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Vikings - Series 1.08 - "Sacrifice" - Recap/Review (Spoilers)


 All right Vikings fans, I think last week’s formula of hitting the main points worked rather well, so we are going to try it again this week. Especially because I think there is so much to analyze this week, and I’d like to give some time to that.

We’re at our second to last episode of the season, and I can’t help but think about if the show had not received a second season and how disappointed I would have been. The amount of character development we’ve had in just 8 episodes is astounding, and I’m excited to see what they do with more time. This week’s episode had a lot going on, which is impressive considering it took place in just one location, but by far the star of this week’s episode was Athelstan, and his various interactions with other characters. At the beginning of the season I had a chance to speak with George Blagden who plays Athelstan and he had mentioned he hoped viewers would look back to the beginning of the season and not be able to recognize Athelstan. I see what he means here, but the most intriguing thing of all is that although this is character that has evolved and changed, at his core he is still very much the same man. 

The episodes open on Ragnar praying about the loss of his unborn son, and we really aren’t sure exactly how much time has passed but it’s clear that at least some time has passed because Athelstan is sporting a fancy new haircut and beard. Looks like someone is trying to fit in. Ragnar informs him they will be journeying to Uppsala to worship the gods. It’s basically like a retreat in the woods but with more drugs and sacrifices.

Before they leave Athelstan checks in on his bible and it disintegrates in his hands. I’m thinking this was mostly symbolic or a lot more time has passed then we think because I have books from the 1800s that are still in pretty good shape. I like the idea of it as a symbolic gesture, the crumbling of Athelstan’s Christian beliefs.

As they arrive at Uppsala and pay tribute to the gods, we can sense some marital strife between Lagertha and Ragnar. Ragnar is not taking the death of his unborn son well, and it seems he blames Lagertha. He’s having some Henry VIII type issues, and it’s pretty heartbreaking to watch the split between him and Lagertha.

Athelstan walks the grounds and realizes they brought a lot of livestock with them. No they aren’t starting a petting zoo, they are there to be sacrificed. And they are not just sacrificing animals, but humans as well.

As the night wanes on, we learn that these types of retreats also involve lots of sex and drugs. Most of this episode takes place through the eyes of Athelstan, and we get a pretty trippy scene (literally) where he partakes in the festivities, and gets close and personal with Thyri. It’s unclear whether the relationship is actually consummated, but it’s a far cry from the Athelstan of episode 3, who refused to even consider the idea of a threesome with his new captors because of his strong Christian beliefs.

We also meet King Horik, King of Denmark, who has come to partake in the festival. Ragnar’s name precedes him and the King is eager to meet him. They strike up a friendship, and the King would like Ragnar to dispose of an Earl that is giving him trouble. I’m already really enjoying King Horik, and I’m interested to see if they stay friends.

The next morning finds us back with Athelstan as he is questioned by one of the seers as to whether or not he still believes himself to be a Christian. He is asked to deny his faith three times, and while I love the parallels here, it is heartbreaking to watch. Even more heartbreaking as we learn that Athelstan was brought here to be a sacrifice. As this realization dawns over him, the seer notices that he still wears his cross, hidden beneath his sleeve, and deems him an unfit sacrifice.

Someone must be sacrificed though, and as everyone gathers to decide who this must be, I realize that there is not one of them I would like to see go. Even the supporting characters have left a lasting impression. Even Rollo, who’s been despicable at times, and even Ragnar who has turned into the anti-hero. The character development and morphing of these characters has been fascinating to watch over these few episodes.

But someone must go, and before anyone else can volunteer Leif offers himself up as sacrifice, and a somberness falls over the group, despite the fact that being a sacrifice is meant to be a great honor. 

What follows is a truly haunting scene as the ritual is performed, beginning with the livestock and ending with Leif himself. The scene is poignant, made all the more so by the reactions of all the character’s we’ve come to know. Athelstan’s realization that this was supposed to be him, and that he has been betrayed to all he has left to call family is raw and emotional. And as the episode ends on a close up of Ragnar’s tear filled eyes, the viewer can feel the effect that this ritual has on everyone viewing it.

What Worked?

- First and foremost I have to praise the performances this week, because I think they were truly top notch. Blagden blew me away with the way he was able to display such raw emotion throughout the episode. I’ve always like the way he uses subtle movements to convey so much, and that quality is perfect for a character like Athelstan, who really needs to watch his every move, and walk very carefully. This episode especially reminds us that Athelstan is still not “one of the boys,” and this is still about survival for him. The tension that was displayed was great as well, and I found myself actually questioning if he had really given up his Christian beliefs. Athelstan himself is a talented actor, and I’m starting to realize there are some interesting parallels between him and Ragnar in terms of not only their survival instinct but also their curiosity.

- Location, location, location! 8 episodes in and I still marvel at the cinematography and visuals in this show. This episode was particularly breathtaking, and I may have murmured a few “I want to go to theres,” as I watched.

 - I quite enjoyed the addition of Donal Logue as King Horik of Denmark. I always enjoy Logue (I was, like so many others, a Terriers fan) and I think he will be a great addition to the show in general. It will be interesting to see if the buddy buddy relationship between him and Ragnar can sustain itself, given Ragnar’s penchant for wanting to move up the ladder.

What Didn’t Work?

- I’ve mentioned this in reviews before but the show can sometimes have issues with time jumps. I honestly could not decide how much time had passed between this episode and the last, and I constantly felt as if I had missed an episode before. Athelstan’s hair was particularly confusing, but maybe it just grows really fast? (what’s your secret?) Some sort of time stamp might be helpful for this show.

 - This is potentially something that might not work, but it could also be something that does wonders for the show. I’m going to be optimistic and say this will play out right, but I had a slight issue with Athelstan being offered up as sacrifice. We never got an answer to whether Athelstan is a free man or a slave still, but I had assumed he was free. As a free man he should have been offered the choice of being a sacrifice, and even if he wasn’t a free man there are elements that still bother me. I’m not saying it completely didn’t work, because it did serve as a reality check to both Athelstan and the viewer of his true place in Ragnar’s family. My problem really is going to be I this betrayal isn’t addressed. If Athelstan continues as if, what is essentially the only family he has now, didn’t betray him then I will be upset. However, this has the potential to cause some serious strife between Ragnar and Athelstan and that I would very much like to see.

 This was a solid episode and a great set up for the season finale. There are some things that need to be dealt with now, such as the betrayal of Athelstan, Ragnar’s frustration with Lagertha, and his new friendship with King Horik. Next week is the season finale, so what are you hoping will be addressed?

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