First of all, I want to give my appreciation and my complete praise to Michael Hirst and everyone involved in the production of the Vikings Saga for such an incredible enactment this past week of the initial battle for Paris! I can not even begin to describe how awesome it was! Of course as usual I have countless pictures of it but that in no way begins to describe the realness of this epic confrontation. If you have not watched last week’s episode, The Gates of Paris, you need to go do so now! I will make my attempts to deal with all of it later.
In this post, I need to finally address the one person whom I have been putting off dealing with in more depth. That person is of course the eccentric, often extreme and easily agitated Floki. In the past, I have commented on some of my feelings about him as a religious zealot in his own way. I have also touched on his states of agitation and over the top bouts of excitement and panic… much of which could be attributed to some extensive use of mild altering plants such as the mushrooms that he does seem to know a great deal about. We saw this in his earlier years when he used them to imitate death in Torstein and forced them down a barely conscious Rollo. We also saw an affect of them on him when he was asked to go retrieve a head for Princess Kwentirith.
We’ve all witnessed his extremes in behaviors, his over the top excitement that could border on manic in some ways. If we go back to his earliest years, we also saw a fascination with fire… We have seen his devotion to the old ways, the old beliefs and the Gods. And, how many times have we heard him speak of his hatred for the new ways, the Christians and Athelstan? Floki has always been open and honest about his view that Christianity will be the death of their ways and he is adamant in his belief that Athelstan was a direct cause of this death because he influenced Ragnar so much in his thinking of new ways. None of this is new, this is all part of Floki’s character, his belief system that he is so immersed in. Over the years however, we have seen Floki progress further and further into some deeper belief in his Gods. His progression has bordered on that same zealotry that he condemns the Christians for. His rigid way of thinking causes him to cross from the boundaries of normal dissent and opposition to the darker corners of hatred, extremism and total intolerance for anything not within his narrow belief system. Unfortunately, it all culminated in a complete mental breakdown for him at the walls of Paris.
I have not addressed his more recent extreme behaviors such as his outright killing of Athelstan and claiming it as a sacrifice to the Gods because, frankly and honestly it was so disturbing to me that I found it difficult to delve into the subject. Now, though with the most recent events concerning Floki, I think it is time to go back and look at all of it. What led to this break with reality, and were there other causes than just the voices in his head- his Gods speaking to him, telling him to do it? I do not want this to turn into some lengthy, deep psycho-babble analysis of his character and his early flaws so I will try to keep this brief and basic. Floki was not always this far off, this far over the edge in his thinking. Yes, he was always eccentric but in the early years, he was a good eccentric. He was a builder, a dreamer, a visionary of sorts, and he was a true friend to Ragnar and his family… until the arrival of Athelstan, the Christian.
He was a happy man, his face full of sheer joy in life and adventure.
As I said, he was a true friend to Ragnar and his family.
When Ragnar was near death, it was Floki who took the family in, hid them and healed his friend.
Floki was ever loyal to Ragnar , Rollo nearly killed him for it in battle but he eventually forgave Rollo…
Floki showed his loyalty to Ragnar by putting his life on the line and playing a dangerous game with King Horik.
Over the years, Floki’s loyalties and friendship with Ragnar were unquestioned for the most part, other than his dislike for Athelstan and the Christian beliefs. He was however, questioning his own thoughts and beliefs more and fears were beginning to creep into his thoughts. His fears were of his Gods being angry with him, he also began to have serious fears about the Gods revenge on him, and on their people… These fears came as he began a married and settled life with Helga- a time that was at first filled with such happiness. After the birth of their daughter though, he feared that the Gods would take notice or revenge for them being too happy and content with their lives.
Floki’s fears, distrust of the Christians and hatred of them became even worse after the battle in England to defend a Christian took so many of his friends lives, such as that of his good friend Torstein.
It was after Torstein’s death that Floki’s thoughts turned more toward the extreme hatred of all things Christian, and his fears for his friend Ragnar became even more pronounced. By the time they all returned to Kattegat, Floki’s extreme views became far more apparent and he was vocal in his hatred of Athelstan, whom he felt was responsible for everything wrong in their lives. His behaviors became more erratic as he sought his own guidance from his Gods. It was during this time as well that he became less able to control his emotional outbursts with even Helga, the one person who loved him without question. He turned on her in violence, then quickly realized the wrongness of his behavior and swore to her that he was sorry and it would never happen again.
It was after this incident when he made her swear not to tell anyone about his whereabouts, that he carried out his plan to make sacrifice to his Gods and killed Athelstan. It was not so much a sacrifice though as a secret assassination of the man. It was in no way a ritualized sort of killing or sacrifice, he snuck into Athelstan’s room and killed in cold blood. He planned to do it, he knew it was wrong and it would in a way be a betrayal of his friend Ragnar. Floki knew all of this, he threatened Helga not to tell anyone where he was or had been. He did not make some public statement of calling for Athelstan’s death but he had turned all of the men of Kattegat against Athelstan. Of course, it could be said that Athelstan did as much himself by announcing his renewal and rebirth to the Christian faith, by throwing away his arm ring… but, the men would not have known this fact had Floki not made them all aware of it. Floki knew that he was setting Athelstan up for at least banishment from their community if nothing else. Athelstan knew this and had already accepted his fate so I am not going to go more into the event here. Floki reasoned that his action was warranted in order to save Ragnar from the perils of Athelstan and Christianity. In his erratic and irrational thinking, he truly believed at the time that he was saving Ragnar from the wrath of their Gods for turning away from them. The one other thing we need to consider in Floki’s killing of Athelstan is the fact that it may have had just as much to do with Ragnar’s deep friendship with Athelstan, with the fact as that friendship grew stronger, Ragnar sought out Floki’s company and advice less and less. So, Floki’s act may well have been spurred on by a more common sin or violation than any religious reason.. Floki was jealous of losing Ragnar’s friendship and attentions. He feared loss of his own notice by Ragnar and the Gods. He felt a desperate need to call attention once again to himself in the eyes of the Gods, and be looked on with favor again by his friend, his King, Ragnar.
What ever Floki’s reasons for killing Athelstan in secret are aside the point now because, as always, Ragnar was suspicious of who would have done the deed. Ragnar’s mind went immediately to Floki as the evil doer, and his thoughts turned to vengeance for his friend Athelstan.
This personal vendetta and vengeance is what brought about part of the disaster that was our first battle of Paris. Rather than deal with Floki directly, Ragnar chose instead to set the man up and use him in his ongoing agenda for this raid of Paris. My personal thought is that this personal vendetta had no business being played out in such a way as to put everyone’s lives in such danger, sacrifice so many good warriors all in a ploy to bring Floki down because of a personal grudge against him. This was wrong of Ragnar and showed just how much more corrupt he has become. Floki may have killed Athelstan, but he was not the only one guilty of a cold blooded murder done to save his faith, his reputation or what ever his reason was… Ragnar was just as guilty of such action when he killed the lone survivor of the English massacre so that the man would not tell of that disaster and cause anyone to question Ragnar’s actions!
By the time they arrive in Paris, Floki’s fears had begun to take a firm hold of his thinking. He was not thinking clearly at all, otherwise he would have immediately questioned Ragnar’s suggestion to put him in charge of this all so important raid. Floki was well aware of Ragnar’s devious plots and plans… he had been a part of them before- such as in his deceptions with King Horik for Ragnar. All we have to go on is the reactions and behaviors of Floki during this time so we can not truly know what exactly was going through mind… and to give Floki some credit, I do not think even Floki was all that sure of everything racing in mind! My thought is that Floki was so desperate to cover his murder of Athelstan and be in Ragnar’s good graces that he did not question Ragnar’s decision. He was in fact, surprised and ecstatic about it. In his altered mind, it must have looked as though his sacrifice had been seen with favor by the Gods and they were now repaying him with greatness….
He says as much to Helga when he is in the process of building his towers. His elated excitement is such an extreme as to cause Helga more concern about his behavior. He is so excited that he tells Helga of his great sacrifice to the Gods.
After Helga leaves, Floki delights in his joy and his favor from the Gods.
Floki believed that the Gods were speaking to him and were acting through him in his creation of the towers. Again to Floki’s credit and defense, the towers were a truly genius creation. Floki was a dreamer and a visionary with his creations- both of the boats he built earlier and in these new creations. It is sometimes said that in every creative genius, there lies some bit of madness that allows them to step outside themselves and see some greater vision of picture. I think was true in Floki’s case. Having no other way to explain or describe his creative process, he assumed that it was the Gods speaking to him, that he must have some divine or direct connection to the Gods.
While Floki may have been a creative genius and visionary, there was one thing Floki was not… and that was a leader! Floki did not have that certain ability to so easily convince others to follow him. If he had that ability, everyone would have followed his preaching early on and he would have convinced all, including Ragnar to avoid the Christians at all costs. This did not happen because Floki did not have that instinctive and inborn quality to inspire others to his way of thinking. Very few people have that quality which is sometimes referred to as the Leadership gene. I will explain this gene more in a future post as some of our people do have this gene… Ragnar for instance has it, Athelstan had it, as well as Ecbert of Wessex. Floki is not a born leader and most of those around him realize this. So, when Ragnar put Floki in charge, it caused some suspicions from the others immediately!
The only person not wary or suspicious of this action was Floki himself. This would be a fairly typical reaction from one who is not thinking so rationally, always the last to realize what is in front of them all along…
The discussion ended and Floki was left to go off and do what Floki did best, build a magnificent creation. And, his creation was indeed awe inspiring. Everyone was duly impressed with the towers and all assumed that they would work. There was no reason no to assume they wouldn’t. None of these people had experienced siege warfare before or battle with such entities as the Frankish Warriors. The only one might have had any knowledge regarding this would have been Ragnar, and that would have been based on what Athelstan may have shared with him. If he had any prior knowledge of such tactics he remained silent and allowed the group to ahead with their battle plans. Now, he did state later that he had some other plan or agenda in mind and this initial battle was part of his plot to set Floki up. If he had any knowledge or premonition of such devastation and still allowed it to go forward all in a plan to make Floki look bad, then he is far more corrupt and guiltier than Floki could ever think to be!
I am not going to go into all of the horrific details of this failed attempt to enter Paris right now. I will deal with the rest of it later. Right now I am only going to concern myself with Floki’s involvement in it and his resulting massive mental breakdown because of the failure.
As I mentioned, in the beginning it appeared to be an awesome and excellent plan of attack, his siege engines built to scale the walls of Paris.
As the time drew near to actually implement the plan of the towers, Floki did seem a bit nervous… and Ragnar’s thought was most likely one of, “Thank the Gods Rollo is really in charge!”
Rollo and Bjorn quickly took charge of the wall scaling while Ragnar and Floki initially watched from the sidelines…
Aside from the initial expected first casualties, the towers seemed to work as promised?
There was some difficulty in getting from the boats to the towers while arrows rained down on them, but the warriors took that in stride and proceeded with their plan to climb the towers…
What the warriors had first assumed to be a doable feat suddenly became a nightmare when the wall archers took deadly precise aim at the climbers who could not defend themselves while climbing. The water filled with dead and wounded warriors and soon the men had to be convinced by what ever means possible to make the climb. Floki did his part in trying to inspire the warriors to climb for Odin, The Gods are with us.
Rollo, on the other hand used what ever means necessary to get men up the wall, including threats… which he carried out to convince them all that he was serious!
Bjorn proved his worth and his leaderships qualities in his attempts as well to convince them to get up the ladders.
The fatal flaw to this plan came when the Frankish warriors brought forth their secret weapon….
In addition to the buckets of boiling oil, flaming arrows rained down on them. Despite this terror, warriors still made the climb up the ladders.
Rollo knew that he had to join his men on the wall and he made the climb…
While all of these brave warrior were facing death in the eyes, making the climb up the ladders knowing that Valhalla was most likely their destiny, Floki made a fateful and disgraceful choice… whether on purpose or not he chose to climb into the tower instead of up it. What would probably seal his fate was the fact that Ragnar watched it all.
Ragnar was distracted then by the sight of his son Bjorn climbing the ladders… He must follow Bjorn and be by his side, but make no mistake, he would not forget this act that he had just witnessed.
While others faced their deaths and their destinies on the wall, Floki descended into a final hellish nightmare within the tower. His fear turned to terror, madness and insanity, which he admitted while talking to himself.
Hiding in the tower, Floki began to voice his madness and his fear…. His first reaction was to immediately put the blame for all of this on Athelstan personally. Then his mind wandered to the words of the Gods…
His thoughts go from the Gods back to Athelstan and to Ragnar…
One thing to remember in the middle of all of Floki’s madness is that in a way he was right all along. Their way of life, their beliefs and their Gods would all fall and be forsaken to the Christian God. What he was not able to differentiate between was the difference between one sole person such as Athelstan and the entire religion of Christianity. What he was never able to grasp, understand or accept was the fact that Athelstan was not trying to convert any of them to his religion. During his entire time with the group, he never sought to force his beliefs on anyone else. Ragnar was the curious one, the one asking the questions and wanting to know more about everything. Floki could not separate Athelstan the man from Athelstan the religion. In his eyes it was one and the same thing so therefore Athelstan was the one he held personally accountable for all of their ill luck.
Somewhere during this mental breakdown, something did occur to Floki and he then questioned the Gods why, why have they turned on him when he performed such great sacrifice and loved them so much. Floki suddenly realizes that his actions, his ultimate sacrifice of Athelstan really made no difference.
It’s then that Floki sinks to what looks to be his final despair, having given up on the Gods answering him, he first thinks to end his life here and now by slitting his throat. He is then distracted from that final act by his own voices in his head…
Floki’s fear, his terror and his descent into the hellish madness of the flames and his own mind was compelling and heart wrenching to view. Whether one is a fan of him or not, you would have to be somewhat cold hearted to not feel anything as you watched this man break and shatter so totally. I myself have had no great fondness for the man over the years and considered him to be as bad at times as the Christian Priests that he so hated. Many have commented on how they feel he got what he deserved, that he was a coward at the very least and deserved the punishment of burning within those towers. Perhaps Floki felt the same way about himself, that he deserved this fiery death of flames as so many of the others had suffered. Did he go into the tower purposely to hide as a coward, or did he go- as some have mentioned- to pray to the Gods for deliverance and intervention? That fact is not, nor may never be, fully clear to us… or to Floki as muddled as his mind was becoming in watching the terror unfold around him and feeling his own guilt for it.
The Gods were listening to him, whether to save him or to punish him more is not yet certain. He did survive the inferno of the tower and the next sight of him was some time after the battle. He was immersed in the water. For those who pay close attention to details and symbolism, the water has frequently come into play as death, rebirth or renewal. This event was almost as difficult or even more so to view as his previous break down in the fire. The fire was his breaking down and this water is what feels like the final result or finish to his life and fate with his family and his people.
He is found by Helga who asks, “What are you doing here?”
As far as we know, no one has accused him of any cowardice, nor any guilt or blame for the failures of the battle. But, Floki feels those things for himself. He is consumed with guilt and yes, perhaps shame for possibly being a coward…
Helga as usual is confused by his ramblings but she has finally had enough and confronts him. “This is not about you Floki!” Floki’s response to her is “Yes, Yes it is about me, I am responsible, I am guilty.
When she accuses him of being selfish and not thinking of anyone but himself, he responds with, “No, No that is not true, I think of everyone, every person in Midgard!”
He begs Helga not be angry with him…
And, Helga’s final response to his pleas is “Why not? How am I suppose to live now knowing what I know about what you have done?”
As Helga turns her back on him and walks away, Floki is desperately pleading with her to come back… Floki is broken and shattered, the one person in his life that loved him unconditionally is turning her back on him. It is not as though she does not have good reason to do so, but is sad to watch him lose everything, including probably his faith in his Gods.
In a way, Helga is the one constant, the one person who keeps him connected to reality and sanity right now. His pleas to Helga felt like those of a drowning, dying man is losing his last hope, his last connection to life.
And, perhaps that is exactly what is happening to him… Later Ragnar is alone in the woods having his own rather odd conversation with his beloved and departed friend, Athelstan. Ragnar talks about his agenda and his having set Floki up to take such a fall.
Ragnar is determined to see Floki pay for the death of Athelstan in some most painful way possible. Whether he is killed or just banished from the group, it seems that either way, Floki’s time with our group is limited as it stands right now.
Some wish for Floki’s death, they insist that he deserves nothing less for having killed Athelstan and for being a coward. My personal thought is that I do not wish him death, he will have to live with his conscience for the rest of his life. If one could wish Floki death for his killing of Athelstan, then why should Ragnar not pay in the same way for the secret death of an innocent survivor who did nothing more than return home to tell Ragnar of what happened in England…
No matter what, it does feel like Floki can not remain here with us, so where then will he go, what will become of him?
I mentioned in a previous post, information regarding a historical Floki who sailed to Iceland in the ninth century. There has been mention that our Floki is possibly based on this historical Floki in some way.
Flóki Vilgerðarson (b. 9th century) was the first Norseman to deliberately sail to Iceland. His story is documented in the Landnámabók manuscript. He heard good news of a new land to the west, then known as Garðarshólmi.
He wanted to settle in this new land and so he took his family and livestock with him. From Western Norway he set sail to the Shetland Islands where it is said his daughter drowned. He continued his journey and landed in the Faroe Islands where another of his daughters was wed. There he took three ravens to help him find his way to Iceland, and thus, he was nicknamed Raven-Floki (Norse and Icelandic; Hrafna-Flóki) and he is commonly remembered by that name.
A few of the people Floki was accompanied by on his journey were a farmer named Thorolf (Þórólfr) and two men named Herjolf and Faxe (Herjólfr and Faxi). After sailing for a while from the Faroes, Floki set one of the ravens free. The first raven flew back to the Faroes; later, the second flew up in the air and back on board, but the third flew northwest and did not return. Floki now knew they were close to land, and so they followed the third raven.
After sailing west past Reykjanes they spotted a large bay. A man named Faxe remarked: “This seems to be a great land that we have discovered here.” Since then, the bay has been called Faxaflói (—lit. Faxi’s bay) in his name.
Floki set up a winter camp in Vatnsfjörður at Barðaströnd. The summer was very good, so Floki was ill-prepared for the cold winter that followed. Waiting for the spring, Floki hiked up the highest mountain above his camp, now believed to be Nónfell. From there, he spotted a large fjord; Ísafjörður, then full of drift ice. Thus, he named the entire land Ísland (—Iceland).
When Floki and the other men returned to Norway, they were asked about the newly found land. Floki believed it to be worthless. Herjolf believed that the land had both good and bad qualities. Thorolf claimed that butter was smeared on every straw on the land that they had found. Thorolf was then nicknamed Thorolf Butter (Icelandic; Þórólfur smjör). Despite speaking ill of the land he later returned and settled to live there to his death. His wife was named Gró and his children Oddleifur and Þjóðgerður.
In order for this idea of Floki moving on to Iceland to make sense to you or be a valid guess as to what his future might hold, you need to understand a bit more about the early history of Iceland and why Floki might choose to head there. You also need to work from the premise that Michael Hirst will indeed take members of our group in different directions in the future. He has mentioned in interviews that he would like to explore more of the many contributions and events of the Viking age. He has already started with this invasion of Paris and Rollo’s probable future there with Gisla. Hirst has also mentioned that in the next season, there will be a progression to future generations of our group. While Mr. Hirst has begun this saga with Ragnar, I do think he intends for it to encompass much more than just the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok and family.
Please remember too that this idea of Iceland in Floki’s future is merely my personal guess. No one truly know what lies ahead for us except of course, Michael Hirst!
So, with all of this in mind, let us suppose that Floki does indeed choose to leave on his own before Ragnar can do him grave bodily harm. In a sense, he would be an outcast from his society. He would be in need of a new place in which to live his life according to his beliefs in his Gods. His search would be for a place that he thought safe from both Christian interference and the wrath of one Ragnar Lothbrok. This is where the history of early Iceland becomes of importance.
The settlement of Iceland is generally believed to have begun in the second half of the 9th century, when Norse settlers migrated across the North Atlantic. The reasons for the migration may be traced to a shortage of arable land in Scandinavia, and civil strife brought about by the ambitions of the Norwegian king Harald I of Norway. Unlike Britain and Ireland, Iceland was unsettled land, and could be claimed without conflict with existing inhabitants.
The following excerpts from Medieval Iceland: Societies, Sagas and Power by Jesse L. Byock give a basic idea and understanding why Floki might choose Iceland. It was remote, unsettled as yet and would remain un-converted by the Christians for some long length of time.
Even as late as the year 1000 when most areas had been much completely converted to Christianity, Iceland remained a non-Christian bastion and was still maintaining the old Norse beliefs and laws.
King Olaf I of Norway sends the missionary priest Þangbrandr to Iceland to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. He has some success in baptizing chieftains but also meets opposition and ends up killing two or three men who had composed libellous poetry about him. He returns to Norway after one or two years with a litany of complaints and tells the king that he has little hope that the country can be converted. The king is furious at hearing the news and threatens to hurt or kill Icelanders in Norway. Two of the Icelandic chieftains previously converted by Þangbrandr meet with the king and pledge their aid in converting the country.
In the summer of 999 or 1000 the issue of religion reaches a crisis point at the Alþingi. The Christian faction and the pagan faction do not want to share the same laws and the Christians choose a new lawspeaker for themselves, Hallr á Síðu. He reaches an agreement with Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði, the pagan lawspeaker, that Þorgeirr will find a compromise acceptable to everyone.
Þorgeirr goes to his camp and stays under a skin for the remainder of the day and the following night. The day after he gives a speech at Lögberg. He says that the only way to maintain peace in the country is for everyone to keep to the same laws and the same religion.
||“It will prove true that if we tear apart the laws we will also tear apart the peace.”|
Before reciting the compromise he has come up with Þorgeirr gets his audience to pledge themselves to a solution with one set of laws for all the country. Þorgeirr then decrees that everyone not already baptized must convert to Christianity. Three concessions are made to the pagans.
- The old laws allowing exposure of newborn children will remain in force.
- The old laws on the eating of horsemeat will remain in force.
- People can make pagan sacrifices in private.
Some years later those concessions are abolished.
As I have stated earlier, I do not know what the future holds for troubled Floki. I do not want to see his death, I want him to find his peace of mind. My hope is for him to make this journey to Iceland where he can live his life with a somewhat calmer and clearer head and heart. I would hope too that he can find that part of him that became so lost, that part of him that found the true joy in life. Perhaps if he could manage this, he might be able to make amends and some fresh start with Helga and his daughter. I do not think he will find peace again while surrounded by constant reminders of his previous actions… or in constant fear of Ragnar Lothbrok turning on him. It is my hope that Mr. Hirst does send him and Helga off on this new adventure, and new life. I want Floki to be in some way, the man he used to be, the man that Helga loved so unconditionally no matter how quirky and eccentric he was. Ohhhh, and I would also like for him to kick any mind altering mushroom addiction that he may be suffering from as well!
Lastly, I just want to give my huge praise to Gustaf Skarsgård for his most awesome performance yet as Floki! He deserves our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for such an incredible portrayal of this unique character every episode, but he outdid himself this past week!