Even though viewers have much more investment in the exploits of the sons of Ragnar, the situation in Kattegat bears examination and a bit of praise. With Harald, Ivar, and Erik now dead, Queen Ingrid’s rise to power is now complete, and if the cries of “Long live the queen” are a true indicator of the people’s feelings towards their new leader, we can only speculate what changes lie ahead in Kattegat. We have no doubt that Gunnhild would have successfully led the village into the future, but the question we’re left with is whether the witch Ingrid not only deserves to wear the crown but possesses the wherewithal to carry out the duties the people deserve. Will she rule through fear or love? Have her experiences and those of her freed slave partner given them the insight and compassion to rule for the good of the people? I guess we’ll never know.
We don’t really need to go to the history books to know how the battle in Wessex is going to turn out, but this chapter of the Vikings saga is as much about the growth of King Alfred as it is about Ivar the Boneless and his brother Hvitserk. When Ivar requests a parley with Alfred and admits “we are still fighting like our fathers did,” there’s a brief moment when we think this might turn out differently than expected. Interestingly, before giving his answer to Ivar, Alfred looks to Elsewith as if he’s not certain how to respond. She’s made plain her feelings about her husband’s apparent weaknesses, and whether her steely stare buoys his spirits or not, his refusal reminds us that this is the man who eventually carries the label “the Great” along with his name.
A good portion of the episode is devoted to the battle with Alfred’s Saxon army, and while there’s nothing new here, Hirst, once again, delivers a solid action sequence that makes judicious use of slow motion and quick flashbacks that provide a call back to pivotal moments in the characters’ lives. However, it’s the moments of doubt both Alfred and Ivar struggle with that stand out as they question whether their god is truly with them in this life and death encounter. Ivar remembers the pain of Hvitserk’s desertion to Ubbe only to have his older brother jump ship at the last moment to stay with him in Kattegat. Though he fears the All Father has abandoned him here, we see he still holds out hope that the tide of the battle will change with Divine intervention.
The Lothbrok brothers have enjoyed a tenuous relationship, but as both sense death just around the corner, we’re given a moving exchange when Ivar tells Hvitserk to leave the battle and save himself. This simple gesture is likely the catalyst that propels Hvitserk onto his new path, but it also appears to give Ivar the strength to make his last stand. As he cries out “I will live forever,” it’s difficult to forget the similar ravings of Prince Oleg just before his death at the hands of his nephew. And even though we really don’t need the explanation, it’s a nice touch to have Hvitserk recount that “one day everyone will know of Ivar the Boneless.”
Entering this battle we are fairly certain King Harald doesn’t plan to return alive to Kattegat, and while Ivar’s death doesn’t come as a complete surprise, it’s narrative execution does. We see his leg and will give way several times during the battle, but it’s his final stand that’s a bit puzzling as he allows a young Saxon soldier free rein to kill him. “Don’t be afraid,” Ivar tells the man, but the complexity of this brief scene also includes Alfred who witnesses the event from mere yards away. Despite viewing the Vikings as savages, Alfred watches the tender scene as Hvitserk holds his dying brother in his arms. “Just leave me here with my brother for a moment,” he tells the now kneeling king, who is so moved by what he sees that he immediately crosses himself. As the camera zooms out to an aerial shot looking down on the three men and Alfred’s burning cross, we can’t help but view this as the Christian God and the Norse gods looking down on these brave soldiers.