George Blagden is Athelstan
Athelstan was a young Anglo-Saxon, once a Christian monk taken by Ragnar Lothbrok and his fellow Vikings from his monastery. Athelstan is brought to live in Viking society and struggles to maintain his beliefs in an environment very different from his home across the sea. Torn between maintaining his beliefs and surviving in his new, cruel world, Athelstan begins to doubt his faith in God.
Despite Athelstan’s worldliness – extensive linguistic skills, logical mind, knowledge of the Bible, etc – he is hopelessly innocent when dealing with other people, especially the ambitious. Despite his intelligence, or perhaps because of it, he finds himself torn between his old religious beliefs and cultural traditions and those to which he is exposed during his time with the vikings. This leads to one of the major aspects of Athelstan’s character development as his naivete about himself and the nature of humans gives way to an existential crisis during which he learns that his beliefs are not so rigid as he once thought and experiences supernatural “visions” that convince him that both the Christian God and the Norse Gods are real but christianity is in the ascendancy, which sways Ragnar. Athelstan’s presence and beliefs insult the beliefs of Floki, who murders Athelstan after a religious experience in the forest which he interprets as a message from the Gods.
Athelstan was born to a Northumbrian family that could not afford to have another child. At a very young age, he was placed in a monastery at Lindesfarne. Eventually, Athelstan found happiness, great freedom, and joy in serving the father of his church, Saint Cuthbert. He had learned to forget about himself and has devoted his life to Christianity. Living in the monastery also saved him from possibly dying of fever like the rest of his family.
Athelstan is present at the raid of the monastery and is taken prisoner by the vikings. He pleads with the vikings to spare his life and begins speaking in their native language, to Ragnar’s surprise. When questioned by Ragnar on how he learned the viking language Athelstan tells him that at the monastery the monks are encouraged to travel to “Spread the Word of God”. Ragnar takes an interest with Athelstan and thinks he may be able give information that could be valuable for his next raid. Ragnar later gets him drunk and tricks him into divulging information and locations of towns.
After they arrive in Scandinavia Earl Haraldson is surprised of Ragnar’s success but tells Ragnar that he and his crew of vikings may only take one item per crew member while the Earl takes the rest of the loot. Ragnar chooses Athelstan and takes him to his home as a slave where his children make fun of his hair. That night Athelstan tries to sleep as Ragnar and his wife Lagertha have sex. They come to Athelstan and ask if he would like to join them but Athelstan declines their offer and explains that he has taken an oath of celibacy and God would know of his sin. Ragnar and Lagertha seem unaffected by this and continue on without him.
Days later Ragnar prepares for his next raid and Lagertha accompanies him while Athelstan is placed in charge of the children. Bjorn objects to being put under the authority of a slave, while Gyda, who’s clearly grown attached to the priest, is pleased with the idea. After Ragnar and Lagertha return Ragnar appears to be even more of a problem and possibly a threat to Earl Haraldson. Haraldson has men go to his home and attack him and his family. Ragnar is wounded but is able to guide Lagertha and the children to safety and leads them to the lake that borders the Lothbroks home as Athelstan takes a boat to escape along with Ragnar’s family.
They arrive at Floki’s home where Ragnar recieves care for his wound. While there, Ragnar’s other allies are contacted and arrive at the house. Floki asks Athelstan about the Christian faith and the Christian creation story and tells the Monk the Norse creation story. Ragnar sends Floki to go to Haraldson’s home and challenge him to a duel to the death and whoever wins will be Jarl (Earl). His challenge is accepted and days later Ragner and the earl duel. Ragnar is wounded but is able to kill Haraldson in combat making Ragnar the new jarl.
Athelstan watches as Haraldson, Haraldson’s personal guardsman, and Haraldson’s son-in-law are killed and as crowds surround Ragnar in his championship. Athelstan attends Haraldson’s funeral and accompanies the Lothbroks to their new home as he is installed as the new jarl. During this time Athelstan learns the Norse legend of Ragnarok and several other legends. A few months later Ragnar goes to meet with fellow Norsemen and Athelstan attends to serve as usual and attends to a pregnant Lagertha. Athelstan observes Lagertha’s work as queen and is fascinated when she declares an unknown adulterer the Norse God Heimdallr. Athelstan cares for Lagertha when she has a miscarriage and loses her child and wonders what Ragnar will think when he returns as he was prophesized to have many sons.
A year to 18 months later Athelstan has been assimilated into the viking society and lies about his Christian faith and tells the Vikings that he shares their beliefs. Athelstan is questioned by a mourning Ragnar (one of the only people who knows he is Christian) what the Bible says about grief. Ragnar declares a pilgrimage to the Norse holy place of Uppsala and asks if Athelstan would like to join them. Athelstan says yes but before departing he goes to Ragnar’s old home to read his hidden Bible which disintegrates in his hands as it was burnt in Haraldson’s raid. Athelstan goes to Uppsala with the Vikings where he is asked by many if he is still Christian, which he denies.
Athelstan observes many of the Pagan rituals and is given intoxicating mushrooms by Rollo. He then roams the campsite that night and watches the revelry of the Pagan celebration. He is approached and kissed by Haraldson’s daughter who washes him. When asked why she does this she simply says “Because I must”. The next morning Athelstan is approached by the Seer and taken to the main temple. There he is asked if he is still Christian and denies Christ three times. It is revealed that Ragnar brought him to Uppsala as a sacrifice. Athelstan is shocked and clutches at his cross hidden in his sleeve. This is noticed by the priest and he flees the temple. Later the Seer tells Ragnar that Athelstan is still Christian and his sacrifice is therefore unacceptable.
Athelstan and the Vikings return to their homes while Ragnar goes to Gotaland. A plague strikes and Athelstan is one of the victims although he recovers. He is grief stricken when he discovers Ragnar’s daughter has been killed by the plague and watches with the other Norseman as Lagertha performs a cremation and funeral for the girl.
After Ragnar returned and discovered the fate of his daughter he left to fight Jarl Borg and his traitor brother but eventually made peace by convincing Borg’s clan and King Horik’s clan (who Ragnar sided with) to raid together. He brought his brother Rollo back to his lands where he was put on trial but spared after Ragnar secretly bribed the Pagan priest. After, Ragnar confesses to his family and Athelstan that he had an affair with the princess Aslaug which he is forgiven for. Although just a few hours later, Aslaug arrives heavily pregnant. The arrival of Aslaug causes feud to the Lodbrok family to Athelstan’s discomfort, and after Ragnar refuses to make Aslaug leave, his wife Lagertha leaves him along with his son Bjorn.
Four years later Athelstan has supposedly converted to Viking Paganism and is part of society although Floki doesn’t think his conversion is true. He goes with Ragnar for his first raid (and Ragnar’s first in three years). Although Horik goes with Ragnar and his men, Jarl Borg is not allowed to go because of Horik’s distrust in him. While heading to England, a storm separates the viking long boats but they are able to meet at an unknown island. While exploring the island the group of Vikings is ambushed by unknown soldiers. Athelstan does not hesitate to help kill these soldiers and after the battle the battle ends Ragnar gives Athelstan a bracelet of trust. Athelstan questions the captured Englishmen and discovers that the vikings are in Wessex, a country where the king is known for his wit and cruelty on the battlefield.
The Vikings continue their journey in Wessex and Athelstan discovers an abbey with the bones of saints and treasure. The vikings raid the abbey church with barely a fight and Athelstan stumbles upon a Bible. While admiring the Bible and reversing his days as a monk, a monk surprises him and urging him not steal anything. A startled Athelstan killed the monk and begins to show regret. While standing over the body the abbot (Saint Ælfheah) intrudes and recognizes Athelstan as a monk and threatens him with crucifixion (even though Athelstan is trying to get him to escape) but, while the abbot is tormenting Athelstan, Floki interrupts and takes the Bishop, ties him to a pillar and shoots him with arrows continually for all to see. After watching this long enough Athelstan kills the Bishop, proving Floki’s doubts in him.
After setting up a camp the Bishop of Winchester comes to negotiate with the Vikings and Ragnar agrees to meet with the King and after returning he discovers from men who have just arrived that his land has been taken over by Jarl Borg. Ragnar gathers his closest friends and best men to go and take back their land but Athelstan decides to stay in England with Horik. This creates friction between Ragnar and Athelstan but Ragnar doesn’t stop him from staying.
While there Athelstan becomes weary of all the pillaging and death and while resting he takes out the Bible he found and receives a vision of a crucifixion. While hunting Athelstan and his Vikings are ambushed and Athelstan is tortured and crucified although before he is killed, the king of Wessex, Ecgbert, thinks he will be valuable and tells his men to spare Athelstan’s life and takes him back to his kingdom.
After being taken by King Ecgbert, Athelstan’s wounds are mended and he is kept close by Ecgbert who even includes him in much of his royal business and even asking him for advice at times. Athelstan begins to have hallucinations much like with the bleeding Bible he had before his crucifixion. He begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary and a some sort of horrifying devil beast. Athelstan attends mass but lies about taking the bread of Christ as he spits it out after taking it, showing that Paganism is still a strong factor in his life.
Athelstan continues to grow close to king Ecgbert and after spending enough time for Ecgbert to trust him, he brings Athelstan to ancient crypts built by Roman Pagans who traveled to England years before. Ecgbert gives Athelstan a secret job where he will translate ancient Pagan writings that include legends, ways of life, and even battle strategies, a job Athelstan is very eager to accept.
Later a new raiding party lead by Ragnar, Lagertha, and King Horik comes to England to raid and after a massive battle between the Vikings and the Saxons Athelstan discovers a heavily wounded Rollo and takes him to be treated. Upon Rollo’s awakening he is disgusted by Athelstan returning to his former ways and even attempts to kill him but fails. Later, Egbert sends Athelstan to go and visit with Ragnar and his Vikings to negotiate peace. Upon Athelstans arrival he meets Bjorn for the first time in years and informs him along with all his fellow Vikings that Rollo Is alive and being treated. After meeting with Ragnar they have a small heart felt conversation about each other’s gods and whether or not Athelstan will go back with Ragnar. Hours later Ragnar, Horik, and Lagertha meet with king Ecgbert and arrange for raiding to stop only if they are given a large amount of land which Ecgbert agrees with. During this time Athelstan and Judith of Flanders (the wife of Prince Athelwulf of Wessex) fall in love and enjoy a brief affair from which Judith becomes pregnant. After the treaty Athelstan is faced with a choice between staying with Ecbert or leaving with Ragnar and after much consideration chooses his long and best friend, Ragnar.
An unknown amount of time later king Horik’s wife and children arrive and a celebration is held. At this celebration Athelstan is mocked by Floki who says that he is the cause for Rollo’s suffering. Later Athelstan is watched playing a game with Ragnar and Bjorn by Floki for unknown reasons although Floki seems to have gone unnoticed. Torstein is later found killed by an unknown individual and Athelstan is asked by Ragnar to be taught the lords prayer, a request Athelstan accepts.
That night Horik launches an attack on Ragnar with what he believes to be the help of Siggy and Floki although it is revealed that all the information Horik has told them, they have told Ragnar, thereby letting him defeat Horik’s forces. It is also believed that Torstein is alive and that Floki (who Horik told to murder Torstein) had Torstein fake his death so that he may grow closer to Horik. Ragnar orders all of Horik’s family to be butchered then sends his men (including Athelstan) to leave so he may kill Horik himself. After Ragnar kills Horik he becomes the new king thereby giving Athelstan an even higher role at his side.
In season three, Athelwolf destroyed the Viking Settlement in Wessex. When the word of what had transpired reached Kattegat the messenger was taken to Ragnar by Floki. Floki fearing this had happened because the gods were unhappy with them for cooperating with Christians. Floki also accused Athelstan of conspiring with King Eckbert to betray them. Later when building a boat Floki has a vision of blood coming out of wood and sees it as a sign he must spill blood. Floki later comes to Athelstan while he is praying in episode “Born Again” while Athelstan is praying, after seeing Floki, he realizes what is about to happen and prays to Christ for his soul to be received right before Floki strikes his head.
Later in this season it is revealed that Judith of Northumbria has given birth to the bastard son of Athelstan. After suffering mutilation she is spared death by Ecgbert after she confesses to being Athelstan’s love and the father of their infant baby boy, Athelwulf is forced to believe that Athelstan was a man “touched by God” and that God had a hand in the baby’s conception and is ordered by Ecgbert to raise it as his own – the child is named Alfred which implies he would later grow up (beyond the time frame of Vikings) to become King Alfred the Great.
George Blagden is best known for his role as Athelstan in HISTORY’s Vikings and will be seen as Louis XIV in the upcoming series Versailles. George got his start immediately after graduating from the prestigious Guildhall Drama School, which he attended on a full scholarship, in the independent feature The Philosophers opposite Rhys Wakefield, Sophie Lowe, James D’Arcy and Darryl Sabara. In 2012, he appeared in Universal’s Les Miserables as Grantaire. He also appeared in Warner Bros.’ Wrath of the Titans. Blagden was featured in Variety’s “Ten Brits to Watch” along with Sam Claflin, Gugu Mbatha Raw and Tuppence Middleton, to name a few.