Season 3: Episode 5 “The Usurper”
By Matt Fowler
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
Let’s talk about that big Ecbert reveal at the end. Here I’ve been, praising Ecbert each week for his enlightened acceptance of the Northmen and he’s been a devious schemer the entire time. It had seemed like Aethelwulf’s rage led him into a cruel act of defiance, but him slaughtering all the villagers (including the children) was met with boastful laughter and soaring pride from Ecbert. All part of the King’s ploy to appease a group of invaders (who’d then trust him enough to leave) while ridding himself of traitors in his own court. Oof. What a betrayal. What a plot.
When Aethelwulf led the assault, I was wondering how the show would deal with him being a rogue villain, what with the treaty and all. But everything quickly fell into place and father/son dual antagonists were assembled.
It’s also possible that Ecbert’s encouragement of Judith’s affair with Athelstan was designed to turn Aethelwulf (who we previously saw being quite reasonable in battle) into a stronger ally. To make him hate the Northmen even more.
There were a couple of shared stories in the very busy, revealing “The Usurper.” Ragnar and Aethelwulf both returned home to discover that their wives had been unfaithful – basically driving both of them back out and away from home as some as possible. Aethelwulf to the Wessex settlement and Ragnar toward Paris. Different circumstances, sure, but the effect was the same. These powerful, prideful men will abandon their homes for conquest at the slightest drop of discord on the homefront.
Rollo and Bjorn shared a story as well – as men who now felt overwhelming guilt because they couldn’t protect the women they loved. Which led them into a big, rain-soaked brawl that Bjorn started so as to distract a large crowd of Rollo-haters who looked like they were about to tear Rollo to pieces.
“The Usurper” got better as it went along, with the ending holding both the big Ecbert turn and Floki telling Ragnar that Harbard was actually Odin. Most of the episode was taken up by Ragnar and Lagertha’s return to Kattegat, the brawl, and Ragnar slowly discovering the entire truth about Harvard’s visit. And it was all good, but things didn’t really pick up until the final ten minutes.
There was also one of those odd Vikings time-slips. The sort we haven’t seen, really, since Season 1. I don’t mind weeks or months passing between episodes, but it always feels a bit wonky when it occurs mid-episode. Because we literally “CUT TO” Hedeby at one point when Ragnar and Lagertha both traveled there in the blink of an eye to confront Earl Kalf. A situation that didn’t quite resolve itself in a way that I’d hoped.
It seemed like Kalf was assembling a rogues’ gallery of Ragnar-haters for a big fight, but none of that played out here. Ragnar merely invited Kalf to Paris and Lagertha, more or less, found herself being diffused by Kalf’s desire for her. And considering that Ecbert turned out to be rotten, her falling for liars seems to be a recurring weakness. Not that I doubt Kalf’s lying about desiring her, but you just know he’s still plotting something.
We’ve also been watching, for weeks now, Floki piss and moan about Ragnar’s truce with Ecbert and the Christians. It all seemed like it was building up to a big conflict between the two of them, but now it appears Floki was right. The entire time. Ebert was horrible. And Kattegat, as far as we can tell, was actually visited upon by Odin himself. Floki’s devotion to the Norse gods has put him in a prime “I told you so position” position. It’s been a great, unexpected ride. Because even in this episode Floki seemed quite petty when compared to Athelstan. But now we know all his warnings were on point.
I wasn’t a fan of the way the Earl Kalf situation was addressed (though Ragnar made a funny expression when Lagertha barged in on his meeting), but the rest of the episode held big things. Rollo discovering that he had a promising future ahead of him, Ragnar finding out that Harbard was Odin, and Ecbert’s true, nasty colors showing for the first time.