His brother, Rollo – whose real-life namesake would actually be responsible for the creation of Normandy – has sided with the nefarious Jarl Borg, and the two brothers clash.
However, for Rollo, it is a frustrating admission as a big brother that he cannot match the legendary martial skills and valor of his younger brother, Ragnar.
Familial ties and spats are a constant theme throughout Vikings, just as common in the early medieval period as they are now for families worldwide.
However, much of the tension between Rollo and Ragnar revolves around the fact that their disputes could turn deadly and violent.
What is interesting is the early display of Viking law and justice, with a spoiler alert: Rollo is placed on trial after being captured by King Horik's men and brought before a communal Thing.
However, like all good brothers, Ragnar bribes the law speaker – one of the most important roles in Viking society, a man who literally had to memorize and speak all the laws – and Rollo walks free.
Then, as now, it can help to have friends or family with deep pockets to bail you out in times of trouble.
In the second season of Vikings, much of the narrative unfolds in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, where the show explores the intricate political dynamics between the Viking invaders and the English. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)
Anglo-Saxons, armies, and colonies
Throughout the latter episodes of the series, much of the action takes place in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
Although this kingdom was not the first place where Vikings appeared in numbers – much of what is now East Anglia and offshore islands took that deadly honor – the political dynamics between Wessex and the Vikings played a pivotal role.
These interactions would define a significant segment of early medieval English history and help shape the formation of England itself.
As Ragnar and his men delve deeper into Wessex, he realizes that its greatest wealth might be the very ground they tread on. He envisions this fertile soil as the foundation for a Viking colony.
This scenario, with Ragnar's small band harassing Wessex forces and subsisting off the land, is reminiscent of what history refers to as the Great Heathen Army of the 860s-880s.
While this was not a singular unified force, historians now believe it comprised a succession of predatory Viking groups.
These forces invaded eastern England, advanced northward, and attempted to subjugate as many Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as possible.
Eventually, all but the kingdom of Wessex succumbed to their advance. Following their defeat at Edington by the legendary Wessex ruler Alfred, the Vikings established a form of "colony" in Anglo-Saxon England.
This area, spanning from the borders of Wessex to what is now Scotland, was governed under Viking law, known to the locals as the Danelaw.
Throughout the series, Björn's character evolves from a young and aspiring warrior into a formidable Viking leader, mirroring his historical reputation as a legendary Viking chieftain. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)
The sons of Ragnar
The familial thread continues in this season as we are introduced to a new dynamic between Ragnar and his sons.
In the series, a seer's prophecy is fulfilled when Ivar is born with deformed legs, leading Ragnar to give his son the rather cruel nickname.
Björn, though not a new character, earns his nickname Ironside in this season, as he battles alongside his father and remains unscathed – it appears that his "sides" (body) were made of iron.
Not bad for a young kid in his first battle.
While the character of Ragnar may not be historically accurate – historians believe he is, at best, a combination of several historical figures in a similar vein to James Bond - there is evidence of his two sons.
According to legend, the Great Heathen Army was organized by Ragnar's sons as a direct response to King Aella of Northumbria capturing and then killing their father by throwing him into a pit of snakes.
Ivar led a section of the army to harry and destroy much of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. He then turned his attention to Ireland and secured a kingship, becoming the first of many Viking kings of Dublin.
He died sometime between 870 and 873.
On the other hand, Björn has a more solid historical record as he is mentioned by Norman, Arab, and Frankish sources as leading a great Viking raid into the Mediterranean between 859 and 861.
Raiding the western Iberian coast, they traveled down to Gibraltar, up to what is now the Cote D'Azur in southern France, and then across to Italy to harry the town of Pisa.
It was on this raid that the Viking forces were said to lay siege to an even greater Italian city, Rome.
Though they did capture a city, it turned out to be the much smaller town of Luni, hundreds of miles from the ancient Italian capital.
Björn is also credited as the founder of the Munso dynasty, the earliest historically attested royal dynasty of Sweden. This dynasty ruled Sweden until 1060.
Like the character of Ragnar, there is a blending of fact and fiction, of saga and solid historical facts, with the introduction of his two sons in this season.
Much of Athelstan's arc in the second season is devoted to reconciling his Christian faith with that of the Vikings. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)
Athelstan the Unsure
In the second series, Athelstan's spiritual inner turmoil is thoroughly explored. Initially captured by Vikings in the first series, he adapts to life among his captors and becomes immersed in learning about the Old Norse religion.
As an Anglo-Saxon Christian, much of this season is devoted to him trying to reconcile his faith with that of the Vikings.
Following Ragnar's mission to Wessex, Athelstan is kept at the court of King Ecbert, where he provides insights into pagan beliefs.
When not offering royal spiritual advice, Athelstan engages in a sort of proselytization by teaching Ragnar a Christian prayer.
Finally, his spiritual arc is completed by the end of the season when Athelstan finds a sense of inner peace as he worships both the Christian and Norse gods.
The inner spiritual turmoil experienced by Athelstan in Vikings can be seen as historically accurate.
Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had embraced Christianity well before Viking societies, and it was through interactions with people in the British Isles that some Vikings were introduced to Christianity.
After the establishment of the Danelaw, Vikings ruled over a large Christian population, and this daily interaction likely influenced some of them to adopt the new religion.
Reflecting Athelstan's reconciliation of his old and new faiths, many individuals from Viking societies retained elements of the Old Norse religion even after being baptized as Christians.
This synthesis of Christianity and paganism was a defining characteristic of Viking societies throughout the early medieval period, only truly diminishing with the "Northern Crusades" in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The second season of Vikings is characterized by high adventure, new locations, inner turmoil, tension, and a host of intriguing new characters and narratives.
Like we have come to love about Vikings, there is a perfect balance of historical truth blended with mythical sagas and stories. This series allows us to follow Ragnar's journey as he ultimately ascends to the throne of Kattegat.
However, once you are at the top, it is often hard to stay there...
Season 2 of Vikings can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video. Available here.
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