Vikings, Season 2, Episode 5, “Answers in Blood”
Written by Jeff Woolnough
Directed by Ciaran Donnelly
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on History
I’ve previously remarked upon, the plots Hirst and co have put into play appear to be converging; and to it’s credit, it’s not just battle stories alone that are unfolding. Rather, tonight sees Bjorn drawn into battle alongside his father — and the determined eagerness upon Ludwig’s face feels both heart-breaking and authentic. It’s not difficult to imagine the limits Bjorn would toe in order to prove his place among the Lothbrok family — particularly given his implicit rivalry with Aslaug’s sons — nor is it difficult to imagine, after the starkly-shot battle scenes of tonight, that Hirst could take him down the road of self-sacrifice. As we’ve previously seen in the case of Gydda — and to a lesser extent, Lagertha’s abandonments of the group — no player in the Vikings community is entirely secure. Furthermore, Bjorn’s now of an age where he stands alongside the members of his family as a veritable warrior; he’s not impervious to blood or pain, no matter how Ragnar rushes to defend him when the former stumbles. There’s something particularly lovely about this moment, in among all the cinematic jostling and callous thrusting of swords that occurs during this stretch of fighting. I’d attribute this to the emotional heart Vikings occasionally excises, in favour of thrills and slick war plotting. (Similarly, Lagertha’s quick glance-over at her son, in the heat of the battle, also tugs at the heart. No matter how indomitable and icy a force Lagertha is on the battlefield, or while defending her honour, she is still ultimately human; she has those she needs to protect.)
The majority of Answers in Blood concentrated upon the war we’ve been tip-toeing around mentioning in the paragraph just before; that of the anticipated show-down between Jarl Borg and Ragnar. How Vikings chooses to execute and parcel up these bloody and inevitable expulsion of Borg himself isn’t the cinematic splendour you might’ve expected; it’s better. As always, the muted palette in which the show is shot lends extra credibility — and a certain grittiness — to the way the chaotic, heaving forces of either side grapple with one another. These battles, Hirst seems to imply, aren’t to be glamourised.
It’s not so bad a philosophy.
Pitiably, the brief hints of the esoteric, like Aslaug’s purported predictions, do little to prop up the relentless, cold brutality that pervades the world Hirst’s created. But the sacrifice offered up to the gods by Rollo — then Ragnar — then finally, Bjorn — is emblematic of the two worlds bleeding into one another, and marks yet another well-calculated step on the show team’s front.
In addition, the concept of reverence and libations paid to the gods in thanks for the battle that’s been won strongly mark the divisions between the forward-thinking Ragnar and the lesser figures of Borg, who’s seen killing women among men tonight. (Ecbert’s ranking in among the other players is still unclear, largely thanks to his physical disconnect from the Vikings.) This isn’t the only sort of modernity that’s on display tonight — but we’ll discuss that at a later point.
For we’ve been discussing matters of the spiritual and how they’re evolving and turning the primary narrative perforative and the course of history untrustworthy, and this can’t be more strongly felt than in Athelstan’s foggy hallucinations. There’s no immediate rationalisation for it, no matter how jarring the sudden distortion of the shot, or the appearance of half-clothed corpses off in the distance. Have the thorns, the marks of which can still be seen in his forehead, driven him insane? No, no; nothing so immediately dark as that. He’s been placed by King Ecbert’s side to act as some absurd advisor; and it’s evident in his drawn, coolly repulsed expression that this is no more than a new crucible to him. There’s no specific traces of benevolence here, nor self-interested, puffed-up mercy present in their interchanges; but still it remains that Athelstan’s indebted to the former for his life. Moreover, Athelstan’s bound to his current position by endless, painful soul-searching; he both wants a faith, or moreso his old faith, but it remains impossible to simply unshackle oneself from the knowledge of the religion one previously preached, and the identity formed in that context.
He’s not alone in this self-analysis — but to say anymore would be to spoil an artful ending.
— Having watched Vikings for all two seasons now, it occurs to me that I’m not sure what terms to address certain fights with. Is a little battle that lasts under five minutes a “skirmish”? Is a tussle between friends worth noting as a “fight”, should it lend itself to character development wherein the two grow to dislike one another, or is just a tussle? When is it a war, and when is it a fight, proper?
— Floki’s delightful tip-tapping of Bjorn’s forehead upon his realisation of who Bjorn is, is a right thing of beauty. There’s never a day that he’s not properly deployed. Never change, Floki.
— Interesting closure between Aslaug and Lagertha tonight. I’m glad to see that the soapier elements of the show have been relatively put to rest.
— How many times did that ax get handed around? And sure; I know the Lothbroks are the family, but wouldn’t one of the vikings in the crowd have grunted something like, “get on with it already?”