「鉄拳ケティル」 (Tekken Ketiru)
“Iron Fist Ketil”

Brutality is always just around the corner with Vinland Saga. That’s appropriate, because the time and places it depicts were incredibly brutal. But Yukimura Makoto does such a good job of making you forget for stretches that when it hits, it hits hard. Einar and Thorfinn actually aren’t in this episode much, but they provide the upbeat component of it. Even within that, though, is foreshadowing of something much darker (as the fiinal moments of the episode will bear out).

When I saw Snake and Badger out looking for thieves as the episode opened, I assumed they thought the two sets of footprints were Thorfinn and Einar’s – maybe we were supposed to. Things certainly didn’t evolve that way, but there was a more insidious development with those two. Seeing Thorfinn’a sense of wonder at the nature of farming is never less than wonderful, as is watching the level of trust grow between he and Einar. That was probably the longest I’ve ever seen Thorfinn smile after the first four episodes, in fact.

However, there’s great potential for trouble in Einar’s pursuit of Arnheid. I was a bit taken aback by the violent reaction of Ketil’s wife when she called Arnheid back to the house. She then proceeds to half-derisively muse that Arnheid and Einar might be a good match as fellow slaves. It surprised me that Ketil would have such a wife – but the reason for both these things very likely comes clear in the final moments of the episode. And Einar is sailing into a sea of trouble the way things are going.

Speaking of trouble, Ketil’s older son Thorgil (Kusunoki Taiten) screams it from every pore. I initially thought he had to be Ketil’s brother based on the character design (and the 55 year-old Kusunoki voicing him doesn’t help), but he’s actually the Olmar’s older (much, I assume) brother. Thorgil comes from the wars in England with a necklace of ears and tales of raping and pillaging. He’s anxious for Olmar to follow him into battle (in part I suspect because he knows he’d fail miserably), and informs his surprised sibling that their father was a great warrior himself – “Iron Fist Ketil“, known for shattering his own weapon at the beginning of battles and fighting on with his bare hands.

Ketil and Thorgil (whose friendly relationship with Snake makes me doubt my initial assessment of the latter) are returning from “the thing” – we’re not told what that is. The two thieves await them in Snake’s custody – a boy named Sture (Kobayashi Daiki) and his little sister Thora (Kurasaki Minami). They’ve clearly stolen from Ketil, even if Snake did intimidate a confession out of them. As such Ketil is in a position where he has no choice but to set an example. Further complicating matters is that their father was a tenant farmer who rented from Ketil, and disappeared on the family leaving his debt behind (along with a baby and sick wife).

This whole final sequence is incredibly tense and disturbing, reminiscent of the Thorfinn-Fox “confrontation” a few episodes back. It’s a brilliant bit of exposition too, because it reveals everything we need to know about all these characters the way it should be revealed – show, not tell. Thorgil is a cruel, vicious animal, Snake a practicalist trying to navigate the path of least resistance while still steering the ship where he thinks it should go. As for Ketil we can now say what appeared to be the case was no false front – he’s essentially a soft-hearted man. But he also fears confrontation (and his older son) and is easily bullied.

Ketil is unable to wriggle free of the ugly expectations of the moment, and is about to acquiesce to Thorgil’s demand that the boy’s arms be cut off in punishment when Pater (who likewise confirms his initial impression) offers him a way out. Put the children to work to pay off their debts – and his speaking up gives Snake license to likewise suggest leniency. Naturally Ketil enthusiastically agrees – but Pater is as canny as he is moderate, and he knows Sture and Thora must be punished as an example. Sture offers to take the beating for both of them; when Thorgil commandeered the axe handle I feared the worst. And I think we would have gotten it, too, if Ketil hadn’t finally summoned the courage to intervene. What we got was horrifying enough.

One of the lessons of Vinland Saga, of course, is the people are to an extent prisoners of their circumstances. This time and place is what it us – cruel and vicious. And this is true of Ketil as much as anyone. He plays the role of Viking warrior because it’s expected of a Norseman in the 11th Century, but it’s all a lie. And the big reveal that Ketil is having an affair with Arnheid, while not surprising, is extremely ominous. It likely explains his wife’s behavior (she knows, almost surely), and her interest in having Einar take Arnheid away from her husband. But Ketil will have different notions, I’m sure, and his kind nature will be put to the test if things progress between Arnheid and Einar. If that becomes a conflict, it’s one Einar can’t win.




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