Mythology haunts every corner of the Vikings universe this week, shaping conflicts, relationships and the forging of new alliances. We’re not talking mythology in the sense of something that’s necessarily untrue, but rather a shared belief that expands in cultural importance to become sacred. What does that mean? It means you can sing out to the gods, but they might not sing back. And you can try to rest on your ancestors’ laurels, but those things wither pretty quickly.
The name Ragnar used to mean something around here
You’ll notice this episode’s constant references to the past early on when our Viking heroes talk about being in the same cell that once held their father. Later, they’ll be brandishing Ecbert/Ragnar’s treaty before King Alfred – a treaty that should give them the right to settle in East Anglia, but won’t, because the throne isn’t yet warm under His Majesty’s royal bottom, and he still has to name-check his predecessors when addressing courtiers. Even later, Ragnar’s name gets another airing, as Alfred tries to convince Ubbe to renounce his gods in favour of Jesus.
One last thing before we move on: Ivar’s name is also spoken by Alfred, who remembers playing chess against him when they were knee-high to a shieldmaiden. Does this put him on equal mythological footing to Ragnar?
Church vs State is not a new idea
We tend to think of Henry VIII as the big British bloke who bashed the bishops, but here we have Alfred the Nascent going head to head with the already entrenched agents of Christ.
They’re unhappy about the unwashed pagans at court, they’re unhappy about the plan to spread The Word in English, they’re generally unhappy with how things are going these days – in short, they’re classic conservatives dreaming of a glorious past, and they really should go back and watch some earlier seasons of this show to counteract their rose-coloured eyeballs.
For his part, Alfred’s looking to the future in more ways than one: he meets his wife Ealhswith with an eye to establishing an heir and cementing his power base. (And she, we discover, is less a wimple-toting shrinking violet, and more a devourer of unwashed pagans.)
God helps those who help themselves
Heahmund’s back in town like those legendary boys, and he wants his bishopric back. Which is fine, except (a) he also loves unwashed pagans and (b) the current occupant of said bishopric isn’t that keen to give it back.
Which strategic gambit do you think is more likely to succeed: inform Heahmund that you have kompromat on him and rely on the collective belief in the sacrosanct nature of the church... or stab someone in the eyeball on an altar because you can always confess your sins and gain absolution later?
As always on Vikings bold pragmatism trumps reliance on community standards to save the day.
The old gods are silent, the new ones are loud
In Iceland, Floki asks “What if I’m just a crazy old fool after all?” following a waterfall’s lack of response to his theological pleas (we all take pointed sips of our coffee and give each other the side-eye). Meanwhile, in Kattegat, a new mythology is replacing the old – not only in the sense of Ivar bestowing divinity upon himself with the assistance of a similarly unhinged Freydis, but also in the sense that he’s fathering a child despite the longstanding belief among his brothers and peers that he’s “boneless”. Of course, we’re putting an asterisk next to “fathering”, but who are we to question the gods? Especially after what happened to scheming heretic Margrethe…
Vikings airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS.