Vikings Season 1 Review “Sacrifice”

Normally, I like to wax philosophical about the themes of each week’s Vikings episode. This week, too much hit the fan and we don’t have time for that. Let’s dig in to what made this the best episode to date.

Ragnar’s fall. I have been forecasting that Ragnar is going to get knocked down a peg because of his persistent arrogance. He is on a downward spiral, but not in the way that I anticipated. In general, things are going well for Ragnar. As Earl, he now has a budding relationship with King Horik, which may lead to bigger and better glory. Granted, he had a setback because of the loss of his son. But, on the whole, Ragnar is still looking west in hopes of conquering more lands and bringing back more gold. I see his fall in a different way.

Ragnar is our anti-hero. We’ve seen him do many questionable things (like wiping out villages), but still have rooted for him. That changed for me this week. Ragnar has been less than sympathetic towards Lagertha over the loss of their son. Instead, he’s wallowing in self-indulgent pity. When he goes to the temple and asks the gods if he will have a son and who will bear his son, I almost fell off the couch. At that moment, whatever shred of likability Ragnar had in my mind disappeared. It was even worse once we discovered why he had brought Athelstan on the pilgrimage. Ragnar now seems no better than Rollo. You could try to excuse his behavior with the, “That’s just the way Vikings were,” mantra, but that won’t cut it in my book. As I mulled over the episode, I realized that I actually wouldn’t care if Ragnar died. It would be a problem for the show, clearly, because you would need somebody else in charge. But, he is just so despicable now that I want something bad to happen to him.

Lagertha’s loss. There has been a huge shift in the relationship between Lagertha and Ragnar. She is processing the loss of her child, but also dealing with the implication that she is to blame. Gone is the playful, loving relationship between the couple. Gone is Lagertha’s sense of self-confidence. When Lagertha almost begs Ragnar not to go out and party, it is apparent that she has lost all of her power in the relationship. This is not the same woman who attacked her husband when he refused to let her journey west. It is heartbreaking to see this transformation. Then to know that Ragnar is considering throwing her over – that’s just too much. I want to see Lagertha take control again. She’s not just a woman – she’s a strong woman and needs to remember that.

A new Athelstan. There was a lot of drama in this episode. We had the personal conflict between Siggy and Rollo, the horror of human sacrifice (along with the cute little goats), the creepy priests, and the loss of Leif. None of these things was as important or as epic as the transformation of Athelstan. When we see him at the beginning, he doesn’t look like his former priestly self. He has new clothes, a Viking-style beard, and longer hair. He’s clearly trying to assimilate into the group. In some ways, he is similar to Ragnar and appears to have an interest in the Viking ways because he is a curious person. But, his integration into the group is equally about survival. He kneels before the Viking priests and echoes the words of their prayers. He even tells one of the priests that he has renounced Christianity.

Without a doubt, the most shocking moments occurred when it became apparent that Ragnar had brought Athelstan on the pilgrimage with the intent of offering him to the gods as a human sacrifice. It takes Athelstan a while to realize what Ragnar has done. This is the moment when I knew that George Blagden has a very bright future in acting. The look on his face when he finally realizes what Ragnar has done was emotionally raw. I knew it was coming, but still felt his shock and feeling of having been betrayed. It was an amazing performance. When Athelstan is standing in the crowd and watching the people be sacrificed, his tears made me well up. Athelstan, not Ragnar, now feels like the hero of the tale. He is the only one who demonstrates empathy.

I was glad that Athelstan has not actually renounced his faith, and hopefully this incident was a wake-up call that he is not around friends or family. When Ragnar turned to him at the sacrifice and said, “Looks like your God finally came through for you,” I shared the rising bitterness in Athelstan’s heart. Ragnar needs his comeuppance.

This episode deserves a second viewing. I am almost scared to imagine what is going to happen in the season finale. I just hope that Ragnar has some consequences for his lack of humanity.

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