‘Vikings’: It’s a Duel to the Death Between Ragnar and the Earl

"Vikings": Travis Fimmel as Ragnar. (Photo by Jonathan Hession / HISTORY)

Only one man will survive on Sunday night’s “Vikings,” when a still recovering Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) challenges the Earl (Gabriel Bryne) to a duel-to-the-death sword fight as is the Norse custom in the HISTORY series.

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Following the surprise attack and slaughter on Ragner’s farm, the Earl’s men had reassured him that Ragnar was dead. But a badly wounded Ragnar escaped his fate by diving off a cliff into the sea, where he was rescued by his family. He has been hiding out at Floki’s (Gustaf Skarsgard) cabin, recuperating, until he gets the news that his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) is being tortured to reveal his location.

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“Me and the Earl really get into it. It is a great climax,” Fimmel told XfinityTV.com at a WonderCon press conference for “Vikings.” “I want more boats to go West. To be able to have the money to do that. That is Ragner’s main conflict with the chieftain. If he is lucky enough to become Earl, he will have that power to get more boats built — to use the plunder money to make more boats. I want to go over [to England] with lots of boats.”

In the first half of the “Vikings” season, it has been established that Ragnar is a man of vision, while the Earl is a ruler who is comfortable maintaining the status quo. But when Ragnar and a band of brothers sail West to England and loot a monastery, bringing back slaves and gold, the earl realizes, his power is being challenged, which is why he eventually has Ragnar attacked.

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The real treasure that Ragner brought back from the raid was the monk Athlestan (George Blagden), who, as his slave, unwittingly teaches him about the people and the customs of the strange land to the West. This enables Ragnar and his raiding party of Vikings to be even more successful in looting and plundering.

“It is a special relationship with Athelstan,” Fimmel says. “Ragnar feels he can talk to him and tell him stuff that he can’t with other people. He can show weaknesses. My character is confident, but he doesn’t always know he is doing the right thing. I feel like Athelstan gives him that outlet.”

Their unlikely friendship is a special alliance for Athlestan, as well. Blagden says, “As the show develops, you will see why Ragnar saved him because there is a lot he can learn from Athelstan. That is what is great about their relationship, they really are in it for each other and they really can get a lot from each other.”

Of course, after spending some time with the Vikings, Athlestan realizes the need to assimilate, so he doesn’t wind up hanging from a tree like the other monks who were brought back to be slaves. So he considers removing his brown monk’s cloak and no longer shaving the circle on the top of his head. As the show unfolds, this man of the cloth will begin questioning his faith, and whether or not he can survive and fit in.

“What I love about Athelstan is his transformation is so slow,” Blagden tells XfinityTV. “It is so difficult for him to leave his religion behind. [So when Ragnar takes a raiding party back to England in Episode 7], it is way too early for him to start thinking of wielding swords and shields. He is very much conflicted throughout this series.”

Ragner’s wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) also develops a special relationship with Athelstan and comes to trust him, even as she keeps him in his place.

“She did trust her kids with him,” Winnick says, referring to the fact that as a shield maiden, she is a member of the raiding party, so when she sets sail, she needs someone trustworthy to watch her children. “She will do anything to protect her family and to protect her relationship. She truly does love Ragnar to death. They are equals and partners.”

The Brits are more prepared when the Vikings arrive in the seventh episode, airing Sunday, April 14, and Fimmel looked very pleased as he said, “There are a lot of mind games between King Aelle [Ivan Kaye] and Ragnar. A lot of horse stuff that I love and bigger armies.”

As “Vikings” heads to the Season 1 finale, there are a lot of complications, especially in the last few episodes, and Lagertha gets drawn into the drama, along with her husband.

“As Ragner gets more status and becomes king of the Vikings, her family rises in rank and there is a lot more responsibility and a lot more conflicts in the community that she has to deal with,” Winnick says.

“Vikings” airs Sunday nights at 10/9c on HISTORY.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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