Season 3: Episode 8 “To The Gates”
By Matt Fowler
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
While Ragnar’s siege of Paris didn’t exactly take up the full episode, “To the Gates!” was still practically wall-to-wall action. There was a good, solid 30 minutes of warfare here – the biggest scene the show has ever pulled off. The most extras, the most CG add-ons, and the most intense fighting to date. It’s one thing for Ragnar and his horde to pillage and raid villages and monasteries. Or to face other soldiers in an open field. This was a walled city. A devastatingly fortified city, in fact. With more layers and dangers than Ranger ever anticipated. So much so that once he got up on the wall and saw just how far removed the central hive was from his grasp, he threw himself off.
It’s been a while since our heroes have, more or less, been a***holes. Meaning, them being conquerers, murderers, and thieves. Waging war on civilizations that they have no beef with. Attacking places just because they exist and haven’t been attacked by them yet (or enough). It’s their version of “exploration” and it comes with mass casualties. For more than a season or so, our main characters have been fighting designated “enemies,” so this was sort of a return to their first year viciousness.
With the twist being that they actually met their match and were forced to retreat after huge losses. I really enjoyed that. Because their notion that’s it’s honorable to die in battle during a fight that they themselves started for no reason has always been a point of contention for me.
Now, I knew historically that Bjorn Ironside didn’t die attacking Paris, but this episode still made me think he’d bit the dust. For a little while at least. The series isn’t exactly beholden to any fixed set of facts and I’m always up for historical tinkering if it makes for good TV drama. So for a brief moment, this chapter actually seemed to hold huge consequences for Ragnar. Until it was revealed that Bjorn survived.
There wasn’t much story at play in “To the Gates!,” which spent most of its time showing us the Norsemen’s violent siege engine and battle tactics. From battering rams to giant door bolts pulled by horses to Floki’s towers. It wasn’t enough though. The Franks’ weaponry and walls proved to be too deadly and resilient. Hardly anyone made it up to the top of Floki’s ladders thanks to crossbows, boiling oil, and fire. And Lagertha, having spent a long time and many lives busting open the front gate, immediately fell to a second barrier – that launched spears! It was all pretty damn exciting, though I will admit that I didn’t fear for any of the main characters. Which is a shame. I think that’s why “Bjorn dying” made for such a cool surprise. Even if it wasn’t what I thought it was.
The most notable plot elements to surface during the giant battle were Rollo and Princess Gisla locking eyes (after she rallied her own men using a sacred banner), Kalf saving Lagertha and then getting her to sleep with him (under the caveat that one day she planned to kill him), and Ragnar revealing (during a chat with “Athelstan”) that he knew all about Floki’s hand in his murder.
Which was a cool scene, even though I’m not too clear on what Ragnar had in mind for revenge. When he had Floki make those towers last week he sure seemed to smirk as if it were a form of punishment and that he already knew Floki’s secret. But did Ragnar’s plan really involve having Floki build contraptions he knew wouldn’t work? Sacrificing many lives in the process? All so that Floki would have an extreme crisis of conscience?
“To the Gates!” was pretty thrilling and impressive. I especially enjoyed the fact that Team Kattegat lost. Bjorn dying would have actually made it even better, stakes-wise, though I suppose that type of loss wouldn’t have allowed Ragnar to act so amused by his crushing defeat at the end.