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See Ecbert, King of Wessex and Mercia and perhaps some other lands he has forgotten about. Ecbert is a great man, and he is an old man. He sits off his throne, long beard and long hair and mind far away. He is remembering the past, he is witnessing the present, he is imagining the future that will occur long after he is gone.
There are strange people in Kattegat always, riding in from lands far away or sailing in from points further. Yet one man in particular catches Torvi’s eye, as she patrols her fortress-city. He sailed in this morning with the other traders. He looks at the wares being peddled – but he and his men do not want to buy anything. The reason is clear enough: The man calls for an attack, and the battle for Kattegat begins.
The Great Army assembles in Kattegat, kings and earls and heroes and monsters. A great sacrifice must be made, says Lagertha, the heroic Queen. “If the army fails,” she says, “if they are defeated by the Saxons, our peoples might never recover.” The gods call for a special sacrifice at times like this. The question is not what, but who?
They build, they build, they build. Kattegat has grown and it has grown large, from an earl’s village to a King’s capital to a merchant metropolis. It is a modern city, and it is a prize, and Queen Kattegat will defend it. She has set her people to building, building, building. They will build defenses. There are enough enemies within already.
Ragnar Lothbrok is dead, but he lives on. (I talk about that with Vikings writer Michael Hirst in this week’s postmortem interview, where he also answers your question about Bjorn and Astrid and explains why he doesn’t like gritty realism.) He lives on in his dying words, carried by wind and rumor and legend to his sons.
Ragnar’s youngest son, Ivar, seeks vengeance against Lagertha for the death of his mother, Aslaug. But his brothers Ubbe and Sigurd pull Ivar’s focus toward on another vengeance. Should they attack King Aelle, in tiny Northumbria — or, following their father’s wishes, take on King Ecbert in grand Wessex? To do so would require a large army, twice the size of the coalition Ragnar led to Paris. But is it an army they can assemble, with their father’s memory as their rallying cry. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” says Ivar Boneless, hate and joy in his eyes.
Ubbe relays their plan to Queen Lagertha. He asks her to join them. But Lagertha has a reason to stay. The sons of Ragnar are inviting other rulers to her city. “They will see the size and understand the value of this trading station,” says Lagertha. The city has to be defended. “I know what your father would have wanted me to do,” she says. Lagertha remembers when Ragnar was a young man, ambitious like his sons, and remembers one of Ragnar’s great ambitions: to build something that lasts. Lagertha has seen many great men brought low. She saved Kattegat from Aslaug, didn’t she? She will save it from any assault, won’t she?
But can she save herself? Perhaps she doesn’t want to. The seer says she will be killed by a son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ivar certainly would like the opportunity. His brother, Sigurd, disagrees. “We have different memories of mother,” he says. “She doted on you and she ignored me.” Sigurd baits his brother; he calls him a mama’s boy, and mommy’s little favorite. Ivar lifts his axe to his brother, aiming to kill. Only the ready arm of a humble blacksmith stops him. Will brother kill brother? Can Ragnar’s sons survive Ragnar’s legacy?
Words travel slowly from the lonely ground in Northumbria, where the great, legendary, cursed Ragnar Lothbrok lies buried beneath earth and snakes and ambition. In Kattegat, his first wife Lagertha cannot believe he is dead. But her responsibility is clear. She must pick up the burden of rule, no matter the cost. “Ragnar hated it,” she tells her lover Astrid. “It weighed him down, perhaps it even killed him.” But she cannot disappoint her women: Not Astrid, not Torvi, not the shieldmaidens who fought and died for her. And she thinks Ragnar is watching her.
In Wessex, Ecbert mourns his friend, while his son Aethelwulf fears the worst. Ecbert had an agreement with Ragnar, a promise the Viking’s sons would seek vengeance only against Aelle. “Ragnar and I were alike in many ways,” says Ecbert, suddenly looking like an old man, or like a man who has begun to outlive his own time. He agrees Aethelwulf should raise an army; he will stay right where he is, at the seat of his power, teaching young Alfred the ways of this cruel world.
Lagertha assumes her own seat of power, sitting in the high throne at the center of Kattegat. She sat up there once before, next to Ragnar — and, briefly, next to Aslaug, Ragnar’s second wife. Lagertha, in charge, has some new ideas. Kattegat has become large, “the largest, richest trading center in Norway.” Others will be envious; the time has come to fortify, to dig ditches, to turn this small overgrown village into a true defended city.
Little Ivar and Little Alfred play chess. They don’t speak each other’s language, but they speak the universal language: Call it gameplay or call it war. Someday history will know these two boys as men — one Boneless, one Great — but for now, they sit in the shadows and wait patiently for old men to finish playing their own games.
One game moves toward an inevitable conclusion. Ragnar asks Ecbert if he can speak to his son. He knows this will be their final moment together. He tells his son Ivar, “It is you who I believe is the most important to the future of our people.” He tells him anger is a gift and he is unpredictable. “Use your anger intelligently,” says Ragnar. “And I promise you, my son, one day the whole world will know and fear Ivar the Boneless.”
“I wish I wasn’t so angry all the time,” says Ivar.
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Queen Aslaug is queen no more. She knows this, she has no escape plan; she walks into the town square knowing her time has come to an end. There is a freedom to knowing you will never be free again. The Queen looks amused by her invader. “How strange, Lagertha, that you should play the usurper. One woman against another.” Aslaug knows Lagertha values herself as a powerful woman in this world of powerful men — knows that, at this moment of triumph, it will darken Lagertha’s soul just a little bit, the implication she has broken her own rule.
“I was never the usurper,” says Lagertha. “Always the usurped.” Aslaug took Lagertha’s husband, her world, her happiness. “You’re a witch,” Lagertha says. “You bewitched him.” Perhaps she believes that; perhaps it is an easy justification, a way to establish herself as the force of moral right. Aslaug smiles. She did not bewitch Ragnar, but she knows he is dead. “In my dream, his boats were sunk in a storm,” says Aslaug.
She will not fight. She knows she would not win. Aslaug has never been a warrior. Yet, she has raised warriors. “I have fulfilled my destiny,” she says. “The gods foretold Ragnar would have many sons. I have given him those sons. I am as much a part of his saga, Lagertha, as you are.” It is another gambit, a way of snatching some greater victories from the jaws of this mortal defeat. Lagertha may defeat Aslaug. But they will be history soon, are already history; the legends have already formed about Ragnar and Aslaug and Lagertha and their ilk. Aslaug asks only for safe passage. She promises Lagertha will have Kattegat and she promises she will not demand her sons seek vengeance. It will be a peaceful transition of power.
“I understand,” says Lagertha. What does that mean? What message is she receiving from Aslaug? Does she know that, in some strange way, this great day of victory has not been wholly victorious? Does she sense this woman whom she always doubted — this usurper, this alleged witch, this poor excuse for a monarch — has hidden depths to her personality? Does she suddenly recognize, in Aslaug, a warrior?
Aslaug turns her back and prepares to leave her life behind. And then her life is taken and a smile crosses her face. An arrow in the back and a great funeral pyre for the woman who made warriors, for she who never gave up the old faith. She is in the saga forever now, even if her time in this story has come to an end. What future has she cursed Lagertha, too?
A mighty Viking warrior who believes he is destined for greatness. Leading Vikings to sail west for the first time, he rose to power first by defeating Earl Haraldson in single combat, then King Horik after he attempts to murder Ragnar and his family. Family: Lagertha (first wife), Queen Aslaug † (second wife), Rollo (brother), Björn (son), Gyda † (daughter), Ubbe (son), Hvitserk (son), Sigurd † (son), Ivar (son), Siggy † (granddaughter) Actor: Travis Fimmel
Lagertha is the first wife of Ragnar Lothbrok. She is an Earl, a strong shield-maiden and a force to be reckoned with. She has always fought in the shield-wall alongside the men. Although fate has pulled her apart from Ragnar, it seems that the gods must have a plan to bring them back
together, where they belong. Family: Ragnar † (first husband), Sigvard † (late husband), Rollo (former brother-in-law), Björn (son), Gyda † (daughter), Siggy † (granddaughter), Kalf † (lover) Actor: Katheryn Winnick
Rollo, Ragnar’s brother, is impulsive, wild, care-free and compulsive. Rollo is a fierce fighter who is a fearsome berserker known to 'fight like a bear' but is often svershadowed by his brother. The relationship between Rollo and Ragnar is intense and always unpredictable. Rollo has become the Duke of Normandy after marrying Princess Gisla (the daughter of Emperor Charles) and is named defender of France from the Vikings. Family: Siggy † (lover), Ragnar † (brother), Björn (nephew), Gyda † (nephew), Ubbe (nephew), Hvitserk (nephew), Sigurd † (nephew), Ivar (nephew), Lagertha (former sister-in-law), Aslaug † (sister-in-law), Princess Gisla (wife) Actor: Clive Standen
Bjorn Lothbrok is the son of Ragnar and Lagertha and the oldest of Ragnar’s many sons. Intelligent and determined, Bjorn loves and admires his father above all men. Following in Ragnar’s footsteps, Bjorn desires to test himself as a fighter as well as an explorer. After fighting in battle without receiving one wound or scratch, he garnered the famous nickname “Bjorn Ironside.” Family: Torvi (wife), Siggy † (daughter), Lagertha (mother), Ragnar † (father), Rollo (uncle), Gyda † (sister), Ubbe (brother), Hvitserk (brother), Sigurd † (brother), Ivar (brother) Actor: Alexander Ludwig
Aslaug is the clever and beautiful daughter of the famed dragon slayer Sigurd and shield-maiden Brunhilde. Aslaug promised Ragnar that she would provide him with the sons which the ancient Seer prophesized for him – and she delivered. She is also a völva (a seeress). Family: Ragnar † (husband), Rollo (brother-in-law), Ubbe (son), Hvitserk (son), Sigurd † (son), Ivar (son), Björn (step-son) Actor: Alyssa Sutherland
The oldest son by Ragnar and Aslaug, he has a paternalistic attitude towards his younger brothers. Ubbe is a sensitive, thoughtful and attractive young man, in many ways the closest in outlook and instinct to his father Ragnar Family: Ragnar † (father), Aslaug † (mother), Rollo (uncle), Björn (half-brother), Hvitserk (brother), Sigurd † (brother), Ivar (brother) Actor: Jordan Smith
Son of Ragnar. Hvitserk and his older brother Ubbe have a special bond because when they were children they jumped together in an icy lake and had to be rescued by Siggy, who died in the attempt. Hvitserk is more complex and a darker character than his brother Ubbe, characteristics which become more pronounced in time and lead to a terrible denouement. Family: Ragnar † (father), Aslaug † (mother), Rollo (uncle), Björn (half-brother), Ubbe (brother), Sigurd † (brother), Ivar (brother) Actor: Marco Ilsø
Son of Ragnar. Sigurd was born with a astigmatism in one eye, in the shape of a snake or dragon. This flaw has a damaging psychological impact on him, making him feel different from his older brothers and more estranged from the family. He is a sensitive young man, growing up feeling that he has to provide himself. Family: Ragnar † (father), Aslaug † (mother), Rollo (uncle), Björn (half-brother), Ubbe (brother), Hvitserk (brother), Ivar (brother) Actor: David Lindstrom
Son of Ragnar. Perhaps the most famous Viking of all time, his pathological cruelty was notorious even during his own lifetime. Ivar is deeply ambitious and his ambitions will twist the legacy of his father out of shape, and create universal war. People are genuinely afraid of Ivar. Family: Ragnar † (father), Aslaug † (mother), Rollo (uncle), Björn (half-brother), Ubbe (brother), Hvitserk (brother), Sigurd † (brother) Actor: Alex Høgh Andersen
Floki is a genius ship builder and he designs and builds the prototype of the new generation of Viking ships which can sail across the open ocean but also up the shallowest of rivers. Without Floki, Ragnar would have never been able to fulfill his dreams of discovering new lands and new civilizations. Floki is a religious zealot who believes in the Gods above anything and everything, including Ragnar. Family: Helga † (wife), Angrboda † (daughter) Actor: Gustaf Skarsgård
First lover, then wife to Floki, Helga normally lives away from Kattegat with their daughter, but stays in the village when Floki is in Wessex, becoming close to Aslaug and Siggy. She travels to Paris but Floki's actions and behavior drives a wedge between them. Family: Floki (husband), Angrboda † (daughter) Actor: Maude Hirst
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