Season 4, Ep. 19 | Aired Jan 25
There are strange people in Kattegat always, riding in from lands far away or sailing in from points further. Yet one man in particular catches Torvi’s eye, as she patrols her fortress-city. He sailed in this morning with the other traders. He looks at the wares being peddled – but he and his men do not want to buy anything. The reason is clear enough: The man calls for an attack, and the battle for Kattegat begins.
Season 4, Ep. 18 | Aired Jan 18
The Great Army assembles in Kattegat, kings and earls and heroes and monsters. A great sacrifice must be made, says Lagertha, the heroic Queen. “If the army fails,” she says, “if they are defeated by the Saxons, our peoples might never recover.” The gods call for a special sacrifice at times like this. The question is not what, but who?
Season 4, Ep. 17 | Aired Jan 11
They build, they build, they build. Kattegat has grown and it has grown large, from an earl’s village to a King’s capital to a merchant metropolis. It is a modern city, and it is a prize, and Queen Kattegat will defend it. She has set her people to building, building, building. They will build defenses. There are enough enemies within already.
Ragnar Lothbrok is dead, but he lives on. (I talk about that with Vikings writer Michael Hirst in this week’s postmortem interview, where he also answers your question about Bjorn and Astrid and explains why he doesn’t like gritty realism.) He lives on in his dying words, carried by wind and rumor and legend to his sons.
Ragnar’s youngest son, Ivar, seeks vengeance against Lagertha for the death of his mother, Aslaug. But his brothers Ubbe and Sigurd pull Ivar’s focus toward on another vengeance. Should they attack King Aelle, in tiny Northumbria — or, following their father’s wishes, take on King Ecbert in grand Wessex? To do so would require a large army, twice the size of the coalition Ragnar led to Paris. But is it an army they can assemble, with their father’s memory as their rallying cry. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” says Ivar Boneless, hate and joy in his eyes.
Ubbe relays their plan to Queen Lagertha. He asks her to join them. But Lagertha has a reason to stay. The sons of Ragnar are inviting other rulers to her city. “They will see the size and understand the value of this trading station,” says Lagertha. The city has to be defended. “I know what your father would have wanted me to do,” she says. Lagertha remembers when Ragnar was a young man, ambitious like his sons, and remembers one of Ragnar’s great ambitions: to build something that lasts. Lagertha has seen many great men brought low. She saved Kattegat from Aslaug, didn’t she? She will save it from any assault, won’t she?
But can she save herself? Perhaps she doesn’t want to. The seer says she will be killed by a son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ivar certainly would like the opportunity. His brother, Sigurd, disagrees. “We have different memories of mother,” he says. “She doted on you and she ignored me.” Sigurd baits his brother; he calls him a mama’s boy, and mommy’s little favorite. Ivar lifts his axe to his brother, aiming to kill. Only the ready arm of a humble blacksmith stops him. Will brother kill brother? Can Ragnar’s sons survive Ragnar’s legacy?
EW – Vikings recap: ‘Crossings’
Season 4, Ep. 16 | Aired Jan 4
Words travel slowly from the lonely ground in Northumbria, where the great, legendary, cursed Ragnar Lothbrok lies buried beneath earth and snakes and ambition. In Kattegat, his first wife Lagertha cannot believe he is dead. But her responsibility is clear. She must pick up the burden of rule, no matter the cost. “Ragnar hated it,” she tells her lover Astrid. “It weighed him down, perhaps it even killed him.” But she cannot disappoint her women: Not Astrid, not Torvi, not the shieldmaidens who fought and died for her. And she thinks Ragnar is watching her.
In Wessex, Ecbert mourns his friend, while his son Aethelwulf fears the worst. Ecbert had an agreement with Ragnar, a promise the Viking’s sons would seek vengeance only against Aelle. “Ragnar and I were alike in many ways,” says Ecbert, suddenly looking like an old man, or like a man who has begun to outlive his own time. He agrees Aethelwulf should raise an army; he will stay right where he is, at the seat of his power, teaching young Alfred the ways of this cruel world.
Lagertha assumes her own seat of power, sitting in the high throne at the center of Kattegat. She sat up there once before, next to Ragnar — and, briefly, next to Aslaug, Ragnar’s second wife. Lagertha, in charge, has some new ideas. Kattegat has become large, “the largest, richest trading center in Norway.” Others will be envious; the time has come to fortify, to dig ditches, to turn this small overgrown village into a true defended city.
EW – Vikings recap: ‘In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning’
Season 4, Ep. 14 | Aired Dec 21
Queen Aslaug is queen no more. She knows this, she has no escape plan; she walks into the town square knowing her time has come to an end. There is a freedom to knowing you will never be free again. The Queen looks amused by her invader. “How strange, Lagertha, that you should play the usurper. One woman against another.” Aslaug knows Lagertha values herself as a powerful woman in this world of powerful men — knows that, at this moment of triumph, it will darken Lagertha’s soul just a little bit, the implication she has broken her own rule.
“I was never the usurper,” says Lagertha. “Always the usurped.” Aslaug took Lagertha’s husband, her world, her happiness. “You’re a witch,” Lagertha says. “You bewitched him.” Perhaps she believes that; perhaps it is an easy justification, a way to establish herself as the force of moral right. Aslaug smiles. She did not bewitch Ragnar, but she knows he is dead. “In my dream, his boats were sunk in a storm,” says Aslaug.
She will not fight. She knows she would not win. Aslaug has never been a warrior. Yet, she has raised warriors. “I have fulfilled my destiny,” she says. “The gods foretold Ragnar would have many sons. I have given him those sons. I am as much a part of his saga, Lagertha, as you are.” It is another gambit, a way of snatching some greater victories from the jaws of this mortal defeat. Lagertha may defeat Aslaug. But they will be history soon, are already history; the legends have already formed about Ragnar and Aslaug and Lagertha and their ilk. Aslaug asks only for safe passage. She promises Lagertha will have Kattegat and she promises she will not demand her sons seek vengeance. It will be a peaceful transition of power.
“I understand,” says Lagertha. What does that mean? What message is she receiving from Aslaug? Does she know that, in some strange way, this great day of victory has not been wholly victorious? Does she sense this woman whom she always doubted — this usurper, this alleged witch, this poor excuse for a monarch — has hidden depths to her personality? Does she suddenly recognize, in Aslaug, a warrior?
Aslaug turns her back and prepares to leave her life behind. And then her life is taken and a smile crosses her face. An arrow in the back and a great funeral pyre for the woman who made warriors, for she who never gave up the old faith. She is in the saga forever now, even if her time in this story has come to an end. What future has she cursed Lagertha, too?
EW – Vikings recap: ‘Two Journeys’
War on both coasts
Season 4, Ep. 13 | Aired Dec 14
Ragnar Lothbrok’s great army of revenge feeds the fish at the bottom of the sea. His boats sink into darkness, never to be seen again by human eyes. Yet Ragnar and Ivar endure. Father and son wash ashore. Some of his men survive, too: A motley crew, not the great warriors of yesteryear, some few desperate Vikings. They know the locals will arrive soon. They must move — but Ivar, little Ivar, cannot walk with his father. “I’m not going to stand around all watching you try to be normal,” says the King. “You never will be. Once you realize that, that is when greatness will happen. Now crawl.”
Ragnar’s first son, Bjorn, isn’t normal, either. Alone among his brothers, he remembers a time when his father was a farmer. Alone among his brothers, he remembers the brighter days of Uncle Rollo, the familiar friend, not the eternal traitor. Bjorn sails southward on his journey to the Mediterranean. The ships pass the Normandy coast, which will host unimaginable bloodshed centuries hence when all the dreams of the Vikings are dust and memory.