“Don’t waste your time looking back,” says King Ragnar Lothbrok. “We’re not going that way.”
Ragnar and his allies sail southward, to Frankia and the riches of Paris. Ragnar brings Ubbe and Hvitserk, his two eldest children by Aslaug. They have received their sacred arm rings, symbolizing that they have come of age, binding them in loyalty and fealty to the King their father. Aslaug believes the boys are too young to fight. “They are not too young to watch,” says her husband. Perhaps he wants his boys to see the raid, learn battle strategy, start to become the great warriors Ragnar hopes they will be. Perhaps Ragnar just wants the boys far away from their mother. Suspicion lingers in their marriage, and rage. Their coupling is a battlefield, their sons spoils.
These aren’t the times for children. Youth must grow up fast. Across the sea, Ecbert calls his people together. He has an exciting pronouncement. His grandson, Prince Alfred — born of Judith and the monk Athelstan — will take pilgrimage to Rome. Father Prudentius will act as his guide. Aethelwulf, his legal father, shall be his protector. Like Ragnar, Ecbert sees this as a fine strategy for raising a new generation — young Alfred will meet the Pope, see the Vatican, feel what it means to be at the center of the world. But this action will also take Aethelwulf far from his lover, Kwenthrith. The long walk to Rome will take months. Who knows how long they’ll linger there? Who knows, too, what will happen to Kwenthrith — and her renegade kingdom Mercia – without her advocate Aethelwulf to protect her.
Will Ragnar have a protector on his own journey? Perhaps Yidu, his lover and designated Dr. Feelgood. Yidu wants to go with Ragnar to Frankia. She promises to supply him with medicine — and although there is not yet a word for “addiction” in the vocabulary of the Northmen, there is something wild in Ragnar’s eyes when she suggests that, without her, the medicine will disappear from his life. (Yidu speaks Frankish, too. You learn a few languages, when you’re enslaved halfway around the world from your home.)
These first six episodes of season 4 have formed a striking interlude — an epilogue to one Paris invasion, a prologue to another. Ragnar has returned from the edge of death a changed man. Perhaps not for the better. His own death torments him, or perhaps fascinates him. “I want to know the day that I will die,” he asks the Seer. “You will die on the day that the blind man sees you,” says the Seer. Is he correct? (The Seer said Lagertha would have no more children, and she told Kalf she was pregnant — before she killed him.)
On the boats sail, away from Kattegat. Ivar Boneless and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye watch their father leave. Their father does not look back. Nor his son Bjorn, who regards the ring on his finger — the ring of Erlendur, given to an assassin. Erlendur, who regards Bjorn from another boat, always plotting vengeance for his dead father the old King. And Floki doesn’t look back, either. He has new friends now, King Harald and his brother.
Back home in Kattegat, Sigurd seeks a new playmate. His mother insists he play with Siggy, his niece. But she is dirty, only just barely walking. Sigurd goes inside his mother’s room, and sees her breastfeeding his little brother Ivar. If the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok must choose one parent over another, fair to say that Ragnar has already lost Ivar to his lady wife.
NEXT: Sail away