From the overly-trusting King Aelle to the conflicted Athelstan, the Anglo-Saxons on Vikings give fans enough reasons to hate them or root for them.
In Vikings, Ragnar’s disgruntlement with Earl Haraldson’s rule sees him defy the leader and make a voyage to the West instead of the monotonous annual trips to the East. During the experimental raid, he discovers the land of Northumbria, which is one of the kingdoms inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons, the others being Wessex and Mercia.
It’s through the raids to the West that fans are introduced to influential Anglo-Saxons. Some end up being valuable allies to the Northmen, while others remain foes, unhappy with the presence of what the Christian natives describe as Pagans. While some of the Anglo-Saxons are extremely likable, others have no shame in doing the despicable.
King Aelle’s rivalry with Ragnar starts when the famed Viking warrior raids and plunders Northumbria with ease. Ragnar repeatedly outfoxes Aelle, before the king has the last laugh by subjecting the protagonist to one of the most brutal kills in Vikings.
The boisterous ruler does nothing to win him any admirers, but his role on the show is essential, as it is through him that Ragnar establishes himself as a formidable raider. However, killing Ragnar qualifies him as one of the most unlikable characters overall. It’s when Bjorn and Ivar avenge Ragnar’s death by killing Aelle that they also truly morph from mere sons of a great warrior to potential leaders.
Judith marries King Ecbert’s son Aethewulf as part of a pact between her own father Aelle and the Wessex king. Unhappy with her marriage, she has affairs with Athelstan and her father-in-law Ecbert. Judith’s story arcs are hypnotizing, drawing the viewer in and forcing them to sit and focus.
Cheating with Athelstan and getting pregnant for the monk causes her husband Aethewulf much pain, making fans sympathize with him. And in one of the scenes that Vikings fans can’t forget, Judith’s ear gets cut off as punishment for adultery. Sleeping with her father-in-law is even more bizarre. But there is no slowing down for Judith as later in her life: she tops her previous sins by poisoning her own son, so that Alfred won’t have any opposition in his quest to become ruler.
Aethelred succeeds his father for the throne but he is forced to renounce it for his half-brother, Alfred, because his mother doesn’t consider him the rightful heir. Aethelred thus becomes resentful.
While it’s a mistake for Aethelred to conspire to overthrown Alfred, his spite is understandable since he was first in line to the throne and had tasted power, only for it to be taken away from him. It doesn’t help that he is up against Alfred, who is a beloved character. That Aethelred dies at the hands of his mother is bizarre, but it’s hard to sympathize with him since he ought to have realized that the odds were truly against him.
Eager to become a powerful ruler, Kwenthrith forms a partnership with King Ecbert, with the two agreeing to fight for Mercia. She then goes against the agreement, leading to Ecbert taking over her kingdom.
The self-indulgent ruler is the most sexually liberated character on the show. She unapologetically sleeps with guards and soldiers and seduces Ecbert and Aethewulf. When it comes to leadership, she has weaknesses since she creates unnecessary enemies. Her greed drives her to go back on the deal she had with Ecbert, making the king eager to dethrone her and annex Mercia as Wessex’s vassal state. The fact that she is unfit for the position of Queen is further confirmed when her own nobles revolt against her.
The “fighting priest” is not only the Bishop of Sherborn, but also a maestro on the battlefield. As a warrior, he alternates between fighting for the Saxons and fighting with his own people. Heahmund is the emblem of hypocrisy. He carries himself as a man who has deep faith in God but is also adulterous and bloodthirsty. He is smart enough to package his misdemeanors as “God’s will” and because of this, he gets away with a lot, including treason.
But there are plenty of commendable things about Heahmund too. He is such a great warrior that even his enemies acknowledge it. When his horse gets injured in battle, Ivar gives him his own. Ivar and King Aethelwulf also owe their battle templates to him.
Aethelwulf inherits the throne from his father King Ecbert later in the series. He finds himself in rather chaotic relationships with Judith and Kwenrith too.
The manner in which Aethelwulf is outmatched by characters such as Ragnar and Ivar shows that he doesn’t have his father’s political acuity. Nevertheless, the good in him outweighs the bad. He accepts Alfred as his own son, even though he is the product of his wife’s affair. Aethelwulf has the ability to put differences aside for the greater good. For example, he passionately hates the Northmen, but he is willing to form an alliance with them in order to take back Kwenthrith’s throne.
Othere The Wanderer
Othere shows up after the disappearance of Floki, claiming to know about a Golden Land in the west. This excites Ubbe, Kjetil, and Torvi, who get the desire to explore the land. Othere is cunning. He has been pretending to be a Norse warrior all along, while in reality, he is a Christian monk named Athelstan (like the monk that died). The name “Othere” is one he adopted from a Viking he had killed.
His identity is exposed when he says a Christian prayer for an ailing Torvi, but he still remains charming enough to dissuade the Northmen from harming him. These traits make him one of the best Vikings characters introduced after Ragnar’s death.
The illegitimate son of Athelstan and Judith is adored by nearly everyone around him. Thanks to the support he gets from all quarters, he grows to become King of Wessex and Mercia.
Alfred is so good-natured that even the troublesome Ivar develops a liking for him. Alfred might be shy, but what makes him win people over so easily is how cultured he is. Everyone he interacts with is impressed by him, including Pope Leo, and Alfred effortlessly answers all his Bible-related questions. He has expertise in a number of things, including board games, as seen from how he defeats Ivar. He is also very respectful towards his mother, despite the fact that she is very controlling.
Ragnar’s frenemy starts out as the King of Wessex before taking over Mercia too. He is also briefly romantically involved with Ragnar’s ex-wife Lagertha. Ecbert is a calculating and manipulative ruler who always gets what he wants at the expense of others. This is best demonstrated when he ignores a power-sharing agreement he had with King Aelle and takes Mercia for himself.
While his self-centered ways might make some characters repulsive, they only make Ecbert more interesting. This is because he is also very intelligent and curious, with a thirst to understand things better, rather than just act on impulse.
Athelstan is taken as a slave by Ragnar from Lindisfarne Monastery when he proves to have more knowledge than the other slain priests. He soon becomes a close friend to Ragnar and later one of King Ecbert’s most trusted advisors. The most interesting thing about the monk is that he always finds himself torn between Norse belief and Christianity, and between Ragnar and King Ecbert. He sees value in both sides, hence he is never sure where to truly settle.
Among Athelstan’s best traits is his relative calmness in a world where everyone appears to be a brute. His ability to instill a sense of reason in people makes Ragnar and Ecbert see each other as equals, rather than adversaries who should destroy each other at all costs.