Vikings has gotten its bite back in this week’s episode, “In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning,” with a bloody opening scene showing the death of Aslaug by the hands of Lagertha, a celebratory viking funeral with singing reminiscent of Theodred’s funeral in The Two Towers and a conversation between two withered kings.
Was killings Aslaug a smart decision? Shooting an arrow through the back of a powerful woman with four vengeful sons who only asked for safe passage to leave and was willing to give up Kattegat? Probably not considering the first chance Ubbe got he went after Lagthera when they confront her in the throne room, but Ragnar’s son’s vengeance is a price she is willing to pay to get back the life Aslaug stole from her.
It was clear by the look on Aslaug’s face that she was happy when the arrow pierced her. She knew Lagertha sealed her fate by killing her. She does get a grand viking funeral though, very similar to a certain The Two Towers funeral with almost the same singing.
Meanwhile, a good chunk of this episode focused on King Ecbert and his conversations with Ragnar in some of the best scenes in the history of the series.
It all starts with Ragnar in a cage that’s just too small for him to stand up in. Ecbert is eager to see his captive and has the caged Ragnar and Ivar, who is being treated well by the English, for dinner. This situation becomes a bit awkward when Ecbert introduces Magnus, the young son of the late Queen Kwenthrith of Mercia and Ragnar.
At least that’s what we thought until Magnus and Ragnar meet face to face, and Ragnar admits that all Kwenthrith ever did was “piss on him” and they never had sex. Ecbert had his suspicions and ushers the disappointed boy out of the room. Poor Magnus doesn’t fair well at the end of this episode when he gets kicked out of his home by Aethelwulf in order to become a “man.”
The two kings then have some interesting alcohol-induced conversations about life, death, the beyond god and, of course, their old friend Athelstan. The scenes are subtly captivating as Travis Fimmel and Linus Roache do what they do best— ponder the lives of their characters with undeniable chemistry.
It’s a deep look at Ecbert because, like Ragnar, he seems burnt out. His willingness to get drunk and free Ragnar from his cage shows that even though Ragnar is the “most dangerous man in the world,” it isn’t a worry for Ecbert. In fact, Ecbert seems glad to see his old friend again.
Their conversation about Valhalla and heaven is a standout scene, with Ecbert exclaiming how ridiculous the concept of Valhalla is since vikings “emerge from the womb with only one thing on [their] mind—how to die,” and asks Ragnar “what about all the things in between?” But it’s the conversation about Athelstan which is the episode’s shining moment. Even though Athelstan died in season 3, his presence in the show is as strong as ever. He’s the one person that Ecbert and Ragnar loved most of all, and their bonding over his death is a sweet moment before the inevitable darkness.
We get one more sweet moment of light when Ecbert and Judith introduce Ragnar to Alfred, Athelstan and Judith’s son. Ragnar is overwhelmed with emotion, because he can see Athelstan in Alfred, and embraces him.
The end of this episode truly feels like the beginning of the end for Ragnar. Ecbert tells him that he cannot kill him—yet the world demands his death, so the two strike up a deal: Ecbert will allow Ivar to go home safely and give Ragnar to King Aelle to be dealt with. Ragnar will make sure that his sons know that Ecbert did everything he could to save him and that Aelle is the one responsible for his death.
Ecbert doesn’t want to give Ragnar to Aelle because he knows it will only end in a long, painful death. The chilling final scene shows Ragnar holding Ecbert’s shaking hands and telling him not to be afraid.
“In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning” brings Vikings back to greatness from the llast few lackluster episodes, and preludes an enviable end for Ragnar next week as he bids his final farewell to an old friend.