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Vikings Review: Athelstan's Crucifixion

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Many things took place in Vikings Season 2 Episode 4 - but, let's be honest, Athelstan's crucifixion was definitely the biggest surprise of the night.

We knew Ragnar and King Ecbert would meet to discuss some kind of compromise and Ragnar would ask for lands to farm, right?

It was also just a matter of time before Lagertha and Bjorn would raise an army to help Ragnar take back Kattegat.

However, though clues about tonight's brutal crucifixion had been dropped like little breadcrumbs, it still came as quite a shock. Visions of a bleeding bible anyone?

Rollo discovers a quiet little farming village the weary band of travelers can seek shelter at. Hey beggars can't be choosers right? It was nice to see Rollo step up and begin to do the right thing for his people, versus for pride or recognition.

Aslaug was not having it, complaining constantly about the conditions and claiming her children would die of some disease. Honestly, it came across as an entitled princess not happy leaving her comforts and riches behind. I can tell you this behavior is certainly not going to do much to endear Aslaug to the audience.

Jarl Borg's introduction to the people of Kattegat is further proof this guy's not the leader Ragnar is. Still, he inspired some kind of loyalty thanks to that big reward of silver and gold for the whereabouts of Ragnar's family. I love the way the seer looks on menacingly, as if he knows Borg's days are numbered.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the seer's prophecy though. When Jarl Borg asks about his future, the seer mentions seeing an eagle and that the eagle is Borg's destiny. As a symbol, the eagle is known to represent courage, strength and often times immortality. It's partly the reason the Bald Eagle is our national bird. The eagle has also been historically linked to Odin, the Allfather.

Therefore, is the seer saying Borg will fight with great courage but ultimately share a drink with Odin in Valhalla? All I know is, Borg's got to go and soon because we don't want this fool's story to drag out much longer. I hope next week he meets his end, what about you?

Clever King Ecbert has his army awaiting orders but rather than attack, he decides to chat with Ragnar. I thought it was a smart, yet difficult decision to offer his own son, Aethelwulf, as a hostage in exchange for Ragnar. That's commitment, this King's not messing around. Aethelwulf easily accepting his father's plan demonstrates not only his respect for the King but the kid's got balls. He'll make a worthy successor.

The exchange is made and as Ragnar rides into town, Aethelwulf is lead away by the Northmen. Travis Fimmel constantly reminds us that Ragnar is an extremely curious man. Did you notice the way he studies the statues on his way to King Ecbert? He asks questions about them as well.

Ragnar is lead into the King's bath chamber and seemed surprised that Ecbert dismissed all his guards. That uncomfortable smile Fimmel makes when the King asks him to join him in the bath was priceless. The King watching Ragnar undress was pretty awkward but I'm sure seeing his scarred and bruised body was a revelation to Ecbert. In that moment, the King realized this warrior is one tough son of a bitch.

The conversation was simple and straightforward. Basically, why are you still here when you've loaded up on plenty of treasure? As we learned in Vikings Season 2 Episode 3 Ragnar is much more interested in acquiring lands in England to farm.

King Ecbert: Are you saying if I offer you some land we can make a deal?
Ragnar: It's possible.

Although until now Ecbert has seemed honest and true to his word, his mention of "great plans" and the Northmen playing a part in fulfilling those plans troubled me. Did this meeting with Ragnar really change the King's mind or is he simply laying a trap?

Once he returns to camp, Ragnar tells King Horik what he and Ecbert discussed. I know many of you will disagree with me, but I don't feel Horik is interested in picking up and moving his people to England. I think he is more concerned with wealth and fame. A ship arrives with the news of Jarl Borg's invasion of Kattegat.

Understandably, this throws Ragnar into panic mode. Is his family alive, and if so where are they now? He immediately packs his things and plans to head back home to set things right. Horik is not ready to leave though, showing no regard for Ragnar's situation. Instead, he asks Athelstan to stay in England to help mediate any further talks with King Ecbert. 

Poor Athelstan thinks he's doing the right thing by staying behind, but the disappointment is written all over Ragnar's face. There's absolutely nothing more important than family. After all this time, you would think Athelstan understood this right?

Meanwhile in Scandinavia, Bjorn informs Lagertha of the invasion of Kattegat. At first she tells her son it's not Earl Sigvard's problem and he won't lift a finger to help. However, when she does mention it, a drunk Sigvard roughs her up attempting to rape her. Lagertha knee's her abusive husband in the junk and assures Bjorn she will be fine. The kid will be back to settle things with his nasty step-dad though, I guarantee it.

Aslaug has a vision of Ragnar running towards her and he arrives a few days later. This is further proof that the princess is a seeress.

Ragnar's remaining ships dock at Floki's home, a couple were lost at sea. Helga tells him she knows where his family is located.

King Ecbert is advised that several Viking ships have sailed away. Naturally, he takes this opportunity to attack the remaining Northmen. Though it seemed an agreement was forthcoming with Ragnar, you can't blame Ecbert for taking action. While hunting for food, Horik's men are ambushed and soon Athelstan is captured. He gives the game away by telling the King's men "I am like you." Bad move my friend, very bad move.

When Ragnar is reunited with his family, Aslaug tells him about her vision and that she knew he'd return. He meets his new baby boy for the first time and understands Aslaug's prophecy of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye had been fulfilled. Before he can get busy with his wife though, Rollo returns.

I want to attack Kattegat now. I want to destroy Jarl Borg. I want to make him suffer as he has made my family suffer.

Ragnar

Unfortunately, with just a handful of farmers and after losing a couple of ships at sea they're in no position to reclaim Kattegat. Jarl Borg is told of Ragnar's return and welcomes the challenge. Any one else hope he meets a grizzly death? What a loathsome character he is.

Athelstan's crucifixion scene was painful to watch. The crown of thorns digging into his skull, the nails being hammered into his hands and being raised up on that cross for all to see. Once I got past wincing, my first thought was please don't kill off one of my favorite characters. Isn't it interesting how attached we get to these fictional characters? That's a testament to the phenomenal writing of Michael Hirst and brilliant actors like George Blagden. We simply can't help but fall in love with them.

Since people didn't die from the act of crucifixion itself, but rather hanging there for days bleeding out with no food or water there was still hope. I'll admit I thought Athelstan was a goner, and was relieved when King Ecbert had him taken down from the cross. Even though he's the enemy and will probably do terrible things to our tiny Viking as the season progresses, in that moment, he was my hero. Athelstan lives!

I'd like to make a quick comment about television standards. I find it very interesting that the producers of Vikings are allowed to show this brutal and disturbing crucifixion, yet are forced to shy away from nudity and profanity. Personally, I don't understand the logic. Why is a bare bum or love scene considered inappropriate for tv, yet a scene like tonight's is totally fine? Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing the show, its producers or even the History channel. Just trying to wrap my head around why violence is preferable to nudity, any ideas? 

This is where a show like Vikings and say, Game of Thrones differ. You can feel where Vikings is forced to hold back and it's a real shame.

Tonight's fantastic episode ( I say that every week don't I?), wraps up with the reunion of Lagertha, Bjorn and Ragnar. It's an emotional scene, with Ragnar looking over his now grown-up son proudly. Bjorn is truly the best of both his parents, wise like mom and brave like dad. He tells Ragnar, that standing there with both his parents, he feels reborn and ready to fight. Boy, Jarl Borg has no idea what's headed his way next week.

If you'd like to check out this episode again or want to start over from the beginning... Watch Vikings online right here at TV Fanatic!

Now that King Ecbert has Athelstan, do you think the former monk will make it out of Wessex alive?

 

Review

Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (30 Votes)

Henry A. Otero is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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Thanks for excellent review...I enjoy the shows immensely and agree about the graphic violence vs nudity absurdity.But I have one gripe.It's the History channel right ,so you'd expect that historical accuracy would be valued, at least on important issues, above creative license.Well the crucifixion scene was historically absurd.Their is no record of any such event,ever,and there's a good reason-it was theologically unthinkable for Christians to do such a thing.This is true not only for those few ,who, over the centuries have truly sought to follow Christ's teachings of forgiveness but also for the vast majority who just go with the flow,whether it's secular or religious

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Thanks for excellent review...I enjoy the shows immensely and agree about the graphic violence vs nudity absurdity.But I have one gripe.It's the History channel right ,so you'd expect that historical accuracy would be valued, at least on important issues, above creative license.Well the crucifixion scene was historically absurd.Their is no record of any such event,ever,and there's a good reason-it was theologically unthinkable for Christians to do such a thing.This is true not only for those few ,who, over the centuries have truly sought to follow Christ's teachings of forgiveness but also for the vast majority who just go with the flow,whether it's secular or religious.

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Glad I'm not alone..I love this series, but the crucifixtion scene was gratuitous at best. Why they would do that I don't know,.it is so far from anything historically correct! Otherwise great episode.

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As someone who has studied this period and the Anglo Saxon Church, I have never heard of crucifixion being used as capitol punishment, or the church having the power to enforce capitol punishment. Apostasy was hardly uncommon, especially in the North. If you read "The Dream of the Rood", crucifixion was identified with Christ, and to a degree understood by followers of Odin. Odin hung from a tree to gain knowledge that he could share with mankind. It was a sacred condition, not something used for punishment. Also, "Blood Eagle" has to be in the future as another contributor has suggested.

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@ Hening

Good points, Hening- the State had the authority to execute, the Church could not unilaterally do so. They could find someone guilty of breaking laws via ecclesiastical courts and then turn over someone to be punished by the State. Of course, a lynch mob of enraged believers might ignore this nicety but a lynch mob would probably not have included an archbishop on the King's Privy Council. That said, while this scene seemed ahistorical and gratuitous I do like how the show generally takes both faiths seriously and makes both Christians and pagans out to be real and complex people rather than the PC "all Christians are bad" or "all pagans are noble" stereotypes (not to mention the older stereotype that all Christians are good and all pagans are basically bad).

Hanko9

I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone that commented this week. Your feedback is not only well written and engaging... But I've learned a thing or two as well! These reviews take quite a while to write and it's so nice to connect with other fans that appreciate what you've written. Hopefully you guys continue to share your thoughts on the show after each episode here at TVFanatic.com. I will always do my best to reply to each and every one of you. Thanks,
Hank

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I also see an eagle in his future http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B...

Hanko9
@ C. Milano

Wow that's really intense, worse than crucifixion eh? Thanks for sharing the link, I learned something new today thanks to you!

Payton mcmullen jr

What did Jarl Borg say to Ragnar? Resistance is futile. Sorry, couldn't resist. Great episode.

Hanko9
@ Payton McMullen Jr

I love it! You're awesome Payton haha

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I loved this episode, but really questioned the historical accuracy of the crucifixion, since heretics were usually burned. The violence is sometimes so gratuitous these days in video games and movies, that I think we have grown numb to it. I don't think it needs to be quite so pornographic by being slow motion and close up. I also think that the nudity in Game of Thrones (which I love) is overdone. It's like HBO has to compulsively place a boob or bare ass in every episode "just because we can because we're HBO"! Sometimes it seems forced, and actually takes away from the story. The books leave some things to the imagination I was mad at Ragnar for barely speaking to Lagertha, but after watching it for the 3rd time, I think he is honoring the fact that she is a married woman and is also not sure how to interact with her except to compliment her breeding abilities to Bjorn. Also, did anyone think about how strong Siggy has become and wondered where she learned all these working class skills? Makes you wonder what her upbringing was like before she was married to the Earl. She showed some real survival skills and told Aslaugh off about her whiny rich bitch fussing by reminding her that many people lived in that kind of "filth". Loved it when Lagertha finally kicked her husband in the balls. I hope he doesn't pay her back for that. That scene must have been very difficult as actors to film. What a great job.

Hanko9
@ Mandy

Thanks so much for your feedback! I have read that the show works with a Historian to make sure things are represented as faithfully to the time period as possible. That said, since Vikings is entertainment first and history lesson second, I think the crucifixion was appropriate for the character of Athelstan. He turned his back on his faith and his God, the cross is a powerful punishment. As far as Game of Thrones, I agree there are times the nudity is a bit forced but that doesn't take away from the story for me personally. It's an adult show and those details remind us of that fact. Vikings could use some more sexuality I think. They've got the violence down no question about that. Yes, Ragnar came across as uncomfortable with Lagertha. I think that's how Travis was playing it. Four years have passed after all, it's going to take time.

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@ Henry A. Otero

Thanks for responding. I rarely comment, but read every review I can find or listen to podcasts about shows I love. Just recently ended my obsession with True Detective. It helps me learn as a director how people are seeing performances in different ways depending on demographics. It has to be difficult to appeal to a wide range of audience members without muddying the integrity of the message. As a woman who enjoys sci-fi, indie films, and well-produced and excellent writing, I don't need to be pandered to with fluffy romantic subplots or make-out scenes. Gritty, realistic relationships depicting how that effects the sexual relationships between the men and women - yeah. I am very curious about the power struggle between men and women in Viking society. Also, the story of Athelstan has been compelling. Did he really truly abandon his faith or was he just surviving? Seeing him struggle has been enlightening to the ways that the Viking culture and the Christianity of that time interbred and melded. I don't believe George Blagden is playing it as if he has rejected God completely in his heart. He is a confused reluctant missionary!

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@ Mandy

I was thinking along those lines as well. Athelstan is trying to survive and he is going through a lot of turmoil spiritually. In this episode Ragnar seems unusually inquisitive about Christianity even as Floki casts a worried/ disgusted look at Ragnar's questions and Athelstan's answers. I don't see Ragnar becoming Christian himself since that is not what the real Ragnar did historically. Neither did his sons from his three wives AFAIK. Wives and sons are named correctly, btw. Although Aslaug was a warrior-maiden historically and not the whiny spoiled woman she is in the show. BUt I suppose this is a literary tool to make us more convinced Ragnar is an idiot for losing Lagertha for the sake of siring a generation of legendary sons.

Hanko9
@ Mandy

No no thank you! As someone who reviews several TV shows here at TV Fanatic, I can tell you when folks comment it means the world to us. Otherwise, we'd be writing for ourselves right? You're absolutely right, I think Athelstan's story is that struggle between his old life as a monk and new life as a Viking. George Blagden is brilliant as Athelstan and he spoke in a conference call earlier this month about his character not rejecting God outright. I believe his journey will bring him back to his faith and possibly teach Ragnar and his people more about it. If you think about it, the Vikings that eventually moved to England left their Pagan beliefs behind and became Christians. It's possible we are seeing the start of this with Athelstan. Perhaps he brings about this change in Viking society?

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Another awesome episode. I love the general historical accuracy and also that both the Christians and pagans are shown as a mix of both good and bad. That said, Athelstan's crucifixion was bewildering to me. Is there evidence this method of execution was used on apostates by Christians? In Christian hagiography crucifixion is considered an honorable form of death since it is an imitation of Christ's death and those who suffered this way are particularly honored. An apostate, however, was about the most dishonorable thing a person could be at that time. It was choosing hell over heaven and whenever Christians put others to death for religious "crimes" the preferred method was therefore burning. Of course, this was wrong but it was logically coherent in that the punishment mirrored the offense in some way. And, Athelstan was indeed guilty of capital crimes apart from apostasy for which he could reasonably have been executed. But he is useful so the king of Wessex was smart to spare him. I would be interested in seeing if this scene was based on any historical precedent. Until then, my history-ometer is going to say this scene was more Hollywood than history.

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@ Belisarius

Regarding your questions about crucifixion for apostates-while your logic makes sense to me, Michael Hirst has a quick "behind the episode" clip on history.com where he explains there was actually at least one documented case of a monk that had been taken by Vikings coming back to England & being crucified for his "crimes" against the church. Interesting watch. I LOVE this show!

Hanko9
@ Nilestheninja

I hadn't had a chance to check out the video clip, doing that right now. Thanks for the info Niles!

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This is an excellent review/summary of a likewise excellent episode. After reading about the Blood Eagle, I am both horrified and anxiously awaiting the next chapter. Did anyone else notice the quick flash to the seer holding a dead eagle's skull while he spoke with Jarl Borg? It was only put into view for a moment after Borg left. I definitely think something TERRIBLE will have to happen to Borg for what he did to Ragnar; flawed or not he is our hero.
Travis Fimmel is playing Ragnar with almost a brilliance; Ragnar comes off conflicted and even when he is doing something we may not agree with-we kind of understand his thinking. Except losing Lagertha...THAT I cannot support ;)
This was the best episode of the second season so far. I really enjoyed both the recap and the intelligent comments on here- I will be back next week to see what everybody says!

Hanko9
@ Nilestheninja

Hey Niles, thanks so much for your kind words. As a huge fan of the show, I put a ton of TLC into each of my reviews. I'm not too fond of reviewers that nitpick and sweat the small stuff, criticizing simply because they can. As you noticed, I try to summarize scenes or character moments that stand out to me and ask questions. It's much more important to start a dialog with other fans than just write for myself you know? I am also enjoying the intelligent comments and try my best to respond to each and every person. I look forward to chatting with you next episode. This will be the first one I don't have a screener for, so I will be watching LIVE with everyone else. Btw you can also reach me at our Twitter account @VikingsTVF - Thanks again!

Vikings Season 2 Episode 4 Quotes

King Ecbert: Are you saying if I offer you some land we can make a deal?
Ragnar: It's possible.

I want to attack Kattegat now. I want to destroy Jarl Borg. I want to make him suffer as he has made my family suffer.

Ragnar