Jonathan Hession/History
February 01, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST


TV Show
run date
Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen
History Channel
Current Status
In Season
Action Adventure
We gave it an A

See Ecbert, King of Wessex and Mercia and perhaps some other lands he has forgotten about. Ecbert is a great man, and he is an old man. He sits off his throne, long beard and long hair and mind far away. He is remembering the past, he is witnessing the present, he is imagining the future that will occur long after he is gone.

Ecbert cannot see that his son, Aethelwulf, fights for his life against the maddening power of the Great Heathen Army. Ecbert could not have foreseen this, years ago, when the young Earl Ragnar Lothbrok first arrived in Wessex, bringing a small coalition of soldiers, bringing violence but also carrying the curious request for farmland. No one could have foreseen the consequences of those actions, and the hundred of actions that followed. Now Ecbert’s son fights Ragnar’s sons, in brutal battle, horses toppling and men falling atop other men and bones breaking and blood flowing from bodies into the mud, until the very landscape looks like the fallen oozing husk of an old soldier dying alone.

“Save yourselves!” cries Aethelwulf. “Retreat! Retreat!” To Wessex he returns, declaring a state of emergency. The time has come for his family to flee. But Ecbert refuses. He promises to renounce his crown; he will make Aethelwulf the King, and remain behind to await his destiny. The secession is quick, and as formal as formalities can be as the world ends. Aethelwulf is now king, lord of lands conquered by invaders. His path ahead is uncertain. His father is hopeful. “I know I have placed my kingdom in the safest hands,” says Ecbert. “You go now, save yourself and your family.”

Ecbert kisses his son farewell – a final show of love, for one he has used so badly for so long. And he says farewell to Judith, his companion for these many years, and to Alfred, upon whom he has placed so many hopes. He tells Alfred that the greatest Christian virtue is humility. His family leaves, but he has a final companion: old Bishop Edmund, who will not leave his King behind, not when the cellars of Wessex are stocked with the finest wines in Christendom.

And so here are the Northmen, arrived at long last within the walls. They set about their brutal plunder, burning away history in the flames: texts that cannot be reclaimed, wisdom lost to time. Perhaps Ragnar’s beloved monk Athelstan wrote some of those translations. They are all up in flames now, like so many of the dreams of old.

Truly, Wessex is become a funeral pyre of ambition. Helge carries her “daughter” through the wreckage, promising to protect her. The Spanish girl stabs her, and kills herself: death and madness, here at the end of one generation. Floki finds his beloved just in time to hear her final words. “The world is too small for you,” she says, dying. Floki buries her here in this alien land, in the same land where Ragnar Lothbrok went to his final rest. Wanderers are blessed, for they see the world, and cursed, to die so far from home.

NEXT: We Have To Talk About Ecbert

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