“Let us not be afraid, but rather more watchful – and ultimately decisive.”
King Eckbert’s reaction to Ragnar and his horde invading Wessex is as calculated as it is chilling. Vikings, the Other, who show no respect for Christian churches and don’t think twice about bumping off bishops, normally send Englishmen running, panicked. Eckbert, on the other hand, lies back in his bath and welcomes the challenge.
If Rollo has until now provided the physical threat to match Ragnar, Eckbert is Lothbrok’s intellectual opposite, ambitious and confident. But unlike Ragnar, who pauses mid-pillaging to hide a child from the slaughter, Eckbert has no qualms about innocents dying to achieve his aims; it’s only fitting that his introduction should be heralded by an episode titled Treachery. Indeed, the third entry in Season 2 of Vikings is full of it.
While Ragnar’s raiding is full of blood and blades, though, Vikings shows its dramatic mettle by continuing to focus on character more than action. Most fascinating of all is George Blagden’s Athelstan, who hacks and slashes his way through his former countrymen – only to see a bishop tortured by his new brothers in arms. That contrast is played up throughout the episode. “It is a place of great pilgrimage,” says Athelstan sincerely, as they eye up Winchester. “But will there be treasure?” comes the irreverent reply. Later, he swears his loyalty to Odin, before offering a whispered Latin blessing to the fatally wounded priest.
It may not be subtle, literally showing Athelstan’s beliefs being battered by barbarians, but it’s a hugely effective display of his divided morals; treachery against his old life, while simultaneously betraying his new one. Taunted frequently by Floki, Blagden’s facial expressions constantly convey a balance of fear and belonging, faith and doubt.
But he’s not the only one experiencing a turning point. While Ragnar’s busy rummaging through Wessex’s treasure chests, disgraced brother Rollo is in Kattegat where, inevitably, Jarl Borg is planning revenge for being kicked out of the raiding party.
Clive Standen’s manly presence is ready to stand up for his home, surrounded by woman, children and farmers. His decision not to side with Borg’s betrayal, despite their earlier truce, suggests the start of a long road towards redemption. Judging by the brutally of the violence, though, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Vikings’ most exciting moment, though, arrives when we finally catch up with Bjorn. Played by Alexander Ludwig (from The Hunger Games), the all-grown-up son of Ragnar is your typical grumpy teenager, unhappy with his step-dad, Jarl Sigard, who’s mistreating Lagertha (the fiery Kathryn Winnick). Unlike your typical teenage, though, he’s a Lothbrok – and he knows it.
Proud and determined to escape his new home, Bjorn embodies Vikings’ best qualities: not afraid, watchful and ultimately decisive. The prospect of him catching up with his dad is thrilling – treachery, you sense, won’t just be restricted to Episode 4.
Want more Vikings? Read our interview with creator Michael Hirst.
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