WARNING: MAJOR VIKINGS SPOILERS
This week has been tough.
In real life, we lost some greats in the acting and music worlds: George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.
I never met any of them, but their deaths still hit me hard.
And now in fictional life, the lead character of a show I love died. THE LEAD. And it was brutal. Don’t get me wrong. On HISTORY’s Vikings, the writing was on the wall for Ragnar’s passing. In fact, one of my early previews to the fourth season, I even asked:
So I knew this day would come. And of course it would come in 2016.
When Ragnar and Ivar journey to England, it’s pretty clear Papa Lothbrok is on his final tour. The man doesn’t want to inhabit the earth anymore. So he engineers his death. He turns himself into King Ecbert, who found himself liking and respecting Ragnar too much to be the one to end this warrior’s life (Or is it he is too much of a coward because he knows there will be consequences against whomever ends Ragnar’s life). Ragnar suggests he let King Aelle do it.
As we see, King Aelle is super happy to be the one to do the honors. Some thoughts on what transpired:
-I am grateful this entire episode is about Ragnar’s death. The action doesn’t cut back to Kattegat until the end.
-Who knew I would end up enjoying the relationship between Ragnar and his son, Ivar, so much? Out of all his sons, I didn’t think Ragnar would champion Ivar the most. But he does. Some of what father says to son during their final conversation:
People think that you are not a threat. But I know differently. Out of all of my sons, it was you I wanted to bring here, and it is you that I believe is the most important to the future of our people.
I promise you my son that one day the whole world will know and fear Ivar the Boneless.
Everyone will always underestimate you. You must make them pay for it.
Ivar’s the one that accompanies his dad on this final trip, which means Ivar’s the one to go back and tell his brothers of their father’s death. Ragnar has massive faith in his son and his destiny. He knows Ivar will do great things. “Be ruthless,” says Ragnar. I love their goodbye, forehead touch and all.
-Speaking of ruthless, Ecbert thinks Ragnar’s sons will take their revenge out on King Aelle. Oh no. Even though Ecbert and Ragnar share civil and friendly conversations (Ecbert even lets Ragnar out of his cage), Ragnar will never forget that on Ecbert’s watch, his people that stayed behind after the raid were wiped out of existence. So what does Ragnar do? He tells Ivar to let his brothers know to target Ecbert, not Aelle. So cold.
-Meanwhile, when Ragnar’s up in that cage, Ecbert can’t help but show up to see it for himself. He has a smile on his face at one point. I’m not sure what that smile means. More respect for Ragnar that he goes out on his terms? That Ragnar’s unable to be broken despite everything Aelle and his posse inflict on him? Every time they show Ecbert, I can’t help but think about what’s ahead for him. He thinks his conscience is clear. He thinks he averted terror for his land. We’ll see if Ivar listens to his dad and goes after Ecbert.
-Ragnar giving Athelstan’s son his father’s necklace made me a little bit emotional. In the end, I really do think that Ragnar and Athelstan’s friendship is what Ragnar cherished most other than his sons. As much as I’m happy that Ragnar and Lagertha got their goodbye in the 4B premiere (I may have cried in that scene, too), his story wasn’t about the women in his life. It was about Athelstan, Ivar, Rollo and Bjorn. In that order, maybe?
-The flashbacks were wonderful, a worthy exit demands them. However, I was stunned to see Ragnar’s transformation from the very first episode to now. I had to hit rewind because Ragnar/Travis Fimmel looked so clean and young and vibrant back then. He looked nothing like the weathered, beaten individual we saw at his death. Wow. That makes me appreciate the makeup team even more. Because we saw things slowly unfold, I never, ever noticed how much Ragnar changed over the years. Consider me impressed.
-Everything King Aelle has his soldiers do to Ragnar was difficult to watch. Burning his feet while he was trapped in the cage up above. Searing his body with a heated poker. Stabbing him.
But nothing beat getting dropped into a snake pit where we actually witness him being bitten over and over and over and over again. I admit to closing my eyes more than a couple times over the course of his torture. He took it like a beast, though.
-He remained Ragnar through and through. At one point in the episode, he tells Ecbert he will spew his gods talk and act like the Viking he is. And so he does.
However, Ragnar also admits to his “friend” Ecbert that he no longer believes in the gods.
I don’t. But my sons do. My people do. Faith is as important to them as it is to you, King Ecbert.
One of Ragnar’s strengths is his thirst to know what’s out there beyond where he lives. He doesn’t just want to conquer a land, he wants to bask in all the knowledge of whatever territory he brings to its knees.
And with Athelstan, Ragnar may have taken the monk away from everything he ever knew, but Ragnar’s the one that changed the most. His very core was changed. Athelstan was such a profound influence on Ragnar. That’s one of the things I will remember about him the most.
-On that same religious note, I love how Ragnar has one more “session” with the Seer. It’s an interesting interaction where Ragnar once again talks about not believing in the gods. He believes in himself above all.
Ragnar: It will be at least another day before I am put to death. You and your gods are wrong. You see, I guided my fate. I fashioned the course of my life and my death. Me. Not you. Not the gods. Me. It was my idea to come here to die.
The Seer: You believe that, so it is true…to you.
Ragnar: I don’t believe in the gods’ existence. Man is the master of his own fate, not the gods. The gods are man’s creation to give answers that they are too afraid to give themselves.
The Seer: You may be right, Ragnar Lothbrok. I am only the Seer. I have walked among the lowest of the dead and I have groped for meaning and I may have been wrong.
-At the very end of the episode, we see Ivar back in Kattegat where he informs his brothers of what’s what.
He also finds out he’s now an orphan. His brothers didn’t do s–t about Lagertha killing their mother. So he has a couple things on his agenda. We see in the previews for the next new episode that he challenges his mother’s killer.
-It’s a testament to a show that this episode isn’t even the season finale. Vikings does things so differently from other shows, that’s what makes it so great and refreshing. We’re only halfway through the second half of a super-sized season four. There are five more episodes left and now we’re going to see the rise of Ragnar’s sons. Bjorn is currently taking on the Mediterranean. There’s also a return to England in the future. The show lost its leader but there’s so much more ground to cover.
I want to finally say how much I enjoyed Travis Fimmel‘s portrayal of Ragnar. Whether you loved the King of the Vikings or hated him (this show made me feel both emotions), it was clear Fimmel poured his heart into this role 100%. He made me care about Ragnar and he made me feel this warrior’s death. Fimmel will be missed. Ragnar will be missed. But he’ll never be forgotten.
And now we will have a Vikings without Ragnar and Athelstan. 😭😭😭😭😭
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on HISTORY.
HISTORY released this video retrospective: