Previously on Vikings, “Homeland”
Good news: This episode was the first one since Ragnar’s death that I enjoyed from start to finish, even chuckling along with several scenes. Yes, there are a few moments that would be top notch with 100% more Ragnar, but it is still plenty of fun. After managing the second unit for the last 3 years, director Stephen St Leger moves to the main chair, and his familiarity with the material is obvious: the action, blocking, and interactions of “The Plan” were all classic Vikings. Scenes of similar theme transition seamlessly, from Lagertha to Aethelwulf scolding interlopers, from Kassia to the Seer summoning holy moments in strange places. He even keeps those lovely touches of raven call over ominous moments and introduces another ancient language. Excellent story telling overall. The editorial choice to have Floki and Harald’s very brief stories appear after the 30-minute mark was slightly puzzling, but, the need to show passage of time in these situations along with the others is fair enough.
This episode’s particular value is in picking up the threads woven through other episodes regarding not only a singular character’s motivations, but their connections to others that will ultimately determine their final course of action. Halfdan more fully comes into his character and brazenly desires Kassia, despite the danger it will inevitably produce. Yet, after all is said and done with the Mediterranean, his final actions will come down to his bond with Harald. Lagertha’s court is uniquely affected by these threads. Seemingly homogeneous, each member’s allegiances ultimately lie with their own nuclear families. Lagertha wisely notes that everyone, even Torvi, is a potential betrayer, and, despite her vehement protest, for no woman could this be truer. I’ve often noted that Torvi is a quintessential Viking woman, and protecting the rights of her progeny would be as much her duty, if not more, as her service to Lagertha. Not only does she have her lover Bjorn and their sons’ claims to consider, but Guthrum’s birthright as well, making her a major player in potential future power shifts. These prospective powder kegs add some heft to corners of the story that might otherwise be predictable, and because they pertain to the power vacuum left by Ragnar, would easily fulfill the Seer’s prophecy of terrible consequences left to come.
As Bjorn and Halfdan’s small group approaches the Straits of Gibraltar, walking atlas Sinric pipes up to narrate. Bjorn notes how fortunate it was that they ran into him, which makes me wonder—did they, in fact, just run into Sinric on the way there? Sinric believes that Rome’s power is already receding, and Sicily is now the seat of Mediterranean power with Euphemius at the helm, an ambitious Byzantine commander who’s already tried to overthrow the Holy Roman Emperor.
Upon their arrival at the dusty fort, a disappointed Euphemius tests their commitment to the “traders” role by pulling a sword that Bjorn handily disarms. Referring to the Varangian Guard, he hopes to hire the Vikings as bodyguards thanks to the price on his head for absconding with Kassia, an alluring Byzantine nun, so Bjorn agrees. After the boys spot Sinric talking to Kassia, he admits that the ‘real’ ruler of Sicily is now Ziyadat Allah in Ifriqiya. Intrigued, they invite Euphemius to go with them, which Kassia strong-arms him into by saying she will leave him if he does not agree, suggesting there is more going on, not unlike Harald and Astrid. Halfdan is entranced.
Iceland. Floki prays to Odin, proposing to go back to “the world of men” to get more true believers to share this paradise if Odin agrees. Thunder answers and he giggles. Thanking Odin, he shoves off.
Sigma Chi, aka Harald’s
fraternity kingdom. Harald’s people haul in a minke whale and gut sharks in the streets. After several days’ absence, Astrid puts in an appearance, positing that perhaps the whales are gods, and each kill a sacrifice, believing Fate has led her to marry him. The subtext suggesting that this is her sacrifice and he most likely knows it. Under an arch of whale bones, the priestess questions whether she is willing to accept the invisible cords of marriage; she flashes back to kissing Lagertha and agrees. Turns out, Astrid will be a part of someone’s plans, but whose? Both actors put on an intriguing je ne sais quois at their wedding, which has me wondering if there are joint or opposing conspiracies.
Ubbe arrives back home dejected but Margrethe is thrilled and he cheerfully hauls her off over his shoulder. Torvi gets salty that Bjorn didn’t return, even though he totally said he wasn’t returning. They all sit down to dinner, where Lagertha kicks a very perturbed Margrethe out of her seat to get the scoop. I was laughing through this entire scene, because this is a signature Ragnar move.
In short, Ubbe declares that while he respects and loves Bjorn, the rest can go straight to hell. Smirking, Lagertha sidles over and offers a pact that would leave their differences over her murder of Aslaug behind: an alliance against Ivar and Harald. Ubbe agrees, but Torvi and Margrethe are none too happy. Torvi doesn’t want Ubbe on Bjorn’s rightful throne, while Margrethe, who pulls a Lady Macbeth in the bedroom about Lagertha losing her edge, wants her man in charge. Ubbe just falls asleep instantly, as men do.
Because Margrethe has no sense, she keeps harping at Torvi about the gods turning against Lagertha, but Lagertha overhears and confronts her head on. Like the worthy queen she is, Lagertha exhorts Margrethe to choose to be loyal now that she is no longer a slave, acknowledging that she is well aware that everyone has a price to betray her. But Bjorn’s absence weighs on Lagertha, so she visits the Seer, who warns of terrible retributions yet to come from Ragnar’s death, and only then will she see Bjorn again.
You know how Heahmund contradicted Aethelwulf last episode and tossed Ubbe out, and Aethelwulf smiled tolerantly because he was just glad to be away from the Fire Swamp and the ROUS’s? Heahmund tries it again, and instead of going back to Wessex like Aethelwulf wants, he claims to have had a vision of the two witnesses from the Book of Revelation, dead in the streets like the Vikings will be after siege. A fine example of Dark Ages holy men manipulating and wielding power. Aethelwulf is annoyed but agrees reasonably that they might as well lock down the supply routes.
This gives Alfred some field experience in leading a small team of archers to slaughter the Northmen’s hunting party with brutal efficiency. Soon, York is feeling the effects, and Hvitserk wants Ivar to acknowledge his usefulness, but Ivar just mocks him for being Ubbe’s dog. Hvitserk runs to the roof to
cry pray for a personality where he’s interrupted by arrows designed to keep everyone in close quarters to transmit plague and suffer starvation… but it’s not all that dire just yet. Ivar has guys burning animal guts in the streets to make it only look like they’re cremating bodies.
Soon the Saxon camp is burgeoning with stolen food and extra men, thanks to Judith’s cousin bringing down the Northumbrians. Seeing the fires, Aethelwulf happily concludes it is time to strike, only for Heahmund to contradict him again. Turns out, the Wulf has limits. You see, royalty also believed they were ordained by God, so there’s only so far Heahmund’s little visionary spiel gets him. Aethelwulf has him kneeling in a hot minute, then kneels down himself so he can quietly but firmly read Heahmund for the absolute filth he is, and I loved every second of it, even though Heahmund was clearly not cowed.
Inside York, Ivar wanders the smoky streets with “I’m not a dog” Hvitserk barking at his heels. Don’t you worry your little puppy brain, Hvitserk, Ivar has a plan. Time passes and suddenly a Saxon scout reports that the city is empty. The Saxons creep through the silent streets and slowly open the cathedral door only to find some confused horses and rats desecrating the place. Everyone takes a small sigh of relief, but Heahmund has one last question…
“Why are the rats above ground?”
Missed opportunity for Beastie Boys “Sabotage” over the credits because it’s about to go down.