Welcome to Vikings season 3! This season opener gave us all that we’ve come to love: lush scenery, complex relationships, epic hair, slow-motion battles, and twitchy staring contests. Typical of a Vikings premiere, “Mercenary” took its time setting up the dominoes, so let’s review the new facts.
Our Lady of Braids. Lagertha’s lands are guarded by the smooth-faced stud Kalf, who must be the only man on earth not interested in marrying her or raiding with her. Why is that? After making a big show of arresting the traitorous Einar to placate Lagertha’s supporters, he unveils his plan to rule as Earl with Einar’s support once she’s off searching for non-glorious farmland. Unfortunately, Lagertha apparently suspects nothing. The seer reveals that she will never have another child and that the time of her death has been set. His vision for her future/this season: I see a harvest celebrated in blood. I see a trickster whose weapon cleaves yours. I see a city made of marble and a burning, broiling ocean.
Jawlines set to “Clench.” In Kattegat, Season 2’s closing scene of Ragnar on a snowy crag proves to be a moment of mentorship between father and son. With animalistic intensity, he tells Bjorn, “Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.” Things are a bit tense between Ragnar and Aslaug, jealous and stuck with the fussy Ivar the Boneless. Tortured artist Floki can’t bring himself to truly enjoy family life. Helga and his adorable moppet Angrboda just make him too damned happy, and in a fit of pique he declares, “You’re so horribly good, Helga!” She really is, bless her heart.
Siggy and Rollo are cranky as hell stuck on their Fame Plateau, but the bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan is burning strong as Ragnar declares him John the Baptist to the West. Bjorn tries to talk Porrun out of raiding with them on the grounds that she might be pregnant, but she’s not about that Kattegat life. Torstein drunkenly admits to knocking up two different women and can’t wait to get the heck out of here.
Essex bound. Happily leaving these tense moments behind after the winter ice melts, Ragnar’s people set off once again for Essex to settle King Ecbert’s farmland. Upon their arrival, Athelstan introduces Ragnar as king due to Horik’s “unfortunate accident,” much to Ecbert’s amusement. The volunteer warriors they left behind for Kwinthreth’s family conflict over the Mercia thrown have been wiped out, so she requests hands-on backup from the legendary fighters themselves. At Ecbert’s table, we’re suddenly dropped into language immersion—only Ragnar, Ecbert, and Kwinthreth are intelligible, while the other Vikings speak in Old Norse to register their vote. A neat device to remind us that they’re always using Old Norse. One by one, the Vikings agree, but Ragnar asks Athelstan to stay and help Lagertha establish the farms, saying, “I trust you more than anyone else.” Anyone. Else. Think about that.
On the eve of the battle, Ragnar withdraws to his customary observation post in the center of the preparations and sees all the side plots for this season: Porrun admitting she’s pregnant to Bjorn’s happiness and fear; Ecbert’s son Aethelwulf’s grumpiness amongst the godless heathens; and, Aella’s daughter/Aethelwulf’s wife Judith’s attraction to Athelstan.
The two groups divide—Lagertha’s farmers caravan into the country, and Ragnar’s raiders glide through the water toward conflict. Ecbert, thrilled to have his pet priest back, tags along with the settlement group. When Lagertha wonders why the king is hanging around, he kicks back and smiles. It’s good to be king.
Once on the road, Ecbert practically drools over Lagertha, expounding on her many virtues in Old English, translated through Athelstan into Old Norse, who then has to translate her thoughts back to Ecbert. Upon arrival, Ecbert giddily presents his new goddess with the abandoned farms.
The Battle. Heading the longship fleet, Ragnar bores a hole into Kwinthreth with his Crazy Eyes, wondering why her entire family is set against her being queen. The fact that she’s batshit crazy is probably a good start, but she suggests her uncle Brihtwulf used magic to ensnare her brother’s affections. He scoffs and twitches like only he can, replying: “Magic! I’ve been deceived many times, but magic was not the cause of it.”
Absent a solid answer for now, the Vikings engage Brihtwulf’s army. As the battle rages, Ragnar catches Bjorn protecting Porrun and Torstein almost falters. Rollo and Aethelwulf find themselves face-to-face in the commotion; the two almost-kings pause a tense beat, then spring back into the fray, having decided not to kill the other… yet.
Kwinthreth’s brother Burgred, camped with his army on the opposite side of the lake, is caught in the lurch as the Vikings eviscerate Brihtwulf’s smaller group. Ragnar explodes through the final line of defense alone and stares Brihtwulf in the eyes. Flustered, the self-appointed king never sees Floki until he drags him to the ground and seizes the crown in slow motion. How’d you like for this to be your final view?
The episode closes with a dazed, blood-spattered Ragnar seated on the lakeshore, looking like he cannot believe he’s mopping up personal problems for this crazy ass Mercian woman in the name of glory for his people.