by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Vinland Saga ?
Death looms large over “The Troll's Son”, and not just in the absence of the titular Troll of Jom. Thors' murder is definitely the fulcrum around which this entire story is set to revolve, but this episode also deals with death in a more general sense, as part of the world these warriors are carving out for themselves with every settlement they pillage and plunder. In the episode's opening moments, we see death as a catalyst for wanton slaughter. As Thorfinn plans his revenge, Askeladd's men tear down everything before them like bloodthirsty marauders.
Then, for the remainder of the episode, we see the other side of death for Askeladd's troops: it's just work for them. As the men gather their newfound treasures and make camp in the ruins of the village they've just destroyed, they go about their duties in a dry routine that borders on tedium. For young Thorfinn, his father's death has transformed his every waking moment into a scramble to survive and take his vengeance on Askeladd. For the men, Thors' death was another day at the office. They don't even regard the crazed son of their recent kill as anything other than a curiosity, a source of minor amusement and irritation. When the berserker that took Thorfinn hostage pays the boy a visit in his makeshift hovel, he speaks of the late warrior with an air of detached respect. It's a shame that such a strong man had to be felled in such a manner, but business is business.
It's obviously much more personal for Thorfinn, who spends the entire episode working up the courage to commit murder himself. He tries to take Askeladd's head in the night, but the boy wants to honor his father's nobility and take Askeladd out in a fair duel. He's still just a boy, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise that even after foraging for berries and bone marrow, practicing his blade work, and surviving a wolf attack, Thorfinn still can't best a full-grown professional killer. Askeladd has his own ambiguous code though, so he refuses to kill Thorfinn outright. If the boy is to be a true Viking, Thorfinn will need to fester in anger and pain for much longer before he is worthy of being killed in battle.
”The Troll's Son” is above all else a wonderful demonstration of the series' control of tone. The lush seasonal backgrounds give way to baleful wilderness with the setting of the sun; at its best, Vinland Saga echoes the mythical stories that fuel our modern understanding of the ancient Norse people, who lived in a world where the barrier between reality and myth was murky and thin. Yutaka Yamada's score is also excellent this week, offering a heavy mournful sound that complements the visuals and the characters' journeys.
My favorite portion of this week's episode was also the one I expected the least, when we checked in with Ylva and Helga back at the homestead. This brief reprieve from Thorfinn's suffering updates us on the status of the other village warriors – they're fine, and Leif vows to bring Thorfinn home no matter how long it takes – but it also gives us a different perspective on how death affects for the survivors left behind. When Ylva takes up her father's duties and dives headfirst into her chores and the everyday workings of the village, it's clear that a breaking point is coming, but the young woman is also making it clear that she is a natural leader like her father, who pours her grief into keeping things running for her loved ones. I don't know how much of Thorfinn's family we're bound to see as the series continues, but I hope we get to check in on them at least a few more times. Thorfinn's vengeance may be the most immediate consequence of his father's death, but I imagine Thors would be reassured to know that there will be more to his legacy than further bloodshed and pain.
Vinland Saga is currently streaming on Amazon.
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