Monday, 7 April 2014

Female power in Vikings Season 2

#vikings-shieldmaiden:  #Lagertha's career as a warrior began when Frø, king of Sweden, invaded #Norway and killed the Norwegian king Siward. F...

It is now half way through the second season of Vikings (for those who live in Canada or the US and for those who have few qualms regarding downloading). Obviously there will be spoilers, especially for those of you who are resigned to watching it in RTE 2! Suckers.

As she was in the first season, Lagertha is still my favourite character. This season also has a few more female characters of a bit more importance, most notably Aslaug, and it appears that the girl who Bjorn has his eye on may have a bigger role soon (But I can't help but be reminded of that absolute disaster The Legend of Hercules whenever I see her. Horrid flashbacks!). There are a few noteworthy moments involving the women of Vikings so far in the season:

Firstly, is Lagertha's decision to leave Ragnar, as Aslaug arrives on their doorstep with a bellyful of children. She has the dignity to walk away from Ragnar and start a new life with no drama involved, which is a nice change to the usual catfighting women screaming at one another over a man (even if he is as wonderful as Ragnar). In the actual mythology, Ragnar divorces Lagertha and there is a different woman, Þóra borgarhjörtr, in between her and Aslaug, but to be honest, that would make him look a bit too bad!

Four years later we see Lagertha with a new husband, Earl Sigvard, who is frankly, a bit of a dick. She stands up to his advances and his attempt to rape her and shows him where to shove it. As always, she does as she pleases, and returns to help Ragnar to reclaim Kattegat from Jarl Borg (as also happens in the myth - she comes to his aid with 120 ships, and saves his ass). 

In the last episode so far (episode 6), Lagertha returns to her second husband, despite still being in love with Ragnar (who is unwilling to choose just one wife). After getting his men to brutally beat her during the night, he attempts to publicly shame her by trying to show everyone at the table what lovely breasts she has. Unfortunately for him, she grabs a knife and turns around to stick it in his eye. Hell yeah! He is then beheaded by one of his own men (who I don't trust either...). In the myth, she is also responsible for her second husband's death; "the presumptious and self-indulgent woman would rather rule without her husband than share the glory with him" (Saxo Grammaticus). As you can see, the television series views her somewhat more sympathetically! Of course, this is as far as the mythology surrounding Lagertha appears to go, from what I can find, so its up to the series now! 

Another important scene takes place in Wessex in England (where attempts at speaking Old English are made...I understood cyning . . . so proud!) with Athelstan, the hot monk taken as a slave (and later made a free-man by Ragnar, and later captured by the people of Wessex), in episode 5. When a woman who is beaten because her husband thinks she has been unfaithful to him comes to King Ecgbert for counsel, the King asks him what the craic is with the pagans in such situations - Athelstan says that "if she was a free-woman, they would believe her word, and make judgement on her behalf". Ecgbert replies thinking that "surely her husband has every right over her, surely she belongs to him, to do with as he sees fit." Well, not according to the pagans! The open-minded Ecgbert (Athelstan has heard he is like Ragnar...and unlike the misogynistic Anglo-Saxons it would seem!) follows this pagan law and goes in the woman's favour. 

In general it would seem that the vast majority of main characters are somewhat "feminist" an extent. The Norse peoples, or as Ecgbert would say, the "pagans" have a more equal society than the Anglo-Saxons, allowing women to partake in raids and battle, and seemingly allowing them equal judgement in the eyes of the law. Of course, this didn't stop the vikings raping all around when they were on their raids, but this may also be seen as a "weapon of war" against the men, as much as it is seen as an act of violence against the women.

With regards to Aslaug, I am happy that this season is making a bit more of an attempt to flesh out her character, althoug it is not enough. Aslaug's character in mythology is pretty interesting - she is the daughter of Sigurd (who killed the dragon Fafnir) and Brynhildr, the shield-maiden, who I wrote a post on a few months back. As a child she was taken care of by a foster father, Heimer, and hid in a giant harp. Her next foster parents Ake and Grima, who killed Heimer as they thought there were valuables in the harp, found her hiding inside and raised her as their own, covering her in tar to hide her beauty (and therefore her noble birth). It is at this point that she meets Ragnar Lodbrok.
    Interestingly, Ragnar proposes to her, but she refuses him until he accomplished his mission in Norway. It is also, only after giving him three sons, that she reveals her true noble blood to him (after she hears that he has planned to marry Ingeborg), and promises to give birth to a child that bore a snake's eye, Sigurd Snake-In-The-Eye!

In the series, although she is not so much the "Other Woman" as she was at the end of season one, she is still portrayed as a bit of a princess, complaining about dirt and playing the jealous wife when Ragnar speaks to other girls. Hopefully we will get a more rounded character as we go along.



  1. Hi Allison! My name is Jessica Howard, and I am an undergraduate student in Medieval Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. I came across the abstract for your paper that explores "ides aglæcwif" the other day, and I would love to discuss it with you! I have been working on a paper that close-reads a passage that mentions "idese onlicnes" and am looking to expand the scope of my paper by exploring another related passage. If you would like, you can email me at Thank you for your time!

  2. I know that comment was unrelated to the post about Vikings, but it is the only way I could think of to contact you. I do watch Vikings and I did love the discussion of how badass Lagertha is though :)