Previously on Vikings, “Crossings”
After a mixed bag of powerful, supernatural goodbyes and so-so set pieces last week, Vikings showed out with “The Great Army.” Settling back into its more established locales, this episode felt grounded with a taut string of tension woven throughout. I am still surprised that nobody died, considering how many explicit and implicit threats were made. Visually, Kattegat’s new fortifications are incredibly impressive; if you wondered about Lagertha’s criticism of Aslaug, Exhibit A. Under their new warrior queen, Kattegat is not only massive but downright intimidating; if you go back to the series premiere, the difference is astonishing. But, as the Hairdo brothers and their minion Igor Egil note, there is always a flaw to exploit, and“The Great Army” methodically reveals weaknesses in each plot.
Despite her initial misgivings about ruling, Lagertha settles into her role as queen, weathering a bold but bloodless attempted coup by Ubbe and Ivar with perfect dignity. Her fame, as evidenced by giddy obeisance from distant earls, has spread as far as Ragnar’s, and even Sigurd is more than happy to let her be. But Astrid’s loses patience with being sidelined as a consort and confidant, and that beat between Astrid and Bjorn earlier in the season suddenly flares to life with an episode-ending kiss. WTF, you two?!
Bjorn has some high moments, telling Rollo he can’t possibly let him come to England because he’d have to kill him, then breaks up Ubbe and Ivar’s coup like Batman busting Two Face and the Joker at the Commissioner’s Ball. Nobody wants go through Bjorn Ironside to get to Lagertha so… rain check?
But he’s not perfect, having inherited his father’s wanderlust and wandering eye. When Torvi criticizes his alliance with Ivar, he explodes in front of their children, not wanting to be told anything, and goes after Astrid, Torvi’s fellow primary shieldmaiden. He may be strengthening their culture by allying with his brothers and fellow kingdoms, but he creates a crack in this triad of Kattegat’s ruling women.
“I know he is not Ivar. And yet, he is Ivar.”
As their Great Army gathers, the Ragnarssons and their potential fractures come into sharper focus. Ubbe may be quiet and occasionally den-motherly, but his defiance picks up momentum. Deliberately in front of Lagertha and her women, he frees Margrethe with the intention of marrying her, because marrying the family slave works out so well for Ragnarssons trying to establish themselves as royalty. He doesn’t have Ragnar’s Crazy Eyes, but he does a reasonable Crazy Face. His organized coup is surprisingly large, with men enough to hold anyone of importance hostage, including his new allies, yet he seems unwilling to shed necessary blood. Even
Whatsisname Hvitserk questions his prowess and ruthlessness, hitting on Margrethe to his face. No #UbbesLunchNotes for you next raid, Hvitserk.
For Ivar, Hirst provides balance by picking up the thread of his tutelage under Floki, showing their deep affection and Ivar attempts to extend that affection a bit to their new “child.” Ragnar might have given Ivar his spirit and motivation, but his foster father gives him legs via a chariot.
It’s a pinnacle moment for them both, soothing Ivar’s struggles to experience happiness and Floki’s yearning for artistic innovation. While Floki chuckles, Ivar barrels through the forest in his new chariot, whooping with pure joy. Note the white horse, another reference to Ragnar’s spirit. But even this moment is tempered by Bjorn’s spying. What is his purpose here? Is it benevolent, like when Floki used to follow him into the fields on his liaisons with Þorrun, or something else?
Motherless child Sigurd viciously butts heads with Ivar over not avenging Aslaug, but, despite his lack of experience abroad, he also conceives of and inspires his brothers to build the Great Army, reaching out to neighboring kingdoms even if they’re enemies. Lastly, Hvitserk, dripping entitlement from the recent raids, respects no boundaries or the fraternal hierarchy. Bonded by blood lust, the brothers are unstoppable, but, after the dust settles, there is potential for a great many problems.
Across the Seas
In England, Ecbert helps develop Alfred’s character by getting him drunk to teach him about trusting less, never doing what he’s told, and making his own way. Also enjoyable are the minor story parallels where our resident Independent Women, Gisla and Judith, read their men for filth. Upon returning to Normandy, Rollo offers farm land to any interested Viking as a way of honoring Ragnar, since Bjorn won’t allow him to join their revenge. Nobody takes him up on it (for now), and Gisla welcomes him properly back home… before shutting the door and cussing him all the way out, punctuated by a punch in the nose. My Middle Frankish is iffy, but I heard “faithless,” “whore,” “bastard,” and “asshole.”
Judith undertakes a journey to Northumbria to warn her father to take the Vikings seriously—Ragnar wasn’t just a heathen; he’s THE most famous Viking, which Ubbe’s first allies underline by saying Ragnar was like a father to them. Naturally, Aelle doesn’t want her filthy female advice, and her piously wimpled mother worries only for her soul.
Good thing Ecbert will save me a seat in hell!
On the way home, she visits the snake pit, telling Aelle that Ragnar’s death makes that ground sacred, and he shouldn’t underestimate its power. Fantastically, we are looking up at her from the pit, neatly bringing in the Viking point of view without a living Viking present. Even in death, Ragnar is the driving force behind every story.
As a whole, “The Great Army” was pretty fantastic. There are some great minor moments, like Lagertha temporarily deflating Ubbe by affectionately saying he looks like Ragnar when they first met, and Bjorn smirking at Lagertha’s revenge on Aslaug. One can only imagine him breaking through Ubbe’s inexperienced defenders like so many toothpicks on the way in. I love when Sigurd wonders if Bjorn already knows about Ragnar, and Ivar cracks disgustedly,
“What, do you think Odin told us but forgot to tell Bjorn?”
When you put it that way…
Less favorably, Floki makes a comment about feeling that Rollo will become more famous than any of them; that’s true, but any Vikings enthusiast already knows of Hrolf the Ganger, so that was a bit hokey. Helga’s strange adoption of the captive girl Tanaruz continues and doesn’t seem to be making much progress at all. It’s difficult to sympathize, and I have a growing paranoia that the girl will kill her, but the upside is Floki’s exasperated acceptance of his addled wife’s antics; his moments as the sane one are truly rare indeed. I also side-eyed the Finehairs conspiring on the battlements, considering they could have just waltzed in through the cow gate any time in the last 10 years.
Those lesser moments aside, “The Great Army” is probably the second best episode of the season so far, after “All His Angels.”
Name note: I’ve mentioned the Great Heathen Army in other reviews, and you’ll note that this title leaves out the “heathen.” Since we’re coming from the Vikings’ point of view, they wouldn’t see themselves as heathens.
Society note: If you’re wondering, sexuality in Norse culture was sometimes flexible but not usually an either/or situation. Everyone was expected to further their kin, especially women of childbearing age as they were in short supply. So while someone might look the other way at an older Queen Lagertha taking a female lover, Astrid could be censured. As a leader, Lagertha has always maintained the appearance of availability, and publicly claiming a female lover could close political doors, create an appearance of weakness, and leave Astrid open to social backlash, so her behavior is not faulty from a historical perspective. This is purely plot drama.
"The Great Army"
Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Alexander Ludwig, Peter Franzén, Jasper Pääkkönen, Alex Høgh, Marco Ilsø, David Lindström, Jordan Patrick Smith, Linus Roache, Josefin Asplund, Maude Hirst, Ida Nielsen, Georgia Hirst, Jennie Jacques, Sinead Gormally, Ivan Kaye, Morgane Polanski, Charlie Kelly, Tristan Heanue, Isaac O’Sullivan