Harbard the Wanderer walks into Kattegat, one hand bleeding. “I was sleeping rough,” he tells the welcoming party: Aslaug, Siggy, and Helga. Two wives left behind with children, one widow left behind by her maybe-boyfriend with nothing. Maybe it’s nice to have a man in the house again; maybe it’s just unusual, on a cold winter day, to have someone new in town. “I sleep wherever I can lay my head,” says Harbard. He sleeps on straw, or with cattle for warmth. (He prefers the straw.)
We’ve met warriors and kings, farmers and mystics. What does such a man do, wandering from place to place? What trade can he ply? “I tell stories,” he says. “Stories about my own travels. Stories about the gods. Or both!” Aslaug looks at him like he’s a new kind of toy. Siggy is suspicious. Can you blame her? You don’t cast Kevin Durand—who some sources claim is eight feet tall and once successfully arm-wrestled a grizzly bear—so he can play a super nice guy with no negative qualities whatsoever.
Then again, Siggy is always suspicious. She’d fit right in across the water, in Wessex, where all the nobles around Ecbert think their King’s gone gaga. They confront their King with their issues. Why are we sharing farming secrets with them, without asking for their boat-building secrets? Why aren’t we converting them to Christianity? Be honest, Ecbert, are you just doing all this because you’re crushing on Lagertha?
Ecbert reminds them that this is all for a higher purpose. The Northmen are fighting to gain the throne of Mercia for Princess Kwenthrith—”our puppet,” says Ecbert. He’s after a greater part of England: What does one bit of farmland matter? “And who knows how this settlement will fare in the future?” he asks, not really asking anything. “Tell me now, if you dare, that I do not deserve to be King of Wessex.” Nobody responds.
Ecbert thinks his followers are too shortsighted. He is trying to take the long view. Maybe because he’s a power-hungry egomaniac; maybe because he genuinely cares about what the future will look like after he’s gone. Ragnar cares, or thinks he does. Perpetual skeptic Floki asks why they’re fighting for these English Christians. “It’s about our children. And their children,” says Ragnar. “It is about our future.” He doesn’t want endless conflict. Which is interesting, since so much of Viking lore was combat-centric. In some traditions, heaven was a kind of eternal battle: In Valhalla, warriors would fight all day and drink all night.
Perhaps that’s why Ragnar’s words horrifying Floki. “There can be no reconciliation between our gods and the God they worship,” says Floki. “The triumph of the Christ-God will mean the death and destruction of our gods.” (Much as you want to call Floki a shortsighted anti-Saxon bigot, this is more or less what will happen; perhaps Floki’s destiny is to become an old blind seer, in a hut above some village, the last man left alive, old enough to see the future and wise enough to know that nobody will ever listen to him.)
The preparations for battle are almost complete. Bjorn rubs some blood across Thorunn’s face. Kwenthrith begs Ragnar to spare her brother’s life. Rollo walks over to poor Torstein, the man with two baby mamas but only one arm. “You poor bastard,” says Rollo. “See you later, if the gods allow.” Torstein won’t have it. He must fight. “You’re too weak,” says Rollo. That does it. Torstein stands up, every move a couple more daggers through his heart. “As you can see, you bastard, I am perfectly able to fight. Never been better.”
Rollo grins, takes his friend’s last remaining arm, and off they march to doom or glory.
NEXT: Plowing, fertilizing, sowing