If you missed the first season or the first episodes of Season 2, do not despair! All of the earlier episodes are available for watching on The History Channel website. (U.S.) Plus there are character outlines, photos and special web videos on the site. Just the photos alone are worth exploring because the sets and the costumes on this show are stunning. Again, highly recommended.
At the beginning of the series I was especially drawn to the bright blue eyes of Ragnar Lothbrok (actor Travis Fimmel). You can read my 2013 post about Ragnar and Season One here. This season, though, Ragnar has a rival in a new character, King Ecbert (Linus Roache). We first see this king of Wessex when a soldier invades Ecbert’s privacy to tell him that Vikings have invaded his kingdom. Ecbert is in his bath, which looks something like the picture below, only without all the people standing about:
King Ecbert – handsome, gleaming wet, a golden chain around his neck even in the bath – gazes up at the messenger who is no doubt tongue-tied at seeing his king in the all together, and before the soldier can say a word Ecbert gives what is hand’s down, the best line in this episode: “What on earth has caused you to bring your muddy boots into my bath house?”
Yes, I’m going to love Ecbert. No question about it! So, who was this Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex? Well, for starters, he was the grandfather of Alfred the Great, and he ruled in Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. He was a mighty king, and is credited with establishing Wessex as the dominant power in southern England. (In my novel SHADOW ON THE CROWN, the character of Ecbert, Æthelred’s second son, is named after this king.) As a very young man Ecbert tried to stake his claim as king of the West Saxons, but he failed and was driven out of England. He went across the sea to the court of Charlemagne and stayed there for three years. Charlemagne’s palace at Aachen had thermal baths, and this may explain Ecbert’s fondness for bathing. (Nice touch, History Channel!) You can still bathe at Aachen today, if you wish.
Presumably Ecbert learned a great many things at Charlemagne’s court. You remember Charlemagne. He built an empire that covered much of western Europe. So, when the king of Wessex was accidentally poisoned by his wife (Accidentally? Right, like we believe that!) Ecbert, probably with Charlemagne’s blessing, scurried back to Wessex and claimed the throne. He was ambitious. Eventually he would extend his rule over all of southern England and Mercia, and in 829 he received the submission of the Northumbrians as well.
I don’t know what’s in store for Ecbert in the coming episodes of The Vikings, but the previews look intriguing. I saw a shot of Ragnar and Ecbert in the bath together, presumably taking each others measure, so to speak. (!!!)
Hopefully the English will make a better show of force than they did in this second episode. They had the advantage of surprise, of scale armor and helmets, yet they were handily beaten by Ragnar’s Vikings, due, no doubt to the fact that this story is told from the Viking point of view. We know how THAT works. Still, I think it’s safe to say that with this new adversary, Ragnar has his work cut out for him!