‘Vikings’: ‘Dispossessed’ has Athelstan clinging to his faith, Ragnar lobbying for more raids

Ragnar in "Dispossessed."

Ragnar in “Dispossessed.”

In this week’s episode of Vikings, the audience finds themselves thrown back into the world of Viking politics and family life, but this time through the terrified eyes of Athelstan, the young monk who was captured in last week’s “Wrath of the Northmen.”

Where last week the writers focused on balancing the action and adventure of Ragnar’s raid with marital dynamics and political intrigue, this episode could almost be summed up by its own title, “Dispossessed,” which describes the events of the episode in multiple ways, be it the fate of Ragnar’s treasure, Floki’s boat, or Athelstan’s freedom.

Upon arriving home, Ragnar and company are first met by congratulations from their fellow warriors and excitement from the families they left behind, but a summons to an audience with Earl Haraldson cuts these short.

Only two episodes in, I found myself torn between loving and hating Earl Haraldson, but his confrontation with Ragnar cemented him as a thoroughly fantastic antagonist. The dry wit that Gabriel Byrne brings to the character makes him both frustrating (because who isn’t pulling for Ragnar?) and delightful to watch as he twists Ragnar’s own words back on him in order to lay claim to the entirety of the raiding party’s haul as well as their boat, allowing each man to take but one thing from the hoard as payment.

Even though I knew already what must happen, I found myself almost holding my breath as I waited for Ragnar to select his payment from the hoard and then exhaling only once he had finally selected Athelstan as his payment.

It is after this scene that the real highlight of the episode comes into play. The dynamic between the Lothbrok clan and Athelstan is one that is at once endearing when viewed from a distance and terrifying when viewed through Athelstan’s eyes.

Despite the fact that Athelstan’s first appearance was only towards the end of last week’s episode, George Blagden’s extraordinarily emotional performance left even my heart aching for his plight as he adjusts to life far from everything that he’s every known.

In one particularly heart-rending scene, Athelstan, while washing his face in the river, catches sight of his own reflection, of the raw circle around his neck where a leash-like rope has been tied, and more importantly of the hair growing back over the shorn area of his tonsure, and manages to hold it together for only a moment before finally breaking into silent sobbing. This scene is made all the more touching by the next, in which in desperation, Athelstan finds a knife in Ragnar’s house and attempts to use it to shave himself, only to cut himself and be interrupted by the laughter of the children.

Even the lighter, more humorous scenes of the episode are tinged with Athelstan’s grief and struggle to cling to his faith. Be it his bewilderment and horror at being asked “If you’re a priest, which god is your favourite?” by Ragnar’s daughter, or his reaction to Ragnar’s asking what the Christian soul is, every interaction carries with it the palpable isolation that Athelstan must feel.

In one of these humorous moments, Athelstan finds himself being propositioned by Ragnar and Lagertha, who ask him to share their bed, and are curious as to his reasons for refusing. Through my helpless laughter at both their excitement while approaching him, and his flustered attempts at explaining his vows of celibacy, the dark shadow of the reality of his situation loomed large in the back of my mind.

Eventually, when Haraldson sanctions a second raid, we are finally given the promise of getting to see Lagertha in combat as Ragnar frees Athelstan and deems him a full member of their household before placing him in charge of the farm in their absence.

However, the episode ends on a cliff-hanger, as a misunderstanding with an English sheriff and his men at their landing point (as well as some bad behaviour from Floki) leads to a massacre on the beach, with one man escaping.

What will become of the raiding party now that they’ve made contact with people better armed than monks? Can Athelstan hold his own against both of Ragnar’s children, manage the farm, and keep his faith? What about the relationship between Athelstan and Ragnar? We may have to wait until next week to find out the answers for sure, but we can always speculate; what do the viewers think? Talk to me about it in the comments!

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3 Responses

  1. I love the way you pull out the multi-varient layers of meaning that I think is at the heart of this show. Depicting this kind loss, the loss of faith, the loss of freedom of faith, is something that I think is important for the show to display because it relates to the kind of treatment that historically made both American and Britain into powerful empires. That tension of having to live not free, (despite the freedom to choose not to sleep with Ragnar and Lagertha) and having to actually exist in the world, to really do all the little things that you must do in your day to day like washing your face, and how each of these things have repercussions for the individual. Marvelous article. Made me think quite a lot.

  2. Oh this is a marvellous recap! I completely agree with what was said regarding the humour with the very dark undertones. As a lover of the show already, I want to take everything in with an initially objective eye. However, the discomfort and terror that Blagden seems to bring into the role are so real and tangible. Having grown up religious, I can only imagine how it must feel to have your anchors ripped from you in one sweep and be left alone with, quite literally, only a prayer and a text.

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