This isn’t the first time that Vinland Saga has had the cruelty of the reality of the world it is set in full display. But whether it is showing the cruelty of war or the dark reality of those oppressed by the system, this can be a hard watch sometimes. This was one of those days.
As earnest as Einar’s interest in Arnheid may be, this whole situation is bound to create trouble down the line. Since her introduction, it’s been pretty clear that Arnheid belongs to Ketil. He takes value in her life as more than as a slave sure, but at the same time, she is still the one who is sadly chained the most to him. Her kindness toward Einar seems completely genuine to me, without any romantic interest developed as of yet. And the yet here is very crucial, because as it stands, it’s only a matter of time before this bomb activates.
And as if these weren’t enough problems for one woman, Arnheid still has to deal with Ketil’s wife’s violent behavior toward her. That slap is a very dark display of what these people are obligated to put up with and a clear depiction of the resentment the woman has for Arnheid (for obvious reasons). But even so, it wasn’t even the darkest the ep would go.
In contrast to this, Thorfinn and Einar’s brief screen time is the only source of lighter material in this mess (who would have guessed, uh). Thorfinn’s excitement over everything farm related is a joy to watch, and the best part is seeing just how much he’s evolving through this growing bond with Einar. The prayer is definitely my favorite moment, but even in the quiet moments, Einar is still making the important questions, like wondering if Ketil would be willing to let go if Arnheid the same way he’s doing with him and Thorfinn. Little does he know about Ketil’s true intentions.
Over different horizons, returning from the “thing” with his father, we are introduced to Thorgil, Ketil’s eldest son. A man just returning from the war in England, he takes pride in his brutality and hostility, not making too much effort to hide it from anyone. He insists that Olmar joins him to war next time – why exactly isn’t made clear here and it could be that he is simply that much into war, but there’s always the possibility of an underlying intention to get rid of Olmar that we don’t know yet. Based on Ketil’s commentaries this week, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him leaving all the power to Olmar, and it is too much power for Thorgil not to be bothered with, honestly. But speaking of Ketil – his gentle nature shown so far doesn’t match at all to what we are told about his past, as he once was known “Iron Fist Ketil,” a devastating man who went out to make his name on the battlefield. And Thorgil does a great job of hyping up his father (after offering Olmar that necklace of ears, which is just yikes), despite my obvious skeptism but before anything can be confirmed or denied, they are interrupted by Snake, who asks that the matter with the thieves is dealt with as soon as possible.
The thieves Snake and Badger were after in the beginning of the ep, turned out to be two kids. Sture is the older brother of Thora, and their matter is further complicated when it becomes known that their father, who abandoned them, was a debtor to Ketil. Their hard circumstances in life force them to steal in order to bring enough to keep their sick mother and baby brother alive. If it were up to Ketil, he would just let the kids go on with their lives. But the situation requires that a man like him shows authority in this situation, forcing him to take part in the cruelty he so despises of. In his cruelty, Thorgil suggest that they cut one arm each from the kids. Thankfully, Pater intervains suggesting a less harsh way of punishment, offering the idea that the kids work for Ketil until their debt is dealt with, to which Ketil glady accepts. The thing is that, unfortunately, authority is only shown once a man on Ketil’s position acts violently, and as such, Sture protects his sister by accepting her share of the beating. Ketil remained coward for the greater part of the situation, but when Thorgil maniacally beats the crap out of the kid, he finally takes action and lessens if for just a little the pain Sture has to go through.
For me, personally, this was the hardest moment in the whole ep – and that is saying a lot because Arnheid’s beating and her final scene with Ketil are just as strong candidates. While Thorfinn’s group is enslaved to Ketil, the truth is that all of those characters are chained to the circumstances of the time they live in. Circumstances forced Sture and Thora to steal, and the same circumstances bring Ketil to take the actions (or better, not take) he does. In the reality he lives in, he just can’t be a Nordic man in his position without pose as an ideal vision of what should be. And well, we do know that is all a facade. Everyone is enslaved to this grim reality, but the truth is that when those in the position yo make a chance are presented with such a possibility, most of the fimes they choose not to. This, too, is a result of what their lives are like, but I don’t think it’s enough to excuse them of the weight of their actions.
But in this charade that is Ketil’s life, Arnheid has it the worst. She’s bound to be chained to this man she doesn’t love, and as kind as Ketil can be, it isn’t nowhere near enough to make to the burden he forces Arnheid to carry in his stead. It’s all complicated, and it sure as hell isn’t like if only Ketil had the power or responsibility to make things as righteous as possible. But looking at his character objectively, either he owns up to his kindness and lives a life free of all of this mess, or he continues to live in this reality of condemn he chose to. Armheid may be his one saving grace at the moment, but it’s pretty clear that at one point or another, even that thread will be severed. His kindness will be put on the test when Einar gets inevitably involved in his story, and the dark nature of his character will surely come to light. It’s a fate he can’t escape from because even without realizing it, he is the one who’s been digging this grave of for his life all long.