The title this week seems to refer to three different kinds of CROSSINGS. The first would be the journey that Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and company take, crossing a wide expanse of sea to reach the Mediterranean. The second might be a reference to double crossing, as Bjorn’s companions Harald (Peter Franzén) and Halfdan (Jasper Pääkkönen) speculate that they will have to overcome the Lothbroks one day – perhaps soon – in order for Harald to become king of Norway (which, by the way, he does). Finally it is a reference to Ragnar’s crossing from this life into Valhalla, and for my money, the segments of the show that deal with Ragnar are the best.
First, though, let’s look at what’s happening in Wessex. Do you recall the very first image of King Ecbert (Linus Roache) back in Season 2? He looked like this.
Now he looks ancient, emaciated, and almost non compos mentis.
What a terrific job the make-up team has done, consistently, on this show. Ecbert’s ageing is merely one example of their expertise. It’s also an example of Roache’s fine acting.
And although we worried last week that Ecbert had been taken in by Ragnar’s promise to direct Lothbrok vengeance toward King Aella, this week he agrees with his son Æthelwulf (Moe Dunford) that the Vikings will return…and he makes Æthelwulf responsible for the defence of Wessex while Ecbert intends to spend his time teaching Alfred. We have to wonder, is this a kind of mad Lear moment for Ecbert, or – because Ecbert has used his son as a fall guy before – is this cunning?
In Kattegat there is plenty of family drama. Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) and Sigurd (David Lindström) appear to be under constant guard (shield maidens eyeing them while they are bathing, poor guys), and they have two big worries. First, that Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) might kill them. Second, that Ivar-the-Loose-Cannon might do something that will trigger Lagertha’s wrath. This is borne out when Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) challenges Lagertha to single combat and, when she refuses, he promises that he will kill her.
Lagertha, though, is burdened with more than just Ragnar’s troublesome sons. She has a kingdom to govern, and she tells her people that because Kattegat is now quite wealthy, (evidenced by her gorgeous wardrobe – who knew that women dressed so well in the 9th century?) they must build defences. So the whole village gets to work.
Meantime, in a land far away, Bjorn’s ships are lost in fog. We hear what sounds like a fog horn, but is probably a shipman sounding a horn to keep the boats together in the murk, and I thought that was an interesting, plausible touch. Rollo, meantime, is using the sunstone that we saw in the very first Vikings episode to try to determine where they are. Where they find themselves, very soon, is Algeciras, Spain, across the bay from Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Series creator Michael Hirst uses the scenes in Spain to remind us of the Viking reputation for viciousness and barbarity. They attack at night, they murder, pillage, rape, and they take prisoners. But there were elements of these scenes that stretched my credulity.
Would there have been a bustling, crowded outdoor market taking place at night, even in southern Spain? Would the men in the mosque be so intent on their prayers that they wouldn’t hear a foreign tongue spoken in their holy place, and wouldn’t notice when an infidel violently kills their imam? Would the Vikings take only female prisoners when men would have been far more useful on a long voyage?
And then there is Helga’s puzzling statement that she wants a child, this in an age when the norm would have been that women were breeding almost constantly. It implies that Helga (Maud Hirst) and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) are not intimate, which is possible, given Floki’s concerns with the gods – Norse, Christian, or Muslim. This may be what we are meant to think. Still, I’m not sure.
All in all, I found the scenes in Algeciras unsatisfying. The scenes about Ragnar though, were brilliant.
In one of them Lagertha wakes up and sees Ragnar. She begs him not to forget her, to haunt her, speaking to him until the vision fades away. It is a lovely, tender moment. Later she visits the spamaðr (John Kavanaugh) and learns that he, too, has seen Ragnar. But the question she poses to him is about Ragnar’s sons.
The answer he gives her is chilling.
Finally, that one-eyed stranger who arrived at the end of last week’s episode appears again, confirming that he is Odin. He visits each of Ragnar’s sons and it is prophetic that the Lothbroks are each in the midst of warlike endeavours when they see him: Bjorn and Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) about to raid the Mediterranean, Ivar at the forge making a sword, Ubba inspecting an arrow, Sigurd sharpening an axe. We hear Ragnar’s final words again, amid thunder, lightning, and the quaking of the earth. It evokes, quite wonderfully, the very first opening scene of the series, when Odin walked among the battlefield dead beneath a glowering sky to gather warriors to his hall.
Ragnar has gone to Valhalla but his warrior sons live on. The Viking Age will continue for another five generations, and there are many more stories to tell. Stay tuned.
Patricia Bracewell is the author of the Emma of Normandy Trilogy. The latest, The Price of Blood is out now. She blogs about historical drama on her website and will be covering Vikings for Historia. Keep in touch on social media for the latest reviews.
Photos of Vikings © The History Channel