This week’s episode of Vikings is called “The Plan.” Some of the characters have plans; some of them thought they had plans and now find themselves pivoting; and a couple lucky wandering souls have the leisure of living without long-term plans, divesting themselves of anything except for the will of the gods, who after all must have a plan for everyone.
Bjorn Ironsides is one of the latter. Of all the kin of Ragnar, he has shown the least interest in ruling Kattegat. He’s caught his father’s wanderlust, carried it further than the old king ever dreamed. From the Pillars of Hercules, he plots a new Mediterranean course to Sicily, where meets an ambitious man named Commander Euphemius. Euphemius seems powerful, has an impressive walled city under his sway. And he seems amused by the Vikings, asking them to become his bodyguards. But Euphemius is a walking illusion: He gets his power from Ziyadat Allah, an Emir who appears to be the most powerful man in the Mediterranean. Bjorn wants to meet him, for reasons that might be elusive even to his adventurous spirit. Does he seek to battle the man, or learn from him, or just to visit this strange new world called Africa? Bjorn is endlessly curious, and the wide world around him keeps getting curiouser: Euphemius travels with a mystery woman, a woman of god stolen from the Byzantine Empire.
Back home in Kattegat, the women who love him wait patiently for his return. Perhaps it will never happen. Lagertha has a backup plan. With her son nowhere to be found, she reaches out to one of his half-brothers. It’s a tough moment for Ubbe. “I am now at war with Ivar,” he says impotently, a disparaged man last seen fleeing his younger brothers’ fame and fortune. He swears an alliance with Lagertha, his mother’s killer: She will help him against Ivar, he will stand with her against Harald.
But Ubbe’s wife Margrethe thinks he should be more ambitious. He’s in a bad place now — but so is Lagertha, a queen losing followers right and left. She does look diminished somehow, sipping more wine than she used to. But never underestimate the shieldmaiden-turned-earl-turned-queen. “Every man I have ever known has betrayed me,” she tells Margrethe. “Now most women betray me.” A lesser ruler might kill Margrethe for her lack of faith. Lagertha makes a more difficult decision: She asks Margrethe, free woman to free woman, to believe in her.
When you believe in a ruler, you can happily follow their directions. When you believe in a higher power, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s a god and what’s a voice in your head. Bishop Heahmund believes fervently in his Christian god, to a degree that seems to rub even his fellow Christians the wrong way. When Aethelwulf ponders a retreat from York, Heahmund describes a vision sent from the Lord: people dead in the streets, nothing to eat, nothing to drink. This is a classic siege tactic; they shall starve the Northmen in York, cutting off all roads in and out. Aethelwulf agrees to this idea.
Time passes, hunting parties are killed, and smoke rises from within the city. The plan has worked, it seems; surely the Vikings are burning their dead. Aethelwulf reverses his earlier trepidation, declares that now is the time to attack. And Heahmund reverses himself, too, suggesting that patience would be a virtue, more time to let the Northmen starve. Aethelwulf has had enough of this: “How you put yourself before me, even though I am your king under god.” Aethelwulf might be King of Kings now, but he is still Ecbert’s angry son, who always felt so overlooked by his own father. The last thing he wants is this serene man of god, whose plans seem so much more complete than his own.
Within the city of York, Ivar’s forces do seem to be falling apart. Hvitserk wonders if he made the right decision, following his younger brother and leaving Ubbe to sail away toward a new alliance. Hvitserk asks Odin for a sign, and a few arrows come flying toward him, narrowly missing his head: not a good omen. (This episode was full of dark portents: We saw Lagertha visit the seer, who promised her that she’d see Bjorn again in terrible circumstances.) But Hvitserk’s brother is no fool. That smoke the Saxons see is a ploy; he has found something within the city of York, something left over by the Romans. The Saxons come into town and find it empty — but the rats have run free. “Why are there rats above ground?” asks Heahmund. Maybe someone else went underground.
Like the sons of Ragnar, Astrid has her own ambitions. But she also believes the gods have a plan. Maybe it’s the ambitions, maybe it’s the belief, maybe she sees no other way out: But she does marry Harald, her thoughts on Lagertha all along. They are married within the ribcage of a great whale, a great godlike beast killed by Harald’s people. Perhaps together they shall take on the great beasts of the Viking world, the kings and queens who dominate the North. There has been much war in this land, and much more to come.
Is there another way? In a place that may as well be the land of the gods, Floki has an epiphany. “It is very wrong for me,” he tells the Allfather, “to enjoy this paradise alone.” He wants to build a city of true believers, far away from the strangers and their false gods, distant from all the friend-stealing monks of the world. He is just a humble boat-builder, but he has seen a vision of the future — sure as Ragnar once saw his people farming, sure as Harald and Lagertha and Margrethe see Kattegat under their chosen regime, sure as Bjorn sees the distant horizon as his next port of call. For the first time in a long time, Floki has a plan.