Vikings premiere recap: 'The Departed'
Ragnar's sons' conflicting ambitions are pulling them apart
The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok have already begun to split asunder. Joined in vengeance, they separate into ambition. Bjorn seeks glory in the Mediterranean, taking Harald’s brother Halfdan with him. Ivar tells Ubbe and Hvitserk that he didn’t really mean to kill Sigurd, and his grief seems palpable — perhaps the blood rage did just take him over. But Ivar’s lust for conquest has not been satiated, and he convinces his remaining brothers to take their army up to the town of York, closer to the realm of the late blood-eagle’d King Aelle. Their father, Ragnar, dreamed of a day when his people could farm as he did in his younger days. Ubbe has picked up that dream, reminds his brothers that Ragnar didn’t want them to live a life of perpetual plunder.
But Ragnar is dead. His friend Floki is departing, giving himself over to the gods, building a ship small enough for just one man. Ragnar’s friend and final nemesis Ecbert is dead, too, and Ecbert’s own legacy is being forgotten into history. A new power arrives within the Saxons: Bishop Heahmund, a warrior for Christ who prays to Ecbert as if the dead king was a devout saint (and not a playfully pan-cultural hedonist). “Do not be afraid,” the bishop tells his followers. “Christ is here. You are safe.” He brings with him the old-time religion; he feeds one follower the body and blood of Christ, and the act is tense with eroticism. (We recall that we met Bishop Heahmund last season in coitus with another woman; we may assume Heahmund’s got a long history of challenging the vow of chastity.)
The Northmen attack York on Ascension Day, with Ubbe recalling an old Ragnar lesson about the Christians and their special Saints’ Days. Ubbe seems to have inherited his father’s curious, rueful side. Not so Ivar, who boils a cross into molten gold and feeds it to the local bishop. News of the horror in York spreads to Heahmund — and, by way of spiritual messenger, to the newly crowned King Aethelwulf, currently hiding out with Judith and his remaining people in mudhuts in some foggy landscape. Their son Alfred is sick, and the leeches are doing nothing; but Alfred sees a vision of his true father, a monk who walked between worlds, and receives a premonition that his father is headed Yorkwards.
Back in Kattegat, Lagertha welcomes the returning King Harald with news of his own failed coup. Imprisoned, Harald offers Lagertha a peculiar truce. They should marry, he says, merge powers, rule all the land. Lagertha refuses, has sex with her shackled prisoner — an incredibly troubling moment that appears to be an act of assertive defiance. Yet she lets Harald live — long enough for him to escape with his men, and to steal her lover Astrid. Then Harald asks Astrid to marry him, tantalizing her with the grandest of ambitions: “You would become Queen of Norway,” he says. “The most powerful woman in the country.”
Is Lagertha losing her touch? Those are the rumblings around Kattegat, as her closest followers note that she ought to have killed King Harald when she had the chance. Ivar’s not losing his touch: Surrounded by bodyguards, with new tattoos and new crutch-legs, the boneless boy is standing taller than ever. Heahmund and Aethelwulf array outside his captured York, biding their time. And in a distant land where mountains chug inky blackness into the sky and waves crash on infinite beaches, Floki finds what he believes to be his destiny. The waterfalls ascend upwards. A god appears in the mist. “I am in Asgard,” says Floki. “I am in the land of the gods.” Well…