Perhaps I’m in a particularly good mood, or did this episode feel like something out of season three? And by season three, I mean exceptionally good? I feel the show returned to form, with characters who had been lost causes finally seeming to act like their old selves again; the plot started to right itself as well. Of course, we can’t have everything, as Iceland continued to be a garbled mess, but overall I was so pleased with this episode I’m having hope for the show again.
While we do see a glimpse of Lagertha, her disappearance haunts this episode, and we still don’t know where she has gone. She had a chance to look at Heahmund’s body on the battlefield prior to it being buried, and then she seemed to disappear into smoke, needing time on her own.
While this is perhaps selfish, it brings out the best in Bjorn, who for once is acting more like a caring son than the sullen brat he has been in previous episodes, desperate to find any information about what happened to his mother. While it is inconsistent writing, I appreciate that Bjorn is back to his old form, instead of the incarnation we have been dealing with recently.
This even makes his budding relationship with Gunnhild seem more natural, as he initially starts to speak to her to ascertain if she has any information about his mother–he will free her for her answer. While she can’t help him, he stays true to his word, and leaves her alone when she asks him to leave. I find Gunnhild charming; her personality is strong but balanced, with a streak of compassion running through it. I just hope she doesn’t end up being ruined by Bjorn, like so many of his other women.
Harald returns to York, only to have a few Vikings attempt to challenge him for power because he lost in Wessex. In the only time I’ve seen the phrase, “you live and learn” used literally, Harald fights the group and, well, they definitely don’t get a chance to live and learn. Once the dispatching of traitors has been completed, Harald presents Magnus to everyone, who is much more readily accepted by this group than he was by Ubbe and crew.
Back in Wessex, Alfred celebrates his win by announcing that he would be giving the Vikings land, true to his word, and arresting all of the traitors, save Aethelred. All of them are executed, and in the midst of this, Judith demands to know why Alfred didn’t take Aethelred out with them. Alfred is a good man and believes that since his brother saved his life on the battlefield, they are even, and all must be forgiven.
Judith, however, is not in a forgiving mood. She speaks to Aethelred privately, who seems genuinely regretful, saying that he was angry for not being made king, but he refused the assassination attempt in the end. Judith doesn’t seem to believe him, but I do–or I did, until a bit later in the episode, where he starts to act more than a bit power-hungry.
In one of the best scenes in the back half of this season, Alfred takes the Vikings to go see their new land; Ubbe is clearly so happy to be fulfilling this aspect of Ragnar’s dream, settling even more into the life of a Christian, as well. Bjorn simply can’t go that far, and he realizes he’s come to a crossroads. Again, this is the old Bjorn–the Bjorn I have missed seeing. After Gunnhild tells him that Harald wishes to take Kattegat back, he is determined to go join him in that fight.
While Ubbe initially is upset over the idea of Bjorn leaving, I really love how the conversation ends: both of them are protecting aspects of Ragnar’s legacy–just in different ways. For the first time this season I feel they are representing the best parts of their father. Ubbe decides that them parting this way is for the best, and Ubbe says that Bjorn is, “still my hero.” Seriously, where was this great writing in the past few weeks?
So apparently in the time that Alfred traveled to the farmlands and back to his castle, he fell ill–alluding to the real sickness that Alfred the Great suffered. It’s coma-like, leaving the nobles to lament that Alfred is a weak king, despite Judith’s assurances that he’s been sick like this before, and it will pass. Making matters worse, Aethelred does a very good job in placating everyone, and when asked how he did it, he dodges Judith’s questions. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do with her, given her current stress level.
In one of the best acted scenes of the season, Judith poisons Aethelred over dinner, and their final moments together are heart wrenching, drenched with betrayal and pain. It’s clear that Judith felt this was the only way to keep Alfred safe, but killing one of her sons was destroying her inside as well. Aethelred was also destroyed by the betrayal of his own mother, besides the painful death of poison. His last words, “what sort of mother are you,” cut to the quick, and feels so shakespearean.
While we didn’t spend as much time in Kattegat as we did in Wessex, that doesn’t mean that things weren’t turning around there for the better, either. Hvitserk stumbles upon an Asian trader, who gives him a Buddha figure, telling him stories of the religion. It’s something he seems really enamored with, and I like that he seems to have finally found something to latch onto–it means we also might find ourselves heading eastward later on (or at least I hope so).
Ivar seems to have also undergone the same change Bjorn has, as he’s acting a great deal more like his old self as well. Gone is the weird rambling and insane talk of being a God, but more measured discussions of heading to England to meet Alfred in battle to reclaim land, and warning Hvitserk of his continued defiance. Again, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was watching last season, instead of this current one, given the level of writing this episode.
Oh, and what happened in Iceland? More running in circles and Floki introduced everyone to something that looked like Hákarl? …yeah. Sorry guys, still not covering that storyline until it stops being the most boring thing on television.