Amazon UK TV review: Vikings Season 3, Episode 3
James R | On 08, Mar 2015
“Look at those we have sacrificed for Jesus Christ.”
That’s Floki to Ragnar after they fight Princess Kwenthrith’s snivelling brother. Vikings’ creator, Michael Hirst, has always had a strong feel for the clash of two cultures that sits at the show’s heart – a clash that can be equally brutal or tender. Episode 3 of Season 3 draws yet more blood from that fascinating vein.
The conflict between the Norsemen and the English is wonderfully violent stuff: a reminder of just how well this series presents its action, not just with lots of mud and guts but with its own mini-story. Halfway though, Ragnar climbs a hill, only to see another horde awaiting him; a sequence that, combined with the inevitable loss of friends, carries a gruesome weight.
King Ecbert, meanwhile, continues his quest to conquer Lagertha; a struggle that unfolds in the gentle intimacy of a Roman bath, but is equally hard-fought. It doesn’t seem like it, with all their friendly smiles and coquettish glances, but the king is determined to plough that furrow. Quite literally, in fact, as he gifts an iron plough to them for the farming of their field. It’s an explicit act of cultural imposition; a Christian taming of the wild, Norse ways. Here, it seems to say, is the civilised way to farm.
When Ecbert steps out of his hot tub, though, he finds himself confronted by his subjects and supporters. Surely, they insist, these Vikings should renounce their pagan ways, if they are to harvest fruit from England’s green and pleasant land? Ragnar faces revolt too, as Gustaf Skarsgår’s joker seriously questions the benefit of their fighting for this puppet princess – his religious misgivings have stretched back to Season 1 when Athelstan first arrived, but have only gotten stronger, all snide smirks and titled head.
It’s this battle between beliefs that keeps the episode going; the plot has little substance or momentum, but Hirst neatly parallels the similarities between the different societies. George Blagden’s Athelstan continues to be at the heart of it, now the secret custodian of Roman artefacts yet still tempted to go against his moral ways with Judith. Ecbert, meanwhile, reveals the collection to Lagertha, explaining that the Romancs had false gods, like hers.
“My gods are as real as you or me,” she retorts, indignantly. “They love and rush around the skies.”
Linus Roache brings an enjoyably loathsome patronising streak to his seduction. For him, you realise, her beliefs are not necessarily something to be respected, but to be corrected; a colonial attitude that thinks of their gods as playful stories.
If stories their part to play in belief, though, Kattegat is where it’s at: Harbard, the mysterious stranger from last week, reveals himself to be a teller of tall tales. (“I sing for my supper,” he says, despite the fact that the phrase probably didn’t exist then.)
Kevin Durand is aptly hypnotic as he weaves a picture for his hostesses. After stealing scenes in The Strain, he’s just as watchable here, with his glinting eyes and wide smiles. The women of Kattegat treat him warily, with Siggy skeptical, even as Aslaug is enchanted.
Only when The Seer gets involved again are we reminded that he could be something more dangerous – and powerful – than a mere wandering beggar with the gift of the gab. Vikings, after all, is a show that has faith in its prophecies: those beliefs are not just part of its characters, but run through the series’ own nervous system.
It’s fitting that the most stand-out scene, then, is a bravura display of that religion in action, as the Vikings’ field is consecrated in England. Blood, chanting, seeds, robes; it’s arguably the best moment of the show since the sacrificial Episode 8 in Season 1, a confident finger stuck up at the surprised King Ecbert and a daunting reminder of how powerful beliefs can be. Three episodes in and it’s frustrating to not have a clear sense of direction for Vikings Season 3. But by Jove, who wouldn’t want to see more of this?
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