Ragnar Lothbrok arrives back in Kattegat, ready to leave.
The young King is restless. His adventures in England have been prosperous. He has made new allies: Ecbert of Wessex, Kwenthrith of Mercia. Their alliance was sealed with blood and earth.
And more: For Ragnar’s ex-wife lay with Ecbert, and Ragnar lay with Kwenthrith, and Athelstan broke his vow of celibacy to lie with Judith, wife of Ecbert’s son.
Yet Ragnar’s mood is dark. He dreams of more adventures. “Tell me about Paris,” he asks Athelstan, man of many gods.
Athelstan tells a tale of his younger days, when he was a servant of the Christ-God. “It was like a dream. It has huge walls. I remember the clamor of bells calling the faithful to prayer.” Ragnar, intrigued, leans forward.
“What I remember more,” says Athelstan, “is the beautiful women.”
“You are lucky,” Ragnar tells the once-priest. “You have never been married. I would not come back here, if it weren’t for my children.”
There is a darkness over Ragnar and his kin, on this day of unhappy reunion. His old friend Floki watches Athelstan the way a bird of prey watches everything. Thorunn lays wounded, face half torn away, not thirsty and not hungry and not really alive. When Ragnar’s boats land on the beach, there are two pregnant women waiting for Torstein; he’s in Valhalla now, of course. And so is Siggy: Good people lost at home, and abroad.
“This is my fault,” says Rollo the Unlucky. ” I did not treat her well. It’s the truth. You all know it.” They do. Rollo has a cursed destiny, or perhaps he curses his own destiny. He is strong, but always weak. So he drowns himself in drink while the warriors celebrate. The skies open up and the rain pours down onto Kattegat; as if the gods refuse to let these men walk upon dry land.
The other warriors laugh at Rollo. Haven’t they all lost someone? Brothers, cousins, friends: All fell under sword or bow, in that faraway land of murdered gods and coward Kings. “What is so special about you?” they ask Rollo. In the rage of mourning, he tries to fight them all. His nephew Bjorn Ironsides appears, trying to help him. But fury doesn’t recognize family: So soon enough Rollo is fighting Bjorn, the rain pouring down upon them, the mud and blood mixing all together. “Hit me!” begs Rollo. “Hit me!” Bjorn obliges him. The audience cheers: “Kill him! Kill him!” they say. (Any “him” will do.)
When a man returns from a long season of raiding, he might look forward to a reunion: With his loving wife, his growing children, the land that bore him. Not so Ragnar, who returns to deception and mystery. Why was Siggy watching his children? Why were his children out racing on the ice? Aslaug is not telling him something. She comes to him, still a vision of beauty after so many years of marriage and hardship. She kisses him. He stands up; he walks away. “What is it?” his wife asks. “You had so much sex in England you don’t need it?”
The rain continues to fall outside. Inside Ragnar’s hall, Lagertha talks about their distant colony. She is proud of her work; she wonders if more people will go join the farmers. Floki laughs. “They can go work for a Christian king, in a Christian country. Perhaps they’ve convert to Christianity.” Athelstan reminds him that, after all, a man is free to do what he will.
Is that true? The first few episodes of Vikings season 3 let our characters inhabit a kind of in-between place: A nexus moment for Viking and English culture, a place and time wherein Viking farmers could plow English country and Viking warriors could fight against Saxons alongside other Saxons. It was far from utopia: heads rolled, sister killed brother. But surely it is progress when Ragnar Lothbrok and Ecbert of Wessex could sit together, drinking as fellow men, speaking each other’s language.
NEXT: An Earl Usurped