And so the warriors prepare for battle. The allied forces of King Ragnar Lothbrok and Earl Kalf the Usurper and Horik’s Annoying Son are set to attack Paris, from land and from sea. Floki the Boatbuilder climbs atop one of his fresh ladders, dancing with joy. Victory is assured: Has he not given the gods a holy sacrifice?
Ragnar watches. Ragnar is always watching; so much of the thrill of Vikings comes from watching Travis Fimmel’s blue eyes, which can look sad and joyful and murderous all at once. Ragnar watches the shieldmaidens grab their shields, the swordsmen grab their swords. Helga loads the boats up with extra arrows. Rollo leads a war chant. Bjorn Ironsides, first son of Ragnar, is ready for battle—not his first, perhaps his last. As the boats row away, another force of Northmen approaches the gates of Paris. The citizens outside race through the giant doors; some of them don’t make it.
“To The Gates” is The Big Episode of this season—maybe the Big Episode of the whole series so far. There is a bare minimum of dialogue during the battle scene, most of it coming from the Parisians. “Whatever happens,” says Count Odo, “they must not get through the gates.” The future of two civilizations depends on gates, walls, the simple geometry of keeping the people outside from coming inside. The Princess of Paris races to the window, and sees approaching doom.
On one side of town, Lagertha and Kalf start their attack. A command echoes in the silence: “Bring the cage and the ram!” From a watchtower, the guards fire arrows. The Vikings raise a shieldwall, but some of the warriors fall. The Parisians are not natural warriors like the Northmen—but they are the more technologically advanced civilization. The Vikings are playing strong offense, but the Parisians only need to play defense.
While Count Odo commands his men to brace the gates, the sea battle begins. Rollo leaps into the water, watching as Floki’s great ladders get pressed up against the walls of Paris. It’s madness: A warrior behind Rollo takes an arrow in the shoulder, laughs it off, then takes another arrow in the middle of his face. “I tell you, the gods are with us!” says Floki. It is Floki’s first command, and he is overjoyed. The halls of Valhalla will echo with tales of this day. He will be Floki the Conqueror; he will sit next to Thor, will share a beer with Allfather Odin himself.
Inside, the Princess of Paris plans a curious counter-attack. A man of the Christ-God shows her the sacred banner of St. Denis, the bishop of Paris in the third century AD. (ASIDE: Paris has been around for a long, long, long time, guys. END OF ASIDE.) St. Denis is the patron saint of France; according to Christian myth, he was decapitated, picked up his own head, and walked six miles preaching the word of God. (Ragnar would love St. Denis.)
The Princess begs the holy man to bless the Oriflamme. Her Lord Father the King may be a coward—there’s an incredible shot of the King on his throne, frozen in terror, his eyes darting madly behind his mask. But the Princess is smart. She might not be a warrior, but she knows how a battle works. It’s all about momentum. The Parisians are scared. Vikings creator Michael Hirst has said that one of the Vikings’ main weapons was the ability to strike terror in their opponents. They traveled in small packs, with relatively few warriors: Even the massive force arrayed against Paris is measly compared to the armies of the Holy Roman Empire. But they had shock and awe on their side. You can feel it in Paris, with the bells ringing and the people panicking.
The Princess turns the tide. She ascends to the gates, with the oriflamme waving in the wind. “Behold, soldiers of Christ!” she declares. “Show no mercy! Fight on! Fight to the death!”
NEXT: To the death, indeed