Season 2: Episode 9 “The Choice”
By Tom Clark
April 25, 2014
Well, the penultimate episode of the second season of History’s VIKINGS has come and gone, setting the stage for next week’s finale. THE CHOICE more accurately depicted the outcomes of choices, rather than the choices themselves, completing cycles of cause and effect; the nexus of which has been a consistent string of betrayals throughout the season. The catalyst to most of this is the betrayal of Rollo as he sided with Jarl Borg in episode one set us upon a chain reaction of events. That led to the deal breaking with Jarl Borg, which in turn caused the invasion of Kattegat and, eventually, Jarl Borg’s execution a few episodes ago. And who has been at the root of all the trouble? We’ll theorize on that later, though it’s not hard to point a single finger in this case. Now, in contrast, who do we know isn’t the cause of the strife? That would be the missing monk, and despite all of the fighting and political intrigue, what seems most important, is after weeks of asking “What about Athelstan?” we finally have an answer. Will he stay with the learned King Eckbert and continue to unravel the mysteries of the Romans? Or will he return to Kattegat with Ragnar? There are plenty of choices left to make, both for Athelstan and Floki, as the case is. The answers to these questions and much more lie ahead, traveler. Here be spoilers. You have been warned.
THE CHOICE Synopsis:Again, as usual, I do not present our events completely in linear fashion.We open with the aforementioned Athelstan busy translating the Roman texts on battle for King Eckbert. This is important, as it is partially the results of this, as well as the brash over-confidence of King Horik that later leads to the route of the Northmen on the battlefield. I continue to admire King Eckbert, he is truly a renaissance man. He has reached his wits end with the Northmen, however. Athelstan argues for Ragnar, but Eckbert simply cannot forgive the transgression against his son’s party in last episode. Athelstan is still having a spiritual dilemma, he prays to God about Thor, Odin and Frey and for the safety of Ragnar and King Eckbert.
Ragnar has some quality time arguing with King Horik. In no short words, Ragnar essentially tells Horik he’s an asshole for ambushing Æthelwulf and killing his guards. Horik sticks to his guns and cashes in the KING card, ordering an attack on King Eckbert’s villa. Bjorn and Ragnar have a father and son heart to heart about battle and death. Horik observes this and compares Bjorn to the god Baldur. Floki tells the myth of Baldur, and we’ll get into that later as today’s history lesson centers on the gods of the Vikings.
The battle does not go well for our Viking friends. Eckbert hides King Ælla and his forces in reserve, waiting for the right moment. Ragnar believes they should defend the hill top, but the arrogant King Horik blindly charges into a valley and finds himself trapped and routed by the English horsemen. During the battle, Rollo is seriously injured and trampled by King Ælla’s cavalry. The Northmen run and Rollo is taken by the Saxons.
As a result of the battle, Ragnar is overjoyed to see Athelstan. King Horik again cries foul and accuses the Saxons of treachery, but Lagertha sides with Ragnar. Ragnar bestows a new surname on Bjorn, as he was unharmed during the battle, he shall now be known as Bjorn Ironside. There is a large funeral, with many pyres and burning boats, the Northmen are beaten and down trodden. In Wessex, King Ælla wants to finish routing the Vikings. King Eckbert stays his hand, saying now is the time to negotiate. If they don’t, more Vikings will come in the future and cause more trouble. Eckbert sends Athelstan to negotiate with Ragnar. A cautious Ragnar escorts Athelstan away from their camp, keeping him safe from the arrows of King Horik’s assassins. They discuss Athelstan’s spiritual dilemma, saying that he hopes one day their gods “can become friends.” He returns Athelstan’s torc.
The Vikings and the Saxons meet, exchanging prisoners in order to negotiate. A reluctant King Ælla stays in the Northmen camp while Eckbert and Princess Kwenthrith of Mercia negotiate terms with Ragnar, Horik and Lagertha. They are offered land and gold in exchange for a non-hostility pact, that includes volunteers offering to work as mercenaries for the Princess in her civil war. Rollo, who earlier threatens to kill to Athelstan, is returned to the Northmen. Ragnar asks Athelstan what he will do, will he stay with his people or will he return to Kattegat? We get no answer. What we do get is Princess Kwenthrith eye-raping the volunteers as she inspects their, uh, weaponry. She’s disappointed that the infamous Ragnar isn’t among them.
In Kattegat, Thora learns battle, sparring with a warrior. She tells Princess Aslaug she has been inspired by Lagertha and wishes to become a Shield Maiden. Ragnar and company return to their home. Upon entering the Great Hall, Bjorn sees Thora and learns she has been freed by his step-mother. The episode ends with the revelation that Athelstan has left with Ragnar.
And there we have our answer, much to my surprise, Athelstan’s loyalty lies with Ragnar more than with King Eckbert and his desire to learn the mysteries of the Romans. Eckbert looks heartbroken at the end of the episode, and I can could empathize with him. After all, it was Athelstan who allowed him to have the knowledge of the Romans to assist him in winning the battle against the Northmen, so it will be interesting to see what King Eckbert does going forward. Since we’re on the subject of kings, I’m of the opinion that King Horik is a grade-A asshole, with emphasis on the ASS. He has been the catalyst of everything negative that has happened to our heroes since he first showed up last season. All the troubles with Jarl Borg and now the friction with King Eckbert, all of them have their roots in Horik’s shoes. It will be a great day indeed when Ragnar finally has enough of his horseshit.
The Viking gods were prolific throughout the Teutonic tribes of Europe. Floki and King Horik have bonded over their mutual appreciation of their religion and the gods of the Northmen, at least Horik would like Floki to believe that. Their talk about Baldur was most likely prophetic and a major plot device that hints at what is to come. Why do I say this? Because the topic of their conversation is also the prologue to the end of days in Viking religion, Ragnarok. As Floki said, Odin was so proud of his son Baldur that all the elements of the universe promised Odin they would never harm his beautiful son. All except one: mistletoe. Loki, the trickster god, deceived the blind archer Hodur into shooting an arrow of mistletoe at Baldur. The result killed him and set into motion the events that would bring about the end of the gods. Odin’s wife Frigga grieved and begged the goddess of death, Hel, to return Baldur to her. She said she would if all the universe wept for Baldur, and that they did, all but a single giantess (believed by some to be Loki in disguise, the giantess’s name, Thokk, translates to a sarcastic THANKS!). Baldur remained in the underworld, Hodur was executed by the god Vali and Ragnarok brought about the end of the gods. All Hel broke lose, so to say, giants, monsters and gods battled, Odin was slain by the Fenris wolf and Thor fought the Mid-Gard Serpent to the death. From the ashes of this apocalyptic battle arose a new pantheon of gods, including the sons of Thor and a risen Baldur (that sounds rather Christ like to me. What about you?). This is an allegory, some would say, of true history; where the Vikings and their gods not only battled a physical, but spiritual war. Ragnarok is a strong metaphor for the end of the Viking Age, and though we won’t be seeing that this season or even next year, the seeds for it are planted and will grow.
Recap by This is Infamous
Inside Look: Ep 209 The Choice
Writer and executive producer Michael Hirst gives the history behind the Vikings’ reputation of being mercenaries and why Athelstan chooses family over faith.