By Darren Franich
January 24, 2018 at 10:02 PM EST
Credit: Jonathan Hession/History Channel
S5 E10
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They sing together, friends and enemies, the brothers who will soon kill each other. And they remember every move that led to this day, the hour that Ragnar Lothbrok’s legacy swallowed itself whole. Queen Lagertha tells her new lover, Heahmund, that this could be the last time they see each other. “If we die, I doubt I shall see you again,” she says. “You will be in your heaven, which is not part of this world, I think.” They kiss, the first last kiss of the day.

The war drum sounds. Hvitserk races into battle. He has told his brother, Ivar, that he has no regrets. Though he does wish he had children. “I will have children,” Ivar promises, “And my children will populate the earth.” Maybe he’s mad, and maybe Hvitserk made a mistake following this brother. He meets his enemy Ubbe in battle, and that brother holds a blade to his neck. But he cannot go through with it. So Hvitserk lives.

Others are not so lucky. Snaefrid, new wife of Bjorn, waits with her people in the forest, ready to attack Ivar’s forces. But they are overrun: Her father is killed, and then she falls, too. Such loss on this day! Halfdan battles through a mass of men, but he has a vision: The field, gone empty; the desert, big and wide and vast and empty. Halfdan saw much on his journeys with Bjorn, saw that “life has more to offer than fighting for land, or for worthless glory against your own Viking brothers.” Sad irony, perhaps, that he dies in battle with his own Viking brother. Harald hesitates only to say how little he wanted this; then he slices his brother’s neck open. “I will see you in Valhalla,” Harald tells Halfdan. But Halfdan has gone somewhere else: collapsing on distant sands, alone at the furthest point of his world.

This is not the most sorrowful loss on the field of battle. Before the fighting, Harald asks his wife Astrid to tell him of her sorrow. She cannot. Poor Astrid: Kidnapped into royalty, raped when she tried to help Lagertha, she seem between all sides of this conflict. She finds her old lover, the queen, in the middle of the battle. “You have to kill me,” she tells Lagertha, “Otherwise, we will kill you.”

Lagertha is confused. She knows Astrid didn’t betray her, knows there is still such love there. But the Northmen live inevitable lives, know their fates belong to higher powers than them. Astrid steps forward in violence, and Lagertha’s sword kills her and her unborn child. “May Freya lift you up and take you gently to her hall,” cries Lagertha, kissing sweet Astrid one last time.

We see events far away from the battle. In the land of the gods, Floki begs Eyvind not to retaliate for his son’s murder, to end the cycle of killing. He promises to make Eyvind the lawgiver: “You will have your power and authority.” But the cycle cannot be broken. Soon Thorgrim is dead in the water, and soon the fighting will begin. Floki sees another way, or perhaps he seeks a way out: “We must offer a sacrifice which will mean something,” he says. “I offer myself.”

Could this be the end of Floki? Has he come so far, only to return to the violence of his homeland? Ivar thrives upon the violence. He’s never seemed stronger. He throws away his crutch, seems to walk or even fly. And the deaths continue. Guthrum falls. His stepfather, Bjorn, takes a moment to honor him, promises the young an that he is now “in Valhalla, with your brave and great father, Jarl Borg.” Jarl Borg was an enemy of Bjorn’s family, in the bygone days before Bjorn’s family simply fought amongst themselves. His line ends here, and this is merely collateral damage as this era comes to an end.

In Kattegat, Margrethe visits the Seer. She still has designs on the throne, ponders if she ought to kill Bjorn’s children that are in her care. The Seer says Ubbe will never be king — “…of Kattegat,” he teases — and he suggests that the mad will inherit the Earth.

Have they already done so? The battle is lost for Lagertha’s forces: The Franks come marching in, overwhelming them. Back to Kattegat Bjorn flees, with his former wife Torvi. Their children live — for now — but so much is in ruin. Bjorn knows they must leave soon, for soon Ivar will be in the throneroom enjoying his triumph. For Ivar Boneless, this battle is over, but the greater war still demands a final catharsis. “Don’t be a coward, Lagertha!” he screams to the wind. “Come and fight me. Come and fight me.”

The noble shieldmaiden has never shied from a fight before. But what death has not claimed, time has begun to destroy. Bjorn finds Lagertha in Kattegat, hair turned white. She is one of the strongest people in the world, but how much trauma and loss can one hero take? Meanwhile, a living ghost of the past is sailing home. See Rollo, hero and traitor, Northman and Frank, pagan and Christian. His hair seems lighter, too. What tides carry him home? What tidings will he bring to his ravaged family? Must brother always fight brother? Is there hope for the Viking world? In Kattegat, in Floki’s new land, on the battlefield, the earth is wet with blood, and the mad have inherited all the Earth in sight.

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