Vikings plot hole: Ragnar and Jarl Haraldson historical inaccuracy exposed
27th March 2020
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Tracing the life and glory of infamous Viking warrior Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel), the History series Vikings has thrilled fans throughout its six seasons. Unfortunately, not every episode has been entirely accurate.

Season six is currently dealing with the struggles of Ragnar’s son Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig), as his kingdom is threatened by Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) and the violent Rus forces.

While the general trajectory of the Viking warriors’ ploys for supremacy across Europe generally align with what history tells us, writer Michael Hirst has frequently been called out for some glaring inaccuracies.

One dedicated fan has been trawling through each episode as it is released, and relied on their historical know-how to analyse just how true to life the series is.

Way back in the first season, Ragnar was still trying to prove himself as a fierce warrior, and developed a fierce feud with the fearsome Jarl of Kattegat, Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne).

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Episode six, Burial of the Dead, features a deadly display of combat and solidified Ragnar as an iconic character and a courageous Viking warrior.

When Ragnar’s older brother Rollo (Clive Standen) is tortured under Haraldson’s orders, Ragnar comes face-to-face with the sadistic Jarl in a duel to determine who will rule over their land. 

Ragnar comes out on top, sending the Jarl to Valhalla by cutting his wrists, but this studious blogger reveals the outcome in the episode was vastly different to how Viking skirmishes of this nature actually occurred.

They said: “Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! This is the episode with the duel between Ragnar and Jarl Haraldson, with the implication that whoever wins will be the new Jarl.”

Ragnar’s confrontation with Haraldson had been built up throughout the first half of season one, and fans agreed it was well worth the wait.

Unfortunately, this blogger revealed the rules of the battle don’t exactly gel with how the outcome of Viking duels, or ‘holmgang’, was actually determined.

The blog explains that holmgang, translated from ‘Island Walk’, were named such because they usually took place on small, confined islands – perfect for a close quarters fight to the death.

Michael Hirst’s scripts established that Ragnar would immediately assume the title of Jarl once Haraldson was cut down in battle, but this fan argues this doesn’t match up with Viking culture as historians would have it.

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They continued: “Still not entirely historically accurate… but until restrictions were placed on duels it was possible for the winner to ask for absolutely anything the loser had.”

Rather than demanding Haraldson’s power and possessions, Ragnar’s victory secures his power over Kattegat outright, despite the fact viewers never saw him actually demand this status.

The blogger added: “So.. I guess if he demands all his lands and wealth and I guess if everyone leasing that land agrees and I guess if killing the Law Speaker suddenly leaves the rules open to a bit of interpretation… it could happen.”

Finally, they concluded: “But in any case, this isn’t how a holmgang is supposed to work.”

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While the outcome of Ragnar and Haraldson’s fight was certainly possible, that’s a lot of very specific stipulations that were never outlined at any point in the episode.

Still, by prioritising action over historical accuracy, Vikings has remained one of the most thrilling period shows on television.

Fans should just steer clear of treating Michael Hirst’s scripts as infallible records of Viking history, because they are most definitely not.

Vikings season 6 airs on History on Wednesdays and on Thursday on Amazon Prime.


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