Vikings’ Legendary Context: What Ivar’s Trip to England Means for Ragnar
Warning: The following post contains minor spoilers for the midseason premiere of Vikings and major spoilers for the 800-year-old Icelandic saga Ragnarssona þáttr
The statute of limitations on spoilers probably doesn’t extend more than a few hundred years. History Channel’s Vikings is, by design, far from a historical reenactment, but series creator Michael Hirst does take liberal inspiration from documented historical events, legendary sagas and Germanic mythology in his telling of the story of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his many wives, lovers and sons. In particular, the 13th century saga Ragnarssona þáttr or Tale of Ragnar’s Sons seems be rising to the fore in recent episodes as Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) gets more screen time.
All of Ragnar’s sons— in descending age order on the show: Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig); Good Guy Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith); Thing 1, aka Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø), Thing 2, aka Sigurd Snake in the Eye (David Lindström); and Ivar — are set to become some of the most significant players in this half of the season, but Wednesday’s midseason premiere spent much of its runtime establishing the ways in which Ivar’s jealousy and physical insecurity manifest in unpredictable bouts of cruelty and ambition.
After peeping on all three of his brothers as they had sex with the same slave girl (gross for a number of reasons), Ivar decided that he also wanted to have sex with said slave girl (also gross). Good Guy Ubbe casually asked the girl if she’d be willing to sleep with his little brother so he too could get in on the fun (yep, still gross), but it turned out Ivar wasn’t able to do the deed. Surviving a brief fit of Ivar’s rage, the girl convinced Ivar that there are other ways to prove your manhood, inspiring him to sail with his father to England and build up his legacy.
The Ivar of historical legend is best known for his exploits in England, and with Ivar now set to accompany his father there on the show, the stage could be set for Hirst to interpret some new sections of the sagas. But, and here’s where those 800-year-old spoilers come in, this could spell bad news for the defeated and decrepit Ragnar.
In the sagas, Ragnar, upset by the idea that his sons could be acquiring fame that could surpass his own, goes to England with an inadequate conquering force of a few hundred Vikings, only to be routed and captured by Northumbria’s King Aelle (played in previous seasons of Vikings by Ivan Kaye). Aelle then throws Ragnar to his death in a pit of snakes.
Ivar leads his brothers to England in approximately the year 865 to exact revenge upon Aelle, but Ivar holds back his forces in battle. The brothers are defeated, but Ivar tricks Aelle into granting him a great deal of land, upon which he establishes the city of York and begins to build local support for a second battle against the king. Once he’s gathered enough support, he calls on his brothers to return, all the while convincing Aelle that he’s on his side. Aelle is overwhelmed by the combined forces, and Ivar has the king put to death via the excessively brutal blood eagle, which Ragnar used against his enemy Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) back in season 2 of the show.
Some historical accounts indicate that Ivar and Ubbe were also responsible for the death of the East Anglian king Edmund the Martyr, and that Ivar ruled in Northumbria for years after the death of King Aelle.
There’s no definitive historical record of the lives of Ragnar or any of his offspring, and there’s no indication yet that Ragnar will meet his end by Aelle’s hand on Vikings, but Ivar’s journey to England nonetheless opens up some intriguing and dangerous possibilities. Hirst has hinted at the “historical” Ragnar’s death before with the character’s sickness during the Paris raid, only to refocus the story in a different direction. With Ragnar and Ivar headed to England, Bjorn and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) headed to the Roman Empire, and plenty of other characters still wholly unaccounted for, there are plenty of directions for Hirst’s Vikings to explore.
Vikings, Wednesdays, 9/8c, History