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Vinland Saga Season 2
Episode 4

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Vinland Saga (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.6

©Makoto Yukimura, KODANSHA/VINLAND SAGA SEASON 2 Project

It would be easy to think that the “Awakening” referred to by the title of this week's episode is the moment where Snake the mercenary demonstrates Thorfinn's latent survival instincts by taking a real swing at him, instead of the humiliating cuts that Fox inflicted last week. Despite Thorfinn's insistence on how little he values his own life, the swiftness with which his leg rises to block Snake's blow says otherwise, something that Snake could clearly see in Thorfinn when Thorfinn was silently enduring all of Fox's torment and insults. However, it isn't like one bold gesture from a complete stranger is going to suddenly turn Thorfinn's life around. This is Vinland Saga after all, and things are never so simple.

Instead, Thorfinn's “awakening” is a much more literal—and much more nuanced—affair. It comes after yet another night of restless terrors, with Thorfinn screaming and choking out his anguish even as Einar has his hands wrapped around Thorfinn's throat. You see, after getting patched up and returning to work, Thorfinn admitted to Einar his past as a Danish warrior, as a raider of villages and a killer of soldiers and civilians alike. When Einar asked how many people Thorfinn had killed—Five? Ten?—Thorfinn could only respond that he could not remember, though he knows that, regardless of the number, this must make him the same as any of the other Danish warriors that killed Einar's family and ruined his life. So, now, in the dead of night, with a hideous grimace of rage and anguish contorting his features, Einar tries to do what the world has told him he ought to do. According to men like Snake, or Fox, or even Olmar, the only way forward in life is to assert your power. The strong are meant to kill the weak. Einar should have his revenge.

Except, as we've seen, that simply isn't the kind of man Einar is. He doesn't believe in a world where any one person can spit on the dignity and worth of another. He doesn't respect the values of the people who took his world away from them. He has every right to his righteous fury, to be sure, but he's wise enough to know that Thorfinn himself has nothing to do with the world's ills. In Thorfinn, Einar simply sees a pathetic and scared boy who cannot even sleep through the night without crying out in pain and shame and fear, and in the end, he cannot bring himself to take Thorfinn's life. Instead, he grabs his hand and wakes him from his nightmares.

It is a simple gesture, and not even a particularly friendly one. Thorfinn hasn't suddenly been cured of his PTSD, nor has he awoken to some profound new purpose in life. The closest we get to any recognizable emotional catharsis is Einar angrily berating Thorfinn for claiming that “not a single good thing” has happened to him in his entire life, despite the fact that he is alive, right now, and able to keep on living. Thorfinn's response to all of that? “Thank you, Einar.” That is all. This one interaction between Einar and Thorfinn, which includes little more than many lingering shots of their hovel plus some interspersed glimpses into Thorfinn's dreams, takes up the majority of the episode, and a lesser show would feel pressured to have it build to a more traditionally satisfying climax.

For our heroes, though, it is just grand enough a moment in its smallness. Thorfinn has lived a life of bloody spectacle and earth-shifting intrigue, and it cost him both his soul and his sense of wellbeing. Here, though, he has found a person who is willing to at least accept who he was and who he is without throttling the life out of him, someone who has enough basic empathy for him to wake him when he cries out in the night. Throughout this episode, the camera is constantly lingering on these men's calloused hands, their cracked lips, and their numerous scars. We see the evidence of their hardships etched onto their bodies. Thorfinn has been all too willing to give in to his instinct to reduce his entire sense of self to those scars, and to the stains of the blood that he has shed in his life, but Einar refuses. He is not “just” a slave, despite his current predicament, just as Thorfinn is not “just” a killer. They are human beings, and they deserve the right to find a life for themselves that is more than simply wasting away by the whims and mercies of the “strong”.

Plenty of men have picked up a blade throughout history. Men like Snake will claim that it is the killing that makes you a man, even as they go out of their way to target the most helpless and wounded around them. To look the man who represents everything you thought you hated most in the world in the eye, and then to offer him a moment of kindness, a moment of recognition, despite the baggage you both carry? That takes real strength. If Thorfinn is ever to find a path back to himself, it will take the strength of friends like Einar to show him how to truly live again.


Vinland Saga Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.

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