Previously on Vikings, ‘The Usurper’
On Kattegat’s beach, Athelstan has built Ragnar a “Paris” sand castle with a moat to represent the Seine. Ragnar lays flat on his belly and they smile at the thought of breaking into the impregnable city. Floki, of course, watches hatefully.
Showing the raids are 8-9 months past, Porunn gives birth attended by Aslaug and Helga, all wearing white, screaming she doesn’t want the child, that it will be weak and deformed. Aslaug takes mild offense. Bjorn barrels in and greets his beautiful daughter, naming her Siggy, savior of Ragnar’s sons. He blesses her and Helga gestures in piety. Lagertha looks on proudly, a grandmother now, and Porunn looks hopeful for once.
Floki escorts a sole survivor of the Wessex settlement into Ragnar, who cries, embracing the man. A few survived, but they had horrible luck on the way back and only he is left. Stroking the man’s hair as Floki speaks his poison over his shoulder, Ragnar swears vengeance. But Floki can never quit, saying the settlement was Athelstan’s idea. Ragnar turns the Crazy Eyes up to 11 and takes the blame himself.
Floki huffs out, and Ragnar strangles the man, sending him to his family. Surely if the news spread, their raid of France would be further delayed, maybe forever depending on the loss of life. And as Ragnar points out later, he truly believes it is best to die and be with one’s family.
Aslaug wakes from a nightmare about the boys drowning. Ragnar, hulking over her in the dark, says, “You could’ve had sex with him in front of the children for all I care. Just as long as you were watching over them.” She goes ballistic, smacking him. He doesn’t defend himself, then harshly wishes her “sweet dreams.” Something tells me this isn’t a rare occurrence.
A rat crawls over Athelstan in bed, waking him to a ray of light beaming into his room. He peers in the light, and it appears to blow him back onto the ground, arms outstretched. Feel free to check out the 6-pack our tiny monk has obtained.
Judith also gives birth to a son. Aethelwulf congratulates her, passes the baby to a midwife, then leaves. The door breaks open and guards and priests drag her screaming out into a heckling crowd. Still bloody from the birthing bed, she’s lashed to a post begging for mercy. The bishop sentences her to have her nose and ears cut off for adultery. She screams that Christ never advocated this barbarism. At the last second, Ecbert asks for the name of the father, but she stubbornly refuses. They saw off an ear, then she admits that it is Athelstan. Ecbert leaps up, spinning this as a conception ordained by God and allows a christening for this special, holy child, “Alfred.”
Yes, Alfred the Great.
Small comfort for Judith whom he now names “blameless.” It’s obvious Ecbert had this planned from the second Judith caught Athelstan’s eye, which makes this truly beyond the pale. Mega props to Jennie Jacques (Judith) for selling this scene 100%.
Meanwhile Athelstan awakes on the floor. He praises the Lord for finally giving him a sign, rebirthing him into Christianity. He re-baptizes himself in the lake, ecstatic, and tosses his cuff (torc) into the fjord. You’ll never guess who sees it.
Athelstan runs to Ragnar, excited to share his “born again” experience, feeling he must leave right away. Ragnar is confused, happy for his friend, and then distraught. He trusts only Athelstan and loves him, promising to protect him. They embrace, Ragnar worried over his shoulder.
Bjorn finds Floki brooding in the rain, refusing to work on the boats. Bjorn worries for Ragnar’s Christian leanings. Floki promises to finish the boats, passing the retrieved arm band to Bjorn so he can spread the news.
The fjord fills with Kalf’s ships and more. Kalf, now with flowing Jarl Hair, brings another ally, Earl Siegfried, whom Ragnar admires as a “hunk of meat.” Even Erlendur and Torvi have come, surprising Ragnar. Erlendur looks rough, and Torvi amusingly shoulder-checks Ragnar. His face during this scene is the very definition of WTF.
At the pre-raid party, Lagertha throws some considerable shade Kalf’s way, and again he stresses that their destinies are “locked together.” Boy, bye. Ragnar takes his usual hiding place behind the Party Grate. Bjorn hunts down the veiled Porunn, drunk and horny. She won’t sleep with him, even suggests Torvi as a substitute because she wants him to be happy. Bjorn answers that his father says happiness doesn’t matter. Probably not a great answer if he was hoping to get laid, but he does fetch Torvi a drink.
When Athelstan arrives, the entire room goes silent. Men block his path, spitting on him, pushing him. Even Rollo stands against him, revealing his cuffless arm, but Ragnar shuffles him away. He introduces Sinric, the original wanderer, who demonstrates sailing into Paris on the sand castle.
Floki dances in his idol grove at home, tapping a hole into a freshly-carved Odin, and blood pours from the hole. He tells Helga it’s a sign that a sacrifice is required and, in his frenzy, grabs her by the throat, demanding secrecy. After a scary moment, he comes to himself and apologizes. She understands and sends him to do the deed.
As a nighttime ceremony to the gods throbs on the beach, Torvi comes to Bjorn. He says he loves his wife… then kisses her passionately. Athelstan holds mass in his room, dressed only in a loincloth. Floki docks at the beach, coat billowing behind, as a raven flies over his stalking through the village unseen. Athelstan finishes anointing himself, then looks up, smiling, knowing why Floki is there.
”Lord, receive my soul,” he says, opening his arms, and Floki axes his throat. The chants go silent over Athelstan’s Pieta-like body, and Floki anoints his own tearful face in blood.
Ragnar leads a pack animal through the misty forest, unloading the shrouded burden and hefts it up the mountain.
“The things I do for you. For such a little man, Athelstan, you are terribly heavy.”
He lays it down opposite a waterfall, patting the shroud, and says, “This is as close to your God as I can get you.” He cries in the rain, praising his bravery. “You saw yourself as weak and conflicted, but to me you were fearless because you dared to question. Why did you have to die? We had so much more to talk about.”
Ragnar goes on to say he’s always believed death, to be reunited with lost loved ones, was a better fate, except this time he probably won’t be allowed to visit Athelstan in his heaven. “I hate you for leaving me,” he rages. Ragnar is changed and inconsolable. He lashes together a cross marker, then stands in the river, shaving the last of his hair, blood dripping down his face. Pulling Athelstan’s gold cross over his head, he begs his forgiveness for what he is about to do. Travis Fimmel was beyond phenomenal in this scene—simply heart-rending.
Such a beautifully dark episode. Enough time has passed for major plots to develop and reveal themselves without endlessly grinding away at the question—Aslaug is surprisingly not pregnant; Porunn’s baby survived her injury and they married; Athelstan finally got his sign from God; Kalf amassed an impressive power base; Ecbert has a piece of Athelstan and his family firmly under his thumb; and Floki’s religious fervor finally bubbled over. Incidentally, Judith’s punishment is somewhat anachronistic, but worked to provide a public spectacle that showcases Ecbert’s power in the realm—only he has been blessed with a living relic. Vikings constantly challenges the concepts of civilization and holiness; while some may question Athelstan’s morality, his devotion to the path of truth never wavered and he was satisfied in the end. Where will this leave Ragnar, now that he has no one to temper him and satisfy his curiosity? What repercussions will we see between Ragnar and Floki?
Bonus: Athelstan’s Journal
For a great recap of the series from Athelstan’s point of view, check out the hour-long “Athelstan’s Journal” special which aired after this episode. Throughout this season, the History Channel aired 2-3 minute webisodes exploring powerful themes from Athelstan’s point of view, then strung them together to form this special. The Seer says our final goodbye as he burns the journal, declaring Athelstan’s journey to the truth fulfilled.