See Ragnar Lothbrok. See him brought low. King Ragnar is sick. He coughs gore. His urine stinks of blood. All the ambition of the gods—and yet, he is still a man. All the victories a great hero can have: The farmer who became an earl, the earl who became a king, the king who sailed across the sea to England, who led his people down the river to Paris. Here, at the walls, Ragnar has never looked more defeated. His Vikings bicker, angry and hungry and tired.
“I don’t understand why we failed, Ragnar,” says Floki. How far Floki has fallen, too. Once, he was the great shipbuilder. He was to be Floki the conqueror. But his ships burned; his battle was lost. “The others will try again tonight,” Ragnar promises.
And so they do. The Vikings have a new strategy. Call of Duty failed; time now for Metal Gear Solid. Lagertha leads a crack team of stealth shieldmaidens. They swim across the river; they climb up the outside of the bridge. The archers of Frankia look for an attacking army; they don’t see seven tough women. Their tactics are sound: Lagertha hacks a man’s neck; a shieldmaiden steps forward to grab his corpse, setting it down gracefully in the shadows. But the men of Paris are alerted; burning oil splashes down on one shieldmaiden burning her into Valhalla.
There are tough women on all sides of this battle; within the walls of Paris, Princess Gisla hands a knife to her maidens. (“Make sure they do not capture you alive,” she warns.) But behind the great door, Lagertha sees an opportunity: She throws a flame on the burning oil, using the enemies’ weapon against them. The door ignites in flames. And an army of Northmen race through. Earl Siegfried grabs the wanderer, Sinric: “You are our map of the city.”
Once again, the Parisians outmatch the Vikings in their battle technology. Count Odo releases a gigantic spiked wheel, which rolls across the bridge, picking up Northmen. In a truly ghoulish site, some of the warriors are still alive, gigantic spikes poking through their bodies—it’s an image worthy of Hellraiser. But the wheel can only roll so far—at which point Rollo leaps over it, propping it up with a few spears. Once again, Parisian battle technology is outmatched by old-fashioned Viking ingenuity.
Odo sends his man to fight the Vikings hand-to-hand. The Parisians still have the upper hand; once again, all they need to do is keep playing a strong defense. But the men of Paris are weakening. Odo goes to Emperor Charles, begging him to walk among the troops. “What can I do to stop them,” says the coward Emperor, “that Holy Mother cannot?”
Count Odo is fed up. From the Viking perspective, Odo is a bad guy—but here, in the throne room of Paris, he is a fundamentally good man trying to protect his city, frustrated with the ludicrous little man who wears the crown. “I thought you would come,” says Odo. “I know what your grandfather would have done.” But Emperor Charles is not Charlemagne. He was not prepared for this.
Even without their Emperor, the Parisians fight the Vikings off. In the process, they capture two men: Sinric the Wanderer, and Siegfried the Earl. It’s Sinric who saves them, yelling in the language of Franki: “Don’t kill me! I’m different!” He reveals Siegfried’s status as Earl; he convinces Odo to take them both prisoner, Sinric as the translator, Siegfried as the valuable cargo.
On a hilltop across the river, Ragnar crawls. He coughs; he vomits; his whole body rebels against him. He has a vision: His old friend Athelstan, emerging from the mist, holding out his hand. But the visions don’t stop there. There is an image of Allfather Odin—Ragnar’s first sight of the deity in quite some time:
And there is someone else, too: Athelstan’s Christ-God, staring at Ragnar expressionless:
At one point, there is a third figure in the shadows:
And at one point, Ragnar sees himself staring at himself—an out-of-body experience, or perhaps a dramatization of the war within himself.
What’s happening in this scene, besides Ragnar’s obvious internal raging chaos? Vikings season 3 has focused on the clash of two very different civilizations—the far-flung denizens of what was once the Holy Roman Empire, remnant kingdoms built on Christian worship; and our far-traveling Northmen, with their living gods who push them to plunder and conquest. Is Ragnar himself feeling the physical toll of this struggle? Does he need to choose a side? Athelstan seemed to be welcoming him to the beyond—but then he pulled away his hand, and smiled, and disappeared. “Don’t abandon me!” says Ragnar—to his friend, to his gods, to everyone who can’t hear him.
Fire around him, and blood; or perhaps that’s just the fever.
NEXT: A beheading