Vikings: Stalemate on the Seine

Historical television is my jam. Band of Brothers, X Company and Vikings are three of the most recent that I love. And while, yes, some feature more drama than hard facts, there is always a ring of truth to them. That’s why I always have my laptop and Google up and running when I watch Vikings.

Thursday’s episode, “What Might Have Been,” is a prime example of a storyline packed with facts surrounded by Michael Hirst’s writing. Longtime fans of the show already know Rollo really did attack Paris and later became the first ruler of Normandy—though he didn’t have a brother named Ragnar (Ragnar is thought to be legend rather than real man)—and his grave is in the Cathedral of Rouen. Likewise, we know from viking legends Bjorn travels throughout the Mediterranean, something hinted at thanks to the map he found during last season’s siege of Paris. Hirst’s take on the tale this week featured Ragnar, Bjorn and the rest infuriated by Rollo’s betrayal. It will be interesting to see what happens next week when we see the new French forts in action. Will the vikings have a much trouble as Rollo promised Emperor Charles, or will they simply pull up to shore and fight on land?

Meanwhile, Hirst is advancing to stories of two young men who make an impact on real history. King Ecbert’s belief that Alfred is destined to do great things was a slyly-written line because the young boy becomes history’s Alfred the Great. He did travel to Rome to meet the Pope when he was four years old, though there’s no record Aethelwulf accompanied him. (Historical records show Alfred had, unlike on Vikings, three brothers.) On the viking side, we have Ivar the Boneless. Last week, Ivar hacked open a kid’s skull, showing his violent side; on Thursday Harbard re-appeared (he certainly knows when Ragnar isn’t around, doesn’t he?) to educate the lad in … well, we don’t know.

What we do know is that when these two become men they’ll do battle with one another. In 868, Alfred fights Ivar’s army, which was trying to take over Mercia; this was the first of nine skirmishes between Alfred and Ivar. These two, coupled with Bjorn’s upcoming adventures, means there are plenty of stories to tell as long as Vikings continues to be renewed. It also means the show would go on without Ragnar, something that’s been hinted at several times this season. Addicted to a drug Yidu is making for him—likely opium—Ragnar’s body is breaking down and he no longer has the thirst for blood and power that drove him to attack England and Paris. And it may very well be this latest assault on Paris that kills him; one legend says cholera and wounds sustained fighting in Paris claims his life while the other account states King Aelle (who has aligned with Ecbert this season) throws him into a pit of snakes.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on History.