food. Or really, it found him. Surprisingly enough, the bear chooses not to attack, but turn away. Bjorn, in response, heads back to his hut, cracks open a cask of ale, and gets roaring drunk by a giant fire. Which is a terrible idea. It’s moments like these where I love Bjorn the most. Despite some of the terrible choices he made last season, watching him enjoy himself like this reminds me why I love his character so much. He wakes up puking and with the bear wandering around him again. It’s all symbolic, but we don’t understand just yet.

We spend a short moment in Kattegat, but there isn’t much to say except Ragnar and Aslaug’s relationship is continuing to become the worst marriage that hasn’t resorted to full on murder plotting. Ragnar is also unsure if Bjorn will ever return home.

This of course means we need to circle back to Bjorn and his showdown with that symbolic bear. After a short but brutal fight, the young man rises triumphant, screaming loudly into the sky. As he does so, Ragnar hears it, as a raven flies overhead; a young Bjorn shows himself in a vision, as well. It’s so very clear that by killing the bear, Bjorn has killed the last bit of the ‘boy’ within him, and will be returning as a man, no longer bound by Ragnar’s needs and desires.

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Back in Wessex, Judith comes into Ecbert’s bedroom and lays her cards on the table. She explains that she will agree to be his mistress as long as she is respected and treated freely. If he agrees to these terms, they will swear on Athelstan, and start their relationship. And…Ecbert agrees. It’s a curious scene, and for all of Ecbert’s self-serving nature, I actually believe him. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong, but hope springs eternal.

 

But here, oh here starts my favorite scene of the episode. Back in Kattegat, Ragnar wakes to find everyone gone–all his children, Aslaug… everyone within his home has disappeared. Simultaneously, in Wessex, Ecbert wakes as well. These scenes are moving in tandem, working as mirror images of each other, one easily blending into one another as the characters start to move through their respective homes. Both of them start to have visions of Athelstan, and both scenes are profoundly moving, though it’s the one with Ragnar that brought me to tears.
Athelstan appears to Ecbert, making the sign of the cross. He also appears to be blessing him, though when he speaks, no words can be heard. When Ecbert attempts to come closer, Athelstan simply disappears.

For Ragnar, though? Ragnar sits upon his throne, as Athelstan starts to wash his feet, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Unlike Ecbert, Ragnar is allowed to reach out and touch Athelstan, and hear his voice once more. With a soft smile, he simply speaks the word ‘mercy’. It is abundantly clear what he means, as well–he is asking Ragnar to give Floki mercy on behalf of him. There has been enough suffering for his death, and that it is time to let go. But in the end, Athelstan leaves Ragnar, as well.

In Wessex, Ecbert comes to tell Judith that he believes that Athelstan is dead, due to the vision he had the night before. They both confess their love for the man and mourn together. It’s a touching scene, and again, I’m so glad people are continue to be bound together over my precious (now dead) cinnamon roll. He truly was too good for this world. But of course, to ruin this nice scene, Aethelwulf and Kwenthrith arrive, raising the tension in the castle. Though what is one quick way to release tension…? Have sex! Which is exactly what Aethelwuf and Kwenthrith end up doing.

In Kattegat, Ragnar does what Athelstan asked of him–he shows mercy to Floki and cuts him down. He does, however, state that he does it for Helga, and not for Floki, himself–Helga has suffered enough. I couldn’t agree more.

It was genuinely a wonderful way to end the episode, and I think this episode had lovely character points for almost everyone while moving the story forward. The use of Athelstan was perfect, and helped bring the trial of Floki to a necessary end.

I’m still a little curious on where things are going with Hedeby, but time will tell. I feel Kalf continues to be an inconsistent character; unless he has some grand scheme, I don’t think he’s going to last long after Bjorn comes back from dealing with the Berserker.

Because make no mistake: he will. And there will be hell to pay. Until next week!

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