Last week we saw two journeys play out on History Channel’s Vikings and this week we saw two confrontations unfold that have been simmering for a few seasons of now.
First, we have a final confrontation between the warrior Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and the winner gets to rule over Kattegat, fulfilling the Seer’s (John Kavanagh) prophecy.
One thing is for certain, each woman will be playing to their strengths. The other is between Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as he and his son Ivar (Alex Høgh Anderson) claw their way to the front door of the kingdom of Wessex.
The first to answer Ragnar’s knock is Prince Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford) who lets Ragnar know who is in charge, beating him in front of Ivar. Then our Viking king is thrown into a cage, too short to stand in and delivered to King Ecbert.
Ragnar is assured that Ivar has not been harmed before he has a heart-to-heart over dinner and drinks to discuss his arrival, the lost settlement, and meet his bastard son, Magnus, to which we have a surprising outcome.
The conversation becomes more passionate and respectful once Ecbert lets Ragnar out of his cage and the wine flows endlessly. Ragnar pleads to Ecbert that he must decide his fate and kill him.
Ebert does what he can to skirt the responsibility and find a way to let Ragnar go free, but he insists that he must do this and prepare for the revenge attack that his sons will enact once they hear of his death.
Meanwhile, back in Kattegat, the aftermath of Lagertha and Aslaug’s conflict continues and now the consequences begin to set in after the dust has settled. It’s becoming clearer by the episode that actions may not have been thought all the way through. With Ragnar’s fate hanging in the balance, the tension in Kattegat heightened, and Bjorn and his armada far removed from his either of his parents to help.
The urgency of Season 4B has never been this intense and the events we are leading to were brewing for a long time, since Season 2.
Is Ragnar just scheming again or has he really found a way to write his ending? Whatever did Ragnar and King Ecbert talk about? And if two women head into a circle each armed with a sword, does a sword fight ensue?
TV critics Ernie Estrella and April Neale discuss the episode 414, In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning, and break down its key points at length.
April Neale: The exclusive clip we got for this episode foreshadowed the elephant in the room. I know one of your favorites on the series has been killed, cowardly shot in the back. Do you think that Lagertha really had no other choice, or was that decision made in decades of seething and rage filled hatred that clouded her better judgment?
Ernie Estrella: I think Aslaug put the ball in her court. I don’t think it should go unnoticed that there were hundreds of witnesses who watched it play out. Emotion definitely got the better of her, but she could have easily let her slide, but we know what burns in Lagertha, what she wanted back. There was no way Aslaug would get by without feeling her wrath. There was no way for Lagertha to get that out of her system without ending her life. Apparently, she’s not a fan of day drinking.
AN: Another thing, the “Usurper – Usurped” moment, and how Aslaug tried to deflect her ‘bewitching” Ragnar, in a sense and if we remember, she certainly bewitched him in the moment albeit with her beauty, not any witchcraft. The Seer was in key scenes observing, Do you think that he disapproved of Lagertha’s tactics to overtake Kattegat?
Also, all the killing in the village…wouldn’t there be people left behind who now harbor a great hatred for Lagertha after she raided and murdered so many Kattegat residents?
EE: Yeah, I’m sure there was a lot of selective killing. Maybe she targeted all of those who gentrified Kattegat or had a two-year lease on their homes. I was puzzled by that but that along with the public slaying of Aslaug may work against Lagertha, as well as keeping Ubbe and Sigurd under lock and key. Surely, they’re going to be pissed someone killed their mom.
We’ve seen it play out with Earl Haraldson, Jarl Borg, and King Horik that this was a society where you must always keep one eye on your back because your worst enemy was your own and I was worried to see Kattegat get so large, wondering if they would be susceptible to attack. King Harald and Halfdan have been tearing their way through Scandinavia. It’s just their sport, their way of life. So Kattegat was ripe for the taking, it always has, but I just didn’t expect it to be Lagertha.
The Seer may have seen it differently, maybe not, but I think the strongest surviving is the way things are done there. I don’t think it’s any less admirable than seeing Aslaug be a bad ruler. But Lagertha has got to establish order quickly, though, let her know how her rule over Kattegat will be different and earn that trust because I imagine it’s tense right now.
AN: Let’s jump over to Wessex. Another problematic character, Aethelwulf, Ecbert’s son, really gave it to Ragnar. I thought he was going to be beaten to death in front of Ivar.
EE: Yeah, Aethelwulf had too much fun beating on him. As a fan, I’ll be rooting for the Heathen Army to go after him.
AN: We both know that Ecbert missed Ragnar and that they are equals. And they both loved Athelstan and miss him. This was as much a reunion of two great leaders as it was a grief therapy session. I love how Linus Roache has approached playing this old English king, and the decisions he must make now are Ragnar’s fate.
How did you process the scene where Ragnar says “give me to Aelle” so that his conscience will be free. Then he warns Ecbert that once his sons find out about his death that they will come for blood and “rip the lungs out” of those responsible. I really hope there isn’t another blood eagle ceremony in the works…
EE: Ahhhh, how great is Linus Roache? I mean, he is absolutely at his finest in this scene. The stuff with Judith is a head scratcher, but I’ve been waiting for him and Ragnar to confront each other and have this meeting of the minds.
But yes, I was wondering how the show was going to steer towards Aelle eventually for those who have looked in the history books already know, but we’re going to be seeing more of Aelle in the present and future. We are definitely building towards the Heathen Army though and for Ragnar’s sons to get their shit together and take the Viking Age to another level.
Ecbert would have looked weak in the eye of his followers to just let Ragnar walk away, especially knowing what Aethelwulf might do, so this was a helluva Hail Mary if you will, by Ecbert to skirt the guilt of Ragnar’s fate. He hasn’t given him much choice but he doesn’t really want to seal it. He respects him way too much.
AN: Linus Roache is my favorite next to Fimmel’s Ragnar. He shows the pain of this nondecision or by default, the handover to Aelle being mulled seriously at Ragnar’s direction. But you can see these men have few of their equal and they enjoy each others fellowship and friendship, and their common love for Athelstan.
These were the intellects, the rulers, and the thinkers of their time. They had huge pragmatic balls and took what they wanted and successfully ruled in their own time. Ecbert has missed him and is now grieving the fact he is going to miss Ragnar even more once his fate is sealed. He enjoys Ragnar’s company more than his own son. The confessional scene with Roache talking to God is one of my favorite moments in the entire episode.
EE: I’m so glad we didn’t see a battle between these two, not in the traditional sense. They really see the world very similarly and are glad to be in the company of another man who isn’t afraid to be a yes man. I stood up and clapped when Ecbert said that Vikings are obsessed with Valhalla and this crazy notion of the Great Hall and dining together, while Ragnar talks about Christians being equally obsessed with living their lives for Heaven as this place of eternal happiness.
Ragnar’s willing to be open to the idea that their both wrong, and that makes the present that much more valuable. I really loved that. Was there any part of this scene that stood out to you?
AN: Oh the great “You only talk about death and Valhalla is ridiculous” remark by Roache was wonderful, The conversation too where Ragnar explains why Floki killed Athelstan and dismissed Ecbert’s notion it was Norse god driven but human jealousy. And then him admitting he was jealous when Athelstan picked Ragnar over him in the end to part from Wessex. Be honest, did you tear up when Ragnar met Alfred, Athelstan’s son?
EE: Well, I didn’t tear up but all the feelings rushed into my face and heart. It was close. I mean this was a beautiful gesture on Ecbert to let him meet him and for Ragnar to hug him. Let’s not overlook how important it was to have children back then, that people live on through their children and all of the spiritual lineages that is kept through biological legacy. I have to admit, I was touched by that scene to no end but one thought came to my mind as Ragnar’s unwieldily beard engulfed Alfred… was the B.O. How about you?
AN: Right? You know these guys reeked to high heaven! I guess if everyone smells then it’s no big? But those bear hugs were brutal I am sure, a dirty old Viking who didn’t get let out for bathroom breaks in his cage for days…man.
EE: Now we don’t REALLY know if Ragnar and Kwenthrith actually did it. He may not have wanted to deal with another kid in that moment as you can feel him reconciling his life with Ivar, but when Ragnar loves someone, you can feel his sincere concern. I think Ragnar was being truthful though because when he was confronted about it by Bjorn, his first reaction was to laugh. But that disconnect isn’t present in this scene. Ragnar cared for this boy instantly because he felt like he was reunited with Athelstan, that his friend didn’t die after all and that may help put him at rest with what’s up ahead.
There isn’t any other relationship that I pined for throughout the show than Ragnar and Athelstan. To me, it held the glue together for Ragnar than a Ragnar-Lagertha relationship would have ever been had Aslaug never entered the picture. I think it’s just beautiful to see male friend bromance relationships explored deeply but aren’t necessarily sexual. These days I think the impulse is to assume that, and when it’s valid, I love to see complex gay relationships unfold in television, but I never got that here. I think Athelstan was someone Ragnar genuinely enjoyed his company, his knowledge and pushing back when he would nudge him.
Their conversations on religion and life are the richest material in Seasons 1 and 2 and I think that may be why we have this incredible scene between Ecbert and Ragnar. Wine is involved, but these two men respect each other and my favorite moments in life are when I had great conversations with friends and meeting of the minds with those I respect. I don’t think there could have been a better “confrontation” between these two.
AN: I said this in the IndieWire article I did with other critics about the best families on TV, sometimes our closest family are the friends we bond with, not our blood. For Ragnar and Ecbert, both of them had equally curious and intellectual minds and Athelstan fed them and made them think and more, he created a sense of place, a world of wonder and hope that good would overrule evil in their rule on earth. the three were in many ways cut from the same cloth. Athelstan is missed by me too!
EE: The biggest takeaway that I get from this episode though is Ragnar setting up his revenge which as you’ve said, he’s already telling Ecbert play by play that it is going to happen and that his sons are going to slaughter Wessex and Mercia. That feels like we’re going to see the moment we’ve been dreading in the next episode if in fact Ragnar is delivered to King Aelle. I am saddened though that this event is going to happen with no one else by his side, maybe Ivar, but I wonder if we will see at least one final scene between Ragnar and Ivar before he’s sent back to Kattegat. To have that fuel and that anger and then come home to find out Aslaug is dead? This season is going to come off the rails!
AN: I am bracing for Fimmel’s exit as King Ragnar. His work over the course of the series is award worthy and I truly think some of the best actors we get to enjoy on this medium are not given their due. I don’t know why. As for Ivar, he loved both his parents and he is going to unleash the both the hounds and Kraken from hell once he learns how his mother was killed. The boys will mount the biggest battle scene I think we have ever seen on this series. I also wonder how Lagertha will be dealt with.
Vikings airs on Wednesdays at 9/8c only on History.