by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Vinland Saga ?
If you would have told me a few months ago that Askeladd would end up being the most interesting and complex character, I probably would have balked. For a good long while, he was presented as little more than the gold-hungry mercenary that Thorfinn would eventually have to strike down in order to achieve his revenge, and while that is still technically true, recent episodes have revealed a dimensionality and depth to the man that no other character, not even Thorfinn, has been given thus far. Case in point: Askeladd's welsh heritage. It was easy enough to guess based on the details we've been drip-fed in the past couple of weeks, but the full scope of Askeladd's connection to the land are revealed in the pre-credits scene, where a young Askeladd (who looks uncannily like Thorfinn does now) drags his mother's barely alive body to the shores of her homeland. We learn later that Askeladd's father, Olaf, kept Lydia imprisoned in his room as a concubine for years, and it seems that Askeladd had his own difficult journey to undertake in bringing her home to die.
It's the kind of late-in-the-game reveal that works not as a twist but as a coloring of everything that has come before. Suddenly, Askeladd's earlier ambivalence about the prisoners kept by the Danish makes more sense, and his ambiguous goals throughout this whole campaign are given new wrinkles to consider. Is Askeladd simply playing multiple sides of the conflict when he offers to serve as a Welsh agent inside of the future King Canute's inner-circle, or has he really taken on a goal nobler than simply vying for as much loot as he and his men can carry in their plundering? According to both him and Gratianus, Askeladd is the last living descendant of the great Celtic warrior Artorius, on whom the legends of King Arthur are based. To think that this wily rapscallion has had aspirations of nobility and a future of peace for the Welsh this whole time is what compelling writing is all about, and it helps remedy the increasing lack of screen-time that our supposed protagonist Thorfinn has received.
Things improve on that front this week, though, since Thorfinn's incessant goading is what finally kicks Canute out of his silent funk and motivates him to act just a little more kingly for once, even if it just means yelling indignantly at the smelly Danish boy who keeps calling him “princess”. Canute continues to be a character that is developed in very slow degrees – this is the first time he's had more than one line of dialogue to say to anyone other than Ragnar, after all, – but I'm beginning to see the shape of things to come for the young prince. His prominence in the new OP (not to mention some foreboding imagery regarding our favorite conehead Ragnar) seems to indicate that he will become exponentially more involved in the proceedings from here on out.
If I have one reservation, it's that we're officially halfway through Vinland Saga's run, and the full narrative arc is still taking its sweet time to take shape. I've got patience yet to spare for the series' very deliberate pacing, but eventually even I will have to start asking when we're finally going to see a payoff to all of this buildup. Someday, Thorfinn is going to have to make his stand against Askeladd, Canute is will need to break away from his safety net, and in the middle of all that there's still the war to consider, and Thorkell's revenge can't be too far off in the future. I just hope we don't have to wait another dozen episodes for all of that to go down, because it would be a damn shame for a show called “Vinland Saga” to barely dip it's toe in to either the Vinland-ing or the Saga-ing.
Rating: 3.5Odds and Ends
• Floki and the King show up again for about ten seconds this week, presumably to make sure we don't forget they exist. The only other thing of note in that scene was the King's conspicuously CG crown.
• Askeladd once again gets all of the best lines this week. One choice example: “These days, a sheep must wear wolf's skin to graze.”
• Another great Askel-line, as he is trying to get Canute to make an intimidating speech to the Welsh: “It can be anything. Like, 'I'm going to boil you alive and eat you.'”
• Bjorn seems to be more and more wary of the cards that Askeladd insists on keeping close to his vest. He reassures the men that Askeladd's leadership is good multiple times this week. I wonder if that might change if he were to find out what Askeladd's true allegiances are.
• The new OP and ED are pretty great. The OP's foreshadowing is a little on the nose, but I'm always down for MAN WITH A MISSION. I'm not familiar with Millet, who perform the new ED theme, “Drown”, but I think their track works a lot better than the folksy tune Aimer provided in the first cour.
Vinland Saga is currently streaming on Amazon.
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