In watching this episode, I was particularly struck by the way children are used to bolster conflict and to convey the theme of betrayal that runs all the way through.
It begins right away with Lagertha who gives this advice to young Guthrum, son of Torvi and Erlandur.
Keep your friends very close because some will die too soon… And the others, the others will betray you.
She could have added, Some friends will betray you and because of that they will die too soon, since she was standing on the grave of the lover who betrayed her and paid the price.
In the next scene Ragnar bestows arm rings on two of his sons, boys who look to be about 9 and 10. The rings are a sign of the boys’ allegiance to their king and father, Ragnar. If you swear an oath on this ring, Ragnar tells them, you must keep your word, or you will sacrifice your honor and your place in Valhalla.
These words add import to something we saw in an earlier episode, when Rollo gave his arm ring to Gisla. It was a pledge of his fidelity to her and to Frankia; yet at the same time he was breaking his oath to his king and brother (and by the way, this would not be the first time that Rollo has betrayed Ragnar.) By the end of this episode the stakes for Rollo are enormous as, with Ragnar’s fleet en route and Paris at stake, the emperor tells him You are the difference between failure and triumph. Rollo will once again be put to the test, forced to choose between betraying his new family or his old one. No pressure, Rollo.
But, back to Kattegat and the sons of Ragnar. They are an endless source of conflict between Ragnar and Aslaug. He dismisses her objections that they are too young to go with him to Paris, and gets in a dig about her affair last season with Halbard. This was a betrayal that Ragnar cannot seem to forgive or forget, but for Aslaug that liaison was all bound up with her love for her damaged son Ivar – still suckling, by the way, at age 5.
And when, after Ragnar leaves, Halbard shows up again and is greeted happily by Aslaug, Ragnar would certainly see this as another betrayal. (Bear in mind that Halbard is the name that Odin uses when in disguise, so there is an element of the mystical about him, and Aslaug certainly believes that he has healing powers.) Ivar greets Halbard with giggles that are creepily reminiscent of Floki’s and that just adds to Ivar’s strangeness.
Over in Wessex, Ecbert the Awesome has decided to send 6 year old Alfred on a pilgrimage to Rome, and says that Æthelwulf will go along to protect the child.
Alfred’s response is to run and hide in a corner and no wonder, since this character has been wrenched from his own historical timeline. Of course he’s freaked out. Yes, Alfred made that journey to Rome with his father Æthelwulf, but by that time Ecbert was long dead and Alfred’s grown brothers were already ruling territories in England. And on their way home the company stopped in Paris where Æthelwulf, probably in his sixties, met and married a 12-year-old Judith who was NOT Alfred’s mum, although in this show she is his mum while Æthelwulf who was his father isn’t, so no wonder the poor kid is weirded out. But yes, Ecbert did in fact attack Mercia, and in this VIKINGS’version of history, by sending Æthelwulf with Alfred on an 1100 mile walk, the wily Ecbert has cleverly deprived Queen Kwenthrith of her lover and defender (although Kwenthrith was never really a queen and is just as lost in time as Alfred), and thus Ecbert has paved the way for his betrayal of Kwenthrith and his conquest of Mercia.
There will be 20 episodes of Vikings this season (10 + 10) and there will be an 8-year time jump, presumably in between; the younger characters that have been introduced will step into larger roles. So, ignore the wibbly-wobbly convoluted historical timeline and get ready for more betrayals and more conflict set in a time when war never ends.