This week Vikings delivered on a plotline the show hinted at all the way back in season one. The show is certainly set for a change in heading after the events of this past episode. Read on for our take on “All His Angels.”
~Shield Wall! Spoilers Ahead~
The Long Game
It’s time for this saga to find a new king. Ragnar completed his quest to meet his maker, and now the kingdom he built stands on the brink of chaos. What’s odd is that it seems extremely well-calculated. By bringing Ivar along, he has more-or-less positioned him to succeed to the throne in Kattegat. Ivar, too, seems ready to take charge.
When Ivar and Alfred are playing chess, it presages the bloody confrontations that are to come. While the Mercians have treated their Viking captives with relative civility, Alfred and Ivar risk becoming bitter foes when Ivar and his brothers sail back to seek his revenge for Ragnar’s death. Ragnar, too, shows some affection for Alfred; gifting him Athelstan’s cross necklace was a moving farewell gesture.
But why would Ragnar go to all of this trouble after trying to hang himself outside of Hedeby? We get a hint at his motives during the conversation with the image of the Seer, who takes the place of the blind wagoneer. Ragnar asserts that he’s made his own destiny, as the Seer prophesied that Ragnar would die “on the day that the blind man sees [him].” He is not meant to die until the following day, which he interprets to mean that his efforts have succeeded. Perhaps his earlier attempt was a test, a way of seeing if the destiny the Seer promised him was meant to be. What matters now is that Ragnar is laying the foundation for an even greater conquest than he accomplished in his life.
Sad Tales of the Death of Kings
Knowing that Ragnar’s death was coming didn’t make it any easier to watch. The Northumbrian soldiers are pitiless, tormenting Ragnar with spears through the bottom of his cage like some sick version of whack-a-mole. King Aelle delights in all of the savagery, and Ivan Kaye really sells the monarch’s sadistic pleasure. He’s always inhabited the role well, and he does not disappoint now. Way back in season one, Aelle vowed to kill Ragnar Lothbrok for his raids on English soil. He now has the means to make it happen. The writer hinted at how he would exact revenge, too, when Aelle threw his defeated commander into a pit of snakes as punishment for letting the Vikings escape. Aelle plans to take his time, though, with Ragnar.
Ragnar dies like a true Viking. He’s stabbed, slashed, burned, beaten, strangled, and tied to a tree. He never cries out in pain, and he keeps moving despite grievous injuries, which sufficiently terrifies the gathered soldiers and peasants. It’s the kind of ceramic stoicism which, like a dragon’s egg, incubates and births tales of legendary warriors.
This close to death, Ragnar finally examines his faith. As Aelle screams for him to repent, he turns away from his newfound atheism and defiantly hollers that he will be welcomed in Valhalla. Ecbert, in disguise as a monk, smiles at his friend’s boisterous claim. There is no uncertainty here, no denial of the Aesir, and it’s exactly the kind of action that will inspire his people when word reaches Kattegat. Much in the way that Aethelstan, Ragnar’s spiritual and moral compass, met his end with renewed faith in the Christian God, Ragnar approaches his own death sure in his faith.
How Do You Like Your Vikings – Traditional or Boneless?
Ivar returns safely to Kattegat by episode’s end. If you factor in travel time, Ragnar is likely long dead by the time he arrives. Lagertha is queen, his mother is dead, and his brothers suffer in a state of limbo unsure of what to do next. For all his vicious faults, Ivar does bring one thing to the table: purpose, vision, and the means to achieve it.
The episode preview shows Ivar challenging Lagertha to single combat. The last time that happened, Ragnar slew Earl Haraldson and became the Earl of Kattegat. There is no doubt the show is gearing up to focus on a new set of central characters. Ivar is likely to be the chief of them all. Big changes are coming: to the cast, to Kattegat, to England. All we can do is watch.
Ragnar Lothbrok was famous for many things. He raided England and France and united many of the Viking tribes. But perhaps his most enduring legacy was the efforts of his sons. Many more men than are even depicted in the show claimed lineage through Ragnar’s line. Now we are set to hear some of their stories. For now, though, let us toast the departed king and conqueror, Ragnar Sigurdson, called Lothbrok, and dream of the glory of Valhalla. Skol!
Hoard of Bonus Observations
- Travis Fimmel really did lie in that pit of snakes during filming, and the snakes really bit him. Poor sod.
- Michael Hirst did a Q&A about this episode and the future of the series on Facebook. Check it out.
- The guy with one eye on the boat heading to Kattegat is meant to be Odin. It’s a little unclear, especially since we haven’t seen a clear shot of Odin’s face in any of the other visions throughout the series.
- After Aelle gouges a cross into Ragnar’s head with a knife, Ragnar remarks “Oh how the little piggies will squeal when they hear how the old boar suffered.” Clearly, he expects Aelle to suffer a terrible end at the hands of his sons. In “In The Uncertain Hour Before the Morning” he warns Ecbert that his sons will sail back and “rip the lungs out” of whoever killed him. If History follows the records in the sagas, Ivar could treat Aelle to the same fate Ragnar meted out to Jarl Borg.