Why ‘Born Again’ is a hairy episode
Vikings Review: Born Again (Season 3 Ep.6)
Religion is deadly. Religion kills people. Religion is an excuse for many gruelsome deeds.
That is nothing new, as history is evident of the usage of religious beliefs to justify horrible things. It is also nothing new in Vikings since one main aspect is the clashing of the Viking religion with the Christian religion. However it came back swinging wide and hard in the last episode. The episode left me with very “hairy” feelings. It is not a bad episode, it is full of great storytelling but it leaves a bitter taste.
We’ll get to that.
The death of Athelstan by the hands of Floki supersedes all other developments. Floki acts out of his religious beliefs because Athelstan has rediscovered his faith in Jesus Christ and forsaken the Norse gods. Meanwhile, Bjorn becomes a father and at the same time starts some romance with Trovi, former wife of Jarl Borg. In Wessex Judith gives born to a son and after that is brought to Christian justice. After cutting off an ear she names the rightful father of the child and Ecbert manages to mask it as a child sent by god. The boy is named Alfred and will one day become the historical power known as “Alfred the Great”.
Most outstanding scene
Ragnar strangling the man who informed him about the massacre in Wessex.
‘Born Again’ — Death and mutilation take over.
Athelstans rebirth as a Christian and his death.
By far the whole Athelstan — Ragnar — Floki constellation was the most important theme of the episode. Thus it is only fair to give it the attention it deserves. As you may have derived till now Athelstan was murdered by Floki at the end of the episode. Very dramatic. No unneccessary words were spoken.
Preceding the murder is the rebirth of Athelstan as he rediscovers his Christian beliefs and faith into Jesus Christ — due to a very cliche light ephiphany. Due to this he throws away the bracelet he has been given by Ragnar. Of course, it is noticed by the other norsemen and Athelstan becomes an outcast. Only Ragnar accepts his new / old faith and treats him like always. It is only fitting that it is Ragnar who delivers Athelstan’s body to his final resting place on a hill beneath a huge waterfall. This scene has a strong symbolic character: Ragnar paying his last respects to his close friend Athelstan by digging him a grave with a wooden cross as close to his god as possible.
Athelstan has always been a difficult character for me. Driven by confusion, some in-between character. I understand his role and the neccessity to have someone who is not initially part of the Viking society. He can give the audience an outside view and at the same time be important in storytelling regards by providing information about England, Frankia, the Christian religion, politics, culture and more. It was a wise move by the writers. However at least for my part no close emotional bond developed to the character. He was just there. Some neutral character which neither makes you hate him, nor love him. That’s it and personally I thought his death would occur much earlier. On the other hand if you take into account the last development with King Ecbert and Judith he could have developed into a larger role which would have been interesting. Now the only thing he leaves behind is his son with Judith who will become a major threat to future Viking invaders.
The mistrust and conflict between Floki and Athelstan has been nourished from the beginning and climaxed this season. Floki is full of hatred and acts like the religious conscience of the Norse gods to Ragnar and his friends. He never liked the priest and the Christians and somehow you could say it was inevitable that one of the two has to die eventually. My money was on Floki because it would have given the series a nice twist and would have opened up lots of potential conflicts and clashes.
As Ragnar states in ‘Born Again’ Athelstan was the only friend he could truly trust. Why was Ragnar so obsessed about the friendship with Athelstan and was bewildered and disturbed when Athelstan told him he wants to leave? Ragnar persuades the priest to stay, ulimately sentening him to death. I think it was because they shared the same mindset. Both have very curious natures, the will to explore new things, to observe and learn. And they both value the power of knowledge above all else. By sharing this traits Ragnar sees Athelstan as an equal, a strong person. He tells him that in the last scenes of the episode.
“You saw yourself as weak and conflicted, but to me you were fearless because you dared to question. Why did you have to die? We had so much more to talk about.”
The more disturbing it is, at least for me, that Ragnar does not foresee that Athelstan might be in danger after publicly refusing the Norse gods and refirming his Christian belief. Ragnar makes no public announcement that Athelstan is not to be hurt by anyone, nor does he surveil his friend in secrecy. I mean, come on. It is not that far stretched that something might happen to Athelstan after treating the vikings and their gods like he did.
Will there be repercussions? Probably. Yet, how and when remains unknown but Ragnars final words after shaving his head and taking Athelstan’s crucifix feel a lot like some sort of testimony:
“Forgive me my friend. Not for what I have done, but for what I’m about to do.”
Judith gives birth to a son and only afterwards the justice of the “Holy Book” is brought upon her. Both ears and her nose shall be cut off because she is a married woman and had sex with someone other than her husband. King Ecbert, being the old schemer and trickster that he is, encouraged Judith to her affair with Athelstan and now he sits on his throne with his son, calmly awaiting the punishment of Judith. He asks her for the name of the father and after losing one ear Judith reluctantly whispers the name.
Ecbert uses the connection to Athelstan, a holy man touched by god, to save Judith and at the same time declaring her son is a gift of a god. That old, cunning bastard.
News about the destruction of the settlement.
I did not think that word of the massacre in Wessex would reach the vikings so soon but Floki wakes Ragnar in the middle of the night.
In his company is an old man who is one of the settlers in Wessex. The old guy managed to escape, all his loved ones are slain and dead and he reports the actions of Aethelwulf and the other nobles to Ragnar. The man has lost his will and just wants to die. Ragnar seems deeply touched by the stories of the survivor, you can see his pain, his tears and the sadness in his eyes. From what we know of the Northmen you would expect the thirst for vengeance to take over immediately. Ragnar promises the man that retribution will be seeked. However, after Floki has left Ragnar confirms that the story has been not shared with anyone other than himself. He then strangles the man, granting him his wish to be with his lost ones. Yet, it is not a deed done out of mercy. Ragnar knows exactly that his plans to raid Paris will come to an halt as soon as the others hear about the destruction of their settlement in Wessex. In his ambition to create a lasting legacy he cannot allow that to happen. Vengeance is sacrificed for the raid of Paris. Sooner or later this will come back.
Preparations for a trip to Paris.
The preparations are making good progress. Ships are build, warriors are gathering in Kattegat and strategic information about Paris and its area is gained (some very weird performance by a traveller who did as well give Ragnar the means to cross the sea to England in the first season). Calf and his men are arriving, covered in thick fur and hair. Seriously, is it that cold or what the heck is the matter with all that hair? The usurper brought with him a “chunk of meat”, — an extremely large and evil looking warrior. Exactly the type of guy you want to have on your side in a fight. And then there is Erlendur. Ragnar is genuinely surprised to see him but plays along nicely. This can become something good — in terms of treachery and killing, of course.
Not much. Porruns gives birth as well, granting Bjorn his first child. He is utterly delighted and names the girl Siggy. Their marriage however keeps being a twisted thing. Porrun is still ashamed of herself and wants Bjorn to seek the company of other women, encouraging him to start a love affair with Trovi, the ex-wife of their enemy Jarl Borg who is now in the company of Erlendur. This will lead to trouble. Amen!
That’s it for this epsiode. Please recommend the post if you like it.
Here a few links to other great reviews of ‘Born Again’:
"The things I do for you," says the live man to the dead one. They are always talking to each other, these two. They…www.ew.com
I don't usually throw up a SPOILER warning before a review-I mean, who reads a review without watching the episode…www.avclub.com