As the world reeled from the deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher, we waited to see who else 2016 would take on Wednesday night. The fates took Debby Reynolds Wednesday afternoon, just before Michael Hirst took our Ragnar away. Yup, Hirst really killed him off. Fans are in shock. Why? it will be fine. In fact, I’m sure it’ll be epic.
Hirst was brutal with Ragnar and the audience. I am reminded of a scene in season one, where Bjorn doesn’t want to watch the beheading of a man sentenced to death by Earl Haraldson. Ragnar tells Bjorn he has to watch for the man to reach Valhalla. Ragnar’s death is horrifying and as much as we didn’t want to watch, I bet all fans watched. Because we all wish Ragnar a good death, even if he doesn’t think he’ll end up in Valhalla, or heaven, or anywhere.
Our Favorite Moments:
Ivar & Alfred
Ivar and Alfred play chess in the opening scenes. Who knows if either boy knows who the other is. Alfred looks to be winning the game. They seem to play nice together as son of Athelstan and son of Ragnar, but then, Ivar is acting innocent and crippled. Will these two face each other in the future? Does Ivar know how much Alfred means to Ragnar, or that Alfred’s dad was the catalyst to all this drama?
You can learn a lot about how a man thinks from chess. Did Ivar figure out how Ecbert trained Alfred to think and fight? When they cart Ivar off to the boat to Kattegat, Alfred gives Ivar his winning chess piece. Sorry, Alfred, you can’t give Ivar back his king now. Ivar will be back for the whole board in the future.
Ecbert let’s Ragnar see Ivar one last time before following through with the promise to get Ivar safely back to Kattegat. In Ragnar’s last discussion with Ivar, Ragnar ensures Ivar will direct his revenge upon Ecbert, not Aelle. Seriously Ecbert, you’re on board with letting this revenge tempest out of the bottle? You know Ragnar can’t be controlled, you think his sons will be any different? Ecbert really believes Ragnar hates Aelle, and not him. I almost feel sorry for Ecbert.
Ragnar gives Ecbert one gift in the end, the knowledge that Athelstan chose the Christian God before he died. Or maybe it was Ragnar’s way of driving the dagger deeper on Ecbert’s faith. He can’t stand the idea of sending Ragnar off to his death. Ecbert is already tortured, calling himself Pontius Pilate. (I thought Ragnar was just a man, Ecbert?) He calls Ragnar a friend. He thinks he’s as great a man as him. Now how can Ecbert live with himself, knowing that Athelstan’s God is being used in his power games?
Ecbert disguises himself as a priest and walks to the execution. He feels the need to punish himself. (Maybe this is where Aethelwulf gets it.) After witnessing Ragnar’s strength and courage with pride, Ecbert is the last to leave the execution site. Poor Ecbert, he’s going to be so hurt when he sees the heathen army breathing down his neck. He really is the blind man who sees Ragnar at his death.
The wagon driver who takes Ragnar to Aelle is blind. Ragnar, mistaking him for the Seer, tells the carriage driver that he no longer believes in the gods. He tells his hallucination, that he has designed his own fate over his life, not the gods. Then the Seer tells Ragnar that the meaning the Seer found in his predictions may have been wrong. What the what? Oh, it’s Ragnar’s hallucianation.
Ragnar flashes back on his life throughout his journey to Aelle and his torture. Through his pain he focuses on his good moments, his angels, or possibly tortures himself further. Ragnar is defiant in his death. Insisting to the Christian onlookers that Odin has a feast prepared in Valhalla. He has denied the gods, all gods, but he wants to incite Aelle’s anger and probably send a message to his sons. His final act will be to use his sons’ faith in revenge, and Aelle’s faith in righteous revenge against each other. Even if he has no belief in the gods, Ragnar must still have belief in the power of their stories. He still wants to make sure his sons’ stories become legend.
When Ragnar finally gets to Aelle, Aelle has Ragnar tortured and belittled. The man’s such a pillar of Christian charity. The guards stab Ragnar’s feet, while hanging his cage from a tree. The next day Aelle’s men beat Ragnar while dragging him by the neck. Aelle breaks Ragnar’s nose than demands Ragnar ask for absolution. When that doesn’t work he brands Ragnar with a hot iron, in about the same place Christ would have been stabbed by Roman soldiers. Then Aelle carves a cross in Ragnar’s forehead.
Ragnar’s only comment is “How the little piggies will grunt when they hear how the old boar suffered.” Then Ragnar simply climbs back into his cage like “is that all you got?”. Aelle is left a little shaken, but the next day Aelle absolves himself with prayer before having Ragnar dropped into the snake pit.
Hirst has always been brutal in his depiction of religion’s yang, on both sides. With Ragnar’s death he has lowered Aelle’s faith to revenge, no different from the Vikings’ faith in Valhalla. Fans will relish Aelle’s historic blood eagle. I didn’t think I could hate a character more than Gisla, but Aelle takes the Oscar now, in a good way. Ironically, Ragnar has shifted the revenge to Ecbert. But I bet the rabid Vikings’ fan base wants Aelle’s death so badly, they can smell the blood already.
Here’s my last quick favorite moment. When Ivar returns to Kattegat, Sigurd and Ubbe tell Ivar that their mother is dead. He has lost his king and his queen in this game. He is sadder than he’s ever looked. And suddenly creepier than he’s ever looked. Even though I love Lagertha and can justify all her actions, I want her dead now for making sweet Ivar so sad. Yup, Hirst is that good.
Next week, Ivar challenges Lagertha to combat and we catch up with Bjorn, Floki & Rollo in the Mediterranean. Did I just hear Floki tell Harald “If you want to kill these people, you’ll have to kill me first?” Who broke Floki?
Picture source: http://www.history.com/shows/vikings and @TeamParmenter