I cannot possibly write a review of this episode without including spoilers. So, if you do not want to know how Season 3 of The Vikings ends, please leave the room now.
Are they gone? Right. In this episode King Charles, doing an excellent imitation of Æthelred the Unready, bribes the Vikings to go away; Count Odo finally gets to toy with a nubile young woman (and we are not amused); Rollo reveals himself as Emma of Normandy’s great grandfather, and Ragnar plays Jack-In-The-Box. What a show!
To begin: Charles’ decision to pay off the Vikings has a historical foundation. Lots of rulers did this. The only king whose name went down in infamy for it, though, was poor Æthelred who certainly wasn’t the first to pay, although he probably paid the most. Charles gives them 5000 pounds in silver and gold. Æthelred’s final payment (of many) was 48,000 pounds in loot, so Charles has made a good bargain – or so it seems.
The show opens with the treasure boxes being delivered to the Viking camp along with the demand that they leave Frankia. Rollo tells Ragnar about the payment, but Ragnar is sick unto death, and he really doesn’t care.
But will the Vikings actually leave? We see Rollo gazing out at Paris and recalling the words of the spamaðr: If you knew what the gods have in store for you in Paris you would dance naked in the rain.
And Rollo is thoughtful, while Ragnar gives Bjorn advice on how to be a leader of men, reminding us that Ragnar is sick unto death.
In Paris, Odo is again spurned by Princess Gisla, but hard on her heels comes a lissome beauty who observes to Odo that the princess seems very boring, that he would soon tire of her, and so she offers herself as far more interesting. (Is there even a word for ‘boring’ in Old French? I doubt it.) Odo takes the lady to a torture chamber and invites her to submit to a little S&M. Does the prurient whipping that follows further the story? Not as far as I can tell. The entire sequence was pointless and unnecessary. Hirst is not at the top of his game here. Do better, Mr. Hirst.
At the Viking camp Floki begins to build one last boat for Ragnar. And we are reminded of the funeral boat from many episodes ago that was launched and set aflame. Because, you know, Ragnar is sick unto death.
A month goes by and Odo is annoyed that the Vikings are still squatting beside the Seine. Informed that King Ragnar is too ill to travel, he wants to see for himself. Ragnar is too sick to speak, (he’s sick unto death), but Bjorn relays his father’s request that he be given a Christian burial, or the Vikings won’t leave. And so it is arranged that Ragnar’s coffin, once he’s in it, and dead, will be carried to the cathedral by unarmed men for a Christian Mass.
And I’m thinking: It’s taking our Ragnar an awfully long time to die.
But in the next scene Ragnar is looking pretty dead, there in his boat-like coffin. It’s quite a lovely thing, actually. High marks to the set designers for this and for so many beautiful and remarkable things in this entire series.
Bjorn places the lid over his father, then invites Lagertha, Rollo and Floki to come in one at a time and make their final farewells. Which they do, because they all believe he’s dead.
You didn’t believe he was dead, did you? I didn’t believe he was dead. I was sitting back, arms folded, waiting for Ragnar’s Resurrection.
To his credit, Hirst took his time setting it up, toying with us. We saw the entire Viking force in procession, carrying Ragnar’s coffin to the gates of Paris. We saw the 6 unarmed Vikings set the lovely coffin upon its stand in the cathedral while the Frankish elite looked on and monks chanted a dirge. I had time to write on my notepad ‘I’m still waiting for R to…’ when Ragnar made his come-back.
Women screamed. King Charles fainted. (Really? Why is he such a buffoon? Is it meant to show the fading of Charlemagne’s line, which will soon be replaced by Hugh Capet and sons? Or is it meant to make the pagan Vikings look better than the Christians? I wonder about this with King Ecbert’s tarnished image, too.)
Minutes later, as Ragnar collapses into Bjorn’s arms and the Vikings storm past them into Paris, the spamaðr reminds us in a voice-over:
Not the living, but the dead will take Paris.
Thank you, Michael Hirst, because I’d forgotten that. And yes, the Vikings used deceit and trickery whenever they could to make it into walled cities. In the 11th century they did it in Exeter and Canterbury, so why not Paris? According to one account, Ragnar returned to Denmark with silver, gold, and a bolt from Paris’s gate.
But now the Vikings really do leave, although Rollo stays behind, intending to over-winter in Frankia and strike Paris again in the spring. Charles soon makes him an offer, though, that he can’t refuse: marriage to the Princess Gisla plus land and a title in return for defending Frankia against his brother, Ragnar.
Yes, Rollo did in fact settle in northern Frankia (in 910) with the understanding that he would defend it against other Viking raiders. The Franks referred to Rollo’s people as Northmen, which soon became Normans, and their province Normandy. According to legend, Gisla (who is herself a legend), didn’t like Rollo much and fell into disgrace for insulting her husband and so…
When Rollo is presented to Gisla as her soon-to-be-husband she gets the award for this episode’s best lines:
I would rather give my virginity and my virtue to the vilest dog than to this piece of worm meat. He disgusts me. He makes me want to vomit.
That’s all in French, of course. Rollo’s clueless response is, “Hello.” In French! Because he’s learned a thing or two from Ecbert the Awesome about speaking your enemy’s language.
Gisla, by the way, died childless. Rollo’s progeny came from his liaison with the lovely daughter of a count who fell into his hands when he sacked the city of Bayeux. Her name was Popa.
But back to our show’s final scene which takes place on Ragnar’s ship as he returns to Denmark. It is night time and everyone is asleep. Ragnar is still sick, huddled beneath blankets, but he calls Floki to him, gazes at him with that terrifying smile and says, “You killed Athelstan.” And it is not Ragnar’s face that looks out at us at the very end of this season as it has been in the past, but Floki’s. And Floki is speechless and very, very afraid, and we can hardly wait for 2016 and whatever comes next!