TV Tuesday: Vikings S03E09, “Breaking Point”

Battles! Sneakiness! Ragnar gets the shits!

A cameo appearance from everyone's favourite Jorvik Viking Centre character!
A cameo appearance from everyone’s favourite Jorvik Viking Centre character!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; it’s been a busy week with the Easter holidays ending and exam season approaching. I hope to have more posts, including a reader-questions post (or posts) soon, just bear with me.

Anyway, we are here to talk about another attempt to take Paris, plus a few reminders that shit is still going on back in Kattegat (which is a body of water, not a town, and a late-medieval term anyway, but whatever) and in Wessex. But my favourite thing about this episode is:

Either from his wounds or from the river water, Ragnar gets the galloping shits and spends the entire episode sweating, writhing and tripping balls. 

Now, viewed from a rational perspective, this raises more questions than it answers. Like, does this now mean we’re living in a more-or-less realistic universe, where people in the early middle ages get sick and post-injury care is a dicey proposition? Or are we in the universe where Bjorn can kill like a hundred dudes, then get shot twice with a crossbow and left in a pile of bodies and be not only well on the way to recovery but actually in better shape than his wheezing, ranting dad?

But I can’t help it — I like it.

Some other points:

  • Once again, anything that could possibly be construed as a music video in this show is pretty good. In this case, Ragnar’s visions while hallucinating are nicely atmospheric. It’s the dialogue, as a rule, that lets the series down.
  • The different members of Ragnar’s old crew are being nicely differentiated as commanders — here we see Lagertha and her shieldmaidens (I have expressed my mixed feelings about this idea previously) acting as some kind of commando squad. So we’ve got scouts (Lagertha), engineers (Floki) and an assault squad (Rollo). Technically I believe that means we need some mortars or maybe an anti-tank rocket next.
  • Charles is a weenie, in a clear parallel to the origins of his royal house, who were tough officials who took over from weenie kings. Or something.
  • Count Odo unleashes a great big spiked barrel, which Rollo takes out with some harpoons. I don’t … I just … the end of the passageway is a barricade swarming with crossbowmen, Odo. Don’t roll a big piece of cover at your attackers, just keep shooting them. It would also help if anyone in this show had a spear; you could totally jab them as they approached.
  • That said, it is nice to see the Vikings just sometimes getting their butts kicked in a stand-up fight; they were weirdly invincible in some previous episodes.
  • Do I have to say “what in the merry hell is everyone wearing” again? No? OK, good.
  • Cynric! Hey, everybody, it’s Cynric! I have legit no idea who that guy is. I think maybe he hung out with Aslaug in Season 2, but that’s it. It’s all vanished like smoke.
  • Oh, Earl Siegfried got captured. I’d feel very different about that if I cared who he was. He has stood around being tall in group shots, but other than that I don’t think he’s done much. Anyway, he gets the beheading bit which is from King Harald’s Saga, I believe? Certainly it is from a saga of some kind; I could be wrong about which one.
  • Saint Ansgar shows up and gets pretty summarily disposed of. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Ragnar’s seeming fixation with Christianity, I would be beginning to suspect this show of full-blown Cornwellism. I do like the idea that Ragnar’s going to come home and find that Aslaug has martyred a dude — a worthwhile reminder that way back in the day she was set up as being pretty magic-y.
  • Also, that hot iron ordeal thing is a custom from Anglo-Saxon England, although the specifics of it were a little different than the show portrays. The accused had to carry the hot iron bar a certain distance. At the end of the process his burns were bandaged; if after three days they had healed, he was innocent. The word for “infected” or “dirty” could also mean “guilty” in Old English — Anglo-Saxon culture was pretty obsessed with cleanliness. I assume that the priests administering the ordeal would either heat the bar to as hot as they wanted it to be or just look blithely at the wound and pronounce whatever result they preferred, but I’m a cynic.

Inga Endures the Ordeal of the Hot Iron

  • This sub-Game of Thrones stuff going on back in Wessex is pretty boring. I realise they’e just marking time until our heroes get back there, but oy.
  • Yay for bribery! Yay for the show’s totally impressionistic approach to who is speaking what language that actually makes it sound cool but is still easy to follow! Yay for Odo not being at all impressed by Sweaty McStaggers, which I hope hope hope explains why the Franks are going to continue to view Rollo as Top Viking.


Speaking of Game of Thrones, one of the cool things about the show these days is how disconnected from the books it is now. If you’ve already read them, it’s nice to feel like you don’t know what’s happening next (especially as the wait-for-interesting-stuff : interesting-stuff ratio in the books is high). But somehow in Vikings I keep wanting historical stuff to happen already, god damn it. For some reason I am really attached to the idea of Rollo’s impending heel (or is it face?) turn and I am impatient about seeing it happen. I’m not really sure why.

Anyway, thanks for reading! Next week we’ll be back with yet another episode of people shouting at Ragnar and not realising that if they don’t want to get betrayed they need to stab him. STAB. HIM. 

In the meantime, if you’ve read this far and you like Vikings, may I suggest that you might enjoy my short and inexpensive ebook, The Barest Branch? It is a story of Lovecraftian horror set in a somewhat impressionistic Viking age. You can buy it on Amazon (UK) (US), or from the good folks at DriveThru.

TV Tuesday: Vikings S03E09, “Breaking Point”

TV Tuesday: Vikings Season 3

So I have spoken previously about Vikings, the show on the History Channel which we get on Amazon UK. I am now caught up as far as the middle of Season 3, which I think is as much as is out there. And it’s … interesting.

So there are a few trends I’ve been noticing in this season, and I wonder if anyone else watching the show feels the same way.


Less GoT-ification? Last season it seemed like there was a lot of kind of implausible Game of Thrones sex plot (or I, Claudius if you’re nasty) and that seems to have dried up a little. Instead of Cwenthryth being just some louche debauchery queen who turns up and has sex with a bunch of Ecbert’s troops, we see her as someone who’s stranger and more sort of psychologically complicated (although still in corny TV-show ways, of course; it’s still Vikings). And although there is still a lot of focus on the screwing, it seems a little more subdued. At least to my eye, but what do I know?

Doubling down on the timeline! I have to confess this one surprised me. Obviously the very beginning of the first season set us up for the well-known story of Ragnar getting killed and his sons seeking vengeance. But then this thing with Judith is just … OK, let me ask this. What year is it? Because we’ve got the Vikings making first contact with England (the 790s), the birth of Alfred the Great (the 840s), and the life of Rollo (the 900s). And I thought they were just going to fudge that, but no, they keep reinforcing the idea of tying the story to specific historical figures. Like, people claim that The Tudors is historically inaccurate, and it absolutely is, but at least like Richard III doesn’t show up in it. But the show seems determined to go full Perry Bible Fellowship.

I still don’t care about Torstein. Back at the beginning, Ragnar had this little posse of Viking warrior dudes: there was Rollo and Floki and Lagertha and The Tall One and The One With One Eye and The Other One. Two seasons later, The Other One gets a dramatic arc wrap-up, but … did he have an arc in the first place? As far as I can remember, he just delivered news occasionally. I may be forgetting a bunch of interesting stuff he did.

Sorry, Torstein. It's not your fault you didn't get good stories.
Sorry, Torstein. It’s not your fault you didn’t get good stories.

Ambiguously supernatural stuff! This is my favourite part of this season. Frankly, this show could be Ambiguously Supernatural Adventures and I’d be happy. The more this is about some Legends of the Old West-type historical mythology rather than “well, you know, the Vikings blah blah blah,” the happier I am.

Battle scenes continue to bore. So the big battle at the beginning of Season 2 had some character development in it, and so did the one in this season where the thing happened with Thorunn; I don’t want to spoil it. But for the most part, the fights are just frustrating. They’re just a bunch of dudes running at each other and clanging their swords together, and they’re set up so that we feel like Ragnar is a cheat. Like, he has no business winning some of these things. I swear he makes an opposed landing out of his longships at one point and the Mercian archers just stand there with their thumbs up their butts (not that there were probably a lot of organised archers in early medieval armies, but leave that aside for the moment), zipping off an arrow every now and again.

It just feels fake — the show, intentionally or not, sets up the scene as “this is going to be really difficult,” but then Ragnar just walks it without any real effort to show how he overcame the difficulty.

Clothes and hair. I miss Bjorn’s Bayeux Tapestry hair, and I note that Ragnar is still sewing the seams of his shirts closed with what appears to be some kind of electrical cable. He must be cold as shit. Everything is all black and grey and blue, because that is what colour things were in the past as any fule kno. Sometimes you wonder if people actually think about Viking age costumes or whether they just lie down and go “let me imagine someone who’s tough-looking. What does it mean to be tough?” In the 1950s and 60s, apparently the answer was “little leather shorts,” and in the modern day apparently it means “doesn’t know anyone who can sew.”

Why is everyone I know a scumbag? One of the most irritating things about Sons of Anarchy was that in order to maintain the premise, the show had to keep conserving its characters, which led to this situation where whatsisname, y’know, Hamlet, was forever trusting people who had clearly betrayed him in the past and had no motive to change. In Vikings, this isn’t as bad, because the cast of available supporting characters actually has a good in-narrative reason to be limited — there’s only so many jarls or whatever around. Additionally, this is the kind of political behaviour you see all the time in the sagas, with people being enemies one minute and kinda-sorta allies the next. It’s nice to see it on screen. And then again, it’s all backed up by the knowledge that Ragnar is eventually going to get his comeuppance eventually (probably).

So yeah, I’m going to keep watching and enjoy the occasionally great shots (of the stark, mountainous landscape of, er, southern Denmark … ) and the fun little character moments and wish they could get someone who could write some dialogue. I think it’s very interesting that this show continues to exist.

I guess this would be the time to mention that I wrote a little Lovecraft-influenced horror novella set in the Viking age. I’m very diffident about everything I do, but if you think that it sounds interesting, you can find the links to buy it here.

TV Tuesday: Vikings Season 3

At long last: Georgian slang dictionaries are hilarious

So I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of great historical ebooks out there, and since I had a plane journey coming up, I packed mine full of stuff. My favourite so far has been Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, your one-stop guide to what the criminal classes were saying in 1811. There are several interesting things about it. First, of course, are the hilarious slang terms themselves:

AMUSERS. Rogues who carried snuff or dust in their pockets, which they threw into the eyes of any person they intended to rob; and running away, their accomplices (pretending to assist and pity the half-blinded person) took that opportunity of plundering him.

ANABAPTIST. A pickpocket caught in the fact, and punished with the discipline of the pump or horse-pond.

ANCHOR. Bring your a-se to an anchor, i.e. sit down. To let go an anchor to the windward of the law; to keep within the letter of the law. SEA WIT.

ANGLERS. Pilferers, or petty thieves, who, with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop-windows, grates, &c.; also those who draw in or entice unwary persons to prick at the belt, or such like devices.

ANGLING FOR FARTHINGS. Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.

ANKLE. A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.

The second thing that strikes me is the number of terms for genitals — but more than that, the fact that the authors simply refer to the female genitalia as “the monosyllable” or, memorably, “a woman’s commodity.”

The third thing is the number of expressions that are listed here as slang that are now perfectly commonplace: “against the grain,” “bum” in the sense of the backside, “bet” for a wager, “rigmarole” and more.

So check it out. It’s absolutely fascinating. You can find another 18th-century slang dictionary here: The Slang Dictionary.


At long last: Georgian slang dictionaries are hilarious