「呪いの首」 (Noroi no Kubi)
“The Cursed Head”
For the first time this season (well, it’s only the second time we’ve seen Canute), both Thorfinn and Canute’s timelines are covered in the same episode. That may be nothing more than narrative expediency, but I wonder. I had a growing sense in watching this episode that those lines are going to intersect this season (I’m not sure even continuing to feature Canute makes sense if they’re not). And there were some obvious parallels being drawn between them here that doubled down on that impression for me. And it seems overwhelmingly likely that won’t be a good thing for Thorfinn.
Three years have passed now since Einar came to Ketil’s farm and they started clearing the land. Much has changed – both are incredibly buff, for starters. Thorfinn also smiles now, and even laughs. They have good reason to laugh, too, as they’ve just cleared the last tree and can freely plant what’s now part of Ketil’s farmland. Pater has told Einar that with the harvest from this new patch of earth the two should be able to buy their freedom. This starts a rare bout of philosophical musing, with each asking the other what they plan to do when they’re free. Einar dismisses the idea of going back to England, since he has no family left. He’s also worried about Arnheid, who Ketil certainly isn’t going to let go (careful, Icarus).
Thorfinn’s answer is especially interesting. He talks of going back to Iceland, but what’s more, he talks about his real dream – to “rid the world of slavery and war”. Thors would heartily approve in concept, to be sure – but to say this seems unrealistic is a massive understatement. Einar is diplomatic in his response, and no learned scholar – but it’s clear he’s skeptical at best. At this point the master comes by on his horse, and congratulates the boys on the work they’ve done. Not only that, he promises them a “discount” – he says he’ll set them free as soon as they sow the seeds, and offers the chance to stay on as free retainers. That will have to wait, though, until he returns from Jelling, which he’s headed to see King Harald.
I have many thoughts, starting with the obvious one – that’s an ominous foreshadowing (as is Sverkel not having turned up for a while). I also think Thorfinn and Einar’s hesitancy in expressing their joy at Ketil’s promise stems in part from the fact that freedom may mean the end of their friendship – though it’s certainly within their power to change that. As for Thorfinn’s dream, that’s an obvious contrast to the dream of his former running mate in Askeladd’s army, Canute, who’s about to take center stage once again.
Canute certainly has changed from the timid boy we first met. Perhaps most obviously, he’s now seeing the disembodied noggin of his father Sweyn – the “cursed head” of the episode title. This is all very Shakespearean (though of course the Bard would never write about Danish royalty…), especially when Canute and his party land at Jelling and head inside the palace to visit Harald. He’s king of Denmark, Canute king of England – which is how their father arranged things. Harald has fallen ill and his condition worsened rapidly, and he has no heirs.
The flashbacks with Harald being kind to little Canute in their boyhood were impactful, but I had an inkling all along where this was headed – especially starting with the conversation between Canute and Wulf (Mamiya Yasuhiro), which just had an air of wrongness about it. And once Harald (Satou Takuya) woke and managed a few words with his brother – enough to declare him the inheritor of the throne of Denmark – it was pretty obvious which way the wind was blowing. I don’t know how many people are in on it – maybe just Wulf is all it would take – but Canute is clearly pretty far gone at this point.
Setting aside that the only person Canute can open up to is the disembodied head of the father he loathed, I don’t see a path back from this act with Harald no matter how lofty Canute’s supposed ambitions are. The real question, I think, is what he’s going to want – nay, demand – from Thorfinn when he learns of his existence (possibly from Ketil, in fact). This could be an uneasy parallel with Thors’ story – a skilled killer who renounced war, and was dragged back into it against his will (by Canute’s father, indirectly). Thorfinn has had so many trials already, but any renewed connection with Canute would surely prompt one of the harshest.
What really does it for me is when it comes to Vikings, Sweyn’s head might as well be actual ghost haunting him and not just his imagination playing tricks on him. And Thorfinn’s hellpit of warriors battling for eternity might actually be him astral projecting there. I Love this series, god damn the violence has been turned down to 2 out of 11 in this season, compared to 11 out of 10 in season 1.
For me, the ominous foreshadowing is that Ketil might not return from Jelling – waylaid or even maybe conscripted, he is allegedly “Iron Fist” Ketil, after all – and that his son will cancel the agreement to set Thorfinn and Einar free.
Yeah, that’s what I was referring to.