After last week’s shocking deaths at the hands of Lagertha and Ivar, no one of importance dies in this episode of Vikings. Though we see bits and pieces of competing storylines, it’s Ragnar’s return to Paris that dominates “What Might Have Been” and finally drives the story in a long anticipated direction.
After a coming of age ceremony, it’s unclear why Ragnar insists on taking his two young sons on the voyage to Paris against Aslaug’s wishes. Interestingly, this series of events marks the first step towards manhood for Ubbe and Hvitserk but also provides a glimpse into the uncertainties of those in charge. Many times in the past Ragnar’s decisions, both personally and militarily, have been questioned, but in the end, he typically comes out on top. Is he sailing his boys to their deaths?
Even though they don’t demonstrate it overtly, the Lothbrok men gather strength through unity. We haven’t seen any other boys as young as Ubbe and Hvitserk in battle, so it will be interesting to see how they react once the bloodbath begins. Does Ragnar really think they’re ready to witness the harsh realities of battle, or does he simply want them away from their mother? How long before Ragnar and Bjorn square off against Harald and Halfdan? As brutal as Ragnar has been, Harald and his brother take cruelty to new heights. Though to be honest, when Ragnar, Bjorn, Harald, and Halfdan stand together observing the Frankian signal fires, we have to wonder what each is really thinking. Of these four, who will be the first to die and at whose hand?
Speaking of Aslaug, the enigmatic Harbard’s return provides one of the episode’s more unexpected twists, although Ragnar does foreshadow the god’s arrival in “Yol.” Does she subconsciously summon the god? Do Ragnar’s actions elicit his arrival, and does the god plan to wreak havoc on the House of Ragnar?
And even though they’ve arguably been fighting on the same side, the reunion of Lagertha and Ragnar creates a long awaited spark, albeit brief, as he attempts to get a handle on his ex-wife, who likely still loves him. Whether he loves anyone other than himself remains a matter for another day. When she snaps back that “I’m not your wife,” and alludes to the fact that he broke her heart, any hope of these two getting back together begins to fade.
Ragnar continues to consume Yidu’s medicine, and it’s not clear whether or not he’s developed a psychological or physical addiction to the concoction. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be a wise decision to ingest it as the Norsemen sail into Frankia. But it’s his hallucination during this time that’s most puzzling. Ragnar watches a white horse trot along the shoreline as a younger Lagertha, their daughter, and young Bjorn appear, giving possible insight into what it is he truly desires. His vision of Lagertha motions for him to approach, and we’re left thinking that as old age approaches, his regrets begin to surface.
The most cryptic scene though is Ragnar’s visit to The Seer. We’re not sure when it takes place, but when he asks the question most people avoid asking, and is told he’ll die “on the day the blind man sees you,” we have to consider whether or not this raiding party might be his last.
While we see very little of Wessex, Ecbert throws a kink into Aethelwulf’s plans when he orders his son to travel 1100 miles to Rome accompanying Prince Alfred, the son of Judith and Athelstan. The dynamic between the king and his son has quickly developed into one to keep a sharp eye on. Is this simply an excuse to separate his son from Judith with the hope that the two princes meet an untimely demise on the road to the Pope? His relationship with Athelstan and his feeling that Alfred is a child of God further complicates things. We’ve seen Ecbert talk to God, and while he seems to be sincere, even God has to be shaking his head at the king’s actions.
All of these plot points remain important, but the episode’s most compelling storyline begins to unfold as Ragnar’s boats sail into Frankia, and Bjorn notices that there’s “no sign of Rollo’s camp,” something that clearly does not surprise Ragnar. We’ve wondered all along whether or not the brothers were engaging in a long con culminating in Ragnar’s final sweeping takeover of Paris, but even now the truth remains clouded. Seeing Rollo decked out in Parisian clothing astride a horse, leaves them as confused as we are. Rollo professes allegiance to King Charles and Gisla, but somehow it rings a bit hollow. Only Odo stands in Rollo’s way.
One of the fascinating aspects of shows like Vikings involves the use of dramatic irony, so to watch Count Odo talk of overthrowing the emperor while we know full well that his mistress is not to be trusted, gives us some satisfaction, knowing that this hateful character will likely fall sooner rather than later. Equally as naive is Erlendur. Dude, are you kidding? Did you not just see what Lagertha did to Kalf?
As the episode winds down, we’re left to wonder whether or not Ragnar is really sailing into a trap, both internally and externally. With which side will Rollo align himself? How much of an imminent threat do Harald and Halfdan pose? And what of Floki? As we creep toward the mid-season finale, the action must intensify as we move through this distinctly familiar narrative. We’ve been here before. It’s time to move.