Ragnar Lothbrok from Vikings: A Character Study

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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Vikings is a show that takes us back in time to an era when death and brutality was a part of everyday life and reverence for the gods was ingrained in everyone… to a time when raiding and killing wasn’t viewed as a crime, but as a necessity… to a time when dying in battle as a warrior was considered an honor and not something to be feared. What interests me the most about this show, however, is Travis Fimmel’s interpretation of Ragnar Lothbrok–a farmer turned earl turned king who doesn’t really care about power so much as he cares about deeds. About what he is leaving behind.

Ragnar is a northman like any other, with some exceptions. He believes in the gods, even to the point where he believes he is descended from them, but he doesn’t blame the gods for his misfortune or even thank them for his victories. It’s almost as if his belief of the gods were limited to the idea that they exist and that they’re watching over him, but that’s it. Ragnar is a man who is acutely aware of his own free will.

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This lack of fanaticism grounds him and allows him to understand human behavior. He reads people, and he thinks about how he might be perceived in the face of others. He thinks before speaking and before doing. When he does speak, he speaks his truth, and his words carry more meaning than they appear to at first. This is both emotional intelligence and discipline in following the moral precepts that ruled the northmen during this era (most of which can be found in The Havamal).

Some of this precepts are speaking the truth, unless someone is intentionally trying to deceive you. In such a case, you may intentionally try to deceive them. Do not speak too much. Be hospitable, but always keep an eye out for what’s going on in your house, in case someone is trying to betray you. During the second season, we see Ragnar hiding in the shadows of his hall, watching his guests. Waiting. Thinking.

The reason Ragnar’s actions carry so much power is because they’re not rash. They are mostly thought out (except for his affair with Aslaug), and because they are thought out, he doesn’t second-guess himself. He pours himself into his actions, into his deeds, because he rightly believes a man is defined by what he does.

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Of course there’s a dark side to him. The blood-eagling scene in episode 7 was powerful because of its brutality, but also because throughout the entire scene, Ragnar kept a serene, almost gentle-like quality to what he was doing. The way he stroked Jarl Borgs face in the beginning, as if preparing him for what is to come; the way he helped him put his hand back on top of the stick when Jarl Borg dropped it… all of those little details show that Ragnar was determined to do this, but not because of a sick need for revenge.

He was sure it was the right punishment, and he was sure it was he who must do it. But he woudln’t deny Jarl Borg a brave death. He even said that if Jarl Borg suffered in silence through the blood-eagling, he could enter Valhalla. He wasn’t interested in cursing Jarl Borg, he just had to do what was right and fair in his mind. And in this case, what was right and fair was blood-eagling the enemy who threatened to destroy his entire family…the thing he cares about the most in his life.

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That’s how it goes with all of his decisions. He weighs his options against his principles and against the consequences they might have, and then he acts. He is rarely swayed by impulses or emotions, except in the last episode of the season where he murdered King Horik after he learns of his plan to kill all of his sons. The head-beating he gave him wasn’t like the ceremonial death he gave Jarl Borg. That was pure outrage. Because Ragnar also has a weakness, which is his fondness for his children.

Now, for the Season 2 review of a few other major characters.

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Lagertha

I really liked how the relationship between Ragnar and Lagertha developed this season. They got a divorce, and even though there might be lingering feelings of love between the both of them, they don’t act on it. They’re adults, and now they’re both in positions of power. Neither of them can afford being involved in a love triangle and they know it. Lagertha in this sense is also like Ragnar. Decisive. They are separated now, and have moved on to different lives, and neither of them wants or is willing to live in the past. Which is not only healthy, but also strong, and makes for an interesting relationship between them.

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Aslaug

In the beginning, I disliked Aslaug, just because I liked Lagertha so much. But I felt this season developed her in such a way that I could grow to understand and like her. She is a kind person, which is evidenced by the fact that she freed Porunn just so she and Bjorn might have the chance to be together. She has impeccable manners and is a really classy lady. She isn’t a shield-maiden or fights wars, but she is a strong woman in her own right, and loves her children just as much as Ragnar does. She might not be the best fit for Ragnar. As an audience, we might get the feeling that Ragnar doesn’t love her the same way he loved his first wife, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for and appreciate her. Aslaug held her own as the wife of an earl in viking society, and she did so splendidly. She stood by her man, and was a strong pillar for their family. Ragnar knows this. He might not be passionately in love with her as he was with Lagertha, but he knows Aslaug is a good mother and companion. They are a strong couple. Besides, she’s a seer, which always keeps things interesting.

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Floki 

Maybe it’s because I watch the american version (sadly, the only version available for me) where scenes get cut–unlike the european version where they don’t–but I never fully understood why Floki got all resentful of Ragnar towards the end of the season. And it made me nervous from the beginning. Floki is funny and all, but he’s also fierce. There is a dark side to him (like there is a dark side to Ragnar and virtually every viking warrior), and unlike many other fans, I did think he was capable of betraying Ragnar. He could have justified it to himself somehow, and then King Horik’s intention of destroying Ragnar would have been fulfilled. As it is, I don’t understand what happened. I don’t understand if Floki was playing King Horik since the beginning, or if he had a change of heart towards the end. I did like that we got to see Floki’s insecure side and know for sure that he was suffering from some sort of mental disease, which he interprets as the connection he has with ‘the dark gods’. Given this, his transition into fatherhood will also be interesting to witness in the coming season.

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Athelstan 

Athelstan is my favorite character of the show. He’s the one character I can really relate with. We basically have the same story arc. I had a christian upbringing, but during my late teens and early twenties, I dabbled in paganism. Actually, I more than dabbled, if I’m honest with you. I have once again returned to my christian roots after a very recent transformational period in my life, but my research into paganism was time well spent. I know both greek and norse mythology like I know the back of my hand, for example, and both these pantheons and myths taught me so much about life and history. I also grew to love these fierce and ancient gods just as much as Athelstan, a former monk, grew to love them while living amongst vikings.

However, seeing him go back to his civilized ways and being taken under King Ecbert’s wing makes me think that perhaps Scandinavia isn’t the proper place for him. Athelstan is a gentle soul, much more fitted to the loving doctrine of christianity than the harsh world of the norse gods. He seemed at home, even happy, as a christian monk back in England. But then again, I was also ecstatic to see him return with Ragnar. This means he’ll be back for season 3… even though Floki didn’t seem too happy with that prospect. I know a major character is going to die, and I really hope it’s not him. It would be the worst.

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Bjorn 

I want to see more from Bjorn than just a romantic tangental storyline. The romance was great in the sense it was hugely atypical. Fighting as a means of foreplay, for example, strikes me as atypical, but suitable for the viking age. However, this is Ragnar’s elder son… the legendary Bjorn Ironside. So much can be done with that character.

Ragnar seems to be intentionally distancing himself from Bjorn. Not too much, but just enough to let him make his own decisions, his own mistakes. Bjorn is supposedly going to be greater than Ragnar. It would be nice to see how this affects the relationship he has with his father and mother, and what ‘greater’ really means in his case. Also, I’m curious to see if Ragnar grows jealous of Bjorn as he becomes a greater man than he is.

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Season 2 ends with Ragnar all alone at the top of a cliff. Sitting. Thinking. Being King. You get the feeling he never really wanted that. Maybe he’s thinking about the reason the gods put him in that position. Maybe he’s trying to figure it all out. Whatever it is, there are two things that are clear: It can get lonely at the top. And there is no going back.

Vikings season 3 is scheduled to release February 19, 2015…and it’s going to be epic. I will be reviewing each episode weekly, so be sure to check it out. 

For more shows like Vikings, check out Netflix’s Marco Polo.

5 thoughts on “Ragnar Lothbrok from Vikings: A Character Study

  1. Pingback: Netflix’s Marco Polo Review | Monique Sanchíz

  2. Pingback: ‘Vikings’ Season 3 Premiere Review: ‘Mercenary’ | Monique Sanchíz

  3. Pingback: Vikings season 3 episode 10: The Dead review | Monique Mihalitsianos

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  5. Pingback: Vikings S4E1 Review | Monique Mihalitsianos

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