Review: ‘Vikings,’ Season 4, Episode 3, ‘Mercy’

Another week, another review!


I’m sorry, I’m going to need a moment. I’m having issues believing it is mid-April already.


I know. I know. But, dear self, we need to keep it together! Shelve that quarter life crisis for now and put on your serious panties, we have a lot of writing to do.


And, judging by the title, we are in for a lot of scenes of contemplation and potential character building… which is my jam. So! Let’s get this show on the road.


We start the episode with a shot of Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) enduring his punishment of Viking water torture, slowly (quickly?) growing madder.


So, it’s a perfect time to cut to Kalf (Ben Robson) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) fucking. Wow, edit crew. What a frankly bizarre juxtaposition. I thought the scene couldn’t get any unsexier, but then Kalf says the L-word in the heat of passion and my abject disinterest in Kalf can only be matched by Lagertha’s. Which, I mean, get the D girl, I’m cheering you on from camp “he’s attractive once you go beyond the bland personality and the boring face–”


Right, so, his body?




“but watch yourself when dudes catch feelings. And want your babies. And follow the heartfelt confession with an admission that he needs to pee.”


It is one of the first times we can earnestly see Lagertha’s wheels turning. Through the humdrum confessions of Kalf, her ulterior motives remain hidden but practically palpable.


Maybe, after Kalf’s show of allegiance to her a few episodes ago, she has seen some sort of use to him that remains elusive to us? Or, maybe she’s legitimately started to feel something for him.


I mean, it’s…it’s possible that they will do that to her, as in, I can’t 100% say that she won’t fall in love with him and fall into a pattern of domesticity, okay.. However, I really hope that isn’t the case. It very likely isn’t, as she not only doesn’t return his feelings of love and adoration, she says nothing at all.


Kalf meets Erlendur while he is draining the lizard and the smarmy blonde tells Kalf that Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) has left Kattegat and is stationed in the woods, making him a prime target for attack. The pair, bound by their desire to see the Lothbroks dead, agree that it is the perfect opportunity to assassinate the son eldest son of the king. Isn’t that handy? Kalf also knows the perfect person for the job, “a beserker.”


We meet the grizzled man shortly thereafter and Erlendur gifts the hired hand the ring of his father for protection.


Why? Because that worked out so well for him?


Ha. Savage.


Anyway, the growling beserker (whelp, he seems friendly) seems more enticed by the gold and silver promised to him if he’s successful.

It’s a nearly perfect segue into the happenings of Bjorn’s new life. In the snow and roughened terrain, Bjorn sets numerous traps to catch food. From the brush and trees, we can see that he is being watched.


Back in Floki’s cave, Helga (Maude Hirst) holds a cup above Floki’s head in an attempt to save him from some of the water.


Which – correct me if I am wrong – directly mirrors what Loki’s wife did to him when he was being tortured with the poison of a snake in much the same fashion.


Correct. Perhaps, because of the nearly perfect mimicking of that, as Helga holds the bow above Floki, she seems fragile, yet imbued with a strength beyond her own until she collapses from exhaustion. When Floki wakes up, he sees her lying there with her bowl and is immediately overcome with emotions of remorse and regret. When he tries to apologize to her (and he does, profusely), she simply soaks in his sadness and his anger like the loyal sponge she is.


She is giving Floki glasses of water when Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) appears in the cave. He asks Helga, rather conspicuously, if he knows about the death of his daughter. A shake of her head informs Ragnar that she has not told Floki and he responds with, “he needs to know, Helga,” but she looks petrified and hurt at the concept of telling him that their child is dead. Still, she does it, telling her husband that their little girl caught a fever and died. He wails in his grief. It is honestly heartbreaking. The writers are working overtime to get the audience to Feel Things about Floki, despite their utter trashing of his character in season 3. For me, it’s hard, because they kind of made him into a monster, but a part of me still remembers and yearns for the Floki of old – the enigmatic, strange, energetic shipbuilder that linked the show to more lore.


It’s heavy as shit, basically. Now’s a good a time as any to go check on our budding Parisians. Onward!


A large dinner is being set, surely to highlight the diversity between the heathenish tendencies of the Vikings contrasted against the posh mannerisms of the Frankish. They make a specific show of Rollo not knowing how to use cutlery, despite the fact that cutlery (as we know it) wasn’t used until much later in history (cited source: useless tidbit retained from a history class) – in fact, France was eating with their fingers until, like, the 17th century. Anyway, despite this being aired by the History Channel, we know better. The dinner continues with general ire from a daughter to a king, who will never stop reminding me of Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood.


The tense vibe continues with Gisla eventually slinging a glass of wine in Rollo’s face because she thinks he is gross and doesn’t like him. Aaaaand I’m gonna have to pump the breaks again — I hate sounding the “is this historically accurate?” bell in this show that often, because….well, it would be a lot of bell ringing and I’m not sure we have enough ibuprofen to go around, but Gisla standing up and proclaiming that much callousness to Rollo would have not flown at all in an upper crest Frankish society at that time. Like, women had zero rights, dude, especially when it came to who they were to marry. Gisla, sure, you can hate the dude and I am damn sure that you positively loathe that you have absolutely no agency in your life, but stomping your foot down and saying “but, this isn’t what I wanted at all!” changes jack shit.


In fact, her display would have been ruinous, her reputation would have been left in tatters. It doesn’t matter what her position was in society, she would have had a felt-tip marker sign permanently floating over her head screaming “DIFFICULT!” and “TROUBLESOME!” in the collective conscious of the people. I wish it weren’t fact, but it is, as is Rollo’s gut reaction of woman!? mine! while sulking in his well of sexual frustration. Anachronistic in a word. Sheesh.


Well, except for the part about Rollo sulking in his well of sexual frustration. Bro is probably dying at not being able to sex and/or rape anyone at will, which seems pretty accurate when we think of his character through the seasons. His personality may change, but his sex drive never does!


I thought you would love the tense, romantic aspects of that scene.


Hey, a lot of romance writers put a lot of time and effort into making their books as factually based and believable as possible! Sure, they tend to skim over the absolutely disgusting hygiene of a lot of eras, but they tend to adhere relatively strongly to the actual social structure of the time they set the novel in. That’s why you don’t see a Regency-era woman dropping the word “bitch” as a sentence enhancer and the dudes aren’t tooling around on skateboards. I love a good love story, but ya’ gotta convince me.


Anyway, at the end of the day, Rollo (Clive Standen) is going to learn French. The end. Sort of. The French lessons start and they sound as absolutely ridiculous as you suspect they would – if a voice could be considered hamfisted, it would be Rollo’s in this scene. And then he clocks his teacher. A man of wealth, perhaps, but not civility! (Yet!)


He also made a huge mess! I’m half expecting the scholars of Frankia to appear and chastise him on manners.


Well, not quite, because we’re back in Bjorn territory. Someone or something has been eating the food that gets caught in his traps and his increasing irritation is bringing a bit of fire to the fledgling Lothbrok. It doesn’t take long to see that the food-nabber is actually his namesake. That’s right! It is a bear that is taking the food from his traps, one that gives us a tense scene where he is clearly sizing up his future midnight snack. Luckily, he decides to wait until later, because Bjorn has left all weaponry back in the hut – but this is a fight we’ll def be revisiting, it’s just a matter of when.


Taking a break from Bjorn’s mysterious journey, we head to everyone’s favorite hanger-on: Wessex.


Prudentius is hard at work teaching Judith about paint, or as hard at work as anyone forced into a job that they don’t want to do is. Judith, instead of learning how to make a shade of blue (which, btw, was very expensive to manufacture at the time so ya’ might wanna pay attention, J), she asks about the fabled attacks on Paris. What happens next is some good old spoken word propaganda.  Oh, you remember the pagans that attacked Paris? Yeah, they were totally smote. Totally.


Prudentius also tells Judith that the leader of the attack was Ragnar and when she tells King Ecbert (Linus Roache) later, he seems bemused. She seems disappointed that there is no word of Athelstan among the ranks and King E tells her that Athelstan is a loss felt by both of them, but he still lives on in both her and Alfred, as she was chosen to carry the holy man’s child. Gotta hand it to King E, he can spin a web, even if Judith is getting better at calling him on his shit.


A quick jaunt from Wessex takes us to Mercia, Queen Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey), Magnus, and Aethelwulf. Absolutely everyone is ill-prepared for the snow (okay, geology majors help me, because I’m pretty sure snowfall in Britain is..minimal. I had a friend who studied in London and said in the time she spent there, she saw – maybe – one inch of snow and while everyone in London lost their shit and transportation was shut down, it was absolutely survivable. Are nobles just that weak? Have they never heard of blankets?) and before they left to storm Mercia on this great saving adventure, they failed to plan for…food? Really?


Aethelwulf also defies his father’s orders – where King E wants Magnus to live, he tells Queen K that it’s she who needs to live. Wrapping she and her son in his cloak-coat (cloat? no, that sounds terrible), he shows more emotion for her than he has literally ever shown Judith.


In another snowy area of the world, Bjorn discovers liquor in his cabin. SUCCESS! He proceeds to bro the fuck out, get totally smashed, checks out an aurora borealis, yells into the night, howls like a wolf, and passes out into the snow, because that is smart as fuck.. It’s okay, he wakes up and barfs just in time to watch the bear walk away. Again.


This fool is a mess.


He is 100% preparing to puke and rally. Let’s see what you’ve got, Bjorn.


Before then, let’s go to Kattegat, where Ragnar is telling his son fearsome tales while Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) listens in. He ends the story with an insane dig at infidelity pointed squarely at his wife. Ragnar, are you really, legitimately slut-shaming your wife right now? Are you really degrading her about infidelity? With your track record? How many people who aren’t his wife is Ragnar going to bone in this season and have it waved off as some kind of legacy sharing? Does he not remember that Aslaug was a mistress? Holy shit, dude, the double standards here are so thick that you could cut it up and serve it with coffee. For what feels like the umpteenth time in this season, Ragnar just needs to fuck off.


Try to avoid writing a thousand word essay on feminism, I’m fairly certain that your readers wouldn’t want to read it.


uuuuuuugh it is just. so. frustrating. He sucks this season and his skull tattoo remains hideous. So, there.


Okay, okay, let’s go back to Bjorn.


Well, okay. Fine. So, Bjorn is getting prepared to kill the bear that keeps lowkey mocking him. This time, and probably with a killer headache, he arms up for battle. It’s a cutscene later and he’s fighting the bear and holy shit broskis it is brutal and bloody and, even though Bjorn gets maimed in the process, death comes to the bear pretty quickly. You know, good for him. It feels like just last episode he was struggling to catch an ice fish and now he’s slaying bears, all by himself. Pass the kleenex, I am proud.


He also knows that he needs to cauterize the wound that he sustained. After he skins the bear and harvests the meat, he takes a fire-hot knife blade and presses it into his skin and plunges into the frozen lake to finish the job. Was anyone else’s body tense this entire scene? It was so well-acted. You can almost see hints of the dude Bjorn will become.


In Wessex, Judith is laying down the terms of her mistress title with her father-in-law, saying that she will be his mistress again only if he treats her as an equal in all respects. King E has never looked a gift horse in a mouth, so he swears on the life of Athelstan that he will treat her well. It is a strange exchange? Literally everything about Wessex is strange.


It is hilarious that Ragnar seemingly wakes from this nightmare in the next scene.


For once, I agree, Ragnar. Right there with you.


This scene packs a heavy meaning, though, because the man of the hour, of every hour, of every episode, is back (for like, a second). That’s right duderinos, ATHELSTAN!


Both Ragnar and King Ecbert are visited by Athelstan (George Blagden) in the night. Given to King Ecbert is a message of his ultimate passing – wordless, but a message all the same. Ragnar receives slightly different treatment, the monk washing his feet before imploring him with a single word over and over: mercy. When the men reach for him, he vanishes.


I sincerely do miss the warmth that Athelstan brought to the show. It was real, curious, and vulnerable. However, I do think it is time to move on. Maybe, mercifully, this is a sign that we will be moving forward.


The visit has seemed to do some shifting of tides, it is to be said. King Ecbert meets Judith while she paints and assures her of his honesty and commitment to his promise of equality, despite his belief (which sounds like a confession) that Athelstan is dead. “I loved him,” Judith cries and the king replies, “so did I.”


A confession just in time for Aethelwulf to return home with Queen K and Magnus in tow. King Ecbert welcomes them into the hold, however, she seems fairly perturbed (I was informed last review that it was because Amy Bailey was very, very pregnant while filing these scenes – suddenly, the clavicle-and-above shots and the pained expressions seem to fit). I could say that we could chalk it up to her kingdom being in tatters and being displaced to a different place for safety, but it appears that it stems from not knowing whether or not Aethelwulf would come to visit her. He does. We can assume they get it on.



As for Ragnar, because King Ecbert was not the only one affected by Athelstan’s appearance, he leaves his chambers looking surprisingly able considering his hobbling the last couple episodes. He also looks determined. Ax in hand, he goes to Floki and frees him of his binds and torture. Just like that.


And just like that, this episode is done.


It was a slow burner, but it was – for the most part – pretty solid. There was a lot of plays with tension this episode, as well as some absolutely ridiculous moments of anachronism. I’ll let that slide, though, because as a whole it was pretty good.


What’s your arbitrary rating?


I’m going to have to go with nine ghostly visitations from the dead out of thirteen. Get it? Because thirteen is a spooky number?


Anyway! Hit me up with your thoughts and feelings in the comments!


Edit post posting: fun fact, everyone! I thought I had scheduled this for two mornings ago – yikes, I know. Woops!

11 thoughts on “Review: ‘Vikings,’ Season 4, Episode 3, ‘Mercy’

  1. New review, new comment.

    Extended Edition Information: I said there would be more this episode and there is. A whopping 5-6 min of extra scenes this time. I’ll do my best to try and spot them based on your review.

    1. After Kalf mentions the berserker, Erlandur goes to retrieve something from a chest in his house, Torvi awakes and wonders what he’s doing. Erlandur says he’s felt bad for how he’s been treating her, and that he’s forgiven her for the time she slept with Bjorn last season (yeah, right…). He then returns a necklace to her. Torvi thanks him and says he can be forgiving when he wants to be.

    2. As the beginning of the frankish dinner scene there is some random Roland/Therese sexy times (wait what? aren’t they brother and sister? Ah, decadent frankish court)

    3. When Bjorn kills the bear it seems his victory roar echoes over to Ragnar, who thoughtfully looks at a raven in the sky and then sees the younger version of Bjorn (Nathan O’Toole) running towards him. Ragnar looks sad before reality asserts itself and the asian slave Yidu (Dianne Doan) comes over and asks him for the fish he was gutting in the earlier scene.

    4. The scene probably feels strange because there more between Ecbert and Judith, Judith disrobes, giving us a good look at her naked backside and climbs into Ecbert’s bed, kissing him. Accepting his promise.

    5. Between the return home and Athelwulf’s nightly visit. Queen K and Judith have a spa night. But I’ll let Amy Bailey describe the scene instead via her Instagram. Beware of spoilers for future episodes if you browse her page further than this post:

    View this post on Instagram

    Cut from US version 😵 I loved shooting this great scene with @jenniejacques1 #vikings #VikingsSeason4 ・・・ #Repost. @rosemaryomalley with @repostapp. "Another cut scene….and one I would have dearly loved to see. In fact, I would watch a whole episode of these two sharing stories and comparing notes." Extra scene, set after Kwenthrith and Aethelwulf makes it back to Wessex. Kwenthrith and Judith are sharing a relaxing bath in Ecbert’s spa. Judith: How is Magnus? Kwenthrith: He’s sleeping. He ate well for the first time in many days. I did not think he would survive. Judith: He is a viking. Kwenthrith: Yes. Judith: Did you hear about the latest exploits of Ragnar? Kwenthrith: No. Judith: He and a great army attacked Paris. Ragnar pretended to be dead and was carried into the city, only to jump out of his coffin and open his gates for his warriors. *Kwenthrith laughs* Kwenthrith: That’s so ridiculous, it must be true. Judith: My teacher, Prudentius, told me, that many of the Northmen fell sick and died after entering the cathedral. That God punished them. *Kwenthrith scoffs* Judith: I cannot believe Ragnar died. Kwenthrith: Ragnar Lothbrok is not dead. He is no ordinary mortal. I know it. I can feel it in my soul. I just know. Judith: But Athelstan… Kwenthrith: The monk? Judith: Athelstan is dead. Kwenthrith: Why is that so important to you? Judith: Athelstan is the father of my child, Alfred. Kwenthrith: The father? When? Judith: When Aethelwulf found out, they cut off my ear as punishment. Kwenthrith: Oh Judith. And then the scene changes to Kwenthrith alone in her bed, thinking.

    A post shared by Amy Bailey (@officialamybailey) on

    6. Equal opportunity nudity. Before diving into the icy hole, Bjorn disrobes and bares his full moon.

    Enjoy responsibly ladies:

    Now for some thoughts on the episode.

    Kalf, Kalf, Kalf. You go from getting humped by a lady and dropping sweet pillow talk (well, except for the sudden “gotta piss” part) to plotting to kill her only child. How do you see this turning out for you? Do they have an express line at the gates of Valhalla for people who tried to fuck over Ragnar and/or Lagertha? Also Erlandur is in serious violation of the bro-code. Never talk to another man while he’s draining the lizard!

    Helga does mirror Sigyn in this episode. I love Vikings when they can tie the show into the myth and legends like that, it gives an extra dimension to those of us familiar with the stories.

    Rollo’s “bull in a China shop” scenes in Frankia might be humurous (and Clive Standed got some good comedic talent) but they’re not really that engaging yet, expect a major change to happen in Frankia soon though.

    Bjorn finding booze and going crazy was random and hillarious. The fight with the bear was savage. But yeah, the retreat thing is working and he’s becoming quite grizzled (or is that grizzly-ed). Just wait until you see what he does next week…

    Ragnar still hates the wife……check.

    Ghost Athelstan’s visit served it’s purpose and gave the episode it’s title. But it’s nice to see the show perhaps moving forward past Athelstan’s death now, Floki (and particularly Helga) have indeed suffered enough.

    Next week, the vikings celebrate Yol/Yule and a couple of new arrivals spice things up in Kattegat.

    • ha! I laughed at Kalf going “I love you” only to follow-up with “but I really, truly, intend on killing your son.” Yikes, dude. Lagertha has textbook terrible tastes, honestly…it’s also hard to see Ragnar as who he is now and remember that he used to be caring and gentle and completely different when he was with Lagertha. It is certainly character development, in a way, it’s just hard to reconcile the change in a lot of ways!

      I am excited for Frankia to gain some depth. I mean…it’s hard to feel invested in the plots that aren’t based with the main group, you know? Does that feeling improve through the season? Things like Wessex and Frankia just feel attached by threads and rather clunky when you think about the cohesion it all used to have a few seasons ago.

      I am shooting to be caught up by the time the second half of the season rolls around. Life has been crazy with some family things that have kind of killed my energy, but I really and truly want to get caught up so we can all experience it at the same time!!

      • You’re quite welcome. If motivation is lacking I would suggest hanging on to that feeling of who Ragnar used to be. As it is not only us the audience who misses the old Ragnar. Ragnar himself will shortly be shown to be quite aware of how much he has changed (as always Travis Fimmel’s acting is on point) and there are amazing scenes of how tormented by regrets over his choices he is later on.

        As Ragnar declines it is also very enjoyable to watch Bjorn’s rise through the season into a strong and cunning warrior and caring man. It’s in him we’ll find the qualities that once hooked us to Ragnar.

        Frankia does get more relevant eventually, but Wessex’s plots continues to feel tacked on. Even if Linus Roache chewing scenery as Ecbert continues to be quite entertaining. I belive this is due to Michael Hirst originally wanting the series he developed to focus on the legendary Alfred the Great (only english king ever given “the great” as a name.) But as he devoloped and researched Alfred’s Viking opponents he became more and more facinated with the Norsemen up to a point where he turned the focus of the show around and called it “Vikings”. He still desires to tell Alfred’s story though and this is what Wessex plots is building towards. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Jonathan Rhys-Meyers who has been cast for season 5 will play the adult Alfred.

      • This is very true! Hirst’s interest in frothy royal drama definitely shines through (sometimes inelegantly), but I find it really promising that you say Ragnar’s regression is acknowledged, even though I find it funny that they – or feel that they have to – do that at all. Have no fear! I’ll be continuing the reviews and am still aiming to be up to snuff by the time the second half rolls around, but some of it has definitely felt trying and I regret that wholly. Here’s hoping that ep. 4 and onward helps!

  2. well I miss your reviews. I am not engaged with Vikings, like I used to be, ti season, and all the bits that are outside the historic ways things were ( such as rollo’s wife behavior) really pull me out of the story.
    I still want to feel the people, feel their emotions, feel depth in them and like them or if I can’t like them, understand them.. even if they are behaving destructively, but i don’t think that is conveyed well at all any more.

    This series is not as completely plot driven as was i the third series, but its still a pale shell compared to series 1 and 2.

    Maybe in series one and two we were always looking at things through viking eyes, but now we look, in many situations, through characters eyes we have no ties to, like the franks and the english. And its hard to care at all. Also turning Ragnar into someone so dislikable, and Floki and even Lagertha, means that I don’t have anybody to care about. Its made Vikings no longer that interesting.

    • I have to agree – I am trying to stay engaged and plan on reviewing to the end of this season (and – hey! I should be caught up by the time the latter half of this season rolls around, so I won’t be completely behind!), but it remains to be seen whether or not I will continue after that.

  3. I admire your tenacity! we are still watching but can no longer binge watch, as this fourth season is shown weekly on free to air TV and is not yet on Netflix, where we used to binge watch it. I am enjoying your reviews hugely as always. we just finished episode nine. Things are developing.. and I am starting to care .. I want to understand some of the mythic things that happen, but I don’t, and they don’t keep being developed in ways I understand.. so maybe I am missing their development

    • I am excited to hear that you guys are starting to care! Honestly, I really trust the gut of my reviewers after all of these years and really think that it’s a positive reflection of what’s to come. I’m about halfway through reviewing episode 4, so look forward to that soon!

  4. I came here hoping that you had reviewed the mid-season last episode but ah well will have to wait! Have not been as engaged this season but the last half does pick up and the last episode is great and really moves the story forward in quite a dramatic way. So def worth pushing through 🙂

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