Hello, fellow Vikings fans. It’s been an entire week since we last sat around this Viking-themed bonfire to discuss the oft-bizarre and oft-confounding actions that our beloved cast deem acceptable despite possible dire implications for them, their families, and their everlasting Valhalla-or-Hel-bound souls. Can you believe it? I swear, as this year goes on, weeks are slipping by faster. Or, maybe, I’m just so jazzed about this season that I can’t believe it’s almost over. After last week’s plot-building episode, we have had a lot to think about; there’s the crippled Ivar the Boneless, the possible Floki deception, the ongoing Lagertha badassery, Bjorn’s horrible pickup lines, and Athelstan’s never ending moral crisis.
Also worth mentioning? You’re incredible support through comments and shares this entire season. I’m so, so sorry I couldn’t get around to answering your comments from last week (though, as ever, they were insightful, hilarious, and fabulous), time ran away from me like an Olympic sprinter – just know that I deeply appreciate all of the support you guys always provide me.
Now, before I get overly sappy, let’s get down to some brutal Viking business!
We start this episode in Merry England, where Athelstan (George Blagden) is making great progress in the translation of manuscripts. It’s about Caesar because referencing Caesar’s war tactics in a show about pillaging and war is as original and mandatory as it gets. Then again, it wouldn’t be an Athelstan scene if clichés weren’t involved (enter: the chess board that King Ecbert plays with while Athelstan recites battle tactics). King Ecbert (Linus Roache) declares to Athelstan that they must wage war against Ragnar and these strategies will aid in said battle. Athelstan, naturally, tells Ecbert that he knows Ragnar better than to ambush his men when he was looking for land for his people to improve their livelihood. However, that’s pretty much beside the point when you take into consideration that Ecbert’s envoys were murdered with only his son being spared by the ambushers. He views it as a clear message.
From roughly half the Viking encampment, it’s a pretty true one.
Still, Athelstan asks Ecbert to allow him to speak to Ragnar. King Ecbert denies him the request, claiming that he is too important and dear to him to risk his death.
Meanwhile, at camp Viking, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) is spitting vinegar at King Horik and his charming peacekeeping antics. King Horik (Donal Logue) tells him that he never had any intention of making a truce, signing it, growing a garden filled with wheat, and living in peace with King Ecbert.
Honestly, he’s made that very clear since the second his son died. There has been absolutely nothing shocking and/or original about his revenge arc and the fact that Ragnar didn’t see this coming from an ocean away is troubling and completely unbelievable.
Be that as it may, Ragnar is shocked – shocked! – that Horik doesn’t blindly follow his lead. Lagertha asserts that if they could beat King Ecbert in battle, there’s a very good possibility that he would offer them more gold and land in their terms of agreement. Ragnar, still, is not hearing it – he views the gift of Athelstan’s bracelet as an action of good faith and peace was just around the corner. Except, you know, for the fact that it was episode 8 in a 10 episode season and there’s no way that peace can ever exist in this universe.
To hammer his point home, Horik calls on Floki’s opinion on the matter. Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) says that the Christians worship a false god so why should they be trying to be friends with them anyway? When Ragnar tells them that he will be going without them to talk to King Ecbert, Horik tells them that they won’t be dividing their resources and – since he’s king – he calls the shots; they’ll be striking Ecbert as soon as possible. The camp divides into different huffy smaller camps and the Vikings descend into sulking for various reasons.
Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) approaches his father and tells him that he can’t sleep. He’s thinking about death, about the battle, his pretty lady back home (just a guess), and his father (swaddled in a blanket and looking decidedly put out) tells him not to worry about death. Additionally, he tells Bjorn about part of the Seer’s prophecy for him. He will marry the daughter of a king – so, not Porunn? – which means that he will live through their next battle. At least.
Watching this exchange, Horik tells Floki that Bjorn reminds him of Baldr, the son of Odin and Frigg. The Gods had sworn to an oath that proclaimed no harm would come to the favorite son of Odin. Time and time again, they tried to injure Baldr, yet he was always protected. They were thrilled at this, all except for Loki, who grew jealous of the preferential treatment of Baldr (at least according to the show’s retelling) and vowed to find a way to kill him. Floki grins at the tale and how it so relates to their current situation.
Are you saying that Horik wants Floki to kill Bjorn?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I got from that scene.
Bjorn. Bjorn, the one that has loved and adored Floki his whole life? Bjorn, who looks at Floki as a member of their family? Seriously?
Well, they’ve been keeping Rollo’s character (relatively) consistent the past couple of episodes, so it falls on Floki’s shoulders to be completely inconsistent in terms of characterization, personality, backstory, and current plot. Obviously.
Excuse me, I’m going to sacrifice a friend of mine in hopes for a long con situation.
Athelstan is troubled (what’s new?) and turns to his new-old-old Christian deity for some help and guidance. He knows that under Christianity, he’s only supposed to worship one god, but he also believes in the gods of the Vikings. He’s seen Thor, he’s seen Freya – he can’t not believe in them with some part of his soul just because he’s wearing different vestments. He then prays for Ragnar’s safety, because slash fanfiction needs more canonical fuel.
The next morning, they start the war march. Ragnar looks pleased as Odin’s minions watch on. They gather in a large open field, because that’s always the best place to wage war and not become surrounded. The English have also gathered and are ready to get the party started. Before we know it, it’s fight time!
And what happens?
The Vikings get their asses handed to them in a crocheted handbasket.
The battle is arduous, gorgeously filmed (note: I love how they always give the main Vikings distinctive styles through battle; Bjorn’s incessant need to impress his father, King Horik’s creepy son’s growing brutality, Lagertha’s fabulous hair flowing through the wind as she impressively leads, Rollo doing what he does best – viciously kick ass, etc) and understandably weighty. Seriously, the Vikings get destroyed for the first time in the entire series. The remaining Vikings retreat, but not without leaving a direly wounded Rollo on the battlefield.
Instead of being killed by the roaming Christian soldiers in the aftermath, once Rollo’s identity is discovered, King Ecbert proclaims him an important man and orders that all actions are taken to keep him alive. Overhead, ravens circle the battlefield.
Also, can we mention how phenomenal the choice in music was during the battle?
I think you mean, “can we mention how phenomenal the choice in music is,” because if there is one thing this show is genius at, it’s using music to create a mood.
While I believe that this loss is an important one and it was without a doubt one of the most intense of the series so far, the sting is sort of taken out of it when you remember that they can’t have a show called Vikings without Vikings, so this setback is just that – a setback before reaching the ultimate endgoal. With that nagging in the back of my head, it was hard for me to really feel the gloomy consequences of the casualties (even if I could have sworn Rollo was actually dead for at least a minute).
Still, you feel the tense air of the Vikings as the head back to their camp totally demoralized. Ragnar puts on his sassy pants, belts them, and begins picking at the scab before the blood’s even dry. Oh, right, we totally shouldn’t have talked to them beforehand, right? Oh, right, using words to work out our feelings is totally ridiculous, huh? “Well…King. What are we fated to do?”
Some give King Horik some ice for all those ICU-level burns.
Ragnar has no concept of too soon.
Bjorn openly and angrily mourns the loss of his uncle, even though Ragnar tells him not to worry about Rollo because he’s basically the human equivalent of a sexually deviant cockroach and won’t die so easily (oh, those are my words). He goes on to announce that, because his son dodged all weapons and did not fall prey to even one stabby motion, he will forever be known as Bjorn Ironside.
Is it weird that in my head the Circle of Life started playing as I connected the dots between this fictional rendition and the historical Bjorn?
By this time, Lagertha has had enough of this backstabbing bullshittery and tells both Horik and Ragnar that they need to make decisions quickly, as they don’t have many options left.
Our Viking crew burns some ships in homage to their fallen brethren.
Those options can wait, because back at Ecbert’s kingdom King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) leading the charge on a drunken happy festival celebrating their win over the pagan northmen. Athelstan finds it entirely distasteful and finds Rollo in the infirmary, bloody, bruised, and not exactly happy to see Athelstan.
“If I had enough strength to kill you now, I would.” Yeah, I’d say the reunion wasn’t pleasant.
Without knowing what Athelstan has been up to and seeing him in his monk garb, his first inclination is that King Horik is right – he betrayed them all.
King Aelle, happy as a clam, tipsy, and with a towel slung low on his hips, feels like an unstoppable man. He storms into the public bath and gives some man hugs to those also in the water, voicing his desire to raid again and really eviscerate them while they’re down. Ecbert politely declines, saying that the decimation of one of their armies will probably not annihilate the northmen like they assume, but make them unite and grow stronger, sending back more men to take on the English.
I feel like Ecbert is vastly overestimating the amount of men the Vikings had at their disposal.
I can’t say whether or not that innate feeling is right or wrong, considering I have no idea what the Viking warrior population was in relation to the English armies at the time, but I’m viewing this more as a way for Ecbert to talk down Aelle so he can get back into the Vikings’ good graces, leading to an endgame of him using their manpower for his own devices. Aelle agrees to this tentative deal. After all, wooo! Let’s conquer Mercier!
So, Ecbert sends Athelstan to the Viking camp to work out the kinks.
Horik, his derpy son, and Floki look stoked that he’s back (not). Bjorn sees Athelstan and the monk asks him if he remembers dear old Monklestan, only for the always eloquent Bjorn to say back, “Of course I do. I wanted to kill you as a child, but then I loved you.” It’s actually really sweet. He informs the camp that Rollo is alive. Sure, he’s severely wounded, but he’s alive and being tended to – many of those in the camp are visibly relieved. Lagertha asks him why he has come and Horik declares that Athelstan does Ecbert’s bidding because “he is one of them,” which starts riling the crowd in a fairly negative way.
I’m so done with Horik’s weaksauce brand of villainy. And his homophobic jabs. Seriously, can we fucking not?
Lagertha tells Athelstan that they accept the terms to meet with Ecbert, knowing that Ragnar agrees to go and outnumbering Horik 2-1.
Ragnar walks with Athelstan away from the camp for some bromantic bonding (and protecting Athelstan from possible arrow-slung harm). He tells Athelstan that it’s good to see him and you believe it, because it’s moments like this that Travis Fimmel is at his best, the little hints of tenderness. “In the gentle fall of rain I still hear my God. In the thunder I still hear Thor,” Athelstan notes, his eyes looking up to the sky. Ragnar, limping alongside Athelstan, solemly says “Perhaps someday our gods can become friends.” When he gives Athelstan the bracelet back in that wooded area, you can’t help but feel of Athelstan – torn completely between two facets of himself, he’s really shining in this episode. In a sad, depressed, conflicted way. I missed Ragnelstan.
When word reaches Ecbert that they will be exchanging hostages while working out the kinks of the deal, he informs King Aelle that he will be serving as the hostage this time. Initially, he refuses, yet ultimately agrees to the terms.
As the core Viking group ride up to the keep, Floki voices his opinions about the situation – why should they save Rollo when he’s been so flippy floppy in the past? Why should they trust the priest when he could be luring them to their death? Ragnar scoffs as his mention of trust, openly doubting his reliability before the other riders. It’s in this motion that I feel a tiny glimmer of hope that this is all a farce to get into King Horik’s good graces before turning on him with a knife in his back and a cackle that would make Harley Quinn excited. Then again, Ragnar isn’t known for his foresight and subtlety, so I could be wrong. I’m just hoping I’m not.
Ecbert invites the crew to sit down at his table where Princess Kwenthrith sits with bated libido. Athelstan lays out the terms of the prospective treaty – King Ecbert is willing to provide money, treasure, and 5000 acres of land to the Vikings in exchange for the assurance that he will not have to worry about the possible disruption of his territory in the future. Princess Kwenthrith is also willing to pay any amount of sum to have northmen by her side (and, you know, probably bed). Oh, also, if they accept they’ll give them Rollo back. Lagertha and Ragnar accept the offer. Begrudgingly, King Horik also accepts the terms.
Rollo is wheeled to the camp and a few Vikings offer themselves as mercenaries for Kwenthrith.
Ragnar approaches Athelstan and tells him that they are taking Rollo back to Kattegat, extending the offer to Athelstan. “I want you to come back.”
Back in Kattegat, Porunn (Gaia Weiss) is training to be a shieldmaiden because duh everyone looks up to Lagertha. I don’t quite buy her as a fighter (that modelesque physique wears clothes well, but is a willowy frame preferable for combat? I have my reservations), however, I respect her decision to want to be a strong, independent woman (insert z-snap). Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) approaches her and asks why everyone wants to be like Lagertha –
I can’t imagine how awkward it must be for Aslaug. Living in a city where everyone prefers the ex? Yikes.
and though she asks the question, she smiles when Porunn is too embarrassed to answer. It’s weird how Aslaug is the most human when she’s self-effacing. Aslaug tells Porunn that she has made her a free woman and she is no longer bound to their family, she need only serve under them if she chooses. The former slave calls it impossible, but Aslaug smiles as she tells her “it has happened.” Later that evening, Porunn swims into the (probably fucking freezing) water and smiles. She’s taking sudden freedom way better than I would; there’s not an existential crisis in sight.
In England, Ecbert finds a manuscript half-written and a Christian cross left behind – wordlessly, Athelstan has made his decision.
Still, he puts on a sporting face and meets with the Princess and her new northmen. She seems bummed that she won’t be able to get her paws on Ragnar as a mercenary, but settles for some second-base grope action with some of her new soldiers. Though Ragnar isn’t included, she seems pleased as punch.
And then there’s Rollo.
I sincerely doubt the verisimilitude of him surviving that sort of wound in real life.
Shh. We don’t talk about realities here.
Rollo is gingerly loaded onto the dock of Kattegat and Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) wears a look on her face that plainly says “I gave you one fucking job and you come back half dead and looking like Hel.” He’s placed in her care after a brutal surgery that involves re-breaking his bones to reset them and sealing wounds with fire. On a different emotional note, Athelstan is bright eyed and bushytailed now that he’s back in furs with his feet firmly planted in Scandinavia. He tells Aslaug that he came back because they all are his family – again, where it would seem contrived and wooden from anyone else, in this moment is just feels so sweet. Almost too confectionary, but I can dig it.
Oh, and then Bjorn is informed that Porunn is no longer a slave and she has a fancy dress and combed hair to prove it. The look on both Aslaug and Lagertha’s face when Bjorn reacts to the news is touching and sort of hilarious. Then again, Lagertha is the queen of sly grins.
Elsewhere in Kattegat, Horik approaches a distracted Floki with an ominous proposition, ending the episode on that note.
I have so many feelings. Some positive (Athelstan! I missed him more than I knew and he didn’t even go anywhere!), some nauseous (Rollo’s leg snap brought chills down my spine in only a way Joe Theismann’s leg snap could rival), and some blasé (have I mentioned I’m over the trivial conniving mentality of Horik? He could have been such a good bad guy and yet we’re given second-rate menacing). What would you give this episode?
Save for the massive five minute fight at the start of the episode, The Choice was sort of a subdued episode with a lot of plot building towards the finale. Some parts of the episode were spot on while others left me scratching my head, leading me to give this 21 makeshift splints out of 27. Overall, gold claps all around and it should be an excellent finale.
What about you guys? What did you think of this episode?
(Oh, and I promise I’ll try to answer you this time!)