All His Angels
Before I start this review, I want to apologize for missing last week–Christmas out of state really took up more time than I anticipated! But still, I thought the episode was excellent, and gave us some amazing acting, and brought back the spectre of my second-favorite character on the show, Athelstan. I’ll never not miss his presence, and I’m so happy to see him remembered in these past few episodes–and it is fitting, given what happens this episode. So without further adieu, let’s get into All His Angels.
So we open on Ragnar in a prison cell, looking at a bowl of water. I would say he is at the lowest we’ve ever seen him, but this episode just goes downhill for him. We find out that Ivar will be sent back to England; this is also the start of some amazing interactions between Ecbert and Ragnar. The actors do such a fine job imparting the conflicted emotions going on during this entire situation. There is a sense of dread in every scene–like there is a train coming towards them that they cannot escape.
We see Ivar playing chess with Edward, who again was fully revealed as Athelstan’s child last episode. The boy seems so pure and kind, not treating Ivar as anyone but an equal. He has the best parts of his mother and father within him, and I truly hope we see more of him. But, well–given his historical future, I am sure we will.
We get a touching goodbye scene with Ragnar and Ivar, where the man who once attempted to kill his infant child, tells the same teenager that it’s so important that he stays alive, and even gives him the title that he is known for in history: Ivar the Boneless. Another point to remember–he tells Ivar that when he and his brothers come to avenge Ragnar’s death, they need to take their wrath out against not only King Aelle, but Ecbert as well. While I’m not surprised over him naming the latter, it still saddens me. Both of them are such flawed men but I hoped they respected each other more than this.
As a side note–as we see Ivar leave the compound, Edward comes up to him to give him a piece of the chessboard: a knight, I believe. Again, Edward is such a good boy, and I’m going to be really interested how they will do his later plot lines, and how much they will follow history with him (no spoilers I promise!).
One of the more interesting, if quiet, aspects of the past two episodes, especially highlighted here, is the conflict Ecbert feels in sending Ragnar to his death. While this is truly Ragnar’s episode in the end, the struggle Ecbert has over how he can’t change anything, and how he has to destroy someone truly great–a friend, is something that clearly haunts him. Judith does her best to comfort him, but it is clear that he just doesn’t want comfort, or condolences; even if he feels he can’t change things, he still blames himself for it. This leads into the last discussion he has with Ragnar, where they talk about Ragnar’s hopes and the afterlife.. He states that while he doesn’t believe in Valhalla, he still will speak about it to Aelle– it matters to his people as much as God matters to Ecbert. There is such a dejection and finality in their voices–it is so incredibly well acted.
And we have Ragnar’s final scene in Ecbert’s castle, and what does he do? He gives Edward Athelstan’s cross, telling him that he hopes it comforts the child, as it always comforted him. Man, it really hurts my heart, in such a good, bittersweet way. He also tells Ecbert that Athelstan chose Christ over any Viking god, in the end. Again, I don’t know where they are going with Edward, but I think all of this will have an effect on him, in time.
The rest of the episode is devoted mostly to the trials of Ragnar, with Ecbert following after, dressed in Athelstan’s monk robes. There is a curious scene where the Seer shows up to converse with Ragnar–the Viking tells the sage that man is master of his own fate, not the Gods, while the Seer simply says that he may have been wrong about him. Before Ragnar can get an answer about what he was ‘wrong’ about, though, the vision has passed. Ragnar also has flashes of his past, both good and bad–of his young life, of Athelstan, of enjoying his time with Ecbert. It’s so bittersweet, and man, I really miss the warmth of the earlier seasons–things have been so bleak as of late!
And…at last, Ragnar is delivered to King Aelle. I won’t go into details here, but the torture that Ragnar undergoes reminds me so much of what happened in Braveheart. The music they chose was amazing, and truly helped set the bleak, terrible scene we were witnessing. Aelle thinks he is an instrument of God against the heathens, and of course, Ragnar simply wants to see this all end so he can die.
Finally, though, Ragnar awakens to hear the Lord’s Prayer being said below him; Ecbert has now arrived, and is keeping himself hidden as he watches the scene. Below Ragnar a pit is opened up, revealing snakes…which is exactly how Ragnar died in myth/history. There is some heavy monk chanting/singing in the soundtrack, the lighting is all washed out…it is simply just so atmospheric and sad. Ragnar finally says his piece, about going to Valhalla. There is such conviction in his voice, that almost tricks the viewer into believing his words–even though he has asserted he does not, any longer.
The cage is pulled open, and Ragnar falls into the pit, surrounded by snakes striking him at every turn. We do see him and Ecbert make eye contact, and it seems a gentle understanding passes between them.
And so ends Ragnar Lothbrok. The show will never be the same without him, for good or ill.
There is some action back in Kattegat, with Ubbe and Sigurd finding out about their father, while Ivar learns about their mother–and promptly goes from completely sad and lost to furious, but that is all minor. In fact, I frankly think they should have left that for the beginning of the next episode, and instead ended this one with the shots of Ecbert and Ragnar. Those were the truly poignant, important ones–the small scene put on at the end of the episode took away from it. If I’ll be honest, this isn’t the first time they have done this, either. Vikings seems to struggle to know when to end an episode, as they did now.
But yes, Ragnar is now dead; while I am sure we will see him in flashbacks from time to time, he is now, for all intents and purposes, gone from the show. Which, really, is a gutsy move, given that this show truly was about him and Lagertha. Where will they go from here? I’m not sure–it’s clear that the show is trying to herald in a ‘next generation’ theme, which doesn’t always work. I hope for the sake of the show, and its viewers, that it does.