Well, we are back for our fifth season of Vikings, and our first without Ragnar. It will be interesting to see how the show does without their ‘main’ character. Judging from this two hour premiere, I would say that they are laying a good foundation to move forward without him, but time will tell if it is sustainable. While this episode had to spend a great deal ‘catching up’ with characters, there was also some forward movement in certain plots that could prove interesting in the long run. The one person noticeably absent, though, was Rollo, and there’s no telling if we’ll see him again.
We start out immediately where we ended last season–with Ivar and his brothers dealing with the aftermath of Sigurd’s death. During his funeral Ivar looks genuinely contrite over killing him, and of course his other brothers look furious. As many of you know, last season Ivar was far from my favorite character, but this episode is clearly doing its best to humanize him, slightly, and make him to be more complex than before. In a world where his handicap could be seen as the ultimate weakness, being made fun of by anyone, even his brother, is something that will make him lash out. The death wasn’t intended, but a consequence of Sigurd’s flippant words.
For his part, Bjorn wants nothing to do with his half-brother’s issues. While Ubbe doesn’t want to take on the ‘older brother’ role, he is going to have to, as Bjorn is headed off to do what his historical counterpart does–travel the Mediterranean. He is taking Halfdan with him, leaving Harald without his brother. I’m glad to see that perhaps Halfdan may turn out to be somewhat less than an asshole–something his brother is most likely always going to be.
Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is now fully on the scene, and I believe he will be one of the driving forces behind the England storylines this season. If you remember from the season 4 finale, we know that Heahmund is not only a warrior Bishop, but one that beds women–meaning that he isn’t one to always follow his vows. In this episode we see that things are more complicated; while he clearly feels lust for women, it is something he struggles with, and is more than willing to self-flagellate to try and reach penance.
After finding and burying King Ecbert’s body, he finds a surviving monk who tells him that Aethelwulf is King of Mercia, now, and the land trade that all of the Vikings speak of was just a trick, as I suspected last season. It will be interesting to see what happens when Ubbe and the others sort that out, as Ubbe is so determined to settle down.
In the Vikings camp, Floki is getting ready to leave for places unknown. After losing Helga (something I am still furious over), he is ready to go onto the sea and let the Gods put him where They will. Ivar, again in a humanizing moment, breaks down in front of him, begging him not to leave him. He feels he will be lonely, as none of his brothers like him. In many ways this is his fault, but of course he was coddled by his mother, as well–so not all the blame can lay with him. There is a great deal of resentment built up between all of them, and I don’t think it will ever be undone. At least this season they are attempting to explain why Ivar acts the way he does–his violent and gruff demeanor is all a defense mechanism against a world that would rather see a handicapped man like him dead.
Nothing is going to keep Floki from leaving, though, and Ivar and his brothers see him off, and soon after, Bjorn leaves as well. The old guard has scattered to the winds, leaving only the young to deal with England.
As I stated earlier, Ubbe wants to create a settlement, but Ivar wants to continue with his war, and take another city–one up north. He (correctly) wants them to have a place by the coast, which will be easy to defend–and a place from which they can raid. Taking the land in the middle of the island will just leave them surrounded on all sides. Unable to dispute that logic, it’s decided they will take York.
The Vikings win the city without much trouble; what is notable is Ubbe’s reluctance to kill anyone, and Ivar’s determination to torture a priest. I’m really interested to see where the show is going with Ubbe–I think he, in a lot of ways, will become the Rollo stand-in to Ivar’s Ragnar.
In some unknown area of England, we see Aethelwulf and his family struggling in a small village. Alfred is incredibly sick, and might be dying; Judith seems at her wits end, and is just tired of all of this. As one of the strongest people on this show (given all she has been through), seeing her so exhausted and frustrated is new–she usually holds up better under pressure. It’s a testament to how much she and her family have been through since they escaped the Vikings.
Alfred, for his part, in his near death state, sees a vision of his father (I’m glad to see the show can’t let go of Athelstan, either), and Alfred tells Aethelwulf that they all must go North–they need to go battle the Vikings. As someone who genuinely despised Aethelwulf for most of this show’s run, I’m starting to like him a great deal more since they’ve tried to soften him, and had him be kinder to Judith. So the family and remaining soldiers go north to find Heahmund, and plan to take back York. The Bishop seems to take an interest in Judith, and given Judith’s last ‘friendship’ with a priest…well. We will see where this goes.
Back in Kattegat things seem to have settled into some sort of normalcy–Torvi has been training her eldest son to fight, and reminds him of his father–his real father, and not Bjorn. Given how Bjorn acted all last season, I think it will do well for her to do so. Both of the men she has been married to have ended up disappointments, but we can only hope her son won’t be, as well.
Harald arrives in Kattegat, where he explains everything that happened in England, and where Bjorn has gone. Lagertha, of course, reveals that she knows that he wished to overthrow her, and restrains him.
She goes to visit him alone, later, where he attempts to convince her that he has given up his ambitions to become King of all of Norway, and that he simply would like to marry her to help protect Kattegat. In a scene that made me slightly uncomfortable, she forces herself on him and…well….rapes him. While he doesn’t struggle, given that he’s tied up and didn’t have a choice in the matter, it is what she does. She does it to show her domination over him, her power over him, and while I understand Lagertha’s frustration at having another man attempt to assert dominance over her, I dislike seeing a character I love resort to such tactics to show her own power.
After this ‘incident’ she goes back to speak with her ladies, and while Torvi thinks that perhaps some sort of alliance might need to be made (she sees that Lagertha is vulnerable), Astrid (you know, Lagertha’s lover…who slept with Bjorn) thinks any idea of marriage is ridiculous and storms out. Of course, Harald has escaped, and kidnaps Astrid in the process, taking her with him to his kingdom. He offers her the same deal he offered Lagertha–to become Queen. Because, of course, he still wants to be King. Astrid keeps insisting she won’t marry him, but given her current trajectory, I have no doubt that she will end up betraying Lagertha fully.
And what of Floki? Well, after spending many numerous days at sea, seemingly abandoned by the Gods, he arrives on a shore, one that has a volcano and waterfalls. He declares it the land of the Gods–but we know it more as Iceland.
Given how many characters the show had to ‘check in’ on, I thought this two hour episode did a good job of setting up the plot for the next season. After my frustrations with last season, I am feeling this season has a ‘fresh start’ sensation–I can only hope that it continues.