Even an action-packed show like Vikings has to slow things down sometimes to focus on character development so that our eyes don't just start glazing over from continuous violence. With so many storylines going on at once and various relationships all in different stages, Executive Producer Michael Hirst stills finds a way to properly bring just enough attention to each of them so that we don't forget about anyone, which he does in this week's episode, The Message.
We return to Africa where we had left Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Halfdan (Jasper Paakkonen) at the mercy of Kassia (Karima McAdams) who was about to lop off their heads but lucky for them that a timely sandstorm decided to show up and properly distract their foes. Taking advantage of the moment, they scuffle their way out and use the storm as a cover so that they might flee on the backs of camels into the open desert.
Now that King Harald (Peter Franzen) has taken Astrid (Josefin Asplund) as his wife we are shown them playing a game of spousal "come catch me" which by all appearances makes it seem like she actually is enjoying her decision to marry him. Their little moment of domestic bliss is interrupted by the sounding of a horn because they have an unexpected guest arriving. Ivar the Boneless (Alex Hogh) and his brother Hvitserk (Marco Ilso) have come over from York and brought the bulk of their army and the captive Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with them.
Harald seems to already know why they are there and Ivar does, in fact, confirm that he would like them to join forces in taking down Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and the town of Kattegat. But before they can come to an agreement, there seems to be a discrepancy in who will rule after they do in fact take it over. Harald makes it clear that he wants to be king but Ivar tries to pass off his bad health of being a cripple to justify that he still gets to rule over Kattegat first and he can have it after him. While neither man obviously trusts the other one on this subject, they put it aside for the moment because taking over the town is their first priority. Later on, they would have a discussion where Ivar would tell Harald that his true focus is all about getting revenge on Lagertha for killing his mother. But when Harald asks him about taking over as ruler and being there for his people he tosses the notion aside saying it's not even important to him. These two are playing a chess game with each one trying to figure out the next persons move.
Ivar goes to see the captive Heahmund in an effort to try to bring him over to his side. Ivar tells him that if he doesn't fight alongside them that he will have to kill him. Of course, Heahmund says he has no problem dying but Ivar tells him there is no reason for that because all he's asking him to do is kill more of the heathens that he has already been fighting against. The Bishop is puzzled as to why he is making such an effort to keep him around and in a rare personal moment, Ivar reveals to him that he is jealous. He wishes he could be physically whole like Heahmund and fight like a warrior. So since he can't be like him at least Ivar would like to use his great strength to his advantage. I don't feel even the slightest bit sorry for Ivar (that sailed a long time ago) but his reasoning does make good sense in the Bishop's case. Plus, I don't see why the guy can't try and escape in the middle of a crazy battle?
Afterwards, Hvitserk finds Ivar to speak to him about his concerns in dealing with King Harald. He brings up that even if Ivar were to fall to bad health HE should be next in line for the throne. Ivar calms him down by letting his brother know it's all just words and who knows what will really happen. Who is to say if Harald will try and betray them and try to kill them? Or they could kill Harald? Hvitserk hears all of Ivar's words but says he doesn't feel like he can trust him, that he doesn't even know him anymore. He goes on to ask Ivar what his plan is in all of this and it comes as no surprise that he says he wants to be "the most famous man who ever lived." When Hvitserk asks if that means even more famous than their father, Ivar doesn't even hesitate by saying that he believes one day people will only know Ivar the Boneless and Ragnar Lothbrok will be a distant memory. Somebody obviously didn't get enough hugs as a child growing up.
At dinner, that night Ivar and King Harald would come up with a plan to properly fix up their ships, gather enough men, and be ready to fight in two moons time. They have this conversation in front of Astrid and while Harald brings up how it will be different for her to return to Kattegat as a queen, Ivar gives her that snide look that he does not fully feel she is on their side. Another interesting point would be that with the whole conversation that had just taken place between Ivar and Hvitserk, King Harald would decree to the entire room that anyone to break this arrangement shall be killed. Seems that if they are successful in their attack, things look to get real interesting after.
Taking a break to head over to Wessex, King Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford) has taken the remaining soldiers of his army and brought it back to what is left of his father's old kingdom. While they are there his sons have different ways of dealing with everything that is going on. Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) decides that he must leave them and go to the church of Lindisfarne because he wants to find out more about where his father Athelstan came from. While his mother does not try to interfere with this choice it does seem odd that we're still dealing with this storyline since Athelstan has been gone for so long. Maybe it will have more relevance down the road. On the other hand, we have Aethelred (Darren Cahill) who is continuing his training as a fighter and making his father proud. He tells his son he has the makings of a warrior and then adds on "and a great king." We can see how this approval and faith in him as a person makes a big impact on Aethelred.
Heading back over across the ocean, Astrid approaches a whaler named Hakon (Laurence O' Fuarain) who is readying his boat to go out for several days at sea. She asks him if he could deliver a message to Kattegat for her and keep it a secret. She promises to pay the man and his crew very well for this request so he agrees to it. But unfortunately for her money is not all he desires, as he asks to have sex with her as well. When the day comes for him to leave, she pays him the gold but then he reminds her of his other request and even though she is extremely hesitant to comply, she allows him to have sex with her. There is a moment where she actually thinks about going for her knife but then she stops. Astrid thinks it's a done deal until several other men come into the room and Hakon informs her that he meant ALL of his crew get to have sex with her. While she does not feel this is part of the deal, she tries to fight off the large men who try to subdue her so they can have their turn. In the middle of this, Hakon threatens her that if she doesn't comply he will tell King Harald of her betrayal. As unfortunate as this is for Astrid, her feelings for Lagertha's well-being are enough that she allows the other men to have sex with her but as the viewer, we are spared having to watch the repulsive act itself. Even if Hakon is a shady man to do business with, he does honor the deal and delivers the message to Lagertha at Kattegat. He tells her of Ivar and King Harald joining forces and that they will attack in two moons time. Astrid is quite the hero in all of this for making such a huge sacrifice to try and warn her people. Very reassuring that her marriage to King Harald is nothing more than her being a glorified spy for Lagertha.
This is just another problem for Lagertha to add to her already big pile that has been getting bigger. Earlier in the week, she had been tipped off that Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) was taking several of her people including some of her valued warriors to this new island he has discovered. Since she had explicitly told him he was forbidden from doing so this really hurt her on an emotional level. She decides to not try and keep any of them from leaving citing that if they feel this is a better choice for their lives she doesn't want to hold anyone against their will. As she leaves them to sail away, you can see the disappointment on her face that they felt the need to pursue other dreams instead of sticking with their roots in Kattegat.
But all would not go as these folks had hoped for when they do get to this island that Floki has praised would put them closer to the gods it seems barren and uninhabitable. Floki tells them that they just need to believe in their decision and they will see the riches of the island after they hike for a couple of more days inland. I have to wonder if maybe Floki was hallucinating by some of the herbs and minerals from the land itself? He better hope he's not selling these people snake oil because they will not be pleased.
Back at Kattegat, Lagertha and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) discuss what they are going to do about the upcoming attack and she decides to name him as the leader of their army. Ubbe is far from enthusiastic about going to war against his brothers but he knows he has no choice. Lagertha pulls Margrethe (Ida Marie Nielsen) aside and readdresses the fact that she keeps trying to turn people against her. Lagertha says she will stand for it no more because the village needs to be strong and unified in this dark time. She gives her the ultimatum that if she conspires against her anymore that she will cut out her tongue. I'm sure Margrethe doesn't think that the queen is so weak now! With such a huge threat coming their way there is some hope as we see Bjorn and his ships returning to Kattegat. Not exactly sure how he got out of Africa and all the way back but I guess we'll just chalk it up to him being a badass.
Finally, in regard to the question we've been waiting to have answered of will he or won't he, Ivar brings out Bishop Heahmund to the middle of town for the grand presentation of joining them or being put to death. He raises a knife to the Bishop's chest to show how serious he is and asks for his decision. In a move of faith or trust or maybe both Heahmund asks for Ivar to give him the knife which he does. Heahmund turns to the crowd in town and raising the knife points it right at his chest like he might take his own life. One of the men walks right up to him and tries to convince the man of God to kill himself by screaming in his face "Die!" Heahmund looks like he has had enough and his eyes pop with an intensity that makes it seem like he just wants this madness to end. But with two quick moves, he grabs the man's neck and with the other jabs the knife right into his throat. It is clear what position he is taking! Ivar lets out a big laugh and claps with sick glee as he has turned the Christian man to fight with his heathen army. So how will Bishop Heahmund help Ivar's army in the war against Lagertha? Do Ubbe and Lagertha stand a chance? Or is Bjorn's return going to spell the end of Ivar's dominating streak? And what is going to happen to Floki and his band of travelers? Find out next week when Vikings returns with an all new epis