Ragnar to Rollo: When everyone wanted you dead, I kept you alive! This is how you repay my love?
The main theme of this episode is Ragnar’s conflict: with his brother, with the French, with his wife, and especially with his addiction. This episode is all Ragnar, and Travis Fimmel portrays him brilliantly as haunted, despairing and ravaged.
Clive Standen as Rollo merely has to stand on a tower looking mournful and occasionally raising his finger to direct his men.
Over in England, Linus Roche as Ecbert, wearing 14th century mail and a gorgeous cloak, has merely to listen attentively as he is offered the crown of Mercia on a platter. In Kattegat Aslaug watches benignly as Halbard comforts the women that the Viking warriors have left behind. They are place holders this week, because this episode belongs to Ragnar, and actor Fimmel is at the top of his game.
As for the historicity of this attack on Paris, you can find tidbits if you look really hard. Details seem to be drawn from an account of the vikings’ 885-86 siege of the city. The French had erected a tower on the Seine, and they used it, along with a bridge, to keep the attackers at bay for months. So here we see two towers, although in my imagination the tower at Paris was much larger and higher, and it was very close to the city itself. You can see them in the image below.
In 885 the Parisians used trebuchets to fling stones and flammables at the vikings, and Rollo does the same here, flinging sacks of oil at Ragnar’s ships and setting them aflame.
Historically, the Norsemen would have fortified their camps in case of enemy attack, but Ragnar has not done this – a sign, perhaps, of his deteriorating mental skills brought about by his addiction. Nor did he send out scouts to explore the area around the tower before his land force attacked and found themselves in a marsh, another error that attests to his failing mental powers.
At the end of the show Ragnar is talking to a severed head, but hey, we’ve seen him do that before. (Has he shellacked this thing, so he can carry it around with him?)
It is clear from the previews that Ragnar will be blamed for this defeat, but the title of next week’s show, PORTAGE, implies that he might pull a rabbit out of a hat. When the vikings were frustrated at Paris in 885, some of them pulled their boats out of the Seine, dragged them around Paris (portage), and plundered further up river. That may be what Ragnar does next or, as happened in 886, the fleet may split up and leaders take their ships in different directions with some remaining at Paris to carry on the attack.
Post battle, Floki’s bizarre in-body experience as Halbard is difficult to read. Is this Halbard-as-Odin channeling comfort to Floki? Or is it Floki’s nascent power as a spamaðr connecting him to Halbard-Odin? Or is it a little of both? As usual, we are left with hints and questions that will keep us tuning in to get the answers.