The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok react to bad news, while Floki finds a new religion.
Credit: Bernard Walsh
S4 E16
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Words travel slowly from the lonely ground in Northumbria, where the great, legendary, cursed Ragnar Lothbrok lies buried beneath earth and snakes and ambition. In Kattegat, his first wife Lagertha cannot believe he is dead. But her responsibility is clear. She must pick up the burden of rule, no matter the cost. “Ragnar hated it,” she tells her lover Astrid. “It weighed him down, perhaps it even killed him.” But she cannot disappoint her women: Not Astrid, not Torvi, not the shieldmaidens who fought and died for her. And she thinks Ragnar is watching her.

In Wessex, Ecbert mourns his friend, while his son Aethelwulf fears the worst. Ecbert had an agreement with Ragnar, a promise the Viking’s sons would seek vengeance only against Aelle. “Ragnar and I were alike in many ways,” says Ecbert, suddenly looking like an old man, or like a man who has begun to outlive his own time. He agrees Aethelwulf should raise an army; he will stay right where he is, at the seat of his power, teaching young Alfred the ways of this cruel world.

Lagertha assumes her own seat of power, sitting in the high throne at the center of Kattegat. She sat up there once before, next to Ragnar — and, briefly, next to Aslaug, Ragnar’s second wife. Lagertha, in charge, has some new ideas. Kattegat has become large, “the largest, richest trading center in Norway.” Others will be envious; the time has come to fortify, to dig ditches, to turn this small overgrown village into a true defended city.

All the citizens of Kattegat agree with her. Well, almost all. Ubbe and Sigurd, Ragnar’s sons and Aslaug’s sons, linger under heavy security, unsure of their role in this new status quo. Their little brother, Ivar, is more expressive. He challenges Lagertha to single combat, in full view of all Kattegat. She refuses; she does not want to kill him. And perhaps her people agree with her thinking, even believe her to be gracious, saving the life of little Ivar the legless boy. But none can miss the fire of Ivar’s words. “One day, I will kill you, Lagertha,” he tells his father’s true love. “Your fate is fixed.”

To the South, Bjorn sails. He sails with his half-brother, his uncle, and two of his father’s most trusted friends. They are in the fog, but the mist is nothing compared to the clouds in Floki’s minds. “I no longer know who I am,” he tells his wife Helge. “Why I am here. Why my purpose here.”

Floki has always been a believer, in old ways and old gods. But perhaps his final meeting with his old friend Ragnar has changed him. “I feel like an empty vessel,” he says. “I’m all alone. I need something to fill me up.” Perhaps it was Ragnar, always, who Floki worshiped; perhaps, sensing Ragnar’s absence, Floki has suddenly discovered Ragnar’s curiosity, his need for something greater. Helge feels the same. She wants another child, someone who will live on after they have left the world.

Elsewhere in the fleet, King Harald and his brother Halfdan whisper plots to each other. Harald wonders if their leader, Bjorn Ironside, is cursed, as his father was. “One day, we must overcome the Lothbroks,” Harald tells his brother. “How else can I become the King of all Norway?” Why should they wait, these ambitious young Vikings? Perhaps the time to strike is now. Halfdan cautions his brother and teases him. “The gods will give us a sign,” he says. “They love us.”

NEXT: A god named Allah

The Vikings find a port city, Algeciras, in the south of Spain. The Northmen can’t know this, but by the time they arrive in the city, Algeciras has already weathered invasion and destruction. Barbarians attacked centuries ago; the city was rebuilt by the Moors. This is an Islamic society, something new for the Northmen, who have spent this generation waging war against the followers of the Christ-god.

They set about their violent business, Rollo laughing to be a Viking once again. But Floki and Helge are much changed here in this strange city. Floki hears the call to prayer and follows it to a temple. He is struck by their worship. Their gods are nowhere to be seen, “yet they’re praying with such passion.” Harald has no time for cultural investigations and prepares to slay everyone in the temple. Floki stops him. “No more killing,” he says. “Not in here. Not in this place.” Floki had criticized Ragnar and his brother Rollo for their flirtations with one religion. Perhaps, though, time has emptied his soul; perhaps he, too, searches for some new answers.

Helge finds her own answers in Algeciras. She watches Harald slay a man and a woman, watches their child flee. She chases after the child, and rescues her — or, if you like, takes her captive. She wants to take the child with them on their journey. She joins the march of prisoners and plunder. They sail on.

Back in Kattegat, Lagertha awakes to a vision in the night: Ragnar as a much younger man, as she knew him when she shared his bed. “Enjoy Valhalla,” she says. “You deserve it. But don’t forget me.” Lagertha has no way of knowing Ragnar himself no longer believed in Valhalla; that at the end of his life, he saw no higher power, recognized no deity. Lagertha is a believer.

She goes to see the Seer, and the Seer says he, too, has seen Ragnar. “On his way to Valhalla,” the Seer says, an edge in his voice that could be sarcasm. “He was so happy!” Lagertha asks the Seer: Will one of Ragnar’s sons kill her? Or, to be specific, “Will I be killed by a son of Ragnar?” The Seer hears her and ponders. “Yes,” he says, offering her an answer but also several more questions.

The sons of Ragnar are far spread. Yet words do travel. They see birds fly and they see a vision: A one-eyed man, garbed in black, telling each of Ragnar’s sons their father is no more. Ubbe sharpens his arrows, Sigurd sharpens his axe, Ivar hacks away in the blacksmiths. On the cusp of the Mediterranean, farther than Ragnar ever dreamed his people would go, Bjorn and Hvitserk burn with great ambition. Yet Bjorn knows, deep in his soul, that his father is dead. We see Ragnar’s final words travel across the known world: Words about Valhalla, about Valkyries, about the great fate that awaits him in the afterlife. Perhaps Ragnar is somewhere, or perhaps he is nowhere. For his sons, there is no mystery. Vengeance calls them, from across the sea.

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