Warning: Massive Spoilers Ahead!
Season four of Vikings concluded in Australia this week and amongst its brutal body count one death was felt most profoundly: that of Ragnar Lothbrok, portrayed by our own Travis Fimmel. The Norse hero died as legend foretold, in a pit of snakes.
It is no secret that Fimmel was a serial scene-stealer on Vikings. Whether swinging his axe in battle, speaking from atop a mountain, having one-way conversations with the dead or confronting those who had betrayed him, Ragnar thrilled television audiences and he made us laugh and cry (sometimes during the same scene).
Fimmel’s image as the Viking warrior has become iconic, his trademark braid and beard spawning copycats the world over. Along with the humour Fimmel brought to the role and his ability to convey emotions without saying a word, he also excelled in delivering powerful monologues. When I spoke with Vikings creator and writer Michael Hirst last year, he said: “I think that Ragnar is one of the greatest TV characters that has ever been.”
We first saw Fimmel as Ragnar seconds into the very first episode of Vikings; dirty blonde bangs clumped over a face smeared with the blood of battle – and gleaming defiantly from it – two piercing blue eyes. Ragnar would have a vision of Odin, who would guide him throughout his Vikings journey. “Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge,” Ragnar told his young son. Ragnar would give far more.
The farmer from Kattegat would fulfill dreams of sailing west to England and later France, have the sons he craved and become a famous king. At the beginning of season three he said to Bjorn: “Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst, and corrupts the best.” It was Ragnar’s quest for power and the burden of kingship that would lead to his ultimate demise.
Over four seasons of Vikings Ragnar’s personal life and appearance changed as much as the world around him, but he continued to deliver outstanding moments of television drama as a warrior, father, friend and king. Below, we look at some of Fimmel’s finest, and most memorable, moments as Ragnar Lothbrok.
West Season 1, Episode 1
Ragnar travels to Kattegat where he explains to Rollo that it is possible to sail west with the aid of a sunboard he acquired from a Wanderer. Rollo, dubious of being able to sail that far and not get lost, follows Ragnar outside where his brother reveals a sunstone, that even beneath cloudy skies, is able to determine the position of the sun. It would change their lives forever.
Shield Wall! Season 1, Episode 4
Early in the series Ragnar bagan to showcase leadership skills that would make him an astute and fearsome ruler, and in this particular scene, he and his group return to their longship following a successful raid in England to find soldiers waiting for them on the beach. Ragnar shrugs off his annoyance and swiftly switches to fight mode, coaching his warriors through various battle tactics and to victory. He then takes a moment to acknowledge those who will not be returning home.
Goodbye Gyda Season 2, Episode 1
In an episode where Ragnar is confronted about his affair with Aslaug by Lagertha and then has the pregnant princess arrive in Kattegat, he is also facing contempt from Bjorn for his infidelity. Amidst the drama, Ragnar goes to the shore of the fjord to bid a proper farewell to his dead daughter, Gyda. This scene made Michael Hirst weep, and I daresay, the rest of us as well.
Blood Eagle Season 2, Episode 7
When Ragnar reveals to Jarl Borg how he will punish him, his reaction is one of pure terror, and for good reason. Later Ragnar describes the Blood Eagle to Bjorn while taking a bath, but it is the actual ritual Ragnar performs at the end of the episode that is utterly horrifying. In the final scene spanning over six minutes, no words are spoken as Ragnar delivers his “very special punishment.” As Ragnar hacks away at Borg’s back, each shot is as excruciating as it is exquisite. Respect and regret emanate from Ragnar, but it does not deter him from finishing the job.
Athelstan’s Burial Season 3, Episode 6
After Ragnar carries Athelstan’s body up a mountain to lay him to rest, he reflects on their relationship in a poignant and lengthy monologue. Speaking to his best friend, Ragnar smiles and cries as he grapples with feelings of anger, frustration and profound loss. His outpouring of grief is deeply touching, and remains an outstanding scene from the series.
A Timely Reminder Season 3, Episode 9
When everyone else’s ideas have failed, it’s time to get up and remind everyone who really calls the shots. Despite nursing a serious wound following his attack on Paris, Ragnar gets up in everyone’s face and does just that.
The King Returns Season 4, Episode 10
After the jarring time jump in the 4A finale, Ragnar returns to Kattegat to find that his four youngest sons are grown men. Although he has aged significantly, Ragnar hasn’t lost his zing (or ferocity) and shockingly challenges everybody present, including his sons, to kill him if they aspire to take his place as King.
A Death Without Apology Season 4, Episode 15
Despite being tortured by his English nemesis, Ragnar’s spirit remains defiant to the very end. He is beaten but not broken, and from within a cage delivers his final speech on the show. When he is dropped into a pit carpeted with snakes, Ragnar’s body jerks with each bite in a visibly upsetting scene, before he finally succumbs to his death. Ragnar Lothbrok may be gone, but Travis Fimmel’s portrayal of him will hold a special place in television history.
All Hail King Ragnar.
Vikings airs in Australia on SBS and SBS On Demand