Vinland Saga S2 – 12 – No Love Lost

Here I was thinking Canute was going to march into Ketil’s farm and say “Mine.” But he can’t do that without angering other landowners. No, there’s an art to this. One that involves a mysterious man in a cloak who can kill a moth with a flipped coin, a pack of hyenas, and Olmar’s reliable hot-headedness and incompetence.

The five hyenas are sent to deliver the message that Olmar has been rejected for the guard, something he already knows. And since they know he failed to even pierce the skin of a roasted pig, they mock him mercilessly, unable to keep from laughing maniacally. Olmar is humiliated and drunk, of course he’s going to draw his sword.

Olmar challenges the lead hyena to a duel, and the hyena promptly dog-walks him, not even bothering to put in any effort against such a feeble opponent. Olmar is face down in the dirt and weeping when Thorgil arrives to see what the commotion is about.

He’s not here to bail his little brother out. Rather, he’s there to make sure one of two outcomes takes place: either Olmar properly addresses the insults by killing his opponent, or he’ll die by that same opponent’s sword. Kill or die. This is Thorgil’s lifelong philosophy.

Just as Olmar is sufficiently fired back up and charges the lead hyena, the cloaked man flips a coin right into the latter’s eye, which gives Olmar an opening he wasn’t expecting. His sword goes through his opponent’s throat, killing him. The coin was so fast no one saw it.

Thorgil, proud of his brother for finally becoming a man an killing someone, “handles the rest” with baroque, Thorkell-like gusto, not just killing the other four hyenas but chopping them to pieces, all while a clearly-in-shock Olmar kneels on the ground, wondering what the hell just happened as he is splattered with blood.

Upon inspecting the body, Thorgil sees the maimed eye and suspects something. When Ketil arrives and demands an explanation, Thorgil calmly says it was a fair duel that Olmar won, and the others were killed because they decided to attack the brothers, and got what they deserved.

Then royal guards arrive to arrest them for disrespecting the king, but Thorgil won’t give up his sword. Instead, he kills the guards, leaving one alive to tell him why they let Olmar win. When he won’t answer, he pierces the guard’s eye with the tip of his sword, and then he talks: they let Olmar win so that Ketil would be arrested.

It is then that Ketil realizes the king probably had his sights set on him and his land all this time, but his two sons certainly didn’t help matters by getting themselves tangled up in such a bloodbath. Even though Wulf’s men failed, Canute doesn’t care; he has the excuse he needs to move upon Ketil. Wulf also has to report that Ketil, Thorgil, and Olmar got away, but that too is of no consequence.

Canute is sending over 100 men to overwhelm the farm and take it over, whether Ketil is there when they arrive or not. But they will be there, as we see that Leif Erikson smuggled them out of Jelling in barrels, not out of the kindness of his heart, but in exchange for Ketil buying all of his cargo and releasing Thorfinn into his care. Ketil can hardly refuse such an offer.

Back at the farm, Thorfinn and Einar are wrapping up another day of good honest hard work, but there’s something about the sunset that seems to unsettle Thorfinn, as if he knows the storm that’s coming. Canute ignores King Sweyn’s head mocking him and stares into that very same sunset. War is coming to Ketil’s farm, just when Thorfinn has something to fight for besides the fighting itself.

Vinland Saga S2 – 11 – Head of the Line

“Norsemen won’t follow a weakling”, says King Canute’s Gunnar as he and a worried-sick Estrid watch her brother sparring with Wurf, the head of his royal guard and a much larger, stronger man. Estrid is just shocked to see Canute even handling a sword, he used to fear touching them. And while Canute ends up using Wurf’s crush on Estrid to distract and beat him, impressing his subjects, Estrid can tell her brother is in pain.

The late King Harald’s body is barely cold when Canute assumes the throne and gets to the work of keeping the kingdom financially solvent; no mean feat when he insists (probably with good reason) on keeping a native Danish force under his direct command in England, at the cost of all of the English taxes. Raising the Danes’ taxes will only foment unrest and resentment, so Canute has a different plan in mind: requisitioning lands from wealthy owners.

Right on cue, one of the men singularly equipped to benefit the very least from Canute’s imminent policy, Ketil, arrives in Jelling, three days after Harald died. Ketil, who didn’t even know the old king was that ill, is suddenly in the position of having to win favor with the new one. His elder son Thorgil, one of the king’s guards, will ask for an audience on Ketil’s behalf. As for Olmar? He’s in town acting like a pathetic gangster, bumping into a simple merchant and soiling his cloths.

Ketil arrives to de-escalate the situation, and the young merchant’s father also appears…and it’s Leif Erikson. The lad’s name is Thorfinn, AKA “Bug Eyes”, and we can surmise pretty easily that he was the product of Leif’s search for Thors’ son. Rather than abandon him, Leif ended up more or less adopting him. When Ketil mentions one of his people has the same name, hair, and eyes, Leif suspects that Ketil’s slave may be the Thorfinn he’s been looking for for years.

Ketil gets an audience with Canute almost immediately, which should be a red flag to him. The meet initially goes well, with Canute accepting Ketil’s fine gifts (the bounty of his vast farms) and assuring him of the necessity of strong farmers to keep the kingdom strong. Then Olmar stands (which you’re not supposed to do before the king) and starts to unsheath his sword (which you’re definitely not supposed to do before the king) and asks if he can join his brother in the royal guard.

Canute humors Olmar, and brings him before a freshly roasted pig to show his prowess with the blade. Olmar makes a lot of martial noises that startle the folks outside, leading to perhaps the funniest goddamn jump cut in Vinland’s history, as he is barely able to pierce the pig’s skin, let alone its bones. Even so, Canute says he’ll consider adding Olmar to his ranks. But it’s a bad look overall for the Ketil family.

Not that it matters. As soon as Canute learns that Ketil is a wealthy landowner, Ketil was doomed to be the first victim of the king’s requisition plan. Call it bad luck. Canute also identifies Olmar’s usefulness, not as anything resembling a warrior (he’s “all pride, no skill, as Wurf says), but as someone who can be easily manipulated into facilitating the land takeover. I’d feel bad for Ketil…if he wasn’t a damn slaveowner.

How will the impending takeover affect Ketil’s plans to free Thorfinn and Einar? I imagine all bets will be off, to say nothing of Arnheid’s freedom (or even safety). That said, it’s possible that Lief, or Canute, or both of them may soon find themselves in the presence of the real Thorfinn once more. They may not recognize the man he’s become.

Vinland Saga S2 – 10 – Getting Ahead in the World

We open with a couple of bare-chested swole lads chopping wood and shoving trunks. Three years of hard work have honed Thorfinn and Einar’s muscles, and the result of all that labor is that they have turned a forest into a wheat field. What felt impossible by design when a newly-enslaved Einar arrived has become reality. And yet, at brink of gaining their freedom, and both men seem…tentative.

As much as being a slave sucks, it steered a bloodthirsty hate-filled warrior Thorfinn was from a certain early grave and into a transformational brotherhood of two with Einar. Just still being alive is a gift; will freedom lead him back down darker roads? Einar’s reticence is simpler: he can hardly be over the moon about winning his freedom when Arnheid will remain slave. Even if he and Thorfinn could afford to buy her, Ketil wouldn’t sell.

What Ketil does offer is to give Thorfinn and Einar their freedom once they’re done sowing their latest crop. But first he and his son are headed to Jelling to see King Harald, who has taken ill. Also returning to Denmark is our boy King Canute, who day by day is carrying himself not just more like king, but more like the king.

When he spots childrenin town playing a ball game, he remembers how his brother Harald used to play with him, and trusted him to get up even when he fell. His brother was a strong, kind young man, the kind of person who would, and did, make a good king. The pleasant dream is interrupted when the kids’ ball rolls towards Canute’s feet. But he doesn’t see a ball. he sees the severed head of his slain father Sweyn.

Canute’s demeanor is solemn as he greets Harald, who is barely able to speak and lift his hand. Their sister Estrid is also there, trying to stay in good spirits. With what little strength he has left and with his court as witnesses, Harald offers the crown of Denmark to Canute without conditions. Canute refuses it, urging his brother to rest up and get better.

But King Harald won’t get better. He’s been poisoned. Canute is the one who had him poisoned. We learn this from Sweyn’s head, which only we and Canute can see. Sweyn mocks Canute’s show of sympathy, modesty, and above all innocence when yet more royal blood of his family stains his hands. Sweyn promises his son that with the dual crowns of England and Denmark on his head, he stands to endure twice the weight and torment.

That night in the room prepared for him, which overlooks the spot where he and Harald used to play, King Canute reclines in his chair, the head of his dead father his one and only true confidant. A serving woman knocks with refreshment, but Canute, who has poisoned all of his political rivals, is not about to accept a drink from uncertain source or purpose.

Sweyn’s head says he is a curse, and if he’s appearing in the afternoon, it’s getting worse. The head is the manifestation of Canute’s amassed trauma and guilt, always there to remind him how he comes to wear one crown and is poised to wear another.

Canute wants to build a peaceful utopia, and he may be right that such a wish is impossible with two kings hanging around. But ambition and ruthlessness have crept into his once gentle heart. If he keeps down this path, he’ll surely end up in that godforsaken place Thorfinn narrowly escaped…or worse.

Vinland Saga S2 – 09 – Climb of Atonement

It was all a dream. So thinks a clean-shaven Thorfinn, lounging in a grassy meadow when a lamb wakes him. Uemura Yuuto voices this carefree version of him in a way we’ve never heard Thorfinn speak, or if we have, it was so long ago he might as well have been a different person. In reality, Einar is just finishing up a fight with the retainers that he wins, because he won’t stop getting back up and his opponents are tired of fighting.

Thorfinn’s dream turns quickly when his father Thors appears and says he smells blood. Thorfinn looks down to find the dagger Thors gave him for protection thrust into the neck of a young Einar, who transforms into the older Einar he knows. As corpses sprout out of the ground to grab the father and son, it is only the son who falls through the resulting fissure. Before he falls, Thors repeats the philosophy he held to until his death: nobody has any enemies, so there is no worth in hurting others.

Thorfinn’s drop is long and painful as he continually smacks against the sharp stone walls. It takes most of his fingernails, but he manages gain a grip just before falling off an edge into what looks like the nether-regions of hell. MAPPA really goes all out with the nightmare fuel here. Askeladd is there, and he’s still himself. This is not Valhalla. Instead, it’s where fallen warriors really go: to fight a pointless, everlasting battle…and laugh.

As Thorfinn’s grip begins to fail, a column of ghouls reach him and start to grab his feet. Askeladd tells him to stop kicking them and listen to their complaints, for they are all the people he has killed. Thorfinn starts to shed tears and apologizes to them. When ghouls down below start firing arrows, Askeladd jumps down and fights them, then tells Thorfinn to start climbing, taking those he killed with him. That is his true battle.

With a gut-wrenching cry of determination, Thorfinn stretches and reaches upward, and suddenly finds himself propelled all the way back to Ketil’s farm, under a cloudy but open sky. He’s awake, and Einar is alive. As he lends a hand taking Einar back to their barn, Thorfinn once again weeps, telling Einar he’s renouncing violence from now on. Even waking up a slave on a ravaged farm with punishment on the way for the brawl is preferable to that nightmare land he experienced.

Only, thanks to Pater, there is no punishment for Thorfinn or Einar. He found a button from one of the retainer’s coats on the ravaged farm, and decides that the face-saving story will be that wild boars ruined it. The retainer submits to his master’s wishes, and Sverkel oversees Thorfinn and Einar re-hoeing the land his son gave them. Like his father, Thorfinn has turned a page in his life. That punch was his last, his warring days done; he is reborn a new, better man. No longer a taker, but a maker.

Vinland Saga S2 – 08 – Way Down In the Hole

Thorfinn awakes screaming from his most frightening dream yet, where he watches a younger version of himself move in on an even younger Einar and his family. When he tries to stop himself, he falls into a deep, dark hole. When he tries to climb out, he is grabbed by the limbs of the dead. He doesn’t remember it all when he wakes, but enough to feel like he’s forgotten something important.

As Einar and Thorfinn’s wheat continues to grow, the retainers resent it. They know Ketil gave orders to let slaves farm, but to the retainers, that’s going too far. After all, they’re farmers; if slaves are allowed to farm, what’s next? No slavery? These are prideful, small-minded men who would rather take out their frustration on those below them than question how they might be leading better lives.

The latest nightmare continues to drive Thorfinn’s feeling that he still isn’t sure how to live life at all. Einar heard Thorfinn say the name Askeladd in his sleep, and Thorfinn tells him it’s the name of the man who killed his father, and whom he joined in battle in hopes of revenge that never came. He admits he no longer hates Askeladd, but in the absence of hate, he feels empty, because hate is all he had and all that drove him.

Sverkel, quickly becoming one of my favorite Vinland characters, overhears some of this discussion, and punctuates it with a hearty “get back to work!” He has another job for them after thatching the roof: net fishing on the beach. His first throw nets a whole bunch of fish, and he proceeds to teach Thorfinn the proper way, telling him if he’s empty, he should fill that emptiness with whatever he can. After all, it’s easier to be reborn when you’re empty.

Thorfinn asks Einar if he believes men can really change—if he, Thorfinn, can close the book on his decade-plus of being a warrior and become someone else’ someone good. Einar tells Thorfinn to simply look at his reflection in the water. He already has changed. Had the two of them met before, Thorfinn might’ve killed him. But no one who sees him now would think he was ever a warrior.

But the window between when Thorfinn is told the words he needs to hear from someone he trusts that it is indeed possible to put the past behind and start anew, and when he is able to actually act upon that, is vanishingly small. For when Einar and Thorfinn return to their crop to find every plant has been uprooted. Einar can tell the wheat was ruined by people who knew what they were doing: the retainers.

Thorfinn talks Einar down from going to kill them, and they go to Pater instead, who promises an investigation. But then they cross paths with those same retainers laughing and joking around. As expected, they play dumb about the ruined crop, instead saying if it were ruined that would be fine, since wheat grown by slaves would be “too putrid” to eat.

That’s the final straw for Einar, who charges one of the retainers with his fist. Thorfinn slips in front of him and throws the first punch instead, perhaps in hope that if he did it and not Einar, Einar might be spared the punishment of certain death. Instead, Einar keeps brawling. Thorfinn is smacked with a shovel, loses focus, and then falls down the crevice from his dream. Maybe Thorfinn can still change…but not today.

Vinland Saga S2 – 07 – The True Master

When Einar and Arnheid are at the well for a few minutes each morning, they’re in their own little world. Neither is a slave, they are just a kind man and a kind woman making a connection that transcends the brutal, merciless world they were unfortunate enough to be born in. When Arnheid returns to the house, Ketil’s wife slaps her across the face for chatting. Arnheid’s dark expression shows she’s back in that world. Back in the darkness.

Einar and Thorfinn are faring quite well so far. Wheat seedlings have sprouted. Einar insists they pray and pray hard to a god…it doesn’t matter to which. As slaves, they have nothing to offer but their prayer. The dream of buying their freedom is alive and well. But Einar wonders if Arnheid has a similar arrangement (I assume she does not).

In the cold open, Snake and his mercs are investigating petty food theft, and declares that the culprits must be punished. When Ketil returns to the farm with his eldest son Thorgil (who is as terrifying and capable as Olmar…isn’t), they encounter Snake, and the two thieves in tow: mere children.

Tired from their journey, Ketil and his son sit down for a meal before dealing with the thieves. Thorgil regales his father and younger brother with “glorious” tales of battle and plunder, and also informs Ketil how well now-King Canute has done for himself, meaning maybe there’s hope for Olmar.

But Olmar hurts his case when Thorgil gives him a necklace of ears, and once he realizes they are ears, Olmar freaks out. Like a a normal, well-adjusted human would. Thorgil also tells Olmar that their father was once a legend on the battlefield, bare-chested, bare-fisted berserker his peers nicknamed the “Iron Fist”.

That brings us to Ketil’s sad duty as master of the farm to mete out justice against those who stole from him. If he doesn’t, it will encourage more theft, and he’ll be seen as soft to his retainers, the mercs, and his sons. But as soon as Ketil learns their names (12-year-old Sture and his younger sister Thora) and circumstances (ill mother, likely dead father), the man still lauded as the Iron Fist develops leaky eyes.

Thorgil quickly recommends each kid lose an arm. Sture says he’ll take both punishments, so Thorgil is fine taking both of Sture’s arms. Pater almost bails out Ketil by suggesting the kids work off both what they stole and what their father owed in rent. Ketil cannot mask how happy he is a non-violent solution is agreeable to all.

…But it isn’t. Ketil may be the master of this farm and an immensely wealthy and powerful individual, but even he is beholden to an even higher master in this world: the master that is burning through England. That master is violence and it demands its tribute.

Ketil must even go against his better nature in the number of stokes of an axe handle, going from five to ten. Sture again protects his sister, and will take all twenty. Thorgil volunteers, but his first stroke almost kills Sture, and Ketil, almost in a panic, takes the handle and completes the beating.

That night, Thorgil feasts with Olmar the mercs, while Ketil retires to his bed—a bed warmed by Arnheid. He weeps into her lap, confiding in her that the “Iron Fist” legend is a complete lie he made up. In reality, he’s as much a “coward” as Olmar, which is to say he would simply rather not commit violence to further his aims. Further, he fears Thorgil, his own son, for committing it so easily.

Arnheid, with a neutral expression, tells him what he needs to hear in that moment: that admitting to being a kind man can’t be a bad thing. But it is a bad thing in this world where his ultimate master demands payment for the life he lives. And lest we forget, Arnheid is not in that bed or on the farm willingly, she’s a slave, and slavery is a vicious form of violence.

That makes Ketil a hypocrite, and even if he’s a repentant one, if he wishes to maintain his wealth and power, he’ll have to continue to be a hypocrite. Notably absent from this episode was Sverkel, the first person on the farm who treated Einar and Thorfinn as humans, not property, paying them for their chores with his horse and plow.

Of the three generations represented by Thorgil, Ketil, and Sverkel, only the latter both talks the talk and walks the walk. Like Ketil, he’s long lost the taste for the kind of life currently enjoyed by Thorgil. But unlike Ketil, Sverkel trying to live an honest life free of trinkets and exploitation. In the waning years of his life, he has rejected the master that currently tortures Ketil and flatters Thorgil.

Vinland Saga S2 – 06 – Too Much Wealth

Cutting down trees was the easy part. Pulling the stumps with just two human bodies is a grueling labor, and threatens to make setting up an actual farm a virtually Sisyphean task. Einar declares that they need a horse. It’s not a matter of convenience. They friggin’ need one. He swallows his pride and tries to ask the retainers, to no avail.

Then grizzled old man named Sverkel overhears Einar talking to Thorfinn about their predicament, and invites the two to two clear his field of rocks, then chop firewood and draw water for him. Einar wonders if the old man is simply using them because he can, but Sverkel is a man of his word.

Einar gets his horse, and the stumps are cleared in a jiffy. In exchange, every time they pick up or drop off the horse, they do some chores for Sverkel. Nothing is easy when you’re a slave, and it’s a lot of hard work to do more hard work but men like Sverkel who at least give them a chance to put themselves in a position to one day buy their freedom.

When the retainers asks where Einar got the horse (which they don’t recognize), he says Sverkel’s name, but the retainers don’t know it. Then they describe the man, and they say that the man who lent his horse to them is none other than the “old master”, Ketil’s father.

Ketil is at Sverkel’s house arguing with him to stop being a stubborn mule and come live with him again, but Sverkel digs in his heels. Living under Ketil’s roof would only cause more arguments. If he’s going to die soon, he’s going to die where he feels independent and at peace. We also see that Snake hangs out at Sverkel’s, and the four men have a meal, almost as equals, as both Einar, Thorfinn, and Snake all listen to Sverkel’s lectures.

Snake is playfully adversarial towards Sverkel, but there’s a reason he hangs out there: Sverkel is a font of wisdom, and people like Snake got where they were by listening and learning from their elders. Sverkel also feels it’s an affront to decency that Ketil is so wealthy and his lands so vast he must hire and handsomely pay men like Snake to defend his land for him.

Once the stumps are pulled, Einar and Thorfinn use plows to grade and till the land, and by the time fall arrives, they’re ready to seed the fields with wheat. Both are now sporting the goatees they have in the OP, and Thorfinn acknowledges, at least privately, that he and Einar have indeed become friends.

Einar, a lifelong farmer, and Thorfinn, a lifelong warrior. Quite a pair. Thorfinn may be out of his element, but Einar will make him a farmer yet. After all, being someone who can make food is a lot more rare and valuable than someone who can take life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga S2 – 05 – Pillars of Smoke

After four episodes focused on Einar and Thorfinn, we check in on Prince, now King Canute of the Danes and England during the same general time period. After succeeding Sweyn upon his death in 1014, Canute’s Viking armies have been laying waste to England for a year; fighting against a second king: Ethelred II, returned from exile.

But Canute is a big-picture guy, and at some point wants the war to end so that this new kingdom of his can thrive. He intends to meet with the Earl of Mercia to discuss terms. He also orders those among his forces who have pillaged, raped, and enslaved to be beheaded and displayed as a warning.

One of his ostensible allies, Thorkell, does not share King Canute’s desire or vision for peace. That’s not surprising; Thorkell only really feels alive when he’s fighting and killing. He publically chews out the young king as someone who is not yet worthy of Thorkell’s complete loyalty and support.

He also promises Canute that despite all his talk of parlays and truces, there will come a time when he’ll have to carve his path with blood and iron. Only then will he become a true king. Canute allows Thorkell to say his piece, because he knows Thorkell is, if nothing else, an honest and forthright person. His warning to the king carries a great deal of weight.

Upon meeting with Earl Eadric and his son at the agreed-upon site of the truce, Canute is presented with a giant pile of cash: 4,000 pounds of silver, with the promise of 4,000 more if he agrees to leave Mercia and never come back. Eadric calls this a good deal, and tells Canute he should take it.

Canute takes a good look at the loot, then starts walking on it, smirks, and says “That’s it?” But the bottom line is that no amount of silver or gold will dissuade Canute from the belief that he is the only true King of England. Paying him to leave his rightful territory makes no sense.

Canue’s counter-offer? Eadric will help him get rid of Ethelred II, which will end the chaos and destruction that has ravaged England so. Eadric balks at this proposal of betrayal, but Canute tells him he’s already betrayed Ethelred by offering to pay him off.

Canute then invites Eadric to join him outside, where his men light a gigantic pillar of wood. Once it is on fire, dozens of other signal fires are lit up all around them, far off into the horizon and beyond. It is a simple but powerful and terrifying proof that one word from Canute and Mercia will be reduced to ash.

Eadric apparently gets the message, as Ethelred II dies of an “illness” about a year later, in 1016. His son Edmund assumes the throne, but just seven months later he too succumbs to an illness. In 1018, Canute is officially installed as the King of England. He and Thorfinn couldn’t be further apart in their circumstances or stations. Canute has taken the ball his father dropped and running with it—quickly, yet carefully.

Vinland Saga S2 – 04 – Thank You for Waking Me

Snake, the boss, turns Fox’s face into mush and scolds everyone for picking on the slaves. But having seen how Thorfinn reacted to Fox’s cuts, he decides to test him himself. Thorfinn’s body moves on its own to protect him from a surely fatal slash from Snake’s sword. Snake tells him that must mean his body wants him alive, so he’d better stay that way.

Maybe Snake doesn’t want to pay for needlessly killed slaves, or maybe there’s a shred of kindness in him, but he has Thorfinn and Einar escorted to Pater, who treats Thorfinn’s wounds so they won’t fester. When Einar tells Pater if Snake hadn’t intervened they’d have died for sure, Thorfinn says “the strong kill the weak” and that’s just the nature of things.

While Thorfinn is allowed to take the day off to heal up, he heads into the woods anyway, since his wounds are “nothing”. As he continues to fell trees like nothing happened, Einar asks Thorfinn straight up if he’s been to war, if he’s killed, and how many. Thorfinn truthfully answers that he doesn’t remember how many; only that he’s killed a lot. That tends to happen when you’d been a warrior since you were six.

After Thorfinn owns up to this, he apologizes to Einar, whom he thinks must hate him now. Indeed, that night an enraged Einar puts his hands around a sleeping Thorfinn’s throat and starts to squeeze. Thorfinn happens to be in his standard dream, a hellscape of a burning village where he must kill or be killed. Einar lets go, and when Thorfinn starts screaming, he wakes him up by grabbing his arm.

Einar asks Thorfinn if he really wants to die, and tells him he’s spoiled if he truly thinks nothing good has ever happened in his life. The very fact the two of them are alive is a good thing, made possible because someone kept them alive. Whether that’s Einar’s father, mother, and sister, or for Thorfinn, Thors, Askeladd, and others. A sulking Einar returns to his hay pile, saying it’s not as if Thorfinn personally killed his family.

Then Thorfinn says to Einar what he neglected to say to Pater: Thank you. Thank you for reaching out,: for pulling him from the hellish dreams of his sleep, if only for a moment.

In this tense and moving sequence, Einar learns more about who Thorfinn is (or rather was) and why he is the way he currently is. He also makes his peace with that, not letting his hatred for those who took everything away from him dictate how he treats Thorfinn, who had nothing to do with it.

Vinland Saga S2 – 03 – Death Is Our Product, and Business Is a-Boomin’

When Fox and Badger, two mercenaries hired to be Ketil’s bodyguard, try to take his failson Olmar drinking for the sake of fun, Olmar ruins that by being an unbelievably annoying, blubbering drunk. He has no idea what he’s doing when he challenges Fox and Badger, who quickly put him on the ground.

Fox tells him both they and his father treat him like a child because he still is a child, or is at least still half of one. The right of passage for true adulthood is to take the life of another. Olmar asks who he should kill.

You know who.

Einar’s peaceful morning is interrupted by Thorfinn’s blood-curdling screams, though he can’t remember what he was dreaming about that caused him to scream so. The vibes improve dramatically for Einar when the pretty young lady from the wagon the other day is by the well washing her face. She even compliments Einar’s face.

She introduces herself as Arnheid, and as women in Vinland Saga go, she’s definitely one of the fairest. That’s why I assumed she was Ketil’s daughter, but the truth is she’s a slave just like Einar and Thorfinn. Specifically, she’s Ketil’s personal attendant.

Einar’s morning is once again darkened by the arrival of Fox and Badger, who are there to take him and Thorfinn to their camp situated on the beach. Einar wonders what the heck is up, but he need only look at the faces of his captors and the weapons they bear to realize it’s nothing good.

It’s also possible Thorfinn showed a bit of precognition in sensing something was amiss, but not quite remembering what it is. Perhaps the horrors of his past informed his expectation of further doom in the future. It is, after all, all he’s ever known.

When Einar and Thorfinn are presented to an extremely anxious Olmar, whose sword clatters in his trembling hand, Einar isn’t ready to go down without a fight. He tells Thorfinn to run, rushes Olmar, and tackles him to the ground. But as they grapple and Einar continues to tell Thorfinn to get out of there, Thorfinn doesn’t move, and soon two swords cross his throat, daring him to flee.

When he sighs, calls this all a big pain, and volunteers to be cut down by Olmar if Einar can just get back to work already. Fox takes this as an affront to his profession, as warriors’ product is death, and if people aren’t afraid of death, that product has no value.

Alas, Fox has met someone for whom life has no further value. His thirst for revenge has long since dried up with his nemesis and father figure slain. Fox slashes him several times, but Thorfinn doesn’t flinch, or even blink. He just stands there, and that’s enough to make Fox mad enough to kill him himself.

But Fox stops dead at the sound of his name, uttered by his boss, Snake, who has just arrived from the cabin where he fell asleep reading. He moseyed is way over to the camp, observed what was happening, saw how Thorfinn was like cold hard steel when being threatened, and stopped his employee from killing a valuable resource.

Do I see Snake fighting Thorfinn next week to see what he’s made of? Most definitely. Can I also imagine Snake deciding to buy Thorfinn—and possibly Einar, who is if nothing else, big and strong—to join their merry band of murderers. In any case, the pain will likely continue for our pint-sized protagonist, but at least he has a sympathetic companion in Einar.

Vinland Saga S2 – 02 – The Wheatgrass Is Always Greener

Ketil introduces Einar to his new best friend Thorfinn. He’s given them a forest to clear and eventually sow wheat, which he’ll buy at a fair price when harvested. Ketil estimates that if the two men work hard, they’ll have made enough money to buy their freedom. This sounds like a sweet deal, except that the forest they have to cut down is enormous, the labor is ruinous, and the retainers eat most of their paltry lunch.

The best-case-scenario of three years seeming unlikely with this caloric intake, Einar is furious by the bullying from the freemen, but Thorfinn takes it all in stride, clearly playing a long game. When Ketil rides past them at the end of his first day, Einar is ready to report the retainers’ stealing their food, but he’s distracted by a gorgeous woman with piercing blue eyes—presumably Ketil’s daughter.

The next day Einar watches Ketil pitching in for harvest work, which is odd because Einar didn’t think the rich dirtied their hands with manual labor. But it’s clear Ketil is proud of this place, and intends pass it along to his son Olmar. Unfortunately, Olmar is a lazy, spoiled brat with dreams of going to England and being a badass warrior.

We actually get a fair amount of Olmar screen time that softens his character’s plight, but only so far. He has a hissyfit when he realizes the tenant farmers’ daughter is only sleeping with him in hopes of gaining some of his father’s favor and fortune (she may genuinely like him, her parents are clearly using her).

The bottom line is that Einar is wrong about rich people not having any cares, and Olmar is taking his victimization way too far. I mean, all he needs to do is look around the farm to see people far worse off than him. And yet the fact he’s not on a battlefield covering himself in guts an glory like he wants means he doesn’t consider himself any more free than the slaves or retainers.

That night, Einar condemns Olmar’s desire to go to war when he has no idea what awaits him. Einar tells Thorfinn how the English armies pillaged his village and killed his father, then the Danes came, pillaged again, and killed the rest of his family. He condemns soldiers as nothing but beasts in human skin, unaware that his new best friend used to be one.

Thorfinn’s role this week is passive to the point of background character. That’s fine, but to what end? Do the fires burning in his memory mean he yearns to return to the battlefield? Or has he given up on any kind of glorious future and is content to wile away the last of his youth chopping wood and sowing seeds? If he is playing some kind of long game to get back into the thick of things, he’s keeping mum so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga S2 – 01 – Living is Winning

After a thoroughly badass James Bond-style OP followed by a downright poetic sequence about carving “that warmth” into anything and everything, Vinland Saga’s second season settles in the idyllic home of Einar, who lives there with his little sister Lotta and their mother. He’s practicing hacking with an axe in case their home is attacked again (the last time claiming their father), but their mother tells her children that as long as they’re alive, they haven’t lost.

Things don’t go well for Einar’s family, as their home is burned and pillaged. When the three try to flee, the mother is felled by an arrow, and neither Einar nor Lotta are able to leave her behind and keep running. Instead they are paralyzed by the prospect of doing so. When Lotta is carried away she stabs her captor in the neck, and is killed for it. Einar is taken away to be sold as a slave.

After a passage from the Old Norse poem Hávamál equating one with no love in their life to a fir tree on a barren land, Einar is on a boat filled with other slaves, one of the women can’t stop coughing. Their captors determine she won’t survive, so they toss her overboard to drown. Einar protests, but his captors are as cruel and unreceptive to mercy as the brooding ocean waves that churn before him. Once ashore, he and the others are washed and fed and put on display in the market.

Einar tries to escape, fleeing to a farm and stealing some food, but is immediately re-caught and severely beaten as a message to the other slaves: There’s no escape. There’s no going home. In this world, it is better to be a slave and be fed for their work than a runaway beggar. The world is utterly uninterested in your welfare.

Our first familiar face appears at the market, when the slaver presents Einar to Leif. Leif isn’t interested, as he’s looking for his relative, Thorfinn. But before departing, he grabs Einar’s arm and apologizes. It’s the first time anyone has apologized to Einar since he lost his home and family. He envies the man Leif is looking for, since it means there’s someone in the world who still cares about him.

Eventually a farmer inspects Einar and agrees to buy him, and escorts him to his sprawling farm, which reminds Einar of the idyllic home that was destroyed and stolen from him—the home and the family he was trying to defend, but could not.

At this farm, Einar meets the “blonde, small” guy Leif was looking for: our boy Thorfinn, who is chopping trees at the border of the woods. He has the look of someone who is carrying on with the same determination Einar’s mother demanded: to survive, and live at any cost, is what it means to truly win.

It may not feel anything like winning to Thorfinn or Einar. Their wait has only just begun, and may end fruitlessly. But as long as their wait continues, and their hearts continue to pump blood, they still carry the potential to carve their mark into the world. Maybe they can help one another.

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