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The Most Brutal, Unpleasant Television Scene of the Year Wasn't On 'Game of Thrones'

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | April 14, 2014 | Comments ()


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We don’t speak too frequently of the History Channel’s drama Vikings, and I’m not sure how much we should be. It’s a good drama, though not a great one, and it seems to subscribe to the Ryan Murphy philosophy of chewing through plot at such breakneck speed that the plot twists and turns begin to lose some of their oomph. That said, I do enjoy it, mostly for Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), though she has unfortunately been sidelined by plot machinations for much of the season (thankfully, she’s recently gotten back into the fold).

But this most recent episode really turned the screws on the excruciating level of violence. Those of us who watch Hannibal have seen some really, superbly f*cked up murder scenes, but we are typically spared from the actual staging of them. So, for instance, while the image of this crime scene was both gruesome and beautiful, we didn’t have to watch the murderer actually flay the skin.

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In last week’s Vikings, on the other hand, we suffered through an agonizingly long six-minute sequence that felt like an hour, which (SPOILERS) saw the lead character, Ragnar Lothbrok, commit an unspeakable atrocity on his enemy, Jarl Borg. There were a lot of shadows in the scene that minimized the onscreen brutality of it, but allow me to transcribe — through Ragnar’s words — what was done to Jarl Borg. The act of torture is called the Blood Eagle.

“The offender gets down on his knees, and his back is opened with knives. And then, with axes, his ribs are chopped away from his spine, and then his lungs are pulled out of this huge bleeding wound and laid upon his shoulders so they look like the folded wings of a great eagle. And he must stay like that — suffering — until he dies. If he suffers in silence, he may enter Valhalla. But if he screams, he can never into its portals.”

And that, for six, slo-mo minutes, is what we witnessed onscreen, complete with Jarl Borg’s reaction face, as well as that of the crowd (one woman actually fainted, and I didn’t blame her). I don’t know if you’d call it good television, or even entertaining. But it sure as hell was unpleasant to watch, and if you’re into that sort of thing, Vikings is right in your wheelhouse.

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For the record, Jarl Borg somehow managed to suffer in silence. That’s a man who earned his way to Valhalla.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Gunnut2600

    God I miss it when History Channel just covered Nazis and stuff.

  • foca9

    Love Vikings this season. Going to miss jarl Borg and Thorbjørn Harr as one of the few Norwegian actors on international television.

    They could easily have done this scene completely different, but they showed it, and it was great.

    And Lagertha can do whatever she wants with my body (preferably not blood eagle me, though).

  • Niiiiice

    I think that the roll Ragnar's son, Bjord brought for Jarl Borg to eat shortly before the execution had some mighty good drugs packed in it to ease the suffering. I don't think there is any other way Jarl Borg could have made it without screaming.

  • Bea Pants

    That is pretty much what we were thinking at Casa Pants as well.

  • basse buus

    It's a really great show, and I liked how they showed that the blood eagle is also a religious ceremony. Had Jarl Borg screamed he would end up in Hel. The whole community watched the blood eagle, and was a part of it.

  • Amy Mace

    Well the woman who fainted WAS Jarl Borg's pregnant wife, so yeah she would...

    Even at its most banal, I love Vikings, though I'm mostly in it for Lagertha and Athelstan. Also I am seconding the offense at the Ryan Murphy comparison.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I'm actually quite happy with the direction that Vikings has taken this season. I find it to be just wonderfully entertaining. But, yes, more Lagertha please.

  • Alexander1

    I am sorry but you deserved to get kicked in the spleen for daring to compare something as great as Vikings to anything Ryan Myrphy related

  • Al Borland's Beard

    You never really get to see the kinds of twisted punishment those Glee kids face if they don't make nationals.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Blood Eagle was also the named of Sylvester Stallone's failed William Howard Taft biopic.

  • llp

    Vikings has gotten a lot more torturecentric this year, it is true.

  • Three_nineteen

    I watched the first couple episodes of Vikings, and I was thinking about trying it again. I guess not. I really do not enjoy watching that kind of suffering. Most of the time, I can handle looking at the aftermath, but I usually fast-forward through depictions of the actual crimes. Not really my thing.

    By the way, Hannibal did not commit the angel murders - it was another guy.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    Oh, "Vikings." You WOULD put in the show an act that is a) not historically proven to have happened, and b) has many different gory variants, according to scholars who lived long after the fact. That said, the Middle Ages and renaissance did have nutcases coming up with some unspeakably horrific ways to kill people slowly.

    Also, correction: Hannibal did not kill these people. They were murdered by the Angel Maker. The man has a god complex big enough for a galaxy, but he doesn't need angels watching over him.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    It's my understanding that it is unsure if Ragnar Lodbrock himself is a historical figure. In that light, I have no problems with using the Blood Eagle in the show. It did make me squirm, however.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok is an important literary work, but yeah, it's not certain if he actually existed. I think the only proofs we have are old graffiti found in some British isle, and even they are vague.
    As for the Blood Eagle, funnily enough, it gets referred to in the Hannibal episode Dustin screencapped, and even there it's not accurate, as far as I remember. "Vikings" has no qualms with brutality reminiscent of GoT. I guess it's easier to make Vikings cruel than just generally gross, according to early Arab travel documents.

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