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The Worst Thing Ivar Did On Vikings

In its nearly 100-episode run, Michael Hirst's Emmy award-winning historical fiction series, "Vikings," garnered a devoted following, and helped kick-off a kind of Viking (and Norse mythology) renaissance in pop culture (via The Guardian) that shows no sign of slowing down. Though the majority of the epic's overarching narrative is devoted to the saga of Viking explorer Ragnar Lothbrok (portrayed in the show by Travis Fimmel), in the series' final seasons, it is Ragnar's ruthless and complex son Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) who takes center stage. 

For anyone in need of a refresher, Ivar is, generally speaking, exactly the kind of hard-hearted, bloodthirsty, and depraved Viking warrior and leader whom the Saxon historians so fearfully and enthusiastically depicted in their writings. Unlike his brothers Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø), and Sigurd (David Lindström), Ivar is born with a physical disability — a trait that makes simply surviving the era difficult, never mind succeeding in it. In order to rise above his surrounding society's attitudes toward him, Ivar grows increasingly cruel, and over the course of his extended storyline, he does some truly terrible things. Still, there are times at which it's difficult not to empathize with the conflicted character, who is forever seeking — and being refused — some semblance of approval and love. It's that very empathy, though, that makes his worst act as truly despicable as it is.  

In Season 5's Ragnarok, Ivar reaches a new level of ruthlessness

Killing his brother Sigurd by accident was pretty bad, but, ultimately, an accident. And Ivar leaving his disabled infant son to die, though a horrifying act, is — in both his mind and the context of the Viking era the series seeks to depict — an act of mercy (as fans will recall, Ivar's own father attempted to do the same to him). Moreover, though the question of whether or not the Vikings actually practiced the very Spartan habit of selective infanticide remains up for debate (via The Vintage News), it's clearly something in which the Vikings of Hirst's series frequently engage. In his tormented mind, Ivar believes his son will find peace only in death; in other words, his action comes from a place of compassion, albeit a tragically misguided one. 

Ivar's subsequent murder of his wife Freydis (Alicia Agneson), however, comes from no such place. 

In Season 5, Episode 20 ("Ragnarok") Ivar begins to suspect that the formerly zealously devoted Freydis has betrayed him. In fact, she admits, she has, by working with his brothers and assisting in their re-conquering and re-taking Kattegat from the increasingly tyrannical Ivar. However, as user DarKnight972 pointed out on the series' subreddit, had Ivar not just killed her son, "Freydis would not have betrayed him." His later murder of her is thus made all the more shocking and vile by his refusal to see or acknowledge the responsibility he bears for Freydis' actions. 

Ivar's actions in the Season 5 finale mark a major transition for the character

In "Ragnarok," Ivar pulls his wife close to him in a loving embrace, tells her he loves her, then proceeds to strangle her death in one of the most visceral, most up-close-and-personal murders of the series. The killing doesn't take place on a battlefield, between two warriors armed with swords and shields and ready and willing to take their place in Valhalla or Fólkvangr. Nor, importantly, does it take place amidst the swirling eddy of violence and chaos that so often accompanies Ivar's ruthlessness. Instead, it takes places in an intimate, domestic setting, and requires a level of personal rage that comes not from the era and its often violent expectations (as is the case when Ivar feels obligated to kill his perceived enemies, such as Eve Connolly's Thora), but from Ivar himself. 

If Ivar can murder the only person he's ever loved (other than Floki and his mother), and in a manner that demands such an unyielding, determined degree of physical brutality, there's really not much he can't or won't do — a fact repeatedly evidenced by his later actions. 

"Ragnarok" is the season's highest rated episode on IMDb, and one that prompts many a discussion on the "Vikings" subreddit, with good reason. Though Ivar has carried out a number of appalling acts by the time he decides to murder his wife, the scene is significant — and made all the more gutting — because it marks the final turning point in Ivar's transition from a man who'll justify anything to a man who decides he has no need to justify anything. When Ivar the Boneless murders Freydis, he's in fact murdering the last few drops of humanity contained in his character. It's no wonder it's the one act that proceeds to haunt him for the remainder of the series.