Vinland Saga – 21 – It Will Never Be Enough

It’s pretty amazing that Askeladd, who only a couple episodes ago was about to be assassinated by his own mutinying men, now finds himself taking a prominent role in maneuvering Prince Canute to the throne of the most powerful kingdom in Europe. Then again, it’s par for the course: Askeladd isn’t a mere pirate, he’s a tremendous diplomat, charmer, and spinner of yarns, all to aid his own interests.

Askeladd knows he’s sending his prince into a veritable hornets nest from which he may never come out…unless he plays his cards right. Sweyn wants Canute out of the picture, but he’s not reckless or bloodthirsty. He must match the king’s wits with his own. When Canute is shot in the chest by a sniper with a crossbow, the person actually shot was merely a slave woman serving as his body double.

Thorfinn goes after the sniper, and ends up in the arms of one Leif Erikson, a man he had probably not thought about in some time. Leif spots Askeladd first, and surely feels he owes Thors a heavy debt for saving them years ago. Leif remembers the cheerful boy on Iceland, and expects that he’s ready to leave the battlefield and go home; that he’s had enough of battle. He sure looks it, after all.

Of course, that’s not the case. Thorfinn betrays a moment or two of surprise upon seeing his old uncle again, but any talk of going home or seeing his mother and sister again, and he immediately puts his shell back up. It hasn’t been enough, and it never will be until Askeladd breathes his last, having been pierced through the heart with the blade of Thors, wielded by his son.

It’s entirely expected for Finn to act this way, but it hardly means he’s gone for good; he’s still so young after all. Just that he has his priorities. If he even considers himself the same person as the boy who has a mother and sister in Iceland, which is itself in doubt, returning comes home is entirely dependant on getting his father the revenge he believes he’s due.

That’s despite him knowing full well his father would have preferred he stop fighting and return home to family years ago, and not even bother with Askeladd.

That night, Askeladd visits an irreparably-wounded Bjorn, who arranges for his boss to fight and kill him tomorrow. Then Askeladd holds council with Canute, Thorkell, and Gunnar, and we learn just how much he’s thought through this York situation. He hired the assassin to attack the double, in hopes of making a big public show for the people of York that King Sweyn was playing dirty.

Indeed, we see rumors of varying degrees of accuracy spread across the city. Askeladd’s elite gut even sniffs out Gunnar’s treachery, and in Gunnar’s presence not only said only what he wanted Sweyn himself to eventually hear (that they’re not interested in a short-term battle, but in buying time), but has Finn follow Gunnar and his spy all the way to Sweyn’s house.

Canute doesn’t like how a woman had to give her life for a charade, but he can’t really complain when it’s put him in a far better position, increasing his available options while limiting those of his father.

The next day, Thorfinn asks Askeladd for yet another duel, and Askeladd once again accepts, with Canute and Thorkell acting as witnesses. But first, Askeladd has “a previous engagement” with Bjorn, who arrives and draws his sword for his last fight.

Before he dies, Bjorn tells his leader how much he looked up to him, but also pitied him for the loneliness he must experience. He paints Askeladd as someone who has risen to his present station (and indeed still breathes and stands, albeit with one so-so-leg) by rejecting everything and anyone.

Still, all Bjorn wanted to be his friend, and before delivering the blow that kills him, Askeladd grants him that wish before he passes. He allows him to hear those words, then turns Thorfinn, who may well succeed him as the next Askeladd. Scoring victories and glory left and right, but with nary a friend, family member, or lover to share it with.

Vinland Saga – 20 – Everything Must Change

Flanked by Askeladd, Thorfinn, and his new follower Thorkell and his army, Canute marches into Gainsborough like at…well, like a Prince—a clueless boy no longer. Floki can clearly tell something has changed just by looking at Canute’s eyes and hearing his tone.

His newfound backbone, charisma, and will conspire to put Floki in his place. It’s a good start, but the prince knows swaying his father won’t be so easy. More likely than not, the king will have to die before Canute’s Paradise on Earth can be realized.

Canute takes only Askeladd and Thorfinn to his meeting with the king, but the three realize almost immediately that they are walking into a potential ambush. Sweyn has packed his hall with hidden soldiers and archers, and his precise commands for where the trio to stand/kneel makes it clear he’s not shy about his intentions to finish what the war in England couldn’t—dispatch the son he no longer needs.

Askeladd demonstrates what an asset he is to Canute by using his silver tongue to beg Sweyn to reconsider what he believes the “will of the crown” to be. Sweyn has certainly seen better days (long ago, he apparently resembled Canute), and he’s not so subtly implying that the crown he wears is largely responsible, as it has a will of its own…much like the One Ring.

All a king can do is hold onto and increase his power. When Askeladd explains how that wouldn’t necessarily happen if he assassinates Canute, the king withdraws from that course of action, and an uneasy truce is reached. They’re to reconvene in York, where he’ll have a “reward” for his son’s service to the crown.

That night, Canute sits and drinks with his men (and a fresh-shaven—and 23-year-old!—Williband), and hears Askeladd’s impression of his father. Bottom line: Sweyn is no slouch, and dealing with him will pose a considerable challenge.

While pissing outside, Atli and his now brain-damaged brother bid their former boss farewell. Askeladd, a good sport, gives Atli some gold and one final order: never pick up a sword again, but take a wife and work the land. Canute’s paradise will need many more men like Atli and less like Askeladd or Thorkell. Because everything has to change.

P.S. Another Leif Erikson sighting, in Northumbria. Will his and Askeladd’s paths cross once more before the curtain falls?

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

Vinland Saga – 18 – Their Own Paradise

While the long-awaited rematch between Thorfinn and Thorkell is everything it should be, and doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t take up the whole episode by any stretch, and it doesn’t impress because of the blows exchanged, but because of the words. It doesn’t take up the whole episode because more than half of the episode takes place at the site of the crashed sled Finn abandoned to rescue the man he means to kill himself. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

When we return to Prince Canute, he can hear Bjorn’s mushroom-enhanced savagery, doesn’t want to open his eyes, and strays into a dream. There, Ragnar says goodbye, but also asks forgiveness for his crime of raising him like a son, and not a jarl. Thors tried to raise Thorfinn as a son and not a warrior, and we see how that turned out. When he awakes, Canute laments to the priest that with Ragnar dead no one in the world loves him.

Then the priest procedes to explode Canute’s brain by telling him what Ragnar showed him wasn’t really love. True love, by the priest’s admittedly extreme standards, is the corpse of a dead raider, whose remains will never steal or kill, but will nourish the animals and the Earth. Ragnar’s love, and the love of any father for his son, is simply discrimination—assigning an artificial hierarchy to what should or shouldn’t be protected.

When Eve bit the apple, man attained knowledge in exchange for expulsion from paradise, but what they lost when they were expelled is something they’ll never know and never attain again. With that loss comes questions—what is love, what is death, what is the purpose of life—that will never be answered.

Mirroring this philosophical exchange between Canute and the priest—and in some ways reinforcing its points—is the duel between Thorfinn and Thorkell, in which the hulking giant is able to best throw his opponent off balance not with the swing of an axe, but with a question that came to him while thinking about Thors, the one man stronger than him: what does it mean to be a true warrior?

Thorfinn can’t help but remember his father’s words: the ultimate warrior need not even hold a sword. It was an ideal he tried and failed to attain, and rather than paving a path for his son to follow, only inspired rage and a thirst for revenge. Thorfinn ultimately dodges the question like he dodges Thorkell’s strikes. Failing to dodge even one of those strikes could prove fatally punishing to his body but contemplating his question means having to reckon with the fact that all these years have been pointless.

Ultimately, what makes the moving back-and-forth between the fight and the talk work so well is that it puts the needlessness and pointlessness of Thorfinn’s actions into perspective. He needs to hear some of the things being said between Canute and the Priest. However the fight turns out—and getting thrown a hundred feet in the air and coming down hard isn’t going to help his cause—Thorfinn will still be hopelessly lost.

With Bjorn growing more and more mindlessly violent and running out of enemies to slay, Canute comes to a revelation: stop fighting needless battles when the Paradise of old will never be attained. Instead, he aims to create a new paradise on Earth, something that he as a member of a royal family can actually do. When Bjorn sidles up to him, Canute manages to disarm him with a look he’s never sported before…the look of someone from whom the fog has finally lifted.

Canute tells Bjorn and the last man standing to stop fighting. He’s going to chase down the horses, and orders the priest—named Williband—to tend to Bjorn’s wounds, and for the other man to help him. This is no time to fight or die. He asks the two to become his vassals, and he will do what, on Earth, he believes only a king can: give meaning to their battles, their lives, and their deaths.

Assuming Thorfinn survives his fight with Thorkell, will Canute be able to give him those things—and will Thorfinn be able to accept them? He has only six more episodes to work with.

Vinland Saga – 17 – Not Everyone’s Afraid to Die

The normally cautious Askeladd lashes out at his mutineers, throwing them off balance and allowing Bjorn to escape on the sled with Thorfinn, Prince Canute, and the Priest. But as he contemplates what could be the last moments of his life, he remembers a moment from his childhood when his dying mother told him about King Arthur, who is not only still alive and recovering in the mythical land of Avalon, but will return someday. When he does, she told Askeladd to serve him.

Mutineers manage to catch up to the sled, and realize that there’s no bargaining with Bjorn; if they want the Prince, they’ll have to kill him. Thus, they take the less sporting route by killing his horses, sending the sled and its occupants flying. Finn kills one of the pursuers and mounts his horse, abandoning the prince because killing Askeladd is more important. If Askeladd should die by someone else’s hands, I doubt Finn would ever forgive himself.

Askeladd fights of many of his men, who fall back and shoot him with several arrows, none of which immediately threaten his life (though infection could set in if his wounds aren’t tended soon). Then his life is saved…by Thorkell of all people, who has arrived, and orders his men to kill everyone but Askeladd. The mutineers reluctantly pick up their weapons and die as something resembling warriors, but Thorkell pushes Torgrim too far, and Torgrim simply…goes bye-bye.

That’s when Thorfinn rides in, plowing through mutineers and English alike with his horse and charging towards Thorkell, who without hesitation charges up and uppercuts the goddamn horse like it was nothing. I’ve harped in the past about some of the more supernatural feats of Thorkell and others, but in this case the silliness is a good complement to the seriousness of the situation. Finn tells Thorkell that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t give him Askeladd, and Thorkell is all to eager to let Finn try. Here’s hoping for Finn’s sake this isn’t like London.

Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Vinland Saga – 13 – The Prince is Beautiful, But Cautious

After what looked like a no-win scenario had unfolded for Askeladd, Thorfinn, and Prince Canute, the standoff actually de-escalates when Askeladd starts speaking Welsh, to the surprise of even Bjorn.

It’s his assessment that their “hosts” from Brycheiniog won’t do them any harm, but they cannot let a horde of Danes cross their lands unchallenged, hence their intimidating posture. Askeladd tries to get Canute to intimidate them back, but the prince hides behind Ragnar.

Askeladd and Gratianus have a private meeting with the Brycheiniog commander, Asser, in which Askeladd reveals that he is half Dane and half Welsh, and a living descendant of the legendary King Artorius of Brittania, who inspired the legend of King Arthur.

The episode’s cryptic cold open depicts him in his youth bringing his dying mother back to Wales, and Gratianus greeting him. It should be noted young Askeladd looks a lot like Thorfinn. No wonder he’s taken such a shine to him; he’s the son he never had.

Anyway, Askeladd agrees to hand over the weapons of all his men and allow themselves to be escorted across Brycheiniog so Asser and his king can save face and look good to the common subjects. In exchange, Askeladd will see to it Canute is the one who succeeds the Danish throne, which means he’ll have a powerful seat at the table with which to ensure a treaty of non-aggression with Wales is arranged.

The fact of the matter is, Askeladd hates the Danes, likely in part (if not mostly) because of what they did to his mother. He seems as intent of keeping Wales unspoiled for her sake as anything else. But between some concerned looks from Bjorn and some groaning of his men, he will be testing their loyalty—and the secrets he’s kept from them—to their furthest limits by changing their route to Gainsborough.

In the meantime, Prince Canute finally hits his limit for enduring verbal abuse and mockery from Thorfinn, and calmly explains that as a prince he must be more cautious with his words…before abandoning that cautiousness to give Thorfinn a piece of his mind. Ragnar is shocked, but in a good way; he knows more than most how he might be hurting the fledgling by not insisting he leave the nest.

Still, Ragnar’s desire to protect a child who has already endured so much (Canute’s childhood was not a happy or peaceful one) seems to override that logic. It’s probably heartening to no end to hear Canute speaking to someone other than him; it means Canute and Thorfinn are, against all odds, developing a rapport. That can only be good for the both of them.

Vinland Saga – 12 – The Face of a King

As Thorkell’s forces chases his, Askeladd sends a message across the Severn River, hoping for some reinforcements to even the odds. His “Ear”, an Asian-looking man with very good hearing, can tell the enemy is only a few days away, if that.

The men are worried, and Bjorn relays that worry, but Askeladd is content to leave everyone in the dark. He also hasn’t been quite the same since seeing Prince Canute’s face. It just doesn’t seem like the face of a king. To be fair, Canute is young…but so is Thorfinn.

A thick, brooding atmosphere of impending doom pervades the march of Askeladd’s men as they grow more fatigued and Thorkell draws closer, but takes on a more otherworldly hue once they arrive at the spot where Askeladd says the reinforcements will be waiting.

The rendezvous point is a Roman ruin, suffused in fog. The soundtrack starts to boom with synth bass and brash, punishing tuba as Askeladd draws near and bows in deference to the two figures in romanesque garb. Eventually, triremes come into view.

These aren’t representatives of the Roman Empire reborn, nor another world, but one of the stubbornly independent kingdoms of Wales. Any enemy of the English is a ally of theirs. Askeladd’s connections enable them to cross Wales to reach Gainsborough rather than deal with Thorkell.

It will be a long journey, and the lands of Wales are rough and unforgiving, so Askeladd appoints Thorfinn as Prince Canute’s bodyguard. Amusingly, the Welsh commander mistakes Finn as the Danish prince, and says the same thing Askeladd thought when he sees his face—just not king material…at least not yet.

Thorfinn’s job is to make sure Canute lives to fulfill his destiny, but despite being the same age the two couldn’t have more different paths to get to that age. Finn is cold to Canute, while the prince is frightened of Finn. We’ll see if putting the two together toughens Canute, softens Finn…or both. Of course, the challenge of just keeping Canute alive becomes painfully plain when their forces are lured into a trap, with archers from a neighboring Welsh kingdom raining arrows down on them.

In an odd aside, we see an aged, balding Leif Erikson arriving at a port, and spots one of the slaves being taken away. (S?)he looks a lot like Thorfinn: messy straw hair, brown eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here. Does this scene place some time after the ambush? I doubt Finn would be so easily captured. If you have any insight into that, let me know in the comments.

Otherwise, this was an interesting episode to mark the halfway point of the series. Thorfinn is protecting Canute mostly to get another duel out of Askeladd, a duel that’s sure to be the closest yet as he grows stronger and Askeladd gets older. But there’s a lot going on around him that threatens postpone or even deprive him of that duel, if for instance Askeladd doesn’t survive the ambush.

Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

Vinland Saga – 10 – Dawn in the Age of Twilight

Vinland Saga has become an exercise in guarded patience, centered around the question of how long Thorfinn going to pursue revenge, and when he’s going to wake up and live his own damn life. Maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing, and his father, both in life and in his dreams, is just wrong that there’s a better path than the one he’s on.

Maybe Thorfinn is simply caught in the inertia of the events surrounding him, and would simply rather put effort in what he sees as a sure thing—one day cutting Askeladd’s throat—than the uncertainty of returning to a life of peace with his mother and sister. After all, Thors tried to live that life, and failed when his past caught up to him.

Whether consciously or not, Thorfinn is drawing nearer to ending up just like his old man: strong and distinguished, but in too deep to ever get out. But he’s still young, and as many lives as he’s taken, it probably doesn’t come close to the number his father took. There is still plenty of time to turn his life around into something worthwhile.

His dreams start as an idyllic life that never was with his family in the endless, rolling, fertile hills that look a lot like England (or possibly Vinland). They end with the skies darkening, his village attacked, and his father run through with arrows. Will Thorfinn ever take that dream to mean stop wasting your life chasing revenge and return to his family?

Maybe, maybe not. As Vinland Saga reaches its midpoint, I’ve found Thorfinn’s quest for revenge misguided and increasingly not that interesting. I’d like to know whether it’s going to reach a point where he either finally manages to kill Askeladd and moves on to something else, or walks away from that quest entirely.

But the cloud of uncertainty persists without any regard for my wishes, and in the meantime, the Danish war with England seems to be winding down. Askeladd’s men have been mopping up lesser villages as the main army has headed north to rest. Canute has failed to do anything with his 4,000 men in London, preferring to pray to Jesus in his tent.

Askeladd’s men are so restless, the smallest insults between them become pointless fights to the death. Having awakened from his beautiful, terrible dream before dawn, Thorfinn stays above the encampment, among Roman ruins, where Askeladd finds him.


It’s there where Askeladd attempts small talk but is rebuked by Thorfinn, asserting “they’re not friends” and that he hasn’t given up his goal of slitting his throat. Askeladd likes Thorfinn’s look, but still isn’t scared. He knows time isn’t on his side, and that his would-be killer will continue to grow stronger as he grows older and weaker.

But by that same token, if the Christians are to be believed, Judgment Day and the end of everyone and everything on earth, could be upon them in as few as twenty years (an event Thorfinn likens to Ragnarok). Considering the Romans were a far more advanced society than the Saxons who defeated them (not to mention the Vikings on the cusp of defeating the Saxons), it certainly seems like humans have had their time in the sun, and now live in an age of twilight.

And yet, the sun still rises just as it always has, bathing the land in light and possibility. With the dawn comes a rider from London, who reports that Canutes forces were routed by the English led by Thorkell, who’d grown impatient waiting on the bridge and is marching his men north to meet the main Danish army.

The war is not over as long as Thorkell is with the English, while Askeladd sees the potential for great riches if he and his men rescue Prince Canute. Not wanting to share the glory or spoils of such a victory, he kills the messenger, and will make do with what he has. He fires his men up, and Thorfinn seems poised to continue following him.

If the end is coming for all, Askeladd will be satisfied with “going out with a bang.” But as we know, the world wouldn’t end in twenty years, meaning final blazes of glory are woefully premature, especially for someone like Thorfinn, who still has a mother and sister to protect, and a family and home of his own to build. With so many dawns he has yet to watch rise above the horizon, it would be a shame to descend into night now.

Vinland Saga – 09 – London Bridge is NOT Falling Down

Turns out that huge warrior leading the defence of London from its famous bridge is not even an Englishman, but a Norse giant named Thorkell. King Sweyn’s armies will make little progress until he’s out of the picture, so Askeladd sends Thorfinn to work out some of his frustration. Thorfinn makes him promise for yet another duel in exchange for Thorkell’s head.

Floki and the Jomsvikings beseech Thorkell to abandon his contract with the English and re-join the Danish army, and he’ll be paid double. But like Askeladd’s right hand man Bjorn, it’s not about themoney. Unlike Bjorn, who likes easy wins, Thorkell doesn’t want to fight the English; they’re too weak. He’d much rather fight the tougher Vikings.

As the Vikings continue their siege of the Thames, Thorkell makes any ship or soldier who comes too close regret it, sending a hail of arrows from his archers, or just heaving a massive boulder or tree trunk into the Viking ships, sinking them. He’s a bit superhuman, but heck, so are a lot of Vikings, chief(tan) among them the late Thors and his giant oar.

When Thorfinn leaps onto the bridge to face Thorkell, it’s immediately apparent the latter has a huge advantage in size and strength, and isn’t that much slower. One wonders if it would have been better for Askeladd to send Bjorn instead—preferably on his berserker mushrooms. Then again, I’m sure Askeladd values Bjorn far more than Thorfinn.

Thorfinn hangs in there about as long as you’d expect, considering the moment Thorkell gets a grip on any one of his arms or legs, it’s basically game over. Thorkell blocks Thorfinn’s dagger with his hand, then slams him back and forth against the bridge like a ragdoll.

To Thorkell’s surprise and delight, Thorfinn hasn’t lost any of his will to fight, and when Kell’s guard is down Finn claims two of the fingers from his stabbed hand before plunging into the Thames. Thorkell lets him go, hoping for another fun fight in the future.

It is clear King Sweyn bit off more than he could chew, and isn’t going to get the quick victory he wanted, so he redirects the bulk of his armies to Wessex in the west, where they’ll hopefully have more luck. He leaves the continued siege of London, and just 4,000 men, to his son Prince Canute, despite protests from Ragnar, whom the king blames for making the lad “faint of heart.”

Whether Canute succeeds in London will probably determine whether he succeeds to the throne, but as we haven’t heard a word from him, who knows how that’ll go. Perhaps at some point he’ll get some lines and we can see what kind of person and warrior he is beyond what others say about him.

As for Thorfinn, he’s washed down the river westward and meets back up with Askeladd’s crew, now headed to Wessex. After popping his dislocated shoulder back in, he joins the march, remembering the words of the “madman” Thorkell talking about how fun fighting is. But it’s not fun for Thorfinn. It never was, and probably never will be.