Most of this episode takes place in Norway. The few scenes set in Wessex and Iceland are essentially place holders, to remind us that, yes, we have characters of interest there.
In Wessex King Æthelwulf is still training his eldest son to be a warrior. The more cerebral son, Alfred, opines to his mother that what the Saxons really need is a fleet of ships to keep the viking hordes from landing. “Once they’re here,” he says, “it’s too late.” This is a nice nod to historical accuracy. It was Alfred who first established a navy to protect his coastlines.
In Iceland Floki and his raven are still having to listen to rumblings of discontent from Eyvind and his family. Aud the Deep-minded and her father, Kjetell, continue to support Floki who should have carefully sieved out naysayers like Eyvind from the flock before he left Kattegat. But if he had, the show runners wouldn’t have any conflict other than survival to play with. Survival, though, when winter hits Iceland, is likely to loom large in this plot.
The big story, though, is in Norway where the preparations for internecine war are taking place on both sides. Ivar is pretty jovial about it, looking forward to killing Lagertha and to having a warrior Saxon bishop with a magical sword on his side. He’s the only one who seems to be reveling in pre-battle glee, though, and Bishop Heahmund, in particular, isn’t in a jolly mood. In Kattegat, faces are grim as farewells are exchanged. It is only Ivar who thinks that the coming battle is a joke.
When the armies face off at Scar Mountain, Lagertha who, like Aud the Deep-Minded, is practical and logical, insists that it’s wrong for Ragnar’s sons to be trying to slaughter each other. She calls for a parley which takes place the next day. Meantime Hvitserk and Halfdan are exchanged as hostages, which allows each camp to try to convince them to switch sides. One argument is the same on both sides: brothers don’t want to kill brothers. Lagertha, though, wants to avoid needless slaughter while Ivar just wants to win. Last episode there were lots of hints that someone might turn traitor, but nobody does. In case you are wondering where Bishop Heahmund’s recital in Old English comes from, he seems to be preparing himself for battle by murmuring Psalm 2. And why not? King David, who wrote the psalms, was a great warrior.
The setting for the parley is awesome and totally unhistorical. Gold banners for Harald’s team and blue banners for Lagertha’s team. What are they supposed to have done? Arranged ahead of time who would be blue, and who would be gold? Please. Yes, there would have been be banners in the 9th century, but they would all have been different. Each warlord would have had his own.
The parley begins, with everyone but Harald looking for a way to avoid a battle. The arguments are, effectively, directed at a silent Ivar. Bjorn finally voices what they all know. It’s up to Ivar to decide. And Ivar is loving it. He’s THE MAN. They are all hanging on his decision.
And Ivar announces that there will be no battle. He is honey-tongued. He says he still hates himself for killing Sigurd and this would be ten times worse; he renounces his oath to kill Lagertha; yada yada yada.
Did you believe a single word? I didn’t.
When everyone has a cup of mead to celebrate amity, Ivar changes his tune. There is no reasoning behind it, and we have to presume that, given the gleeful mood he brought with him to this occasion, he just enjoyed yanking their chains.
The Battle of the Brothers is on.
The battle itself takes up the last twelve minutes of the show. The cast of extras is large, and allows for both sides to send in more than one wave of warriors. Plus there are more warriors hiding in the woods. It’s a giant melee, though, rather than shield wall facing shield wall. How did they know who was who? Still, it’s visually effective, if you like that sort of thing – lots of fierce sword and shield fighting. Nobody wears a helmet or mail, though. Also, there are no archers to speak of and no spearmen. You can’t have everything, I guess.
Miraculously, none of the major figures is hurt in the battle except for the bishop. (Is there a message there?) At one point he takes note of Lagertha, and afterwards she’s the one who discovers him, finds he’s alive, and won’t let Ubba kill him. I was hoping that would happen. I’d like to see how these two deal with each other.
Do you remember what Bjorn said last episode about what this battle would be like? “It will be like Ragnarok. Ivar will be like the wolf Fenrir, with flames in his eyes as he tries to tear the sky apart!”
Except, Ivar isn’t even there. He’s taken off with a third of the army to protect the ships, only he doesn’t even do that. He stops to listen to the battle, but refuses to go back when the horn sounds calling for aid.
So, in the end, it’s Ivar who loses the battle of the brothers.
Sorry, Ivar. The joke’s on you.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel