Previously on Vikings, “The Revelation”
After last week’s narrative-heavy reset, Vikings‘ intrigue returns with “Murder Most Foul.” We’re not quite up to full speed, but the dominoes are set for the usual mid-season epic conflagration. The title originates from Hamlet, spoken when the king’s ghost complains about his brother murdering and usurping him and demands Hamlet avenge him. The play’s final scene reveals that the king stole his throne from the true heir who’s returned to claim it and would have killed them all momentarily. There’s no end to the layers of usurpers or irony in Vikings, but this week eliminates in fairly delicious fashion Heahmund’s replacement for the bishopric of Sherbourne and general loudmouth, Cuthred, and the once scheming, up-jumped queen-hopeful of Kattegat, Margrethe.
It’s a rare episode these days when we’re blessed with a lack of Underbrow Staring, and although Aethelred still gets in his ration, our characters are at their non-warring best when they are free to negotiate, conspire, and seduce. Torvi gets a jab in on Bjorn over his commitment issues and enthralls the English with her shieldmaiden prowess. Bjorn prowls around Wessex making everyone nervous and seducing Alfred’s future wife. Heahmund completely loses his cool over Lagertha and then has to go kill Cuthred for being the worst. Alfred takes a break from his Green Day reunion to appeal to Ubbe’s ambition. Hvitserk patiently dotes on Margrethe and is not at all try-hard Plus One, and even Ivar takes a break from his super villain routine to get rolled by love. Iceland is still whatever, but that’s to be expected. The only real clunker is when Cuthred’s scout reports Heahmund and Lagertha are “making the beast with two backs.” Michael Ragnar Hirst*, there is absolutely no call to bring Othello into the middle of your Hamlet allegory, 600 years too early! As a former British lit teacher, I am appalled.**
*not his middle name
Upon the Vikings’ arrival, Alfred and Aethelred wonder about Heahmund’s loyalties. Heahmund admits to fighting with the Vikings during the battle between Ragnar’s sons by necessity and admits he offered the losers safe passage. With their entire family stashed together in a cell in chains, Ubbe and Bjorn assume Heahmund’s betrayed them. Bjorn lashes out at Lagertha for being a fool for love, giving Torvi an opening to barb him for not being guilty of the same. Guys, keep your shit together. It’s been 3 hours.
Eventually Alfred asks them to prove themselves by fighting the Northmen incursions. Bjorn wants their right to East Anglia recognized first, but Lagertha accepts outright so Alfred gives them open use of the villa. Heahmund asks for his bishopric back, laughing ruefully at the idea of Cuthred in his seat at Sherbourne. Alfred agrees Cuthred is terrible, but he’s not yet strong enough to remove him for a guy they all thought was dead. This is one of several conversations Alfred ends with figurative ellipses, not telling anyone exactly what to do but, I imagine, assuming each of his more experienced future allies will do something.
In Heahmund’s case, that’s a sure bet. He rides out to Sherbourne to confront Cuthred, who is understandably nervous and defensive, especially when Heahmund grabs him by the head and growls into his ear about hypocrisy. Still, Cuthred whines that they’re protecting the holy church from Alfred, which Heahmund passes to Lagertha, whispering, “They’re going to kill him.” If there’s one thing these Vikings love, it’s the Game of Thrones, and chaos is a ladder. Say no more, Heahmund, Lagertha is in. Later, Heahmund and Lagertha ride out for private time, but a spy for Cuthred watches them and reports back. Triumphantly Cuthred pulls a Ned Stark, writing Heahmund to tell him exactly what he knows, idiotically telling no one else. Heahmund turns up immediately and stabs him on the altar, saying it’s Cuthbert’s own fault. Then, covered in blood, he genuflects because Heahmund isn’t disrespectful for Pete’s sake. All of their scenes, even with Rhys Meyers’ excessive growling, are a lot of fun. Of note, the Sherbourne cathedral is not only visually impressive but a profound marker for societal progress and evolution within the series.
Bjorn and Ubbe ask Alfred to honor Ecbert’s deed to East Anglia. Admitting to Ecbert’s treachery, he explains his tenuous position, saying if they’ll help him, he’ll grant it. Bjorn seems frustrated, so Alfred reaches out privately to Ubbe, suggesting that if he were baptized and renounced his gods, it would go a long way to soothing the nobles’ worries. To push Ubbe a bit further, Alfred shares that Ragnar told Ecbert he doubted his gods, somehow sensing, or maybe just hoping, that of all his sons, Ubbe is the most like Ragnar. Historically, it was Torvi’s now-dead son Guthrum (See: “Moments of Vision“) who eventually settled that area after raiding significantly into Wessex with Hvitserk and finally met with defeat from Alfred. The two signed the Treaty of Wedmore and Guthrum was baptized to cement his ownership of East Anglia where he was free to practice Danelaw and rule until his death, after which he was buried in Hadleigh, Suffolk. It is very possible that Vikings is remixing Guthrum’s role and giving it to Ubbe and Torvi.
You might remember Judith’s cousin Mannel from S5E5 “The Prisoner” as the wise soldier who assisted Aethelwulf in York and died fighting Hvitserk when the war hammer Viking hit him. His daughter Elsewith is Judith’s candidate for Alfred’s queen, and she arrives to meet him. He doesn’t have much time to get to know her thanks to Aethelred pointing out the growing bishop conspiracy, so she has plenty of time to watch the Vikings stalk around the villa. After lots of exchanged looks, Bjorn lurks over her to see if she’s interested or just looking. In public, she tells him to back off, but then follows him into the stables where he lurks over again to kiss her–you know how he does. That night, Elsewith crawls into Bjorn’s bed, warning him that she’s a virgin. Are we about to have two generations of Viking bastards in this royal family?
Ivar announces his engagement to Freydis. Harald is bitter about Ivar securing Kattegat with an heir, but Crazy Margrethe and Hvitserk chuckle that he’s impotent. After the party, Freydis talks Ivar into bed, gassing him up by saying he’s a god and can do anything, including give her a child. He mentions that gods never had children with humans anyway, but she reminds him about Odin’s son Váli with the giantess Rindr, born to avenge the death of Baldr. She cuts his palm, swearing she’ll birth him a son and licks off the blood. I have my problems with Ivar’s character, but all of his scenes this episode are compelling and allow Alex Høgh room to give Ivar a full range of emotions. His elation at being a father is too precious. More of that, please.
Somehow it never occurs to any of them how Freydis might accomplish this if he is indeed NOT a god, but she seduces a random guy and gets pregnant. When Ivar crawls out of bed cranky from nightmares and demands Hvitserk get rid of Margrethe, Harald warns Ivar that the whole wife and kids thing doesn’t always work out and says he’s off to raid in England for Episode 14 or 15. Margrethe hears about the new queen, breaks down, and begs Hvitserk to kill Ivar. He just tucks her compassionately into bed and defuses the situation, but Ivar’s assassins visit her that night. Ironically, Margrethe was the first person to suggest that Ivar was a deity just to prevent him from murdering her after he couldn’t perform in bed, and now he’s got his own personal cult. She’s was never a pleasant character, but her murder is played exactly as pathetic and sad as it should be for a defenseless, addled shell of a person. Will this be the final straw in the brothers’ uneasy relationship?
Floki visits the waterfall to complain to the gods and Aud for saving him again, doubting himself and them. After the vote last episode, tensions are at an all time high, especially when endless rains ruin their crops before winter. Eyvind stays mad and Bul’s brother Flodi rides out to provoke him, so Eyvind is due to drop another body any day now.
Vikings S5E12 Review Score
"Murder Most Foul"
Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgård, Georgia Hirst, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Alexander Ludwig, Alex Høgh Andersen, Jordan Patrick Smith, Peter Franzén, Marco Ilsø, Adam Copeland, Kris Holden-Ried, Ida Nielsen, Leah McNamara, Jack McEvoy, Damien Devaney, Roisin Murphy