To be fair, I have written on the incredible show, Vikings, before. You can read that pretty good post, (no humblebrag) here. While I have discussed the program in the past, I recently saw a new episode that demanded further analysis. Besides, if only a few lessons can be mined from a story at a specific time, it probably was not a good one to begin with. So, I will be analyzing the most recent episode of Vikings, “Born Again”, for possible lessons to be learned. As always SPOILERS ahead.
This episode revolves around the concept of faith through the actions and divergent ideologies of various characters, specifically King Ecbert, Floki, and Athelstan with some involvement on Ragnar’s part. (If these names sound like gibberish, go see the show or click the link provided earlier. Seriously though, this is a great program that deserves your viewership). While Floki and Athelstan are having internal struggles over their own faith and desire to please the gods, Ecbert is more concerned with how faith can be used to appease and manipulate the masses which is the first exploration/lesson of the episode: Faith is a powerful tool.
Ecbert is establishing his legacy and reign over Wessex and, he hopes, all of England. However, he is not simply some power hungry idiot. Ecbert knows that his throne and success depends upon the people he rules over. He needs them to unequivocally follow him and his plans, whatever they may be. So he manipulates those around him, particularly Athelstan and Judith, his son’s wife. He pushes these two individuals to act upon their mutual attraction resulting in a pregnancy. Once this affair, and the resulting child, are found out, Ecbert makes a big show of how it is an act of divine intervention since Athelstan faith and religious devotion is above question. Accordingly, his child must be blessed by God (for some reason) and thus Ecbert’s family, reign, and legacy are intrinsically tied to God’s divine plane. At least, that is what he convinces his subjects of as they all praise the birth of the child and Ecbert’s mercy in his treatment of Judith. It is never really established if Ecbert is a man of faith or religion, but the audience is fully aware of his ambition and drive to achieve his goals regardless of the consequences or methods (much like Ragnar’s own amibitions). He sees faith, and the fervor it creates, as a means to an end and little more unlike Athelstan or Floki.
Athelstan and Floki are at odds because of their differing faiths. Athelstan is a Christian at his core and Floki is a devoted follower of the Norse gods. Furthermore, Floki sees the rise of the Christian god as the inevitable downfall of his own gods. He cannot allow this to happen, yet he knows that Athelstan is loved by Ragnar who is seemingly favored by the gods. If this is so, how can Floki act against Athelstan. He cannot. At best he sows discontent among the Vikings. That is until he is given a sign, or at least something he interprets as a sign.
Blood pours out of a statue Floki is building and he recognizes this as the message he has been waiting for. He immediately leaves his home to go kill Athelstan as he believes this is his duty in service to his gods. Which brings us to the next lesson/examination on faith: True faith is spurred by devotion. This is not an excuse for the horrible atrocities done throughout history in the name of religion but more for the fervor and intensity that has helped religion and ideologies spread. Floki’s actions are not done out of spite or malice (at least not entirely). He genuinely believes that his deeds are in the service of his gods and faith. He even treats Athelstan’s body with a sense of reverence and purpose.
Floki, however, is not alone in this scenario as Athelstan is a willing sacrifice for Floki’s axe. At this point in the series, Athelstan has finally chosen a path for himself. Before this episode, he was still having an internal struggle over faith; whether he was a Christian or a follower of his adopted family/home’s gods. Here, Athelstan is newly devoted after having had a personal religious experience. There no longer exists any doubt in the man and he understands the consequences of such a choice. Athelstan’s end comes at Floki’s hand, but he is willing to go peacefully because he is finally at peace.
This is the last lesson from the episode: Faith can provide a sense of self and peace. Again, not intended to excuse the several negative instances of religion and faith being misused. However, for many people faith gives them hope, presence, and peace of mind. There is a great scene in the show Scrubs that relates such an idea or message. (Also another great show to watch when you have the chance). Athelstan was unsure of who he was or what he was meant to do until he found his core which for him was in his faith. Obviously, for others faith will be replaced with some other idea, force, object, or passion, but the same principle holds. You need something to hold onto and believe in to gain a modicum of true peace.
Thus endeth today’s lessons.