I’m in a strange position with Vinland Saga this week. It’s the first time (at least that I can remember) that an episode hasn’t sat well with me. Not all of it, by any means – the stuff with Olmar was fantastic. But the Thorfinn thread leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And since that was the last part of the episode, it’s the impression that lingers the strongest. When a series has set as ridiculously high a standard as Vinland has this season, even the smallest off note sounds pretty discordant. It’s another of those first-world problems I talked about last week – the worst episode of this show would be the best of almost any other.
The aftermath of the “battle” is playing out more or less as you’d expect. What’s left of Ketil’s forces is decimated and mostly in various states of dismemberment or impending death. Floki’s Jomsvikings want to pillage and rape; Canute does his usual hollow moralizing and forbids it. He has a solid practical reason of course – he aims to steal the farm lock, stock, and barrel, and the more intact the better. One senses that Floki is always one step from openly defying the king – he makes little attempt to hide his disdain for him.
On the other side, Thorgill is preaching the gospel of fighting on – he swears he can take the king’s head with 20 men, but what he’s really looking for is a glorious death. Snake continues to profess unending loyalty – if the master refuses to surrender, he’ll keep fighting. But Ketil is too far gone to give any orders, and Sverkel – who proves himself to be thoroughly in command of his faculties – reminds Thorgill that Olmar is the master’s designated successor. Thorgill (and his mother) don’t expect this to be much of a problem, but they’re in for quite a surprise.
This is by far the strongest part of the episode, almost as good as anything VS has thrown at us in this stellar season. In truth you could sense that Yukimura has been building towards this for a while with Olmar, but this failure of a man is the one who steps up in the most crucial moment and shows some common sense. He calls out the lie of Thorgill’s obsession with honor and a noble death. It’s bullshit, it’s always been bullshit, and though in his world that makes Olmar a coward, maybe it takes a coward to see through the absurdity of it all. And it certainly took courage to – at last – defy Thorgill and call for an end to all of it.
Sverkel sums it up best – Ketil lost his farm, but in exchange his son became a man. What that means in context is hard to say. Thorgill predictably goes rogue, though now Snake has license to stand down and without him and his men, all Thorgill is now is a terrorist. The bigger issue is what this means for Thorfinn, whose entire reason for going to see Canute is now kind of out the window. He doesn’t know that, of course. And Einar, who has real honor and not the kind Thorgill yaps about, rouses himself from his grief and goes to try and save his friend from himself.
The issue for me starts with not really buying into Thorfinn’s decision last week in the first place. I don’t think he owes Ketil this. I certainly don’t think he owes Ketil getting punched 100 times when Canute – even after hearing his name – declines to see him. Thorfinn trying to do whatever he could to save lives for the sake of it, I can sort of buy. But repaying the kindness of his owner is a stretch. Frankly the only ones worth a shit in that family are Sverkel and Pater (who’s not even related and may be dead) – and Olmar at least redeemed himself a little here. Ketil, his wife, and eldest son can get bent. The sooner this “fight” with Thorfinn and Drott is over the better because the whole thing is a miss for me, and the reunion with Canute is what I really want to see.