Previously on Vikings, “All His Angels”
How does news of death travel in 890 AD?
Ragnar’s final episode, “All His Angels,” rightly focused on his experience, taking us through his journey to meet his fate and passing the torch to Ecbert and Ivar. Respectful and deliberate, it allowed us time to process and accept the death of the main character. But the obvious downside of consigning Ragnar Lothbrok to a death in a medieval foreign glade is the impossibility of conveying the news to literally every other character. Even Ivar was only mostly sure he was dead, and, given Ragnar’s kismet, it would be natural for everyone to remain in complete denial, leaving the audience in closure limbo.
To address this massive roadblock, Vikings went somewhere it’s never fully gone before: undeniable supernatural intervention. Sure, in the pilot’s very first scene, Ragnar saw Odin and the Valkyries plucking souls from an Eastern Baltic battlefield, but he was alone, addled from the fight. Yes, the maybe-demigod Harbard visited Kattegat and helped Siggy save Ragnar’s boys, but then she died, alone. Of course, Athelstan’s palms dripped blood in stigmata-like patterns, but he’d previously been crucified and had been digging farmland. Despite these and other implied holy visitations, series writer Michael Hirst has spoken about intentionally exploring the spiritual realm only through human perception. Until now.
It seems understandable that as Vikings delves deep into the Sagas, a god finally appears with a message for several different people in several different places at one time. With spontaneous flocks of swirling ravens and thunder rumbling, a one-eyed Odin gravely announces Ragnar’s demise to each of his sons as his death song echoes across the seas. As in the Sagas, each boy receives the news according to his nature; interestingly, Bjorn needs no personal message to read the signs, and his plus one, Hvitserk, has Bjorn’s interpretation. The most powerful goodbye, however, is the midnight visitation of Ragnar’s shade to Lagertha, giving the show’s biggest ‘ship proper closure. She wishes him happiness in Valhalla, yet also begs…
“Don’t forget me. Haunt me. Don’t leave me.”
It is stunning what Kathryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel can do with barely a glance, years of passion, pain, and affection laid bare. As for Odin, André Eriksen was a perfectly terrifying human avatar of the god, and his gaping eye socket was impossible to look away from. Cheers to casting and makeup, yet again.
Resolving to do right by Ragnar and rule, Lagertha makes big changes to the great hall. When Ragnar defeated his predecessor, Earl Haraldsson, he kept the rough, oversized thrones, but upgraded his light blue shield with silver insignia to a deep red with black contours of a raven and Kattegat’s fjord. Lagertha’s shield was aqua with the rune for FE (“wealth”) in the shape of a tree, meaning wealth and strength in family. Since reclaiming Kattegat, Lagertha has filled in the rune with Ragnar’s red and replaced the Haraldsson throne with a smaller totem-carved seat surrounded by striking rough-hewn wings, evoking the Valkyries. The shakeup ripples into the plot when she announces to the hall that Kattegat has been neglected and mismanaged for too long and the most prosperous port in Norway deserves fortifications, starting now.
While Ubbe and Sigurd bristle at the shade, it is hard to argue that Kattegat’s borders are long past time for shoring up, especially with Harald and Halfdan muttering half a world away that overthrowing the Ragnarssons is next on their to do list. And Lagertha’s time to protect her family’s investment might be limited, as Ivar challenges her to single combat, which she declines, bucking honor and citing no desire to kill Ragnar’s son. Brushing off the initial embarrassment, he promises to kill her one day anyway, much like she did to Kalf, swearing,
“Your fate is fixed.”
For a cranky golem, the Seer seems chipper about Ragnar’s crossing to
Athelstan Valhalla*, and, unusually forthcoming, confirms that Lagertha will die at the hand of a Ragnarsson**. Calling back to Lagertha’s murder of Earl Sigvard for Hedeby’s earldom, Ivar imagines piercing her eye with his dagger. As for the side players, Astrid swears to protect her lover from the boys, which again seems unlikely, and Ubbe begs the super-shifty Margrethe to see him again. I still haven’t figured out whose slave she is now that Aslaug is dead, and, if she’s still owned by his family, why he has to ask her politely for a date.
*Is he just saying this? Would Ragnar even be happy going to Valhalla?
**Totally not Ivar, then, right?
Hobbled with age and sorrow, Ecbert huddles over his meal while Aethelwulf expounds upon the untrustworthiness of Ragnar’s sons and how they must build an army to prepare. While Judith counsels him not to contradict his father, Ecbert actually agrees, as long as Aethelwulf handles it, because he’s too busy doting on Alfred. Perhaps a moment more suited to another episode, for once Aethelwulf looks kingly and I am here for it. But his surprise at being handed yet another task is getting a bit tiresome. Yes, you have to do it. Your father can barely make it through his Struggle Dinner, so get on it.
The Other Crossing
It pains me to say this, but the action portion of this episode in which Bjorn and his crew raid a Spanish port was less successful for me. At first the long ships are adrift in a murky fog, leaving the Hairdo brothers to conspire and stroke their oft-repeated belief that the gods are abandoning the Ragnarssons, while Floki and Helga confess to feeling empty and rudderless. Finally the fleet finds a Muslim port in Algiciras, Spain, and they proceed to raid the colorful marketplace. The port felt very set-like, but perhaps the effect was not to focus on a new location as much as to remind us that Northmen going a’ viking, even Bjorn and Hvitserk, aren’t the men we’re used to seeing at home in Kattegat. As they kill shopkeepers for mere fruit without Ragnar’s goal-oriented curiosity to meter them, it is difficult to remain emotionally invested in the “new” lead faces of the show.
The high point of this plot is Floki prowling through the street in a bubble of silence and wandering into a mosque. Not knowing his best friend is gone, Floki’s emptiness leaves him vulnerable to the siren song of an idol-less god. The prostrating men scarcely notice his wonderment, but the sacred moment is broken by Harald and Halfdan invading the scene. Halfdan kills the Imam mid-prayer, but, as another takes his place, Floki forbids further killing, igniting tensions with his former allies. The raiders wading across the supplicants like panthers through a field of gazelles is breathtaking, and I always admire Gustaf Skarsgård’s ability to turn Floki’s quirks into lurking intimidation on a dime.
On the down side, Helga expresses her emptiness as a desperate desire for another child, which Floki vehemently declines. Overcome, she chases down a traumatized orphan through an anachronistic hall of mirrors, claiming the girl. That this longing had been building for many years is not out of the question, but as we weren’t given any indication, Helga’s sudden fixation on replacing Angrboda with a captive was, frankly, incomprehensible. Her search leads Bjorn, Plus One, and Rollo into a harem and, grinning smugly, they plow forward and, eventually, take the women captive, one in particular catching Bjorn’s eye. And yes, I realize they are Vikings, but Ragnar was generally against sexual violence, so it is stomach turning to see his teenage son happily dive in, offscreen or not.
Ending on a high note with a sweeping vista, the Vikings spot the Mediterranean for the first time. Yet as they celebrate, a storm of ravens and thunder call to Bjorn and Hvitserk. Odin flashes into view, and they hear Ragnar’s words shaking the earthly realm as he passes from it. Every bit of this setting calls back to the very first moments of the series, from the green hills and the roiling clouds to the ravens and their god, bringing Ragnar full circle, into and out of our lives as Thor’s hammer rings through the skies.
Vikings – S4E16 – "Crossing"
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Alexander Ludwig, John Kavanagh, Peter Franzén, Jasper Pääkkönen, Moe Dunford, Alex Høgh, Marco Ilsø, David Lindström, Jordan Patrick Smith, Linus Roache, Josefin Asplund, Maude Hirst, Ida Nielsen, Georgia Hirst, Jennie Jacques, Sinead Gormally, Lorena Weldon, André Eriksen