The past few episodes of Vikings have embraced some of the more significant events in Viking lore: the famous death of Ragnar Lothbrok in the pit of serpents, the “Great Army” formed by Ragnar’s sons Ubbe and Ivar the Boneless to avenge Ragnar’s death, and King Aelle of Northumbria’s legendary demise by “blood eagle,” the most gruesome punishment of the Viking Age. Aelle’s death is really the end of the “legend” or “myth” of Ragnar Lothbrok, and gives way to real history after that – except on Vikings.
Historically, the Great Army invaded Northumbria in 865 A.D. and defeated King Aelle (whose defense of York, by all accounts, was wholly ineffective, as portrayed on the show). From there, the Great Army headed south, and a few years later pressed into Wessex, where it encountered a king named Ethelred and his younger brother Alfred at the Battle of Reading. Both, incidentally, were the sons of a king named Athelwulf of Wessex.
On the show, of course, there is no Ethelred. Instead King Ecbert has appointed his son Athelwulf to defend Wessex when the Vikings arrive. The historical Athelwulf, however, died in 858 A.D., ten years before the Great Army invaded Northumbria. But his son Alfred would, in fact, grow up to become King Alfred the Great, who’s renowned for saving England from the Vikings in the ninth century.
Viking’s Alfred (who happens to be the son of our favorite monk Athelstan instead of Athewulf) is clearly meant to be Alfred the Great. It also seems likely that Season 5 of Vikings will cover the conflict between Alfred and the Danes. So I suppose the next two episodes of Season 4 will take us to Wessex, where Ethelred does not exist and Athelwulf will leap through time and space to take on Ragnar’s vengeful sons.
True history has always been a bit of a mess on History’s Vikings – something the show that follows Vikings freely admits. That said, I’ve long been okay with a story taking historical license to make great fiction, and I’m fine with it here.
Yet one area the show has free reign, historically speaking, is with Lagertha, the famous shieldmaiden who may or may not have been a real historical figure. Season 4 has gone beyond the legendary account of Lagertha’a life by the medieval historian Saxo Grammaticus, so the writers have a blank slate as far as she’s concerned. Lagertha has always been one of my favorites on the show, and I hope she survives to Season 5. I’m don’t mind Vikings toying with real history, so long as it keeps one of the best parts of Norse legend around a while longer.
* Images courtesy of History