The notion of mercy was not common in the world of the Northmen of History’s drama Vikings, where Kings went back on their word to each other and slaughtered their people in battles for land and dominance.
Even in the Christian lands, mercy was a concept more revered on paper than in real life.
In Wessex, we see our Judith (Jennie Jacques) studying with a reluctant Prudentius (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh), the Frankia monk ordered by King Ecbert (Linus Roache) to allow her to be “free.”
Judith pumps the monk for details on the Viking raid, which like an ancient game of telephone she relays to an amused Ecbert.
Egbert, like Ragna far away, is really missing the late monk Athelstan (George Blagden) and loves talking about him with Judith who knew him intimately and gave birth to his son.
“You are God’s sacred vessel,” Ecbert says to Judith. “Chosen to deliver the holy man’s child.”
Meanwhile Ecbert’s son Aethelwulf, who is married to Judith, returns from Mercia with Queen Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey) and Magnus son of Ragnar. These two are already making love with their furtive stares as Aethelwulf goes to Kwenthrith’s bed to consumate their lust.
These women are being passed around like a hot potato as Ecbert’s one-time lover Kwenthrith is bedding Aethelwulf while Aethelwulf’s wife Judith is Ecbert’s main squeeze.
“I think the most challenging part was definitely the conditions. The weather was pretty rough and pretty cold but in terms of the bear, most of it is real. We don’t have a budget like The Revenant so we can’t make a CGI bear so in a really exciting way, we got to use a real one and it was a very, very incredible experience to work with such a beautiful and amazing animal.”- Alexander Ludwig, phone interview from March 1.
Gisla’s growing antipathy (Morgane Polanski) towards Duke Rollo (Clive Standen) is demonstrated in her outbursts as she demands a divorce, much to her fathers chagrin.
However, Rollo is important to Paris as he is the insurance plan they all have to thwart any further Viking attacks.
Count Odo (Owen Roe) arranges for Rollo to have a language teacher, though it does not go too smoothly.
Meanwhile Earl Kalf (Ben Robson) and Earl Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) are in a tricky relationship as Kalf wants to perhaps have a child and she swore she would kill him someday.
The Seer’s prophecy that she would never have a child again weighs on her as well.
Meantime Kalf plots with Erlendur the son of Horik to assassinate Bjorn Ironside.
However, Bjorn has already gone to the interior to prove his survival skills so they sic a big ol’ Berserker to murder him.
Things are tough for our Floki and his wife Helga
In the village, Ragnar sits with Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and tells his sons about the ferryman Harbard and the god Thor.
The name “Harbard” is a stab at his suspicions about Aslaug’s infidelity, yet she and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) think that Harbard was an earthly appartition of Odin.
Ragnar cannot stand his Norse god fundamentalist wife. He misses the sense, wisdom, worldiness and soul of Athelstan.
Ecbert and Ragnar each have visions in dreams of Athelstan, who like Christ washes Ragnar’s feet and says ‘mercy.” It is time for Ragnar to cut Floki free.
During this episode Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) has his wits tested as he kills a bear enduringhis self imposed exile.
A real freaking bear, no CGI. Take that, Leonardo DiCaprio!
TV critics April Neale and Ernie Estrella discuss this poignant episode:
Ernie Estrella: We start the episode with Floki being tortured, much like the norse god, Loki was, bound to three rocks, with a serpent’s venom falling onto his head drop by drop. Loki’s wife, Sigyn feeling pity for her husband shielded him and empty bowls of the venom.
Here we see Helga doing the same as she is the only one still crying for Floki and sadly must endure as much pain and suffering as her husband.
April Neale: Boy here I am part Norwegian and you are smoking me on the Norse gods knowledge! Shame on me.
Well, good wives are worth their weight in gold, and Helga hanging in there for Floki earns her stripes in the wife of fame section of Valhalla.
EE: That’s how deep this show gets to me. I love looking beyond the show and seeing what’s true, what’s fiction and what inspires Michael Hirst.
I’ll say this though, Loki’s torture… looks like a helluva effective diet. Gustaf Skarsgard is ripped in this episode!
AN: Right? Imagine if we only ate what was caught, killed and foraged! And never sat down in front of a computer working all day.
I need to check out that Paleo Norse water torture, running and gunning diet, that will skinny you down.
It is hard to see your loved one suffer and Helga truly loves this crazy guy. And at the end of the episode, thankfully Ragnar sets his mind to release them with some tender mercies.
EE: So Bjorn gets to dance with a big bear in “Mercy” and let’s give some proper kudos to Alexander Ludwig who shot all of these scenes in isolation.
And that it wasn’t a CG bear, that was an effing-real-bear, April! Leonardo DiCaprio ain’t got nothing on Ludwig. F The Revenant!
AN: Alexander Ludwig IS The Revenant! That bear scene was intense and real as we found out on the conference call with him this week, and he really trained hard to get all of these scenes turned in with such authenticity.
He smoked Leo in the acting chops as far as his endurance test in the Nordic wilds…
EE: Some big things are coming Bjorn’s way and while we see the circle of Kattegat split up and having their own journey this season, I’m sucked into what Bjorn is proving to himself though.
Again, I love how brave this series is to look beyond the main character and understand there is a large part of the Viking Age that is carried on by Ragnar’s sons but to actually play it out on TV takes some balls.
AN: Ludwig deserves an Emmy, Globes and Critics’ Choice nomination for his turn this season, fellow TV critics are you hearing us? This was WILD what he accomplished.
No CGI. Real freezing cold intense physical demands, his return to civilization and mother Lagertha was incredible too but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…
EE: I agree. By the time this season ends, I have a feeling that Ludwig will have a big reel to show off. Now April, you’ve waited a whole week and here’s your chance to talk about that Berserker that’s been sent after Bjorn during his vision quest.
AN: The Berserker! I have been dying to talk about this one. I want one. Seriously! My own Berserker.
They were a real race of special Norsemen (aka big scary white boys) who were completely, well berserk!
They went into battle nearly naked in that freezing cold and they freaked out their enemies so much by their size, fierce DGAF attitudes and battle skills, they were Natural Born Killers!
EE: Yeah, we get why Kalf is making a play for Lagertha but Bjorn? He’s raiding the wrong family…
AN: Freaking Kalf, I hope Bjorn goes a bit berserk on him…
EE: Now Kalf is trying to seduce Lagertha into thinking, that he is thinking of a long road ambition with her. But he’s obviously trying to sugar her up while also enjoying great sex.
Do you think she’s buying it? I mean the last thing she wants to do is have another kid, much less try to appease another man with a family, when she knows she probably can’t have one, even if she wanted one.
AN: At this point, Lagertha is trying to establish a secure spot for herself, she’s well past the wanting to make a baby years (though not impossible she could get pregnant despite what the Seer sees) and is now thinking about her place/retirement if you will so that she is relevant, safe and secure.
Women are all about security.
EE: However, when Lagertha had her miscarriage, we’re led to believe she can’t have children anymore, right? Or perhaps more accurately, she believes she can’t have another child?
AN: They were all guessing, there was no real doctor or ability to see what was really going on up in her plumbing but I believe that’s what she believed.
EE: The thing with this extended season is that we get bigger storylines for everyone, but at times it feels like we’re not getting enough of everyone or any one character.
Sadly we only get a tiny bit of Lagertha again, but as we said, Bjorn’s getting the spotlight.
Now, to the another family member, it’s another rough go for Paris’ new Duke, Rollo, but I love how he doesn’t quit, how he keeps at it.
I know he’s getting played by the French king and Count Odo, but again, I’m a big fan of what he’s trying to do for himself. He’s figuring out to be his own man and what kind of things he can excel at.
AN: It seems to be Rollo and Bjorn-heavy this season, and they deserve it, but you are right about Rollo has some stamina and tenacity! He has his dickish qualities, like the slaughtering of his people in the camp thing, but his ardor for Gisla is pretty solid.
He likes being in the French court, the civility and all the trappings are suiting him despite his tough time with the language…
EE: Okay, what do you make of the conspirators in the French regime, Count Odo’s whipping girl and his steward.
AN: Every court has its kink thang, and Odo is Charles’s Iago, and cunning connivers usually have that weirded out sex drive thing where they can control and subjugate supplicants in the court to get their jollies.
He’s par for the course then. King Charles is kind of a religious stiff, unlike Ecbert who is also a sexual libertine.
EE: We get an interesting turn of events in England as Ecbert doesn’t have to use his power to get his… well, daughter-in-law in bed with him.
This round anyway. It’s a fascinating dynamic considering he could have anyone in his kingdom but this somehow gets him closer to the late Athelstan…
AN: Right? This is a weird homosexual-tinged proxy sexual congress where they both get off in their shared obsession with Athelstan.
It’s creepy! Ecbert is such a manipulator anyway and he bores quickly in the sack, but Judith is like the best looking woman around in the court right now, so tag… she’s it…
EE: [Laughing] And that brings us to the side-by-side dreams that Ragnar and Ecbert have of Athelstan. That he’s able to speak to both and set them on their right paths.
I’ve got to admit, in my own wandering thoughts of this show, I fever dream about Athelstan too. I miss him and what he brought to the series that much.
AN: Athelstan is deeply loved and missed by both men and Judith who bore his son, as he fired their imaginations to what can be, what is possible beyond their kingdoms, what loftier aspirations they could live up to as they learned so much from him.
They drank him up – remember there was no internet, TV or newspapers, everything was spoken word, stories and the few books available that were so precious, they forbid women to read or learn from them.
Athelstan was a conduit to the enlightened larger world, beyond their cold dark kingdoms, and he had an inner peace and energy that drew people to him.
He is missed for sure by viewers and the cast in their roles.
EE: Speaking of strange hookups, Aethelwulf and Kwenthrith… I thought he was a complete dud but he’s got a pulse and Princess Kwenthrith as we know has a real appetite. She’s not easy to keep up with.
AN: She’s a kooky hot mess, and thank goodness she’s such a randy goer that Judith can keep on keeping on with her father-in-law as Kwenthrith does the business with a very enthusiastic Aethelwulf.
He’s still the Vikings’ version of Ted Cruz. Awful man. What a weird sexual setting is King Ecbert’s court!
EE: It is an interesting contrast with what’s going on in all three kingdoms, they’re all different from each other, but each has its own trouble brewing underneath.
Any thoughts on Ragnar’s campfire story about Thor and the ferryman, or better yet Aslaug’s reaction to his story?
AN: That was his warning to her, in my opinion, that Harbard and her indiscretion are revealed, and she is now on notice that he is done.
Meaning his love for her has really expired and he is now looking for a sexual partner outside the marriage and will not tolerate her “My father the King…” lippy little holier than thou stories.
EE: That really is her go-to retort. I’m hoping we get some more dimensions out of Aslaug this season. She tells her kids all about her father, and she’s a devoted mother, and now we get this interest from her about this vision by the Seer but it all seems very passive.
She’s at her most interesting when she unleashes the fundamental, purist side to her, taking her fate into her own hands.
However, we’ve never seen the Seer be wrong, and wouldn’t things take a turn if he is wrong, because we know the greatness that’s coming in Bjorn and his step-brothers.
I don’t think Lagertha would stand in the way of Bjorn ruling if it came down to that. But since the Vikings have a transitional period from Paganism to Christianity at some point, the gods fail the Vikings.
I wonder if they’re building to that moment for Aslaug, because she’s such a devout Pagan. One wonders.
AN: I hope they give Aslaug a bit more rope to hang herself with personally. I miss Lagertha, and I like Lagertha as a character more than Aslaug. Both women are devout norse gods believers too.
EE: I always feel so exhausted breaking these episodes down but there’s so much to talk about, they’re juggling a lot right as the Viking Age keeps expanding out of Scandinavia and you can feel all the transition of power, religion, and more.
It’s time to step away from “Mercy” and next week, we’ll talk about slaves and kings, and my man, Duke Rollo starts speaking English, which you know what that means…
AN: Look out Gisla, Rollo’s got a brand new thang….
Next week’s episode of Vikings is Yol and airs March 10.
What did you think of Episode 3? Let us know in the comments!More: Alexander Ludwig, Vikings