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