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The story of Ragnar Lodbrok is the quintessential concept of today's image of the ultimate Norse Warrior. He was daring and bold throughout his life. Then, while he was facing his own death, he meet's it head on and laughing. Ragnar then composes his Life-Song/Death-speech as Death reaches for him. The "Ragnar" archetype character has become a staple for books and movies throughout the world. My favorite example is in the 1958 movie, "The Vikings", in which Ernest Borgnine portrays Ragnar Lodbrok. This was one of those pivotal movie moments for me that I will never forget as he, (Borgnine), gets a sword and laughing, looks at his captors with contempt and jumps into the wolf pit to his death. I was probably only 5 or 6 years old when I first saw that movie and it had a profound effect on me that has lasted all my life.
Ben Waggoner's translations are quite fluid, understandable and entertaining. He has presented these stories in a very modern, readable format. Each of the five sagas are well introduced at the beginning of the book and very well footnoted. Dr. Waggoner also includes an extensive Bibliography and Index.
My personal favorite in this edition was, "Krákumál". I liked the way the kennings were laid out to the right of the poem. The only way it could have been better would have been if the original Norse script side by side with the translation.
If you like these Saga's, I recommend Dr. Waggoner's other Saga translations which are available on Amazon from Troth Publications.
Very good read, highly recommended!
Spence the Elder
"Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc"
The ravens on Vikings represent the Viking god Odin
Marvel fans know Odin as Thor's ornery but wise father, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. But forget the entire Thor MCU story (or at least save it for later). Odin's portrayal on Vikings, by Eddie Drew and Andre Eriksen, is slightly closer to the more brutal figure of Norse mythology. Odin was the king of a tribe of gods called the Aesir, who lived in Asgard, one of the Nine Realms Ancient Nordic people believed in. He frequently ditched his homeland to wander around Midgard, the realm of humans. As on the show, Odin would appear as a one-eyed old man, sometimes wearing a large hat and often dressed in grey robes.
As well as having two wolves and an eight-legged horse, Odin was frequently accompanied by two ravens named Huginn (from the Old Norse word for "thought") and Muninn (from the Old Norse word for "mind" or "memory"). It was believed that Odin would send the ravens out into the world every day to act as his eyes and ears. They would return every evening to update him on the news from other realms.
The ravens on Vikings often accompany Odin, but they also appear without him to signal that Odin is aware of the events that are happening in Midgard. His ravens are always keeping a watchful eye. On the History Channel show and in the Norse myths, ravens can also be a manifestation of Odin himself. A raven showing up at a sacrifice was thought to be a sign that the god had accepted the gift.
The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok
Last week audiences saw the inevitable demise of one of the most interesting characters television has seen in a long time, Ragnar Lothbrok. The story of Ragnar has been so complex and brought us an abundance of colorful characters and intriguing story lines. While we will mourn the loss of such a beloved character his death leads the way for the story of his son’s who in the history books are arguably more famous. While it is sad we won’t see the infamous viking so many thought were favored by the gods every week, we shall look at a few moments/relationships that show what made Ragnar so undeniably unique.
Ragnar and his brother were a lot like any siblings, they had their ups and downs. They fought side by side and on opposite sides. The first episode starts with them fighting and doing so as a well oiled machine. When they fight against one another it is brutal and often tragic. There were several times that it was unclear where their choices would lead the brothers, in the end the last time they see each other is a bitter brawl between King Ragnar and Duke Rollo. It was a tragic end to an interesting relationship, here is to hoping Rollo sticks with Bjorn and sails back to England!
Season 1 Episode 1 Season 4 Episode 10
Vikings Sail West
One of the first great deeds we see Ragnar accomplish is sailing to England, he does so without the permission of his Earl. He has Floki build him ships that will take him, and not only does he succeed he comes home with much treasure and a thirst for more. He was the first viking to sail west, this is the first epic conquest in the story of Ragnar. His Earl was pleased with the loot, but displeased with Ragnar’s ambition and that Ragnar would be getting the glory for the voyage instead of himself. The Earl let each of the raiding members take one item, Ragnar takes the priest he brought with him, Athelstan.
An Earl becomes King
After becoming the Earl of Kattagat, it doesn’t seem like Ragnar could want for much more. During season two there was a subtle cat and mouse game played between Ragnar and King Horik. By the end it looked like Horik had convinced both Floki and Siggy to betray their friend and earl and help in his assassination, but as many had learned up to that point and many learned after you might be able to beat Ragnar in strength but never in a game of wits. Ragnar had wanted Floki and Siggy to play into Horik to give him a false sense of victory. In the end Horik is brutally killed and Ragnar ascends to King.
Ragnar’s entire life changed the minute he spared Athelstan that first trip to England. He became his best friend and confidant, there was no one Ragnar loved the way he did Athelstan. He changed the way Ragnar saw the entire world, and revealed to him that the world was much larger and grander than he had previously thought. Athelstan was the only character that had no agenda of his own, by the end he was there solely because he loved Ragnar and Ragnar loved him in return. Ragnar is almost a different character after this loss, he knows from the moment of Athelstan’s death that his dear friend Floki is responsible and his relationship with Floki is irrevocably changed. The burial of Athelstan is one of the most heart breaking things I have ever seen, and you can feel the sorrow and seer agony.
“I always believed that death is a fate far better than life, for you will be reunited with lost loved ones. But we will never meet again my friend. I have a feeling that your God might object to me visiting you in Heaven. What am I to do now? I hate you for leaving me. I ache from your loss. There is nothing that can console me now. I am changed, so are you.” – Ragnar
Getting into Paris
Ragnar had become obsessed with Paris from the first time Athelstan had mentioned the majestic city surrounded by great walls. The death of Athelstan left Ragnar in a strange place and out of sync with his people, they found Ragnar’s obsession with Athelstan and his Christen God upsetting. This lead to Ragnar allowing Floki to plan the assault on Paris. Floki failed and many vikings were lost, Ragnar was severely injured by the fight after falling pretty far off a ladder. Ragnar succumbed to his injuries and died. Before his death he requested to have a christian burial to once again be reunited with Athelstan in heaven. So his dead body was brought into the walls of Paris to get the funeral he had requested. Ragnar being the master of nefarious plans had something in the works that only Bjorn was aware of. The closest of his viking friends are allowed to say their farewell at this point Floki tells Ragnar in the casket that he killed Athelstan. During his own service he pops out of his casket, kills some people while making the Emperor literally faint and opens the doors to Paris. The vikings are successfully able to raid the city, though Ragnar really is injured he succeeds in an impossible task.
The architect of his own demise
Ragnar has a mission in mind when he returns from his long absence after his defeat in Paris by Rollo. He wants to return to England to avenge his people that were left behind to start a farming settlement that Ecbert had killed. By the time they reach Wessex the raiding party is dead…either drowned or killed by Ragnar and Ivar. Ragnar knows that if he turns himself over to the Englishmen he will be killed. While King Ecbert is a terrible guy he and Ragnar have a bound, they are both sorta terrible people who are willing to do absolutely awful things for their success. They also both had a powerful connection to Athelstan and I think part of their bound is due to the way Athelstan spoke to them of the other. Ragnar knew that if he was killed at the hands of the English his sons would return to England with a vengeance. Ragnar agrees that if Ecbert turns him over to Aelle that he will send Ivar home and tell his sons that the kingdom of Wessex did everything they could to save Ragnar. Being true to the character we have known and love he does the exact opposite. Telling Ivar that he is to go home and let his brothers know that they must return to England and Wessex must pay. Ragnar was a master of his own destiny from the moment he is introduced until he closes his eye.
While it is sad to see such a fantastic character go, it was the definition of an epic journey and so incredible to watch. Travis Fimmel and Micheal Hirst did an amazing job bringing such an interesting character to life for four seasons, and he will be greatly missed. The events Ragnar set in motion will make for riveting television for as long as the show continues. Now that we have completed the Saga of Ragnar it’s time to see what the Sons of Ragnar Lothbrok have in store for us.
And if you are still sad look how cute Ragnar and this lamb are!
Kyle was born and
raised a nerd, as a toddler she
would watch Batman on repeat and we are not
going to say that did something to her brain…but it might
have. These days she
is a TV/Movie junkie with a side of comic obsession. Now that she has found this
incredible outlet to share her nerdy perspective on movies and TV shows she can
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Ragnar Lothbrock - Legendary Viking Leader
As featured in the History Channel series "Vikings", Ragnar is a farmer who believes there is land west of Iceland. He is credited with the first raids on England. The TV series clearly places Ragnar in Norway based on the geography shown, and mixes elements of history and myth.
In fact, Ragnar Lothbrock (sometimes called Ragnar Lodbrok or Lothbrok) was a legendary Viking figure who almost certainly existed, although the Ragnar in the Viking Sagas may be based on more than one actual person. The real Ragnar was the scourge of England and France a fearsome Viking warlord and chieftain. One highly probably link is to the real life character Ragnall.
Ragnar's death has been placed as occurring in 840 or 865. Danishnet subscribes to the theory that the later date is more likely. This would mean that Ragnar was probably born around 820 AD. He was a pirate and a raider who was later eclipsed in fame by his sons, Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless. The sons may have been adopted as this was a common practice by Vikings during the period. If they were adopted, this may have come about as a result of the death of their biological parent, or perhaps as a means of ensuring dynastic control. (This is similar to the Roman practice where Emperors adopted their preferred heirs)
Vikings had raided England and Scotland since the late 700's. Ragnar was by no means the first to raid England. It seems however that he may have been the first to leave settlements and attempt to control areas of land, rather than simply plunder and leave.
The Vikings had also been raiding what is now France since at least 800. In 845, "Ragnall" sailed south with a large force said to include 120 ships and 5,000 men. He presumably navigated up the Seine river, and ravaged and plundered the western part of the Frankish Empire including Rouen. The story of Ragnall seems conflated with Ragnar and it is likely that these are the same person.
Interestingly, Rouen was the capital of Normandy, and it was controlled from 911, by Vikings who pledged allegiance to the French crown. In other words, the Normans who conquered England in 1066 were largely of Viking origin.
In 845, Vikings laid siege to Paris. The Vikings were partly pagan and partly Christian by this time, so accordingly the attack was preceded by prayer to the old Norse Gods, and a fast for the benefit of the Christian one. The Vikings defeated the army of Frankish King Charles the Bald and withdrew only after payment of 7,000 pounds of silver. (an immense amount of money during the period)
Ragnar was a powerful Lord, under Danish King Horik II. Although the visual backgrounds of the TV series appears to place him in Norway, it is more likely that he was from Denmark or Sweden.
All sources agree that Ragnar died in England, although the legends of the cause of his death vary. In one story, he is killed by the Northumbrian King Ælla when he is thrown into a pit os venemous snakes. In another, he is murdered in East Anglia after befriending Kind Edmund. Although the date is sometimes given as 840, that seems unlikely as the Viking invasion of England by Ragnar's sons takes place in 865.
Although the historicity of Ragnar has been challenged and debated, it is important to note that he is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Chronicle was first compiled around 890 AD and is widely considered to be a relatively accurate telling of Anglo-Saxon history. As this would only be some 50 years previously, it would seem we can rest certain that there was a much feared Viking Chieftain by that name. With that said,, it does appear that certain stories have been attached to Ragnar which are actually about other Viking leaders.
Our major sources for information about Lothbrok are the 12th Century Gesta Danorum recorded by Danish Historian Saxo Grammaticus and Krakumal, an Icelandic poem that offers a romantic version of Ragnar’s death.
Whatever the case, we do know that the "Great Heathen Army" led by three sons of Ragnar's landed in 865 and commenced a 14 year long war against the small Saxon Kingdoms (Heptarchy) of 9th Century England. It is possible that the invasion may have had to do with avenging the murder of Ragnar. An alternative and probably better theory holds that the invasion was to retake lands previously claimed by Ragnar. As was common Viking practice, the invaders were more than willing to be paid off to attack some other group. The story is told that the King of East Anglia gave the Vikings horses in return for their agreement to attack other kingdoms.
In the television series, Ragnar's wife is Lagertha, a "shieldmaiden" who fights alongside the Viking men. There are few historical references to actual shieldmaidens, but it certainly is reasonable to believe that this at least occasionally occurred. There are other examples of women fighting alongside men in other cultures. There is however little evidence for the existence of a real Lagertha. Rather, the sagas refer to his wife Lathgertha, who may represent the Nordic goddess Thorgerd.
The series also portrays Rollo as Ragnar's older brother. In fact the real Rollo was not related to Ragnar and almost certainly never met him.
On the whole, the television series is great fun, but viewers should explore some historic sources to learn more about the Viking era.
History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ & The Northern Queen: Part 2 – Ragnar Lothbrok’s Descendants
In Part One of this series, we discussed the descendants of Rollo (here) from the History Channel’s Vikings, and the significant parts they play in my novel The Northern Queen. This month we’ll be looking at the TV series’ main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, and his descendants.
On the show Vikings, Rollo (Clive Standen) and Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) are portrayed as brothers. Historically this is not true and has been added for dramatic effect on the show. Each man comes from a different family with no ties at all.
It’s been difficult determining who the historical Ragnar is there are many candidates. While scholars agree that Ragnar’s sons existed there is no consensus on Ragnar himself. However, most agree that at least part of Ragnar’s story is based on fact.
(Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok in History TV’s Vikings. Image from Wikipedia.)
The main source is “The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok” and “The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons.” In the sagas Ragnar marries the shieldmaiden Lagertha (played by Katheryn Winnick) as well as the princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), which the TV show portrays accurately. The show is also accurate about Ragnar’s sons, including Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig). (Note: Bjorn was actually the son of Ragnar and Aslaug, not Lagertha).
“The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons” continues the story. Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye becomes one of the leaders of The Great Heathen Army. Beginning around 865CE (the year of Ragnar’s death), the army invaded England over a period of fourteen years. The sagas tell us that Ragnar was killed by King Aella of Northumbria, who threw the Viking into a pit of serpents.
(Ragnar in the Serpent Pit, Hugo Hamilton, 1802 – 1971. Image from Wikipedia.)
“The piglets would protest loudly
if the boar’s plight they knew.
Death has been dealt to me,
snakes dig in my flesh-house
and savagely stab me,
serpents suck my life out.
Beside the beasts I’ll die now,
soon I will be a corpse.”
(From “The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok”.)
Ragnar’s sons attacked and avenged their father’s death (note: there are two versions of King Aella’s death: one where he is injured in battle and surrenders, the second where he is captured and blood-eagled by Ragnar’s sons as punishment for their father’s torture.)
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye married King Aella’s daughter Blaeja (in part one, we saw that taking a woman from your defeated enemy’s court was a common practice) and they had a son, Harthacanute. Harthacanute was more than likely raised in the Danelaw in East Anglia. When he was grown he reconquered Denmark, taking it back from the Swedes, who overran it in the 890s.
We don’t know who Harthacanute married, but his son, Gorm the Old, is credited with being the first king of Denmark. Gorm created the first Jelling Stone (he ruled his kingdom from the town of Jelling) to honour his wife Thyra, who he called ‘Denmark’s Ornament’.)
The early medieval chronicler Adam of Breman suggests that Denmark had been broken up into separate regions prior to Gorm’s rule and that, when he died, he had not united the entire country of Denmark as we now know it.
(“King Gorm made these memories after Thyra his wife, Denmark’s ornament.” Image from Wikipedia.)
Grim’s son with Thyra, however, did unite the country. Harald Bluetooth established firm military and economic control over Denmark through an extensive public works program, one of which was erecting and repairing the Jelling Stones. He is famous for converting Denmark to Christianity, bringing it into line with the beliefs and practices of the majority of Western Europe.
(Fun fact: As acknowledgement for Harald’s unification of the country through works and practices, the Bluetooth symbol used in today’s technology is based not only on Harald’s last name but the symbol is made up the rune for H and B – Harald Bluetooth).
Harald died around 986 and his son Sweyn Forkbeard inherited the Danish throne. But Sweyn had other interests: England. His sister was killed in the St. Brice’s Day massacre in Oxford, England in November 1002 (where King Aethelred ordered anyone of Danish blood killed). Sweyn exacted his revenge over many years with repeated campaigns against England, leading to his eventual conquest of the country.
(Sweyn Forkbeard. Image from Wikipedia.)
Sweyn’s rule lasted less than two months. But he had a son, one who had fought beside him: Canute.
(Canute Sweynsson. Image from Wikipedia.)
For more of Canute’s story (and Ragnar’s descendants), read The Northern Queen.
The Northern Queen – Available in USA, Canada and UK
Ragnar Lodbrok’s Wives & Sons, History or Fiction?
Today I am writing more about history than folklore, sometimes the lines are a bit blurred. I am not a Historian yet I do research it. So if You think I am wrong well don’t shoot the messenger. This is my understanding of it.
I really enjoyed viewing Vikings TV series created by Michael Hirst. The characters were colorful and the battle scenes were exhilarating to say the least. Season 6 is the last season and I found it a bit confusing especially the battle with Scandinavian Vikings defending their lands against King Oleg with his Viking Rus. I could not find this battle most likely it never happened.
It also pitted Christians against Pagans which leads me to wonder was there another agenda a foot? I felt the show did not respectfully or historically reflect the Scandinavian peoples’ history after all it was shown on the History Chanel so one would think it would be fairly accurate. It also misrepresented the women from Lagertha who was an amazon large and tall woman not a pint size warrior as portrayed on the series. Her daughters were not even mentioned she had 3 with Ragnar Lothbrok and a son Fridleif written in the Tales of Ragnar’s Sons.
1. This battle is questionable at best as King Oleg with his Rus Vikings were busy fighting in Constantinople. King Oleg of Novogorod ruled from 879 CE – 912 CE.
2. The genealogy is fictitious of Ragnar Lodbrok/Lothbrok, wives and sons. Ragnar allegedly sat as ruler over Sweden after King Sigurd Hring’s death according to the House of Munsö. Sources, recorded in Lejrekroniken, Gesta Danorum, and the Saga of Orvar-Odd.
Bjorn Ironside 855-858 CE took over the Swedish throne after his father’s death.
3. Pitting son against son theme has been done to death. Remember Cain & Abel?
Season 6 episode 10 Vikings
Bjorn: “I will defeat you, I will win. The Gods are with me.”
Ivar: “You are wrong. The Gods abandoned you a long time ago, my brother. There’s no way you can win.”
Next Ivar the boneless stabs Bjorn Ironside in the gut with his sword. Bjorn drops to the ground dead. Fictional at best, disappointing to say the least. The Christians against Pagans theme is an insult to the Scandinavian Peoples’origins which was never rooted in Christianity.
Christianity was forced upon Pagans who had their own identity, deities and rituals.
Many Christians still worshipped their pagan deities after Christianity nearly wiped them all out. “Turn or Burn,” mentality always fails.
I find this speech of Ivar’s should have been said from Bjorn to Ivar as today’s Christianity has died off in Europe and other nations worldwide. Iceland has raised their own pagan temples to their old gods. Scandinavians and Europeans are rekindling their old deities and traditions.
Ragnar’s Wives and Sons
First up is Lagertha 840-865 CE. who some historians claim was a fictional character mirrored in tales about Þorgerðr Hölgabrúð. Lagertha is written in the 9th book of the Gesta Danorum, a 12th century work of Danish history by Saxo Grammaticus.
Lagertha, Illustration by Morris Meredith Williams in 1913 (Wikipedia)
Personally I think she was real due to the amount of information collected and written about her. She birthed a son named Fridleif Ragnarssen not Björn Ironside whose mother was Ragnar’s third wife Aslaug. Lagertha also birthed three daughters with Ragnar. The marriage turned sour at some point. Ragnar then divorced Lagertha to marry Thora Borgarhjort who bore two sons with Ragnar named Eric and Agnar who were later slain by the Swedes for their battle to dethrone Eysteinn Beli the king of Sweden.
After Thora’s death he married Aslaug/ Aslög, also known as Kráka meaning Crow. She is mentioned in the Völsunga saga. She was the daughter of Sigurd the acclaimed dragon-slayer and Valkyrie Brynhildr recorded in The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok.
Ragnar and Aslaug bore four sons, the oldest was Ivar the Boneless, second son was Björn Ironside, next Hvitserk, and lastly Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, who was dubbed this title due to his iris sported an image of a snake encircling his pupil. Notice Ivar was the eldest son not Björn?
Later Ivar becomes King over Northeastern England according to The Tale of Ragnar’s sons or (Old Norse: Ragnarssona þáttr). Ivar died in Dublin Ireland 873 CE. (Encyclopedia Britannica online.)
Björn ironside rules over Uppsala and Sweden, date of his death unknown maybe he died in old age?
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye rules over Zealand or Denmark, Scania, Halland Northwest Sweden region, Viken or Norway.
Hvitserk receives Reidgotaland (Jutland) and Wendland, He never killed Lagertha that was all fiction.
It would be great if one day in TV land, the real history of Scandinavian and Rus Vikings will be accurately portrayed.
Till then let’s just keep reading our History and Folklore books.
All Nifty Buckles Folklore Fun posts Copyright 2017-2020 All Rights Reserved
Featured image: 1857 painting by August Malmström depicts King Ælla’s messenger before Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons. Wikipedia in Public Domain
Waggoner, Ben (2009). The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok. New Haven, CT: Troth Publications. ISBN 978-0578021386.
3.What about Ragnall ?
In the fragments of the Annals of Ireland there is a particular source of interest which is often related to the legend of Ragnar Lothbrok. There was a certain Ragnall (Rognvald), son of Alpdan (Halfdan), king of Norway.
This Ragnall is mentioned, as well as his deeds, but most importantly this character comes before the fall of York to the Danes, which is during 866 and 867 CE, but already after the death of Reginheri in 845 CE. But This Ragnall is the closest we get to someone from Danish royalty who has done great deeds.
Maybe it’s possible that Ragnall and Ragnar Lothbrok were the same person, although it’s clear that the names are not equivalent these are totally different names and not etymologically related.
But could Ragnall and Lothbrok have been the same person?
We have already seen that the only historically attested Ragnar (Reginheri) cannot reasonably be regarded as a historical prototype for Ragnar Lothbrok. Thus, it appears that the best attempt to argue for a historical Ragnar Lothbrok is to propose that Ragnall and Lothbrok were both the same person, and then assume that the similar (but different) names – Ragnall and Ragnar – were accidentally confused, or perhaps it’s the product of dialects and mispronunciation.
By this we can assume for a moment that Ragnall and Lothbrok both existed and were the same person, from which it could then reasonably be assumed that a man named “Ragnall Lothbrok” existed and later on in history was misnamed “Ragnar Lothbrok” by a minor error in the Icelandic sources.
Even though, this doesn’t seem to be very plausible. Let’s take these following dates into consideration:
793 – It’s the Viking attack to Lindisfarne in Northern England.
845 – Is the first attack to Paris in which Reginheri died.
867 – The Danes occupy Jorvik (York).
It seems clear that Reginheri isn’t the real Ragnar Lothbrok, because he died between two major events in the history of Viking Raids in which Ragnar has King of Norway and Denmark would have played a major role.
And during Reginheri’s time the king of Denmark was Horik I which he himself is a Semi-legendary Danish monarch (827-854), and Norway had no King yet until 872, Harald Fairhair (872–932). The Sagas tells us that Ragnar was king of Denmark and Norway, but this union only came in the 10th century with Harald Bluetooth (961–980).
In the show Vikings, the last great king of the Vikings was portrayed as Harald Finehair, but the real man’s name was Harald Hardrada. He was the half-brother of Olaf Haraldsson, the unsuccessful ruler of Norway. With his brother’s defeat in Norway, Harald decided to make a life for himself by working as a mercenary of the prince of Kiev which earned him lots of wealth. He also served in the famous Varangian Guard of the emperor in Constantinople until 1040 when he had enough wealth to buy himself partnership with Svein Estrithson, the future king of Denmark.
Harald went on to rule Norway after defeating Magnus the Good and even attempted to take Denmark for himself at one point before deciding to invade England in 1065 just like the Harald in Vikings did. He was heavily defeated by King Harold Godwinson of England in the battle of Fulford Gate making his the last of the Viking Invasions of England. He also went down as the last great leader of the Vikings.
Binge It! Vikings Ends This Year So Catch Up Now Before the Final Episodes
This muddy, bloody, lusty drama offers a humanized portrayal of some of the most notorious figures in Norse history, as Vikings brings to life the saga of the late 8th and early 9th century Norsemen who sought new lands to settle -- by sword and by sail -- beyond their native Scandinavia.
The Viking invasions of England -- spanning the reigns of kings Ecbert, Aethelwulf, and Alfred the Great -- serve as the backdrop for most of the series, but the show also chronicles the foundation of Viking Normandy as well as the Norsemen’s journeys to the Meditteranean and Russia. While the Vikings’ conquest and settling of new lands offers plenty of battle scenes and court intrigue, the series -- created and written by Michael Hirst -- is just as invested in exploring who these restless, violent souls were and their culture, diving into the tumultuous relationships, romances, and spiritual struggles of Ragnar, his shieldmaiden wife Lagertha, his brother Rollo, Ragnar’s several sons, and their friends, allies, and adversaries.
Ragnar’s spiritual journey and his doubts about the gods is initially explored through his relationship with Aethelstan, an Anglo-Saxon monk he takes captive in Season 1 and who himself is tested by his conflicting loyalties between his Christian homeland and the pagan customs of the Vikings who adopt him.
The series-long journeys of Ragnar’s son Bjorn Ironside and their friend Floki to maintain their pagan ways comes into sharper focus during the final season, as the former clashes with his nasty brother Ivar the Boneless while the latter seeks a fresh start in Iceland. For all the changes the Vikings brought to other lands and peoples, they will ultimately become Christian and lose much of their own culture as they settle throughout Europe. An ever-present sense of doom and gloom hangs over the show from the ominous opening credits onward.
Like Game of Thrones or The Sopranos, this series isn't afraid to kill off its protagonists. Many a scheming character has met a gruesome end, while a few are mercifully given a deathbed passing. No matter how they perish, though, the specter of death looms over the entire series. (This also lends the show a tinge of fantasy at times, such as when the characters receive visions or seek counsel from the Seer of Kattegat.)
While Vikings draws from actual events and sticks to many of the biggest recorded dates and events of the early Viking Age, this is a work of historical fiction and employs creative license to alter relationships as it sees fit. Vikings also boasts a great deal of simulated sex and gory violence, especially during its impressive battle scenes, a surprising accomplishment given the content limitations of the History Channel. (The U.S. Blu-ray releases of Vikings includes extended and uncut episodes.)
The show's announced sequel series, titled Valhalla and set 100 years after the events of Vikings, should have no such issues with nudity and bloodletting as it will be a Netflix production. In the meantime be sure to binge-watch Vikings so you can enjoy the show’s final ten episodes when they debut later this year.