The fourth season of Vikings, the popular television series that airs on the History Channel, is on its midseason break and returns this month. Panelists Kathryn Hines, Kirk Keplinger, Erika Pratte, and Philip Greco were introduced by moderator Jessa Phillips to a full room Saturday evening in the Marriott. With all the action and changes so far this season, the panel and audience were eager to dive into the who, what, when, and why of it all.
Phillips started the discussion by asking how everyone felt about Kattegat essentially becoming a character in and of itself. This led to a larger discussion of the historical accuracy of the show. The panel agreed it was a fairly accurate view of how villages ran in those days. Running the day to day was only a small part of what the earls did. Often the villagers would decide how to deal with any issues, while the earl would simply oversee proceedings. Ragnar was unique, as he was never really in a good position to handle the job of king or earl. He was more interested in knowledge than power. It was surprising there were not more attempts to overthrow his rule.
It was also explained that, because Ragnar was so unique, when people tried to make decisions based on what they thought he would have done, it was nearly always the wrong thing. He was such a wild card that no one ever really knew what was in his head. For example, when Bjorn accused Floki of the death of Athelstan and the village found him guilty, Ragnar then had to deal with the situation publicly. He was not going to do so and was angry that his hand was forced.
The next aspect of Vikings the panel discussed was the symbolism. They were impressed by a couple of story arcs. The first example the panel brought up was the word bjorn, which is Norse for bear. This came into play when the character Bjorn decided to test himself and go off alone into the wilderness. While there, he was confronted by and eventually defeated a bear.
The next example of symbolism discussed was the punishment of Floki for the death of Athelstan. Like Loki, when punished for the death of Baldur, was chained to rocks with a poisonous snake above dripping venom on his head, Floki was similarly chained while water dripped on his head. And Floki’s wife, Helga, helped in the same way as Loki’s wife, by catching the water in a bowl.
Other aspects of the show seemed to frustrate the panel. There were many story arcs that were begun and never finalized. When Princess Aslaug first arrived, she was considered a seer, however, since she and Ragnar have been married, she has not had any visions and actually goes to the village seer now. It was mentioned that it was possible Aslaug had lied about her abilities. An audience member stated that, in Russian texts he had read, he understood women seers were for family issues whereas men were seers for the land. Another audience member surmised that it was possible the gift had to be fostered and that maybe her lust for power corrupted her sight.
While on the subject of the seer and the gift of sight, Floki’s vision of Aslaug and Harbard, along with the interaction between Floki and the Seer, led many to believe Floki would be the next seer. When we came back to Kattegat after a thirteen-year gap, he was still building boats. Did he become the seer? This was also a confusing arc due to Aslaug asking Floki to train her son Ivar when it appeared he had abilities as well. When Ivar was mentioned, this brought up the abandoned arc of Ivar killing a village child with an ax as he was sitting in his wheelchair and the other children were playing around him. It was asked why nothing happened to him.
Yet another arc, which frustrated some, was Bjorn, his wife, and his daughter. One audience member asked the panel if they thought there would be any closure in the death of his daughter or if they thought his wife would return. The panel noted that Bjorn was so distraught about his wife leaving that he became completely disassociated from his daughter. They felt that he didn’t care what had happened. As for his wife, it was presumed she went off to die.
A final arc that seemed to be abandoned was that of Lagertha and her new position as Jarl. The panel felt the Paris storyline subjugated her story. There were questions as to whether she is even still alive after the thirteen-year jump. This brought up a question as to why there was such a gap. The panel agreed that the writers were trying to hit the highlights of Ragnar’s life and likely not much happened during that time.
Another question from the audience was regarding the visions the characters had. They wondered if the Vikings actually thought they were seeing things or if they realized it was simply dreams. The panel felt that the Vikings would have believed what they saw was either real or was definitely going to happen.
The panel noted some things that were inaccurate. For example, the term starboard came from “steering oar,” which was always on the right side of the boats. In the show, the oar is on the left side, likely for ease of filming. Another point of difference was Rollo’s name. The panel felt the names were backward and that, as a pagan Viking, his name would have been Rolf, based on the historical “Rolf the Walker.” Once he went to Frankia and converted to Christianity, he would have become Rollo. It was deemed accurate that he would have been given land in payment for protection from the raiders, however.
The next subject in question was the feebleness of Ragnar’s mind and his quick devolution and addiction to opiates. It was mentioned that he was more of a seeker of knowledge than of power, as evidenced by the relationship with Athelstan. After he was injured, he would have been in a great deal of pain. The opiates would have helped subdue the physical pain along with the mental frustration and would have been a means of escape from the parts of his position he did not like. He would have also enjoyed the vision, as he was a believer in mysticism. The opiates would have given him a glimpse into those powers. What was difficult for the panel to process, however, was whether Yidu, the Chinese slave, would have had any opiates with her to begin with. As a slave, all of her belongings would have been taken away from her.
The off-balance treatment regarding the research of the Vikings as compared to that of the Saxons was frustrating to a couple of the audience members. One did not like that the Saxons were treated as such weak fighters and the Vikings were portrayed as organized and successful. He felt the Saxons must have had better protection. The panel mentioned the Vikings consisted more of raiding parties that would come in quickly, make a hit, then run away, whereas the Saxons were constantly fighting over land boundaries, which is a different kind of fighting.
The discussion returned to Rollo and his position in Frankia. The panelists were very happy with this story arc. Rollo has finally broken out from Ragnar’s shadow and is getting well-deserved recognition. The panel loved the relationship between Rollo and his new wife, Gisla. They felt that the patience and tenderness he showed her, along with his respect even though she hated him, demonstrated how he has grown since his rape of a woman at the beginning of the show.
At this point in the panel, a group of cosplay Vikings crashed the panel. The panelists asked them to come to the front of the room. They obliged, creating a shield wall and demonstrating a call and answer meant to intimidate enemies.
After the crashing party left, the audience moved on to the next point of confusion, Harbard. The panel was asked if they thought he was real or was in Princess Aslaug’s mind. They determined he was real because of many clues. First, the second time he appears, he is seen having sex with women other than Aslaug. Second, while he is in Kattegat, somehow the village seems to just “get in line.” Finally, Floki had a vision of Aslaug and Harbard together. The panelists did consider whether or not Harbard might have been mythical, however, perhaps a manifestation of one of the gods, possibly even Odin.
Judith was the panel’s next subject, and they liked where her character was going. They seemed to think that it was not as radical as the show portrays that she would have learned painting using sacred text. They mentioned that she was now in a position of influence due to her relationship with Ecbert. It will be interesting to see how her character arc unfolds.
The last couple of questions went back to Ragnar. One audience member asked if the panel thought the pit of vipers would be portrayed. The panel said hopefully it would, but that it would probably be the end of the show. Finally, the audience wanted to know about Ragnar’s return at the end of the last episode. It was generally agreed that after Ragnar had abandoned the village, and now they seem to be thriving, they will not want him back.