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VIKINGS 4 Recap, Episode 15: ALL HIS ANGELS

4-15vikingsaSpoiler Alert! Reader Beware.

As the episode opens, King Ecbert (Linus Roache) has decided to deliver his ‘frenemy’ Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) into the hands of King Aella, who will very happily kill the viking leader. Tormented by guilt at this decision, Ecbert agrees to Ragnar’s request to speak alone with his son before Ecbert sends Ivar back to Kattegat. Ecbert’s distress about Ragnar’s coming death makes him a more sympathetic character in these last two episodes than the sly, devious king we have seen in the past. His decision to trust Ragnar alone with Ivar, though, is a big mistake.

Elsewhere in the palace, Alfred (Isaac O’Sullivan) and Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) are playing chess. Given that this is the 9th century, a game of taefl is far more likely, but chess pieces are more photogenic.

4-15chess-1aIt appears that young Alfred unexpectedly outmaneuvers Ivar in the game, and this might very well be a portent of a future battle of wits between these two. Stay tuned.

When Ivar and Ragnar have their private meeting, Ragnar urges his son  to “Take revenge for my death on King Ecbert, not on King Aelle” – despite Ragnar’s assurance to Ecbert that he would tell Ivar to do the exact opposite. Ragnar, you see, has an entire wiped-out settlement to avenge – a blood feud, if you will. Revenge was an important concept in Dark Age society, and Ragnar remains true to his Viking nature (and to his gods) in urging vengeance against Ecbert.

Before Ragnar is sent away he gives Alfred the cross that belonged to the monk Athelstan. “It was your father’s,” Ragnar says, and Alfred doesn’t even blink. Apparently this Alfred, whose parentage is purely an invention of series creator Michael Hirst, knows that Æthelwulf is not his father and King Ecbert is not his grandfather, which means that he has NOT A SINGLE DROP OF WEST-SAXON ROYAL BLOOD IN HIS VEINS. But it doesn’t seem to bother him or anybody else. He is SPECIAL, apparently by royal decree.

At this point we are given just the merest glimpse of Alfred’s older brother, Æthelred, who is a composite of all four of the historical Alfred’s older brothers. As the other three were named Æthelstan, Æthelbald, and Æthelberht, you should be grateful for this.

At this point we know what absolutely has to happen next because the sagas tell us that Ragnar will die in King Aella’s snake pit. But the road leading to Ragnar’s End is dark, pitiless and grim.

4-15ragnar1aHe is beaten, stabbed, and burned, and his right eye badly injured before he is dropped into the pit. The scenes are horrific, but the script is excellent and gripping, with fine acting by Roache and Fimmel (who did all his own stunt work, by the way; this show is tough on its actors). The only bright moments of this episode are Ragnar’s memories of his family, his youthful exploits, and his friendship with Athelstan.

The conflict between the Christian and Norse religions – a theme that runs through this entire series – permeates this episode. King Aella (Ivan Kaye) sees himself as God’s instrument. “I thank God and all his angels that I am still alive to witness this day,” he says, and lucky Ragnar is given the opportunity, through torture, to atone for his crimes. Three times (that mystical number) Aella demands that Ragnar ask for absolution, but Ragnar never yields. In reality, Aella wants to break Ragnar, not redeem him. He wants vengeance – as important to an Anglo-Saxon as it was to a Scandinavian; Aella has simply put a Christian spin on it. While he prays for deliverance from evil and violent men, Aella is himself evil and violent, and he relishes his violence. Brutality and cruelty were the norm in the Dark Ages, not the exception, no matter which god you followed.

King Ecbert, though, is driven to self-imposed penance because of his guilt about Ragnar. Dressed in the robes of a monk he walks to Mercia to witness Ragnar’s death – a hike that had to be at least fifty miles and possibly more, depending on where in Mercia Aella was staying. Ecbert seems to be searching for something as he watches Ragnar’s dying face. Forgiveness, perhaps. His expression, though, implies that he does not find it.


Throughout this episode Ragnar seems to be torn between belief in his Norse gods and an utter denial of the existence of any god. On the road, he imagines a conversation with the spamaðr, and he boasts to him that he, Ragnar, has been the master of his own fate; that the gods are man’s creation. Or does he protest too much? His final words are what he has told Ecbert they would be – he speaks of Odin’s Hall, where he will await the arrival of his sons, and he welcomes the Valkyries to summon him home. Perhaps this is nothing more than bravado tossed in Aella’s face; perhaps it is meant to be repeated to Ragnar’s sons and his people. But even if Ragnar does not believe his own words, he dies a pagan, true to his Viking nature.

Our blue-eyed boy is gone, although Hirst claims that we have not seen the last of Ragnar. And we have Ragnar’s own blue-eyed boy to replace him. Has anyone else noticed the blue cast to Ivar’s eyes in every scene?

When Ivar arrives in Kattegat he tells Ubbe and Sigurd of their father’s fate and they in turn tell him that Lagertha murdered their mum. Vengeance, Ivar says, is what matters. That merciless Dark Age concept will continue to drive this story forward.

Meantime, we are given an additional mystery: who is the one-eyed man we see sailing into Kattegat beneath a flock of Odin’s ravens?


Photos of Vikings © The History Channel

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6 Responses to VIKINGS 4 Recap, Episode 15: ALL HIS ANGELS

  1. Patricia Mayhew says:

    King Ecbert gets Athelstan’s own monk’s habit and hooded cloak and walks penance barefoot. I believe he is truly tormented by what he has been forced to do to his frenemy as you call him, Ragnar. I will post my thoughts on this tomorrow.

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Patricia. I think you’re right about the habit. Ecbert went into the Scriptorium for it. The pedant in me thought: what a dumb place to have a habit. But they were trying to link it to Athelstan, as you point out.

      I, too, saw Ecbert’s bare feet as he walked on the beach (several times). But in the woods he wore sandals. I agree with you; I think Ecbert was tormented about Ragnar. His reference to Pontius Pilate makes that clear. I really feel that as these two men face death (and Ecbert is aging, so he knows death is near), they become closer to their gods. I think Hirst is allowing his audience to believe whatever they wish to believe about Ragnar’s thoughts about the afterlife. That was left open to interpretation.

  2. Susan Johnson says:

    I just wonder about the show without Ragnar. I’m not sure I’ll be as interested. Flimmel has done such an excellent job and I am truly shocked he has not been nominated for some prize. I saw him on a talk show (with mismatched shoes) and he said he rents a cabin without electricity or running water so he can get into character while shooting. This is also the best acting Roache has done in my opinion. I could barely breathe in this last episode. It was so captivating.

  3. Kirsten says:

    This was indeed very grim and hard to watch as I didn’t want to see Ragnar go. Didn’t it occur to Aelle that Ragnar’s sons would be coming for revenge? Was he so intent on torturing and killing Ragnar? I was entranced by Travis Fimmel’s performance, so much so that it was excruciating to watch at times. Also Linus Roache was superb as well. Unfortunately I still find the character of Alfred jarring, it’s just so wrong to mess around with history to that extent.

    • Patricia says:

      Regarding King Aelle, according to the sagas he killed Ragnar in just this way as I’m sure you know. (Although, probably without the praying that we saw). This story is told only from the Scandinavian point of view, and written down of course hundreds of years after the events occurred, assuming they ever occurred at all. The poets who told this story didn’t really care what Aelle thought. They were seeing it all from the Viking side and they wanted to tell a ripping good story. I’m really enjoying Hirst’s take on it, which is a mash-up of saga, history and his own storytelling. And of course, I love that despite Ecbert’s grief at Ragnar’s death, he is fine with arranging things so that Aelle gets stuck doing the deadly deed. While you and many others hate to see Ragnar go, I’m dreading the eventual loss of Ecbert/Linus Roache. He is such a cunning character, but he can’t live forever. I agree with you about Alfred. Still sets my teeth on edge that he’s even born yet.

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