“The things I do for you,” says the live man to the dead one.
They are always talking to each other, these two. They have so much to say. We begin with them in the dirty sand along the fjord. Athelstan the Conflicted describes Paris to Ragnar Lothbrok. The River Seine. The city on an island. The walls and towers, the bridge. “This city is impregnable,” says the monk-turned-slave-turned-Viking. King Ragnar smiles. No wall has been built that won’t someday crumble.
There is happy news for the family of Ragnar. Thorunn, beloved of Bjorn, goes into labor. She does not want the child; she believes it will be weak, deformed. “You will love it just the same,” says Aslaug; somewhere in Kattegat, little Ivar sleeps peacefully, bent but unbroken. The child appears: a daughter, the first grandchild of Ragnar and Lagertha. “I would like to call her Siggy,” says Bjorn—a final honor bestowed upon an old, dead friend.
Between episode 5 and 6, we appear to have skipped over a long winter, to judge by all the births in this episode. It must be spring: Surely that explains the sight of Rollo, resplendent in fur, standing tall again. He is born again.
But the same cannot be said for the far-away settlement in Wessex. A lonely old man arrives in the city, with a tale of woe. He disturbs Ragnar’s slumber, in the most hilarious way possible:
The settlement has been destroyed by Aethelwulf the Dull. “The slaughter was great,” he says. “All our men. Their wives. Our children.” The story continues: A few lonely survivors, stealing a ship from the Christians, blown off course to a frozen bay, foundering on the ice with land in sight. “I saw my eldest son die before my eyes,” the man says. “And here I am, my lord, a broken man who only wants to die and rejoin his family.”
Ragnar cries for his dead people—and for his dead dream of a farming colony. Floki is angry, but triumphant. He tells Ragnar that their adventure was doomed from the start. Ragnar promises vengeance on Aethelwulf and his father. “And Athelstan?” asks Floki, murder in his eyes. Ragnar is horrified. “If anyone is to blame, it is me,” he tells Floki.
The ship-builder walks away, angry. Ragnar turns to the old man. Has he told anyone else his story? The man says no. Ragnar hugs him, kisses his forehead—and sends him to meet his family, in whatever corner of Valhalla the gods reserve for men born to suffer.
And yet in death there is rebirth. For across the sea, Lord Aethelwulf welcomes a new son. Well, “welcomes.” Once the princeling confirms that his wife is healthy, he sends in some monks who look like the Observers from Fringe. The monks bring her to the town square, where the mob awaits her. The bishop reads her sins: Adultery. Her punishment: Her ears cut off, her nose removed. “Our Lord Jesus never advocated such barbarism!” says Judith, clearly a progressive Biblical scholar. “Please, husband! Please, father!”
Her awful screams echo throughout Wessex. Her father-in-law, Ecbert, begs her to reveal the father of her child. Perhaps he is remembering better, quieter moments: A bath among friends, a warrior woman with hair blonde as sun, a strange little man who walked between two worlds. (Ecbert has never been more powerful; has he ever been less happy?) Judith refuses. And then Michael Madsen cuts her ear off, to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
“Athelstan,” she says, a scream but also a whisper. Ecbert hears her. He confers with his idiot son. “I cannot blame my daughter-in-law for being attracted to such a man of God,” he says. “In my own mind, there is no doubt of Athelstan’s deep spirituality, and his close relationship with God.”
Aethelwulf is getting the picture: “You think God had a hand in this conception?” Maybe Ecbert does; maybe he just doesn’t want his daughter-in-law to lose another ear. For whatever reason, he declares Judith’s son to be a special child—comparing the princess to the blessed virgin. “There will be a christening after all. And the boy’s name will be Alfred.”
As Vikings writer Michael Hirst told me in a post-show Q&A, that little boy Alfred will indeed grow into someone very, very special. Perhaps God did have a hand in Alfred’s conception. In distant Kattegat, Alfred’s father has a vision: A light in the darkness, a voice in the silence.
NEXT: A sign from above