[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of Vikings. Read at your own risk!]
We're still reeling from Lagertha's (Katheryn Winnick) tragic death in last week's episode of Vikings, in which Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) fatally stabbed her in a drug-induced paranoia that led him to believe he was slaying Ivar (Alex Høgh). Although Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) was the star when Vikings first debuted, Lagertha has always been the History Channel drama's beating heart, and fans have dreaded having to say goodbye to her since the Seer first predicted her death in Season 4. That's why we're grateful that Wednesday's episode of Vikings, "The Ice Maiden," was largely a tribute to the fallen shield maiden, giving the viewers and the characters much-needed space to grieve.
Upon the discovery of her body at the episode's start, Torvi (Georgia Hirst) immediately sets out for Lagertha's settlement to discover whether Gunnhild's (Ragga Ragnars) troubled dreams have come true. With Torvi gone — sadly hurtling toward more grief once she discovers the death of her son Hali at the farm — and Hvitserk's whereabouts unknown, Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) is left alone to process Lagertha's death. While he is still grieving the loss of his own mother, Aslaug, whom Lagertha killed, Ubbe weeps for Lagertha's death and ponders what this proves about the inescapability of fate.
In a conversation with the Seer, who is disguised as a beggar, Ubbe seeks answers about the prophecy of Lagertha's death and who fulfilled it. "It was Ivar and yet it was not Ivar. Ivar is guilty and innocent at the same time," the Seer explains, warning, "You will know, and then you will wish that you did not know."
This tension between the pain of knowledge and the comfort of denial is mirrored in Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), who remains stuck on the ship sailing for Kattegat for the majority of the episode. Without having to be told, Bjorn immediately is wrecked by grief upon his mother's death. It's been a long time since Bjorn was the young boy who chose to follow his mother rather than stay with his father after they separated, but his love for Lagertha remains as pure and strong now as it was then. And as Bjorn sails toward his kingdom, he's torn between the desire to know the truth about his mother's fate and the fear of having these truths confirmed.
Meanwhile, Torvi and Gunnhild return to Kattegat to organize a funeral "greater than anything else in the memory of our folk." As part of the proceedings, Gunnhild announces that they're looking for a volunteer to sacrifice themselves in order to accompany Lagertha to Valhalla. Torvi offers herself, but Gunnhild turns her down, given that she's with child. Instead, a shield maiden, Gyda, is selected, a choice that thrills the young woman, who has always believed her fate was tied to Lagertha's. (She was even named after Lagertha and Ragnar's daughter.)
When Hvitserk is eventually found freezing nearly to death in the woods and is brought back to Kattegat, he refuses to say anything, including why he left and whether he had known Lagertha was dead when he did. So still without knowledge of how Lagertha died, the people of Kattegat move forward with the funeral proceedings, preparing a great ship with grave goods for her to sail to Valhalla in. Gyda goes bravely to her death, with Kattegat's Angel of Death stabbing her in the ribs before silencing her screams with a comforting kiss.
Lagertha's body is laid to rest on the ship, and the public gathers together to mourn the loss of their former queen. Ubbe, Torvi, and Gunnhild lead the funeral, leaving small gifts with Lagertha and saying their farewells to the "mother of Norway." Ubbe says he hopes her reunion with Ragnar is filled with love, Gunnhild reflects on how Lagertha taught her that "women always prevail," and Torvi asks Lagertha to look out for her boys in the next world.
It's at this point that Bjorn arrives. Sitting alone on the Kattegat beach, Bjorn says goodbye to his mother in a wrenching monologue, tearfully declaring: "I hoped the day would never come when I'd have to bid you farewell. You were always my strength, my guide. You taught me to go on no matter what. You taught me not to be afraid. And now I see that, like me, the Earth itself isn't willing to let you go. But the gods call you home. They eagerly await your arrival in Valhalla, as does my father. I wish I could be there at your reunion, secretly in Odin's glittering, gold, shielded hall surrounded by all the gods. You were already a legend, the greatest shield maiden of all time. A hero to thousands of women. But to me you will always be my mother, who bore me, who raised me, who protected and fought for me. And I swear I will fight for you now. I could not protect you in life, but I can punish your murderer after it. Farewell. I have loved you more than I have loved any other. Farewell, Lagertha. Farewell. I love you. I will miss you. I will avenge you."
After setting the ship on fire, the archers waiting on the cliff side release a fleet of arrows to crack the ice the great vessel had been resting on, enabling others to pull it on ropes beyond the water's shallows. As the ship begins to sink into the sea outside Kattegat, Asa runs onto the ice and watches her grandmother sink into the depths where the valkyries are waiting on horseback. Lagertha's body then angelically falls to the sea floor, where she comes to rest alongside Ragnar. "In my dreams, we are always together," we hear Lagertha say as her form and Ragnar's crumble into sand and blow away with the currents.
It was a beautiful tribute to Vikings' best character, and we're grateful that the series dedicated nearly the full hour to her funeral. We needed this breath to process Lagertha's death and prepare ourselves to transition into this new era in Vikings, because Bjorn was right: Nothing will ever be the same again after this.
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on History.
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