Paris rises from the water, tall and proud and unconquered. Down the river sail the men of the north, unshaven and ungodly and conquering. “Count Odo,” asks the King, “How have they been allowed to reach us?” Count Odo warned their allies. He warned the Count of Flanders, and many others. All neglected their responsibilities; they let the Northmen sail on. But Count Odo knows the score. They have provisions: Enough to last the whole summer. “To some extent,” says the King, “We are at your mercy, Count Odo.”
Another King, another court, another barrelful of intrigue. Here in Paris, there’s a quiet power struggle. The King is older than he wants to be but younger than he thinks; he may be a coward, or just a man untested. He is the grandson of the great Charlemagne: A long shadow to live in, especially when you’ve got two brothers. Fortunately, the King has a daughter—yet another woman ruling the man’s world in secret. The King considers fleeing Paris. “You must tell Count Odo you have no intention of abandoning your people,” says the Princess. “I’m sure, father, that was always your intention.” Count Odo, for his part, sees the Vikings’ arrival as a chance to prove himself—to the people, and to the Princess.
More money, more problems; more civilization, more drama. At least the Vikings look you in the face while they take your throne. In faraway Wessex, King Ecbert reveals his endgame: He shall be Bretwalda, King of Kings, King of All England. His daughter-in-law Judith comes from the bloodline of King Aelle, the Northumbrian dolt: Would she mind greatly if he died tragically? Not in an attack, no. Perhaps an assassination would do.
Ecbert is a selfish man, but he thinks of the future. How he dotes upon his grandson, Little Alfred, spawn of Athelstan the Multi-faith’d. “I wonder how he is,” Ecbert muses. Son Aethelwulf rages. “Why must you forever bring him to mind!” he spews. Bad enough to have a one-eared wife doting upon a son who isn’t yours; far worse for the King your father to love the child’s father more than you.
Ecbert isn’t the only King who misses Athelstan. So too Ragnar the Northman. Athelstan would have been useful—don’t you agree, Floki? The King attempts to make peace with the shipbuilder. “I’ve not been myself,” he tells his old friend. He believes in Floki; he wants the shipbuilder to be in command of this raid. (Ragnar seems to barely blink in this episode—a sure sign of scheming, or perhaps early-onset blood madness.)
The Northmen assemble a war council. Rollo has taken a boat to the walls of Paris, investigating. See Strong Rollo the Resilient. He may be hollowed out by broken ambition and lost love; but when the seasons change and the young men go raiding, Rollo is reborn, a stalwart fighter and brave adventurer. Rollo the reborn joins Kalf the Usurper, Lagertha the Usurped, Bjorn Ironsides and his lover Torvi and her husband Erlendur, son of Horik the dead.
The warrior chiefs have a plan. A riverborn attack and a simultaneous attack upon the gates. Lagertha will lead the attack on the gates. No, Kalf will lead. No, Lagertha. No, Kalf. These two, they’re like the Sam and Diane of the Dark Ages. (Sam and Diane wanted to kill each other, right?) Ragnar asks Floki to build something to scale the walls—something truly astonishing. Is Ragnar genuinely trying to give Floki a chance to shine? Or is he setting him up for a fall?
Back in Kattegat, Thorunn cares for her child. Or tries to. Or doesn’t try to. “Please take her,” she begs Aslaug. “I want her to be like your sons. I want her to be Viking.” Aslaug looks unamused, possibly because she thinks Thorunn would be a good mother, possibly because in about a season and a half she’s gone from being a carefree young forest princess to a mother of 19 children forced to stay home while her husband goes a-viking. “We women bear heavy burdens,” says Aslaug. “It is not to be helped. It is the gods who have woven our destines, not ourselves.”
AN OPEN LETTER TO THORUNN: Hey girl. I get it. You met a cute boy. You learned how to be a badass warrior from the cute boy’s super inspiring mom. You went on an exciting couple’s vacation to a faraway country and fought alongside your man. You got pregnant. You were gonna get married. Everything was going swell! And then: calamity. One of those pesky Mercians took a swipe at you. You got wounded. I get it. It’s rough. But WAKE UP ALREADY, LADY! You went away to war and got a totally sweet scar. You’re young. Your boy still loves you. Your new family is crazy supportive. You started from the bottom, and now you’re here. Life isn’t perfect, but it could be worse. Embrace yourself! Self-realize and self-actualize! It could be worse; you could be Rollo. LOVE, EVERYONE.
NEXT: And now an open letter for Ecbert…