‘Vikings’ Recap and Reaction: “In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning”

R.W.V. Mitchell

This week’s episode of Vikings decided the fate of two major characters. Dangerous waters may lie ahead yet for the remaining cast of this saga. Read on to see our take on what happened in this week’s “In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning.”

~Shield wall! Spoilers Ahead~

Shoot to Thrill

Vikings Aslaug

Aslaug and Lagertha wrapped up their feud in a decisive fashion. After proclaiming that Ragnar is dead (an aside: not yet), the one-time queen tosses the sword of kings at her rival’s feet and renounces her claims to power. Aslaug tries to parlay safe passage. Instead, Lagertha goes full-on Katniss Everdeen and drops her like President Coin.

Even in a show filled with so much death, that act was completely shocking. Vikings may have killed off a lot of nemeses and side characters, but the central figures in the narrative have a certain kind of imperviousness. The midseason finale only reinforced that invulnerability when everyone made it out the other end of the battle of the Seine, wounded, but alive. We may be entering the final act of the first play in this historical drama. I doubt Aslaug will be the last of the major characters to fall this season. The question is if the show will retain its appeal after switching the focus to a new cast.

After its conclusion, the conflict between the two women still feels a bit forced. It was disheartening that so much of their beef centered around Ragnar Lothbrok. Aslaug pointed out, in the wrong way, how odd it is for Lagertha to focus her ire on another woman in this circumstance. Why not be angry with Ragnar himself? He was the one who brought Aslaug into their lives, after all, and led her away from her holdings long enough for Kalf to steal them. Sadly, with the way things are going, she likely won’t have the opportunity to wrestle with that disappointment.

Stuck in the Middle

Sigurd vikings
Sigurd urges caution and asserts that Ragnar is still alive

Ok, so Ubbe is tough. When he tries to assassinate the new queen, Lagertha, it takes a fully armed cadre of guards to subdue him. Even bloodied and bruised, he broods and plots a way to exact revenge for his mother’s death. Sigurd is finally starting to distinguish himself in one way: he appears to be warier than his brothers. He tries to dissuade Ubbe from seeking revenge, and it’s worth considering that went neither with Ragnar nor with Björn. He was the one who shared the news of Siggy’s death back in the first half of the season and often refers to Harbard and the influence he had on Aslaug, including in this episode. While a skilled warrior, he doesn’t seem prone to fits of violence, and he genuinely cared for Margrethe. You have to wonder what kind of man he will turn out to be.

While we mourn the loss of Aslaug, we can at least rest easy knowing that Astrid is there to fill the gap.  She menaces the Ragnarssons and makes it clear that she will show no mercy to anyone who harms, or tries to harm, Lagertha. If Lagertha is destined, too, for death, I hope we at least get to keep Astrid.

We must also consider Aslaug’s vision before Lagertha’s attack. Her vision very prominently featured a burning boat, so it’s not unlikely that she foresaw her own death. While Aslaug asked that her sons be allowed to live, and Lagertha seems apt to keep that promise, the boys weren’t in on the deal. Ubbe, in particular, seems likely to lash out, and there’s no telling what Ivar will do when he learns of his mother’s fate.

A Ransomed King

A friendly chat between kings

Now we know what Ragnar’s endgame is. Having given himself up to the garrison at Ecbert’s villa, he seems perfectly content to be abused so long as it leads to his ultimate goal: his death. Their reunion is at once everything I hoped for and thoroughly disappointing.

The image of Ecbert feasting with Ragnar, who is trapped in a cage at the other end of a long table, was so deliciously medieval. So, too, was the best scene in the episode, when Ragnar finally meets Magnus. He responds to the young boy’s heartfelt monologue with a curt denial that he’s Magnus’ father. The whole sequence is executed well as a parody of father-son reunion scenes. It’s a stark contrast to the genuine fatherly affection Ragnar shows for Ivar.

It’s a relief to know that Ecbert genuinely does care for Ragnar. He apologizes for the massacre of the Viking settlers, and he seems sincere when he says that there is a place for Vikings to make a life in England. That’s good news because history tells us that’s what happened, and History seems to be setting the stage to tell that story. Apparently, there’s no place for Ragnar in this world, though. He’s determined to meet his maker, but why? Is he hoping to seek a place in Valhalla or be reunited with Aethelstan, to whose child, Alfred, he showed such affection this episode? In either case, Ragnar’s near-certain impending death will spell madness and ruin for this region, just like the seer promised.

One of the most striking things about Ecbert is his devotion to his faith. Sure the dialogue around faith this episode was a little on the stoned-high-schoolers-in-a-basement-talking-about-the-cosmos side of things, but Ecbert’s solemn private prayer was a welcome return to one of the most interesting elements of the show. I imagine it would take a lot of soul-searching to find the courage to turn a long-absent friend over to their doom. King Aelle, with his pit of snakes, will not be so forgiving.

A Hoard of Observations

  • Now that Magnus is off on his own, with nothing but a backpack (poor sod), I wonder when we will see him next. Some historical accounts place him as a warrior in Ivar’s retinue, so that could be an interesting development.
  • Aslaug’s funeral procession was well-choreographed. It’s fascinating to consider the care that Vikings show, even for their enemies. We’ve become familiar with these elements after the death of two more nobles, so letting it play out without explanation was a nice touch.
  • I’m excited for the return of King Aelle. I’ve always found his caricaturesque “off-with-his-head” kingliness to be a welcome addition to the show.
  • Ragnar’s assertion that his sons would ride to avenge him and “rip the lungs out” of his killers may presage more than just general violence. One of the records of Ragnar’s life says that Ivar killed King Aelle by performing a blood eagle execution. Let that sink in.
  • Is it just me, or does the episode title sound like the name of a song from the mid-2000s?
R.W.V. Mitchell
R.W.V. Mitchell is a Fan Contributor whose proudest accomplishment is winning the Star Wars trivia contest at the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith.
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