Askeladd runs into a man fishing. He asks if the fish are “biting,” the man doesn’t care, he’s operates the ferry. Askeladd tells him that he wants him to deliver a letter to an elder. Thorkell’s men continue to pursue, Askeladd and his men are able to detect them. Or I should say that the man called “the Ear,” can detect them. We have seen him at work before, however, in this episode his skill are put in more focus. Vinland Saga manages to give it’s characters almost supernatural powers, without sacrificing realism. The “Ears” talents are pushing those boundaries, but I think the shows realism remains intact. Anyway, he is able to hear the soldiers and their horse march. He determines that they’re only one day behind on foot. The Ear quickly detects two men on horse back. Exposed, Askeladd says that they can’t win in a fight, they must keep running until the reinforcements he sent for arrive.
Askeladd’s men are exhausted and worried. However, Askeladd says he doesn’t care. Bjorn asks him why he’s behaving so strangely. Askeladd explains that he’s able to read people, just by looking at their faces. When seeing Prince Canute he realized that he’s doesn’t have the “face of a king.” As Askeladd and his men continue to evade Thorkell they finally reach the reinforcements. Thorkell is shocked that Askeladd was aided by Wales. Thorkell explains the history of Wales, a small mountainous region to the west of England. It was never unified under a single country. In East of Morgannwg Kingdom of Wales, Askeladd and his crew. He tells Ragnar that they must walk to Gainesborough on foot. Ragnar hates the idea, mainly because the people of Wales hate them. Askeladd tells him that he has allies in Wales and he will have Thorfinn act as Canute’s guard.
The general of the Kingdom, Gratianus, will help them to Gainsborough. He makes it clear that the only reason that their helping Canute is to receive a “non-aggression” treaty. He asks him to swear that “once he (Canute) becomes King of England he wouldn’t interfere in the affair of Wales.” Canute is quite. He barely speaks and when he does, it’s only to Ragnar. Canute’s demeanor doesn’t garner much respect. He can barely look people in the eyes and twirls his hair like a child. He appears profoundly innocent, especially when you compare him to Thorfinn. As they continue to travel, they are attacked. As Canute looks around in shock, Thorfinn get’s really for battle.
This episode would be a let down for anyone that only cares about Vinland Saga for the epic battles. I think that the series willingness to slow the narrative down and focus on the larger world and it’s history is refreshing. Canute is barely noticeable but is slowly showing his personality. He’s appears to be the foil for the brooding, angry Thorfinn. Time will tell if he will be “corrupted” by the realities of the world, but I think he will serve as a contrast to Thorfinn. Vinland Saga manages to balance the history of the world, realism, and deep characterization with epic violent action.
Thorkell and his men talk about what’s great about fall. The food taste better, especially the fish. They talk about the “modest” Christian women, which pivots to a conversation about the religion itself. Considering the limits of Christianity, Thorkell’s men notes that “if your Christian . . . you can’t do this or that.” One of the men talks about the statue of Jesus on the cross and how “weak” he looks. It’s understandable that compared to Odin and Thor, Jesus despite his “magic” doesn’t really seem cool. Thorkell decides that they should ask a Christian. He asks Prince Canute which is better, Jesus or the gods in Asgard? Canute refuses to speak.
Suddenly, Thorkell and his men stop. Thorkell picks up a spear and hurdles it into the head of a soldier. They demand that Ragnar and Canute be returned. Thorkell returns them to the soldiers, but Thorkell tells them to “show him their best attack.” What we end up with is a stand off. The soldiers feel that Thorkell and his men are challenging them as warriors, and to retreat is to become a “coward.” Ragnar tells him that rescuing Prince Canute is the “victory.” Thorkell asks them if they’re “scared,” even with “2000.” They are provoked by Thorkell and attack. Meanwhile, Askeladd and his men start fires.
Thorkell with two axes, slaughters many of the soldiers, hacking pieces of them off. Thorkell realizes that the fire was started by a third party. Askeladd has his men pour water on Thorfinn and sends him to capture the Prince. He arrives just in time to “save” Prince Canute. Surrounded by fire, Thorfinn prepares to fight Thorkell and his men. When Thorkell arrives he asks Thorfinn two questions. He reveals that he knows that who Thors is and Thorfinn’s mother. Thorkell says that Thors is the only man stronger than him. He leaves as the fire rages. Thorfinn returns with the Prince. Askeladd offers his services as a “bodyguard” and asks to see Canute’s face.
Prince Canute seems to be disinterested in fighting Thorkell. However, Thorkell becomes excited at the news that Canute is leading the Danish army. He rushes out to attack the them. Askeladd and his men are separated form the main army and are trying to make some money before the winter. A messenger from Prince’s Canute army runs into Askeladd accidentally and informs them of Thorkell’s attack. Thorkell has taken the Prince hostage and is going to confront the main army. Askeladd becomes excited at the possibility of recusing the Prince and holding him ransom to the Kingdom that offers him the best price.
There wasn’t a whole lot to this episode, but there’s some things of note. First it seems that Thorfinn’s consciousness is getting to him. He remembers his family and clearly misses them. I think they’re going to be his remaining source of humanity that prevents him from becoming a true monster. Another theme that this series always highlights is the decline of the powerful. Askeladd tells Thorfinn that he will eventually kill him. His age will cause him to get weaker, while Thorfinn will continue to get stronger. At some point Thorfinn will be stronger and win. He then explains this view further when talking about, the decline of the Roman Empire and the Saxons.
Thorkell’s excitement when hearing that Canute was leading was surprising. The distance in their fighting ability and experience is vast. It’s unlikely that he was excited to fight him, but by taking him hostage can force the main army to come rescue him. The immaturity of some of the vikings in Askeladd army is profound. Two of them get into a fight over name calling and literally fight to one dies. If Ragnarok, teaches us anything it’s how Askeladd and his men don’t value there lives or the lives of others.
In October 1013, a fleet of Danish and Viking ships arrive in England. They are prepared to take London Bridge. Askeladd’s army is hired by Denmark, hoping to get rich with an easy victory. However, things get more complicated, with the deflection of Thorkell the Tall. Askeladd sends Thorfinn after Thorkell. A battle obsessed “madman,” Thorkell fights against his own countrymen for the challenge. When Floki asks the English for their surrender, Thorkell throws a massive boulder at them. He misses, but shows that he’s a major obstacle. The highlight of this episode is the fight between, Thorfinn and Thorkell. Armed with two daggers, Thorfinn takes on the unarmed Thorkell.
This fight is spectacular. They use of dramatic camera angles is really effective. Thorfinn use of superhuman acrobatics when dodging Thorkell’s massive blows is a sight. Thorkell duels Thorfinn one on one. Thorfinn quickly notices that despite being unarmed, Thorkell could kill him with “one hit.” He notices the weak points of Thorkell, attacking low, he manages to stab Thorkell in the hand. However, this allows Thorkell to grab Thorfinn. Slamming Thorfinn into the ground repeatedly, Askeladd and the fleet retreat. Thorfinn escapes after cutting off two of Thorkell’s fingers. He then jumps into the sea after informing Thorkell that he’s named Thorfinn, son of Thors.
Thorkell is excited to have battled such a warrior. He hopes for another battle on day. Realizing that they can’t spend so much time in one city, King Sweyn plans to move West. He will leave 4000 troops to overtake England, handing over command to the young Prince Canute. Ragnar continues to challenge the Kings wisdom in this regard. Every time he does this I expect the King to have him killed. It seems to be foolish to constantly tell the King that he’s wrong without any consequences. Although maybe the King simply responds well to criticism. Meanwhile, Thorfinn returns to land, with a dislocated shoulder, a sprained right ankle and several broken ribs. As they march on to Wessex, Thorfinn struggles to understand why anyone would love battle so much.
Askeladd, Thorfinn and the rest of the vikings return home to their village in Jutland. Planning to spend the winter there, they return with the spoils won from the Frank battle. They’re welcomed back with open arms. Thorfinn and Askeladd’s duel is to occur here. As they begin to fight, Thorfinn appears to have an advantage. However, Askeladd being smarter, manipulates Thorfinn into becoming enraged. This results in Askeladd taking control of the duel and winning. Despite Thorfinn maturing he’s still just a child or teen. Regardless, he’s learned how to be violent but not how to fight smartly. He has much to learn before he can kill Askeladd.
As the men celebrate inside, Thorfinn is on the ship. While there he has a vision of his father. In this vision he’s reminded by his father that “no one has enemies,” and “a true warrior doesn’t need a sword.” It seems that Thorfinn may learn indirectly from his father’s wisdom. How long it takes is really the question. When he speaks to the slave girl, Hordaland, she asks him “if there is anything on the other side of the ocean.” She believes that there’s nothing in the world but wars and slave traders. Thorfinn tells her of Vinland, in this moment we are reminded that Thorfinn despite his brooding nature still has some compassion. After winter passes, the Danish army and Vikings begin their attack on England. Finally, we see some new characters mainly Canute and Thorkell.
Askeladd continues to prove that he’s more sophisticated than you think. While he’s willing to accept, commit and permit terrible acts, his morality is more complicated. His views on slavery were more nuanced than expected. He understands that everyone’s a slave to something. When talking to a kid about it, he says “It’s terrible. The guy who’s a slave to money holds a whip, and pretends to be the master of the slave he bought with his money. Everyone is a slave to something” Which begs the question “what is Askeladd a slave to?” We’ll probably find out the answer to that question later.