Ragnar -- Horik! because he's an old school sort of warlord, who will not listen to the class inferior but o so cunning Ragnar -- lost. But this wasn't the most distressing thing that happened, even though the loss included a nearly dead Rollo. It is nearly 100% certain now that Floki's plotting with Horvik to take down Ragnar -- Floki, whose skills and dependable loyalty have been instrumental in the preservation of Ragnar, his people and his lands.
Gods and goddesses' behaviors reflect the universality of humanity. So, unmotivated as Floki's turn against Ragnar may appear to the audience, it is understandable. Most people share the experience of losing friends, friends who were long-time dear friends, for whom good turns were done when possible, without even thinking about it. All sincere questions to learn if something offensive took place, so an apology can be made and and change behavior are rebuffed. It's difficult not to start thinking these 'friends' were hypocrites all along, who were in the relationship only for what they got out of it, and now they no longer feel there is anything left worth bothering with. There are friends who were there when things didn't go well, but when things started to break positively again, they dropped the friendship. So on and so forth. So Floki, self-identified with the trickster god Loki, is a great addition to the story that Vikings is telling. The sagas and myths are filled with inexplicable betrayals, because sometimes human beings take mean and petty glee in destruction, just as other humans will be loyal through torture and death.
King Horik asks Loki leading questions about Ragnar's first-born son, Bjorn, who is turning into a great warrior. He compares Bjorn to Baldur. The upshot is the esteem in which Bjorn is held by everyone annoys both fellows no end. Not for a particular reason -- there's no suggestion that Floki believes Bjorn is unworthy of such esteem, but it persistently annoys him, an annoyance rapidly growing, just as his annoyance with Ragnar's success is growing. According to folklore, a scorpion must sting something, even if only itself. (One does notice, however, that nobody is esteeming Horik's son -- nobody even bothers to call the toad by name, including his father and Floki.)
In nordic mythology, Loki's grand inquisition to discover whether there was anything that hadn't sworn not to harm Baldur learned was the mistletoe. Mom Goddess Frigg didn't bother to get a promise from Mistletoe, so insignificant it was. Loki was the one who put mistletoe in the hand of blind Hod, in order that he too could pay honor to Baldur and participate in the game of throwing deadly things, with all the deadly things changing trajectory to not harm Baldur. Sometimes Loki learns of the mistletoe from Frigg herself, and sometimes it's by going through the whole of heaven, earth and hell and asking every damned thing and creature. With myths there are always more than one version. But it does seem agreed that Baldur's death is the first step on the way to Ragnarok. A foreshadowing of Ragnar's downfall, somehow accomplished through Bjorn?
The Mercian Princess Kwenthrith was even more impossibly implausible this week. If a woman wants to command an army she doesn't go among hired mercenaries and grab their dicks, in public, under the eyes of two supposedly allied kings and their entourages.* That she managed to murder her brother strains belief. This woman's too whacko in all the wrong ways to be a successful murderess, much less a successful ruler. In the meantime King Ecbert and King Aelle have their bargain to partition Mercia between them, so, one wonders if hiring norse mercenaries is part of King Ecbert's long plan to take over Mercia for himself alone, and squeeze out Aelle. I am thinking of what is in the The Tale of Ragnar's Sons (translation here of the Edda).
In presumably at least one of the choices of the episode's title, Athelstan and Ragnar are reunited; Athelstand chooses Ragnar and the norse over King Ecbert and Wessex. That's how much Princess Kwenthrith must have scared him last week!
What does Athelstan have that everybody loves him (except Floki)? He's interested in everyone, and non-judgmental of anyone but himself. Despite becoming an effective warrior, he is fundamentally gentle. Two words say it all: Athelstan is lovable, he's trustworthy, in a time and place that bristles with deceit and betrayal. I was surprised he went back to Kattegatt with Ragnar, but it's plausible.
Athelstan, Ecbert and Ragnar are all three exceptional men in their age, and exceptional in the same ways. Athelstan is the bridge between Ragnar and Ecbert. Neither of these two are self-conflicted, whereas, Athelstan is.
Continued from last week, Princess Aslaug made another classy move, worthy of a Princess -- as opposed to Princess Kwenthrith. She freed Porunn. Moreover she does it right, she gave Porunn some coin and a new dress, so she had the means to support herself as a free person, as slaves have nothing of their own to bring to freedom, even names as slavery was / is practiced in many places -- which allows her to be a socially recognized partner to Bjorn.
Aslaug's been growing up and into the place to which she was born, woman of the ruling class. Lagertha was an excellent role model for her, as it seems Eorl Lagertha is for so many young women who encounter her now. It's too bad there were no reaction shots of Lagertha to the news that Princess Aslaug freed Porunn from her status as a bondswoman. Could this have been some kind of domestic rivalry to show these young women that there are others sorts of power and woman can wield, and freeing worthy young women are among them? As Porunn wasn't Lagertha's property she wouldn't have been able to free the girl that Bjorn is, at least currently, besotted by.
In fact, this is one way that extended families are made, which also make for kingdoms. Lagertha and her son are still as much a part of Ragnar's clan as Aslaug and her sons. And it is the two women here, Lagertha and Aslaug, who are making this decision, not Ragnar. It was another choice, in an episode titled "The Choice."
One of the best aspects of Vikings are the relationships among the women, how their connections among each other shift, change, and develop. Even Lagertha and Aslaug's relationship which began as rivals in connection with Ragnar, has developed beyond that, which is not about their relationships with Ragnar, per se. Very few movies, novels or television series even think of respecting female characters this way. There's limited menu for roles inhabited by women at all, and women's relationships with each other that don't depend upon the central male protagonist are nearly non-existent.
One more episode to go. What will happen in the finale?
* Did get a kick though, out of King Ecbert's knowing and even amused expression as Princess Kwenthrith acted out as if she were in an MTV video instead of a battle to own her kingdom. King Ecbert always surprises me, in good ways. Aelle, one way or another, should be very careful.