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Vikings recap: 'The Message'

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Jonathan Hession/History Channel

We gave it a B

War approaches, like the sound of distant drums in the darkness. Harald and his bride Astrid chase each other through the forest, almost just finally about to make something like love—but they’re interrupted by an approaching fleet. It’s Ivar and Hvitserk, two sons of Ragnar allied against another. Ivar comes to Harald asking for an alliance. But why should the ambitious whaler king fight to put the boneless boy on the throne of Kattegat? “What is to stop you from ruling Kattegat when I am dead and gone?” asks wily Ivar. “I’m not a healthy person. I’m a cripple.”

A pact is sealed, a new alliance formed. Hvitserk is unhappy. No doubt he expected to be next in line behind his brother. “What is it you really want, Ivar?” he asks his brother. “To be the most famous man who ever lived,” Ivar says. “In time, the name of Ragnar Lothbrok will fade and be forgotten. No one will ever forget Ivar the Boneless.”

Will Ivar’s prophecy come true? He’s mad enough to try. No one understands why he’s kept Bishop Heahmund alive. The warrior priest himself prays to his Christgod, seems ready to die. Ivar tantalizes him with another strange alliance. Why not join the fight against Kattegat? After all, it’s not as if he has to renounce his religion—and doesn’t the Lord want him to kill heathens? It’s a simple offer: Fight with us, or die. In the public square, Ivar points a dagger at the bishop’s stomach. The bishop takes the dagger, points it toward his own stomach—and then kills a screaming Northman, wild eyes and proud glare offering enough proof to Ivar that this mad warrior will fight on his side. The men and women of Harald’s village chant his name, Heahmund, Heahmund, Heahmund! He is already legendary in a culture he seeks to destroy.

Harald and Ivar make a plan. They shall attack in two full moons. Astrid is troubled by these movements to war. She seeks out a whaler and asks him to deliver a message to Lagertha. He asks for a great reward in return, in the form of riches—and her own body. She gives him what he wants, not willingly; the horrible act is shot with grotesque casualness, and she seems considers stabbing the man. Then, the terrorizing twist: He demands she have sex with his whole crew. This is too much for Astrid, who fights back, but the whaler traps her: If she refuses, he’ll tell King Harald of her plan. We don’t see the horror Astrid endures, only the end result: The whaler telling Lagertha about the impending attack, and the arrival of Ivar Boneless in Harald’s village. The Queen of Kattegat has been warned.

(The assault on Astrid caps a difficult period for the strong character, who started off the season being kidnapped into marriage. I worry we’ve seen a lot of Noble Suffering on her part this year, which is a bit disappointing, given how she once seemed to symbolize a transgressive new generation of Viking culture. That said, there’s something moving about the lengths she goes to warn Lagertha, given that literally everyone else in Lagertha’s life has betrayed her, with much less to lose than Astrid.)

Lagertha has much to worry about already. She caught Floki and his pilgrims trying to leave. And although she talked about his actions as a profound betrayal—although he was taking two of her finest warriors!—she let Floki go, unable to kill him, and perhaps interested in this land of the gods. Lagertha’s actions were the topic of much debate. Ubbe’s wife thinks it’s proof of her weakness. One of Floki’s followers sees it as an act of patient strength: “She is waiting to see if Floki is right.” Perhaps Lagertha remembers her long-ago husband’s dream of a land of Viking farmers. Perhaps she is forming an escape plan, if her enemies break through to the heart of Kattegat.

Help approaches on the horizon. Bjorn Ironsides ends his curious adventure in the desert, fleeing an execution at the hands of the Emir via sandstorm and camel. He’ll return to Kattegat soon—but what will he find there? And who will he ally himself with? Does Bjorn even care about the town’s future? He wasn’t raised in Kattegat, like his half-brothers. Perhaps his soul belongs to the sea. Perhaps he wants to leave it all behind: The father’s legacy, and the other sons who would destroy it.

Young Prince Alfred of Wessex is in a different bind. He’s surrounded by father figures, living and dead. Returned to Wessex at the command of Aethelwulf, he speaks to his dead grandfather promising to honor his great dream of a united Kingdom of England. And he prepares to set off on a pilgrimage to the monastery where his biological father, Athelstan, was trained for the Church. Alfred has a grand destiny, but his family line is tangled. His father Aethelwulf is seen training Aethelred, the son of his own blood. “You have the makings of a great warrior,” he tells the young man, “And a great king.” How many Kings can Wessex hold?

In the distant dark land, Floki and his colonists arrive on a windswept shore. The other Northmen aren’t impressed. The land isn’t fertile. They hike inland, seeking Floki’s promised land. Betrayal is afoot. Floki seems assured of his course. Life here will be hard, he tells his people, and yet they will thank him someday. Maybe Floki is right, and his people will learn to love this land. But will they kill him first?

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