‘Vikings’: The 1 Moment Athelstan Should Have Followed Ragnar Lothbrok

In the series Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) once had a crisis to deal with involving his family. At the same time, his best friend, Athelstan (George Blagden) makes a choice that he really shouldn’t have, and it has dire consequences for him in the long run. We have all the details about the moment from season 2, episode 4. 

Athelstan was once a Saxon monk in ‘Vikings’

George Blagden
George Blagden | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In season 1 of the series, Ragnar orchestrates the first-ever raid on England at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. It’s there that he meets his greatest friend, Athelstan, for the first time. Athelstan is a Saxon monk, and he’s abducted by Ragnar and taken as a slave. He can speak their language, and Ragnar and Athelstan become good friends. Athelstan teaches Ragnar about the Saxons and about Christianity, and he becomes a Viking, adopting their ways and participating in raids. However, he still feels pulled in both directions between his two worlds.

In season 2, the Vikings, led by King Horik (Donal Logue) and Ragnar, return to England, landing in Wessex. They raid Winchester and are assisted with information by Athelstan. During the raid, a priest stumbles on Athelstan, who tells him to hide, making it obvious he speaks their language. The priest insists that Athelstan will be captured and crucified, “for an apostate is the lowest and vilest of all creatures in the eyes of God.” 

The 1 moment Athelstan should have followed Ragnar Lothbrok

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During negotiations between the Vikings and King Ecbert of Wessex (Linus Roache), the man whose territories they’ve raided, Ragnar learns that his Earldom of Kattegat has been usurped by Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr), someone who was supposed to go raiding with them, but Horik had Ragnar rescind the offer. Ragnar chooses to go home right away, asking Horik if he’s “not coming.”

“I’m minded to stay here, Ragnar, to speak with this King Ecbert further,” Horik explains. “I think he is afraid of us, and will make some deal to our advantage.” 

Ragnar wonders how he will communicate with the Saxons as he doesn’t speak their language like Ragnar, who was taught by Athelstan. “If you will permit this man, Athelstan, to remain with me, he can do the talking,” Horik explains.

Ragnar admits that Athelstan “is a free man, it is his choice,” and Athelstan replies, “If I can be of help to King Horik, then I am happy to stay.” 

This comment surprises Ragnar, who says, “I’m surprised to hear you say that, for you know my family better than anyone.” 

Athelstan walks over to Ragnar, mentioning how he’s “always said how important these contacts are. So is it not more important for me to remain here?”

Ragnar asks if he’s positive he wants to do this, and Athelstan is. “If you change your mind, your friends will be leaving at first light,” Ragnar tells him.

Ragnar leaves, and Athelstan stays behind with Horik, but it’s the wrong choice, and he should have followed Ragnar based on what comes next for Athelstan.

Athelstan is crucified

While out hunting, the Vikings are attacked, and Athelstan is captured. The Saxons beat Athelstan up and then crucify him on a wooden cross when they learn he’s a Saxon turned Viking. His feet and hands are nailed to the cross and he’s hoisted up into the air. He’s called an “apostate” by Bishop Edmund (Philip O’Sullivan), and left to die as people look on. But Ecbert happens on the scene, and demands he be cut down and let go. 

Ecbert’s forces attacked Horik’s camp as well as the Vikings out hunting, and Horik tells Ragnar later that if Athelstan is “fortunate” then he “died in battle.”

But Athelstan is saved and protected by Ecbert, someone who becomes very fond of him during their time together. He allows Athelstan to become a monk again, and since he can read Latin, Athelstan translates Roman letters for Ecbert, becoming invaluable to him.

Ragnar eventually returns to Wessex after getting Kattegat back from Borg, never giving up hope of seeing Athelstan alive again. Athelstan goes back home with him to Kattegat, but it’s a situation he never forgets. If he had followed Ragnar to begin with, he wouldn’t have had to suffer in such a horrific way.