Previously on Vikings, “Baldur”
With Viking culture on the cusp of era-defining changes, “What Happens in the Cave” pauses before the season-ending battle in “Ragnarok” to ask once more what we know of the gods and of fate. Season 5 has already cut a swath through major and minor characters alike, but it is clear the next two episodes will determine the faces in Vikings 6th and final season. After opening the season with “The Departed” parts 1 and 2, seasoned director David Wellington returns to close out the arc that officially elevated Ragnar’s sons to their own fame. In 5B, episode titles have moved from thematic hints to highlighting single plots, yet “What Happens in the Cave” leaves its conclusion open-ended: Does Floki live? Does he convert? Does he find a tunnel back to Norway so we can leave this godsforsaken plot behind? Perhaps it’s about the irony of Floki “knowing” the gods’ but finding Christianity mocking him yet again, a warning to look out for similar wake-up calls for other overly-confident characters. Ivar’s line about accepting the gods’ verdict suggests this may in fact be the case.
The episode’s structure is fairly flawless, opening with a series first as the entire Wessex villa stands silently for Judith’s last moments, an appropriate end for a long-time character who’s been through the full Vikings treatment. From an affair with our most beloved Athelstan to public torture and blackmail, from maternity to machinations, Judith became key to Wessex’s success as a storyline, thanks to incredible work by Jennie Jacques. Her story laid to rest, Ubbe and King Frodo exchange brutal blows in a death match, the last move in ensuring East Anglia’s future. Not only does Ubbe make Ragnar’s dream his own by shedding his blood, but he rediscovers his original faith, making victory all the more satisfying. With Alfred’s power base secure and Ubbe’s settlement full of new lifeblood, we turn our attention to Kattegat where Ivar hunkers down to defend his throne. All the while, Bjorn and Harald’s reign their simmering resentments in to close in from the mountains, joining with Olaf the Stout and Hvitserk. The spirit of Ragnar is ever present, with Lagertha digging her hands into the earth and whispering, “Are you watching this?”
What Happens in the Cave
Floki lights a torch and makes his way deep into the cave, imagining he can hear the dwarves and gods. He finally reaches a clearing and finds a Christian cross and beaten vessel. At first I thought Hirst was a beautiful madman tying in a pre-Knightfall crossover by having Floki find the Holy Grail, but instead Floki rage-screams the mountain down on himself but is still gasping in the rubble. Oh, the irony of Floki sacrificing so many people for a Norse utopia when Christians had already planted a cross at the heart of it.
Wessex opens with a powerful, disorienting shot of the entire villa frozen in time, praying silently as the bells ring for Queen Mother Judith’s last breaths. She looks at Alfred one last time and breathes out with doves cooing. Lagertha reminds him that Judith gave everything to secure his throne, so he should repay her by being a great king.
Lagertha has more flashbacks to the battle, detailing how she limped into the woods and shed her weapons, then awoke to the witch treating her wounds and speaking a spell. The witch tells her she is reborn, cutting off her hair and burning it to symbolize her new life. Ok, but who asked you to neuter my heroine?
Kings Hemming and Angantyr set the holmgang rules: if Frodo dies, his army will settle with the other two; but if Ubbe dies, all three armies will raid Wessex as planned. Priests splatter blood on their faces in blessing, and the duel begins. Frodo breaks Ubbe’s first shield almost immediately, but it’s a semi-even match. They fight brutally until they are both wheezing in the mud near death. But as Frodo grabs his ax to finish Ubbe off, Ubbe hears ethereal chanting and calls on Odin, reviving to grab his dagger and whip around behind Frodo to stab him. One of Frodo’s men crosses the chain to kill Ubbe, but Torvi runs him through. Hearing Ubbe breathe, she declares for Son of Ragnar, setting off another round of Ubbe! Ubbe!
Torvi then carts him back to Wessex, reporting he prevented the war, and is stunned but happy to see Lagertha alive. She warily regards the Christian presence around Ubbe’s convalescence, but leaves him to accompany Alfred and Lagertha to East Anglia again, this time with the Danish armies. Alfred reminds them all that Ubbe has delivered Ragnar’s dream to them, kindly wishing that their gods and his give them peace and prosperity together. Angantyr answers that they’re hard working people, not savages, and thanks him. Lagertha smiles at her handful of land, whispering to Ragnar. Practicality-wise, it seems unnecessary to haul Alfred all the way out there again, but his praise for Ubbe’s feat and the mix of Danes and Northmen streaming into their new lands is satisfying and therefore worth the detour.
When the royal party returns to Wessex, Lagertha notes Ecbert’s grave, obviously haunted by her past. Torvi finds Ubbe recovering and smooches him despite his injuries, reporting that, with the added Danes, their settlement can now be self-sufficient. He claims he’s glad, but she dismisses the nuns to ask what’s really going on with him. Rosary in hand, Ubbe admits that the cross doesn’t speak to him like it does for others, and that he wanted to be a Christian to help his people, a common turn for Viking converts. She happily snuggles in as he recounts how the spirits of their gods filled him, declaring that he again embraces the gods of his fathers… the gods of his people. Fortunately he doesn’t have long to hide it, as they head out shortly to rule their lands. On the way out, Ubbe approves of Alfred’s growth as a king. Elsewith, now very pregnant, hugs Torvi, and Lagertha joins them to go “home.”
When Freydis demands to know where their baby is, Ivar turns it around on her for daring to birth a non-divine child, then slaps her when she persists. He struggles with keeping up the façade in public, limping dramatically through the great hall, only to hear from Freydis that hunters found baby remains in a fox den. In response to her accusations, he grabs her by the throat and accuses her of lying the whole time. He nearly strangles her to death, but lets go. Later Ivar holds a hall meeting and lies that their son was perfect but the gods inexplicably took him. To cover Freydis’ obviously growing resentment, he says “the heart of a mother” has a hard time understanding, but they must all accept the gods’ will. He then rapidly transitions to Bjorn and Harald’s abandonment of York, and with Hvitserk’s disappearance, they must stay to defend his throne, shouting that the gods are with them. Pulling his reluctant wife to his side, he stands as the crowd shouts Ivar! Odin!
Bjorn and Harald’s forces battle a severe winter storm on the ocean, warriors washing overboard. With behind-the-scenes cheese, Bjorn grabs a shieldmaiden, played by his real-life love Kristy Dawn Dinsmore, and asks her name, then directs her to babysit Magnus currently crying to sweet baby Jesus. Once they hit land, Amma taunts Magnus for being a poser then tells on him to Bjorn. By then, Harald is fed up entirely with Bjorn and picks a fight in the sand until Gunnhild double-dutches between their swords and slaps Bjorn. Calling them both idiots, she reminds them to deal with this AFTER they take Kattegat from Ivar. Like chastened boys, they nod, pound it out, and swagger back to business. It’s kind of adorable.
Soon Olaf the Stout (Steven Berkoff) and Hvitserk’s forces rounds the mountain too. Olaf wonders if they might be swimming against fate as Ivar’s star is rising, but Hvitserk thinks that success doesn’t necessarily speak to fate. Olaf laughs with his young friend; their camaraderie works surprisingly well. Once they camp, Bjorn visits to ascertain Hvitserk’s intentions, which is to attack Kattegat together. Bjorn bear hugs him, declaring it the happiest day of his life, but wonders if it’s shameful to kill their brother. Hvitserk answers that he has given his decisions a lot of thought and believes he must be fated to kill Ivar.
Vikings S5E19 Review Score
"What Happens in the Cave"
Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgård, Georgia Hirst, Alexander Ludwig, Alex Høgh Andersen, Jordan Patrick Smith, Peter Franzén, Marco Ilsø, Jennie Jacques, Róisín Murphy, Dean Ridge, Alicia Agneson, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ragga Ragnars, Erik Madsen, Markjan Winnick, Steven Berkoff, Kristy Dawn Dinsmore, Gavan O’Connor Duffy | Director: David Wellington | Writer: Michael Hirst