Starring Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Gustaf Skarsgård, George Blagden, and Gabriel Byrne
My rating: ★ 1/2 stars
Episode provides filler between major story developments.
This episode of Vikings takes place after the raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne. It covers the journey home, the welcome back the raiders receive, and a new journey to England. The downtime between raids naturally isn’t the most exciting material, but the episode feels like merely padding rather than substantive storytelling.
Before the raiders return, Earl Haraldson, pointlessly, murders a child. The reason for this action seems merely to convince the audience that he’s a really bad guy. Writer/show-runner Michael Hirst doesn’t think that the earl being weak and petulant and lacking vision are enough reasons for the audience to support Ragnar’s opposition to him. Hirst feels the need to highlight the earl’s villainy with a pointless action. The earl must have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In terms of storytelling, though, more interesting conflicts develop when they’re less black and white, when one side isn’t irredeemably evil.
The earl compounds his sins when he strips Ragnar and the raiders of all the treasure that they have brought back from Lindisfarne. To show the raiders that he is a magnanimous guy the earl allows each to keep one thing from the horde. Ragnar, to the derision of many, chooses to keep monk Athelstan as a slave. Again, Ragnar proves that he is forward-looking as he discovers from Athelstan useful information to use for future raids.
The episode has one amusing moment, and it comes when Ragnar brings Athelstan home to the farm and his children treat the slave like a new pet—petting him and asking their parents if they’re going to keep him.
In the episode’s most talked about scene, Ragnar and Lagertha invite Athelstan to join them in a threesome. I’m not sure what to make of the scene. No other scenes in past or future episodes suggest that such sexual openness is a normal part either of Ragnar and Lagertha’s marriage or of Viking society as a whole. If either non-monogamous sex or celibacy were indicative of the respective cultures involved, I would say that the scene was meant to reflect a culture clash, but that’s not the case. If the scene were more graphic, I would conclude that the scene was meant to titillate the audience, but it’s tame compared to other basic cable presentations of sexuality. By the end of the scene Ragnar and Lagertha are (gently) teasing Athelstan about his celibacy, but the initial proposition seems genuine. The result of the scene is that we learn about Athelstan’s inexperience with women and his commitment to celibacy, but there would have been better ways to show these characteristics that wouldn’t have been so confusing.
Rollo’s actions in this episode prove that he’s not as intelligent as his brother, Ragnar. First, he yells at Ragnar for giving in to the earl so quickly—to which Ragnar replies that he didn’t want to give the earl the excuse he was looking for to kill them. Secondly, Rollo steals a bunch of gold from the horde unbeknownst to the earl. Ragnar must then point out that the earl might be suspicious if Rollo were to start wantonly spending gold. Rollo recognizes that Ragnar is right, but he clearly doesn’t like to be outthought or told what to do by his sibling.
Eager to explore the new territory he only glimpsed before, Ragnar proposes another raid immediately, this time agreeing that Lagertha can accompany the raiders now that Athelstan can look after the farm. Ragnar tells Athelstan that he’s free to run away but indicates that doing so would be pointless, as there is nowhere to run.
The second journey takes the raiders to a beach in Northumberland where they encounter several knights sent by King Aelle. In the short time that Ragnar spent with Athelstan, he, unbelievably, learned enough Anglo-Saxton to speak haltingly to the knights. The encounter turns violent quickly due to the mutual distrust of both parties. The knights prove outmatched, and the survivors flee, leaving the beach running with blood of their dead.
This episode reflects a tedious type of episode that has developed with the rise of serialized television: the filler episode, the kind of episode that sets up situations that will play out in future episodes. Yes, there will have to be a showdown between Ragnar and the earl. Yes, Rollo’s feelings of inadequacy and ill-use will test his loyalty to Ragnar. Yes, Athelstan will have to learn how to adjust to life among the Vikings. The episode, however, creates little interest for itself.