“The Battle” was worth the wait, retelling one of history’s bloodbaths with style, excitement, and poignancy.
This recap of Barbarians season 1, episode 6, “The Battle”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Anyone who has been waiting all season for a big, proper battle sequence will find themselves well-served by Barbarians episode 6, which blows most of the show’s budget on a sequence of large-scale fights and some exquisite costuming to really hammer home the chaos and ultimately the impact of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Following directly on from the penultimate episode, “The Battle” begins with one of only a few moments of non-violence, with Ari having been accused by Segestes of treason. He confesses openly to Varus, laughing at the ridiculousness of his scheme, and Varus laughs too — he can’t imagine his beloved “son” would betray him, instead accusing Segestes of lying. This decision will prove fatal, but there’s a tragic poignancy to it that the show leverages to full effect. Varus even begs for Ari’s forgiveness for doubting him for even a second. It was all the fault of those damn Germans!
Those Germans are lying in wait in the forest, but there are misgivings among them. It’s up to Thusnelda to inspire them, and she does it — right after Hadgan tries to rape her, by the way — in the only way she knows how; by channeling the gods as the “seer” everyone believes her to be, which includes the sacrifice of an eye like the God-Father Wodan. She drags a sharpened bone dagger down her face, giving her a fetching scar and causing her eye to pool with blood. It’s a striking moment and creates a lasting image, especially once she’s all dolled up for battle. In her sacrifice, Thusnelda sees a long battle full of fire and water, but the men she sees covered in blood are Romans, which brings a manic smile to her face. She sees ravens gorging on their bowels. It’s an inspiring monologue if you’re a barbarian, and after it, everyone’s ready for war.
This is just as well since the battle kicks off just as Ari laid out, with the snake of the Roman legions so long that the tail doesn’t know the head is being cut off. Portions of the Roman line are cleverly cut off with felled trees, and the barbarians are dressed in a range of intimidating but great-looking outfits. This whole sequence — intercut with close-ups of Ari speechifying — is a triumph of production design, from the animal skins to Ari’s black mask to his warpainted face underneath. Speaking of Ari, he makes his own move, siccing the Germanic mercenaries on the legion.
“The Battle” delivers a treasure trove of inspiring speeches and large-scale action. But it manages to sneak plenty of character moments into the carnage. Segestes is still scheming. Varus is informed of the attack but is in denial about Ari. Ari runs into Thusnela but doesn’t tell her that Folkwin is alive. Ari locks eyes with Varus across the battlefield, and the pain of the betrayal is visible on the older man’s face.
The turning point of the battle arrives with Ansgar, of all people. Ari spots him on the battlefield, among the fire, smoke, and blood. Folkwin is able to reach him just in time to prevent any harm coming to him, and Thusnelda spots Folkwin, realizing he’s alive. But Ansgar has brought the gods with him; he has brought rain, the water Thusnelda saw with the fire in her vision. The battlefield becomes waterlogged, the Romans weighed down in the mud by their heavy armour. The battle is lost.
Varus sees this. He knows all is hope is lost, that his trust in his “son” was misplaced, that Rome has been defeated. He has his armor removed and walks onto the battlefield, picking up Ari’s sword and falling upon it in disgrace. It’s Segestes, of all people, who lops off his head and raises it in triumph. Rome has fallen.
In the aftermath of the barbarians’ great victory, Thusnelda tells Ari he will be king, and she’ll rule alongside him as his queen. Later, she sits with Folkwin, who isn’t happy about any of this. She says she thought he was dead, which is true, but also that lots has changed, which is also true. He asks her if to rule is what she wants, and to go to him when she figures it out. According to the seer, she is pregnant, and the baby isn’t her king’s.
As Ari sits, he sees the glowing eyes of a wolf, gleaming at him through the trees.
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