“Ragnar Lothbrok challenges you to meet him in single combat” ~ Floki
“Ragnar Lothbrok has a very high opinion of himself” ~ Earl Haraldson
“Well, he is descended from Odin” – Floki
This week on Vikings, we focus on two major events: Ragnar’s fight to the death with Earl Haraldson and a Viking funeral.
We begin with Lagertha insisting that Ragnar put off the one-to-one combat. She doesn’t want Ragnar to fight because he’s still not fully healed from his arrow wound but he is confident in his ability to beat Haraldson and that pesky Viking honour prevents him from backing down. Meanwhile, Earl Haraldson admits to his wife, Siggy, that he respects Ragnar but couldn’t say this in public because he would have been deserted by his men. He sees in Ragnar a younger version of himself, reckless and ambitious, and he is saddened that he has to kill someone he secretly admires.
The combat takes place and Ragnar, albeit, injured, wins. Haraldson gets a one way ticket to Valhalla to dine with his sons and Haraldson’s daughter is freed from the nasty, brutish husband after Siggy dispatches him. She never wanted her daughter trapped in that marriage and now that Haraldson is dead she isn’t obligated to do her husband’s bidding so she frees her daughter of that burden. Ragnar finally takes his place as Earl amidst much celebration, oath making and joy.
Thankfully, we see more of Aethelstan in this episode. He’s been kind of relegated to the background but when he does appear on screen, his lines are always greats and his scenes are always interesting. Especially entertaining are his questions about Viking culture. When he asks something – the audience gets a history lesson as well, like when Aethelstan asks Ragnar what is Ragnarok. The answer is a bit melodramatic but put together well visually. Lastly, our favourite ex-monk gets a nasty shock as he finds out what really takes place at Viking funerals from Ragnar and Bjorn. Sacrifice, sex, drunken revelry, fighting and some curious looking pagan “death dealer” wearing a crazy helm. Some of this reflects actual historical accounts, i.e., the slave sacrifice, and some of it is really well done made-for-TV Viking drama. The scene of Haraldson’s boat burning is cool and majestic yet very Hollywood. It had this epic Lord of the Rings Boromir overtone to it and definitely shot to keep us entertained.
In the midst of the funeral, Lagertha shares some very important news. Rollo, meanwhile, wastes no time in making the moves on Siggy and entertains fanciful notions of becoming the future Earl when his brother hasn’t been Earl for all of five minutes. Haraldson isn’t even medium-rare and Rollo’s in a tent making a pass at his widow. Classy. We know this guy is trouble. He’s just biding his time and waiting for the opportunity to renege on his oath to Ragnar.
What’s interesting is that when Ragnar became Earl, after a bunch of his men rushed forth to swear fealty to him, he waves Rollo off and tells him there is no need because they are family and he trusts him. Rollo insists on making the vow. I had to wonder about that seeing as we know that he’s planning to take the position from his brother as soon as he thinks it’s safe to do so. At least if he hadn’t sworn the oath, he could always say he never promised anything. That bit had me confused.
On a smaller note – we jump ahead through a few seasons, covering some of 794 A.D. and another expedition to England. The English are preparing for another Viking invasion and the English have their own weapons of mass destruction – deadly venomous snakes. WHAT?! Yeah, you read that right. The King’s secret weapon against the Viking masses is a pit full of snakes. I really didn’t get that scene or find the vast number of deadly breed of snake in that pit feasible. The scenes of the English king were easy filler to tease us for next week but to me, the whole thing felt out of place and I didn’t enjoy it.
I was going into this episode thinking that somehow both Ragnar and Earl Haroldson would survive this duel and continue their feud until the end of the first season. It is interesting that the show choose to kill off one of its main characters so quickly. Once the funeral for the Earl is completed (nice touch adding in the piece about the slave girl also being killed, which was taken from Ibn Fadlan’s description of a Viking funeral), the show moves ahead about a year to focus in on new attacks on Anglo-Saxon England.
A few random questions about this episode:
1. If Earl Haraldson really did admire Ragnar, why did he not make some effort to ally with him instead of immediately try to antagonize and attack the young Viking warrior? He was perfectly happy offering a position of power to Rollo, but if he had done so with Ragnar we wouldn’t have had all this fighting?
2. Why did Ragnar wait to challenge the Earl with personal combat? It seems he too could have done this weeks earlier, instead of having to deal with a series of attacks against him.
3. Is the Viking code of conduct a little too much like the Klingons of Star Trek fame?
4. Now that Ragnar is Earl, will be become power hungry and cruel? It wasn’t a good start for him by denying Siggy the opportunity to set alight her late-husband’s funeral barge.
5. Why did the Anglo-Saxon king wait an entire year to kill his man for cowardice? Perhaps he needed that time to build hit and fill it will snakes?
We have three more episodes this season to find out!