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: 4.2 / 5.0 (33 Votes)

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

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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