Previously on Vikings, “Death All ‘Round”
In a season of infamous cliffhanger finales, Vikings went all out on the surprise factor, and, after one of its signature slow-mo epic battles between its two main characters, Ragnar and Rollo, the story jumped 6-7 years into the future, fast-forwarding us into prime Ragnarssons years while its title characters still live. Certainly an unsettling choice, Hirst’s time jump pulls some of the sagas’ more interesting characters into play without immediately bereaving us of our favorites… And if you’re versed in these histories, you know exactly what stories are awaiting us in the second half of season 4. #SnakePit5evah
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s review this episode first.
Powered by muscles and smack-talk, the Vikings’ catapult/landing boats meet the fleet led by Rollo, who notably asks for God’s blessings—not the gods’. Gisla’s prayers and offering of Rollo’s torque to a Mary icon seem to be answered when it cries.
The difference in technology still shows in the Frankish metal shields, but thanks to Erlendur’s reverse engineering, their archers are evenly matched. (Please don’t ever let me say “thanks to Erlendur” anything, ever again.) Rollo dispatches a nervous lieutenant the Viking way shouts:
Gather all of your strength and all of your sweetness into an iron ball!
Ragnar stuffs in his last dose for the inevitable attack. Floki screams at Rollo from the prow, while Lagertha looks for Ragnar’s reassurance of the gods’ favor. Bjorn puts an arrow in the mast next to Rollo’s Frankish hairdo.
Hit it and Quit it, an Interlude
Now, Roland has never been away from a battle, and this fact should’ve been his first clue that something was horribly, horribly wrong. During a meal with the Twincests, Emperor Charles gets passive aggressive about Northmen telling the truth unlike other certain people who are notably at his table, ahem, Therese and Roland. Then he goes aggressive-aggressive about Rollo:
“I have his heart and he has mine.”
Therese tells him not to be stupid, kicking the souring conversation off the precipice. Roland tries to beg out of dessert, but the Emperor doesn’t care:
“Where you and your bitch are going, you can eat angel’s wings.”
They’re garroted to death. Oh, Charles! You devil!
Lothaire Bluteau, the actor playing Charles, has brilliantly captured the nature of the Emperor. While Vikings initially lured us in with a weakling version of Charles the Simple, he was more famously known for his plain, or “simple,” manner of expression, displayed in this conversation. Empowered by the pillar of Rollo’s honest presence and Gisla’s praise with an heir-in-the-making, Charles elatedly rises above his need to be like his grandfather Charlemagne, who, after all, didn’t know everything. Previously wilting under Odo’s presence, this evolution of Charles seems stronger than ever, and I felt surprised to be cheering for him.
Odin, where are you?
While the Seer tunes his Kattegat-o-Vision to the battle, the second attack wave produces signature slow-mo combat through which Ragnar and Rollo search for each other, leaping to cross swords. Not to be outdone by Charles’ cussing…
Ragnar: “Look at you. You look like a bitch. You’re not my brother. You never have been. One of us will die today.”
Rollo: “It won’t be me, brother.”
By brother, it is safe to assume Ragnar is also referring to the truth he feels owed but was not given, while Rollo only expected this version of brotherhood-to endlessly be second and punished for claiming his own destiny. Neither is entirely right.
The Seer howls as Ragnar disarms Rollo, but Rollo catches his upswing and they Chuck Norris it out. Halfdan is shot by an arrow while Harald screams for Odin. Floki, Torvi, and Lagertha are injured, Lagertha while trying to help Ragnar. Bjorn scoops up his mother, and after Ragnar is dragged away from Rollo by a hook, the entire royal party retreats to the boat, Ragnar unwillingly. Rollo allows them to leave, emotional as always.
Stumbling off of his horse and barely able to see through the blood, Rollo is welcomed back into the city a hero. The crowd goes wild as Gisla kisses his bloody mouth and declares him the savior of Paris. He literally falls at the Emperor’s feet. Charles places a laurel on his head, and in a parallel to Alfred’s crowning as a Consul of Rome, shouts, “Hail, Caesar!”
Rollo answers in Frankish, “God bless Paris!”
Ragnar’s boat is not such a happy place, with the bloodied and beaten lining its floor and Ragnar at the prow, his eyes swollen shut.
Both of these opposing scenes felt realistic and transporting. While the battle exacted no major characters, the cost of Rollo stumbling down the street and the boat of invalids sailing away seems fair enough. Hirst isn’t saying it wasn’t a terrible battle, only that they survived. Perhaps the rest of the horde could have eventually made progress, but all of the leaders were in trouble, so there was no alternative but retreat. How did that make the Hairdo brothers feel about Ragnar, I wonder?
But here is where it gets crazy.
TIME JUMP: 6 (or so) Years Later
Aslaug summons Bjorn to hear a scout report that another Ragnarsson, Magnus, exists, while the settlement in Wessex was wiped out immediately. Aslaug seems amused by the news, presiding over the massively enriched Great Hall as the woman to rule over Kattegat after all. She still likes her drink, though. Ragnar? Disappeared after they returned from Paris.
Bjorn travels out to the cabin to inform the “boys”—most of whom are nearing adulthood—including Ivar, whose startling blue eyes the camera makes note of frequently. Each son sees a different facet of Ragnar’s Wessex lie, but mostly they feel betrayed and abandoned. Ivar, not surprisingly, couldn’t care less about the dead settlers. Bjorn, for his part, explains that Ragnar is a man after all, was broken by Paris, and probably won’t come back.
“Despite all his failings, he’s still the greatest man in the world to me.”
As I mentioned, this time jump is a polarizing choice and will no doubt have its detractors. Unlike Ragnar, whose existence is still debated, the Ragnarssons are truly colorful characters akin to the biblical sons of Jacob in the founding of Scandinavia and its foray into the world. Their exploits, especially those of Ivar the Boneless, have miles of entertainment value, a hopeful thing for those willing to overlook the discomfort of such a large change.
This scene in itself was a bit awkward from the simple fact of introducing four new major characters, but Vikings casting hasn’t missed the mark thus far. However, they are all bit older than they should be chronologically, yet again.
Bjorn then visits Floki and Helga, who are floating tiny elaborate boats in their private beach. Floki admits to knowing about Wessex all along, revealing Ragnar’s act of killing the farmer, and garners acknowledgment from Bjorn that he was a good friend to his father. The boats? Models for Bjorn’s trip to the Mediterranean Sea.
“The only way to tell if something is real, is to sail there.”
He invites Floki, who laughs at the “lure of an imaginary land.” Of course he is coming! And Helga too. Group hug! Floki has new tattoos and is back to building boats, Helga is well and ready to follow her man into madness, and Bjorn has his uncle Floki back. All is right with the world.
You know that thing you said I wasn’t gonna do?
Ragnar returns to find Kattegat greatly expanded and broaches the city at an exotic market, full of goods and traders from the Spice Road. He draws a silently following crowd, which parts for the Ragnarssons and their swords. Seeing Ivar crawling, Ragnar greets him only, earning a grin from his little sociopath.
Noting the crowd’s unhappy tenor, he challenges his sons to put them out of his misery. He mocks the crowd with one his infamous Ragnar Speeches where he lures them in, offering his sword to the onlookers while citing his own rise to power by killing Earl Haraldson, then SCREAMS:
Who wants to be king?!
Ragnar is always surprising and magnetic, so I have no doubt that he will manage something with his offspring before heading off to England for an epic showdown with Ecbert, Aethelwulf, and Aelle without the dulling effects of Yidu’s drugs… and questionable storyline. When Ragnar arrived at the edge of Kattegat, I was still reeling from the time jump and trying to decide how I felt about it and the accompanying dangling threads. But, true to form, Travis Fimmel managed a performance in that speech that made me look forward to what the second half has to offer.
If you’re feeling cranky about the shift in atmosphere, or if you are for it, please share your thoughts below. I personally was hoping everyone would survive to the second half, so the lack of definitive resolution in Paris didn’t bother me. Little things, like the lack of retribution for Siggy’s death, continue to nag the soul. As for the fate of your favorite main character, according to an interview with Michael Hirst, they’re all still alive, unless your favorite was Roland and Therese, and in which case, get outta here! Seriously, though, each one has a major part to play in part two of the Ragnar saga, which we will see in the inaugural fall season of Vikings.
Until then, friends, steer your noble barque and hew many foe-men.
This mid-season finale served up a brutal first half with all the blood and gore and slow motion that we’ve come to appreciate from Vikings. The costuming, makeup, and effects throughout the episode were first rate. The unsettling time jump with its minor, yet still important, dangling plot threads was interesting but still bothersome enough to bring down the rating, while the slightly awkward introduction of “the boys” didn’t entirely fit with the rest of the performances. The controversy of this structure is divisive enough to have fans talking and/or whining all summer.