‘Vikings’: Athelstan Was Once Chosen as a Sacrifice

In the popular series Vikings, the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), abducts a former monk named Athelstan (George Blagden) in season 1 of the show. It changes everything for them both, but despite the closeness they share, Ragnar chooses Athelstan to be sacrificed. We have all the details about the situation from season 1, episode 8.

Who is Athelstan in ‘Vikings’?

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

Athelstan is a Saxon and a former monk that Ragnar abducts and forces to be a slave at first in the first-ever raid on England at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Ragnar. Ragnar chooses Athelstan out of every piece of treasure, seeing his worth right away. Athelstan has traveled and therefore can speak their language. He teaches Ragnar many things, including his language, culture, and religion.

Over time, Athelstan becomes assimilated into his new surroundings, adopting the Viking culture and way of life as his own. However, he’s torn between his old world and religion with his new one as he tries to find out where he belongs. Although he believes in the Viking gods, he still holds onto Christianity as well.

Athelstan goes to Uppsala

Although he and Ragnar become good friends who are more like family, it doesn’t stop Ragnar, now Earl, from planning to sacrifice Athelstan at Uppsala. It’s a place of pilgrimage for the Vikings, who sacrifice nine humans every nine years there along with a variety of animals in sets of nine. It’s there that they “give thanks” to the gods they believe in, offering “sacrifices” according to Ragnar, who asks Athelstan to go, and he obliges.

Ragnar chooses to go to Uppsala after his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), has a miscarriage. He prays to Odin asking if he will in fact have more sons and to accept his sacrifice, which he hopes will lead to an answer.

Ragnar vaguely tells him about the sacrifices when Athelstan asks what an empty pen is for. Ragnar replies, “It’s for the humans who have been chosen.”

After being given mushrooms, Athelstan hallucinates out in the forest among many other Vikings. Eventually, he happens on Thyri (Elinor Crawley), Siggy Haraldson’s (Jessalyn Gilsig) daughter. She says she’s been “waiting” for him, kissing him. She washes him, and he asks why she’s doing it.

“Don’t you understand?” she says. “I have to.” This gets Athelstan thinking about the whole situation and the fact that he might be sacrificed. 

Athelstan was once chosen as a sacrifice

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But he doesn’t get confirmation about it until the Seer (John Kavanagh), a man who the Vikings believe can see things and talk to the gods, asks for him to go with him. Near where the statues of the gods they believe in stand, a priest speaks to Athelstan, asking him if he’s come there of his “own free will.” 

Athelstan notices the Seer is gone, and he says, “Yes.” The priest admits his suspicions of Athelstan, saying he “sensed something.” But he spoke to Ragnar about him, saying, “He told me your story.” 

When essentially asked if he still believes in Christianity, Athelstan says, “No.” He says it three times, and the priest asks if he knows why he’s there. “You have been brought here as a sacrifice to the gods,” he tells him.

Athelstan looks surprised and moves his hands, which prompts the priest to look at his wrist. Around it is a necklace he wrapped around it with a silver cross, and Athelstan rushes out of there pretty quickly.

Does Athelstan get sacrificed?

Later, the Seer tells their party, including Ragnar and his family, that the sacrifice isn’t acceptable. Athelstan still believes in his former religion, and therefore he isn’t able to be sacrificed. He’s confused about what he believes, and it’s a terrible situation for him. However, his life is spared, and he isn’t sacrificed.

“He is neither willing, nor is his faith acceptable to Odin,” the Seer says. “His heart is corrupt.”

It’s clear that Ragnar chose Athelstan as the sacrifice for their group as he’s the man in charge as the earl of Kattegat. It’s a sad realization for Athelstan, but one that he must come to terms with.

Someone else must be sacrificed from their group according to the Seer. “If not, then all shall fail,” the Seer says. “The gods in their anger will punish everyone, and withdraw their protection from all of us.” 

Before Arne (Tadhg Murphy) can get up, Leif (Diarmaid Murtagh), Ragnar’s friend, offers himself. He is sacrificed along with eight others, and Athelstan’s life is spared.