My Meta: "Vikings" Season 3 Finale and Athelnar
Updated: May 29, 2020
Alright. I can see how it would seem that Athelnar was sunk by this episode—and that almost killed me—but thinking back on it... It could actually be the opposite!
Okay, so we're all agreed that Ragnar Lothbrok has a nearly genius level of intellect, yes? Good. Are we're also all in agreement that all of his plans involve thinking a hundred ( plus ) moves in advance, like a chess grandmaster? Good, good.
Now, even the greatest chess grandmaster has limits, right? Even the most brilliant player can only anticipate up to so many of moves in advance. Therefore it's not possible for Ragnar to have calculated Athelstan into this, the Season 3 finale, endgame upon their first meeting. Nope. That in mind, Ragnar had no reason to fake a developing friendship with—much less his growing love for—the priest for all of these YEARS. At least, not for just this one con and especially not for his final con ( I mean, he’d have to know exactly when AND how he’d die just to be able to START planning something like that ). No, that was all real. I do concede that Ragnar had initially spared Athelstan’s life as a means for information which was a pragmatic and tactical decision, to be sure. However, he never once mistreated the priest—by his culture's standards—from the get-go. Ragnar never physically abused Athelstan nor forced himself on him. Instead, Ragnar looked after the priest's physical welfare, protected him from both kinsmen and friends alike, etc. In addition to all that, Ragnar trusted Athelstan to watch over his children and we all know how much children mean to Ragnar ( more than anything ). Though he would continue to use the priest for information, they clearly bonded quickly.
Yes, Ragnar wanted to have Athelstan sacrificed for the fertility rite but think about what that means! The value of the sacrifice is directly proportional to the odds that the rite would succeed ( the greater the value, the greater the chances of success ) and seeing as the the purpose of the rite in question was to bestow onto Ragnar more progeny meant that he was VERY motivated to see the rite succeed. So his selection of Athelstan for the sacrifice proves just how valuable he is to Ragnar, which is a LOT ( and this was early days in their relationship, people! ). While I can't say how exactly Ragnar measured Athelstan's value at the time ( was it the priest's knowledge, was it his companionship, or was it both? ) but taking into account just how freaking much Ragnar wanted children—which was SO much, perhaps even more so than combat and gold—meant that he would ABSOLUTELY sacrifice his most treasured ‘possession’ in order to have more, right? Now, Ragnar couldn't sacrifice his wife, Lagertha, because it was presumed that she'd be the one providing Ragnar with said children. Which means that, logically speaking, Ragnar choosing Athelstan as a sacrifice must mean that the priest is either as beloved as Lagertha and his children or more so... Right?
Besides, Ragnar does eventually grant Athelstan his freedom. Not only that, he accepted the priest as one of his people and almost goes so far as to offer the man a place in his family. Platonic or romantic, either way that's love! Conversely, after being granted his freedom Athelstan chose to stay with Ragnar and hereafter offered his wealth of knowledge freely. Hell, the priest even learned how to fight so he could help Ragnar during combat and he DID. Athelstan accompanied Ragnar in the next raid and the priest impressed him. It’s a fact: Athelstan impressed Ragnar on the battlefield. Unfortunately, Ragnar's had to return home mid-raid because his children were in danger and left Athelstan behind to do so. However, Ragnar had left the priest, more or less, in charge of his raiding forces which is HUGE! And I shouldn't have to explain why that is but, just in case I do, I'll try to quickly sum it all up here: Ragnar, whose cultural heritage is centered on family and combat/honor, trusted AN OUTSIDER to oversee the raid during his absence and entrusted his warriors—his kin!—in said OUTSIDER's care.
Though Athelstan did his best, he was still just a n00b ex-priest. When news of their defeat reached Ragnar, the viking inquired fervently about Athelstan’s well-being. Did Athelstan betray him? Did Athelstan fight admirably for him? Was Athelstan alive? Had Athelstan been captured? Had Athelstan been captured and killed? No one knew and—dammit!—Ragnar wanted ALL of the answers, but only the answers about Athelstan. Now, it could be argued that he took that loss hard because he viewed the priest as a valuable commodity and nothing more, but if you take the time to recall how Ragnar had taken the loss of close friends up to this point—how he was never visibly moved even when the closest of friends perished—and then compare those reactions to how he reacted to the UNCONFIRMED loss of Athelstan... Well, the argument is greatly weakened, I think.
Upon reuniting with the totally still alive and the still totally loyal Athelstan, Ragnar was obviously overjoyed. Hell, the fact that Athelstan was in danger of being killed then and there, by Ragnar's own men no less, didn't seem to dampen the joy and relief of finding his priest safe and sound. Nope, Ragnar simply walked the priest back towards King Eckbert’s troops and safely out of the range of his own marksmen. As he did, he told Athelstan that, yes, he was indeed happy to find the priest alive and, before parting ways, Ragnar asked politely for Athelstan to return with him. Asked. Politely. And they never actually parted ways because Athelstan accepted! Athelstan chose Ragnar over returning to his old way of life, over returning his people, over his religion and over his quill.
Dayum, guys. Dayum.
After that Ragnar trusted Athelstan COMPLETELY. So much so that the priest was entrusted with important duties and even with men of his own.
( All I will say about the whole Princess Judith affair is that it reminded me of the dreadful SPN 9x03 which was, basically, a 'NO HOMO' episode in which the writers didn't even bother to write Castiel in character because they were so focused on proving his heterosexuality. The characterization during the 'NO HOMO' scene was so bad, it felt like I had accidentally changed the channel to another show starring Misha Collins playing a different character and then accidentally changed the channel back again once the scene was over. "We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this footage that proves once and for all that Athelstan is NO HOMO’" Which is essentially how the writing of this story arc seemed like to me: Athelstan stepping out of character to have a romantic tryst with a pretty lady, but the second that Ragnar returns... *POOF* the spell is ended and Athelstan dives right back into character, “Where Ragnar goes, I go.” Speaking of flawed writing... )
When Athelstan all of a sudden—seriously, where did this come from considering ALL OF THE ABOVE?!—resumed his former faith, he informed Ragnar of his change of heart privately and without fear. Now, normally I would be inclined to view the fact that Athelstan could do this without fear as proof of his trust in Ragnar, that he feels safe around the viking, but the sudden and radically change in characterization leads me to believe that it could just as easily be a 'he's found God' zen type of thing or a 'he's found God and cannot be killed' bullcrapmentality or something... So let's focus on Ragnar! From his point of view, the key word here is ‘privately’—as far as they knew, anyway—which means that Ragnar had no need to put on an act and hat his reaction to Athelstan's confession was genuine. Besides, even if he were so inclined as to put on an act, it most certainly wouldn’t be this. He was neither angry nor betrayed, as he 'should' have been both in private or public setting.
HE DIDN’T GIVE A F**K!
IN THE GOOD WAY!
Ragnar told Athelstan that it didn’t matter what his faith was. Ragnar said that he wouldn’t let anyone hurt Athelstan for his beliefs, so long as he stayed.
*WARNING: incoming sarcasm*
Oh, my Gods! How totally platonic is that?
Totally fake. An intricate lie. A huge over act spanning years and years to manipulate the chessboard towards a glorious checkmate? More specifically, so that he might deceive his own people into furthering his endeavor to conquer Paris with this specific method? Paris, might I add, being a city he had never heard of until Athelstan himself told him about it AFTER the viking had finished pillaging England.
I don't think so.
Did he take advantage of his relationship with Athelstan, how it was seen by outsiders, to sneak into Paris?
Maybe, though I cannot say for certain.
Personally, I think how Ragnar conned his way into Paris was the most ingenious plan ever conceived to accomplish so many many goals with just one act. Expediency and efficiency being vital because, let’s face it, he was literally dying at this point.
Goal 1: Sack Paris a.k.a. Unfinished Business. Paris was an idea Ragnar got from Athelstan. Paris was the first raid he planned ALONGSIDE Athelstan. Paris was a raid he was going to execute WITH Athelstan. He was going to witness and conquer Paris WITH Athelstan. Can we all agree that this is all factual? If yes, then one can infer that, after Athelstan’s death, the sacking of Paris wasn’t just unfinished business in terms of pride and legacy, but also in terms of lost time with his dearly departed priest? Personally, I think so.
Goal 2: Reunite with Athelstan. It wasn’t just a ruse to get into Paris, Ragnar wanted to be reunited with Athelstan in death.. He admitted this more than once, in scenes where the viewer is lead to believe that he is alone and therefore without need to be dishonest. While I concede that he was never really in his right mind in said scenes, what with the grief and the delirium, but it seems to me that it makes these confessions all the more valid. That the grief he expressed at Athelstan’s passing was nothing like when he mourned the passing of his friends. In fact, it was more akin to the grief he expressed at the passing of his daughter ( remember how much he values his children? ). That while delirious all he thought of was Athelstan and not his wife, ex-wife or his still living children ( again, remember how much he values his children? ). So while based on facts, I do admit that this goal is mostly extrapolating on my part. But it’s logical, right?
Goal 3: For the people! Ragnar knew how his people viewed his relationship with the priest—of course he does, he's wicked observant!—and how most of them weren’t thrilled about it. Ragnar is a leader, a King, and he wanted what’s best for his people which is why he had manipulated them into a position that could lead to their happiness and prosperity.
Goals in mind, Ragnar took advantage his people’s assumptions regarding his relationship with Athelstan by speaking the truth. This allowed him to get baptized ( Goal 2 ) , then enabled him to breach and sack Paris ( Goal 1 ) which provided much for his people—gold, glory, resources, and knowledge—and reassured them that their leader, their mighty and godly symbol, had been behaving falsely to achieve this end ( Goal 3 ) , even though some of his behavior was—in fact—truthful.
Discovering who killed his Athelstan was simply an unexpected bonus ( Goal 4? ).