Previously on Vikings, “The Plan”
Vikings has hit its season 5 stride with “The Prisoner,” calling back to epic moments of the past and striding into new territory with warfare, gore, and even cannibalism. Seasoned director Ciarán Donnelly returns to explore the loudest conflicts versus silent threats, theological fanaticism versus practicality, and National Geographic-levels of visual respite topped by strokes of humor. This week’s parallels explore true believers and lies told about them, and butchery in tragedy and triumph. For contrasts, the unique and viscerally-satisfying slaughter in York’s streets is balanced by the rolling dunes and textures of Ifriqiya.
The episode name itself speaks mainly to Heahmund’s capture, but also Kassia, who wields power none expect, and lastly, Floki, whose faith was sharpened by his sentence to suffer like Loki, who he’s fully channeling this season. Lagertha’s fear of betrayal bears immediate fruit in Floki, Ragnar’s oldest friend, undermining her authority in the guise of righteousness. Heahmund and Floki might have different mannerisms and functions, but wield similar threats: the most zealous soldiers are also the best fighters, but their loyalties are easily turned with religion. Speaking of zealots, Ivar takes Heahmund on as a pet project, but unlike Ragnar’s claim on the gentle-spirited Athelstan, it is not to learn and satisfy curiosity, but to prove himself by proxy to the Christian world.
Notably, “The Prisoner” introduces two new highly-billed characters via the Floki story, Kjetill Flatnose, played by Adam Copeland, AKA “The Edge,” and Eyvind, played by Kris Holden-Ried, most recently of Lost Girl. Both are skilled athletes; Copeland with his WWE experience, and Holden-Reid as a champion rider and fencer.
Despite the rats, Aethelwulf and Heahmund lead their armies through the streets triumphantly, but, sure enough, the Vikings swarm up from the sewers, erupting in battle cry. Ivar makes great effort to appear strong and set the tone. Aethelwulf’s personal guard learn that shield walls aren’t as effective in enclosed spaces, and he’s driven to beating Vikings to death with a brick. Alfred is nearly overtaken by a massive war hammer but Judith’s cousin Mannel, potentially their best general so far, swoops in to save him, then urges Aethelwulf out of the city to save the princes. Uttering the words of doom, “I shall meet you,” he instead meets the war hammer. This street battle is gloriously savage; while I’m not scared for Alfred the future Great, that hammer is large enough to make me at least nervous.
Atop his horse, Heahmund exhorts the Saxons but they’re no competition for the Vikings’ practical field tactics. In retaliation, he tramples a shieldmaiden, and his horse is shot. Ivar commands his horse be given to Heahmund, and, in the pause, they bow sarcastically. Heahmund is shortly unseated and taken hostage, left to shiver in the cathedral with bread and crucifix just out of reach. The post-battle Saxon camp is beyond brutal: field surgery in the pouring rain, with even Judith sewing wounds to wretched screams. Aethelwulf goes mad with grief and doubt.
At the report of the Saxons’ retreat, Ivar suggests they can follow if Hvitserk wants. Instead, Hvitserk casually drops that what they REALLY need to do is go home before Ubbe ends up on the throne. So logically, they should kill Lagertha and Ubbe and put Ivar on the throne, working temporarily with Harald Finehair. Say what, Lil Mayonnaise?!
Ivar lurks up to Heahmund, now pinned in the street, symbolic of the path they speak of, and challenges his beliefs. Heahmund might see Ivar as a heathen, but he’s SEEN other gods. Ivar determines the best way to prove his worth and identity is to take Heahmund back home with him, declaring that they are all on journeys.
Upon his return to Kattegat, Floki is met with a reverent crowd, alarming Torvi. She sees all, knows all. In the Great Hall, he remarks on the echoes of the past, retelling his journey to Lagertha and Ubbe with a crowd eavesdropping on his tale of “dying” and finding sacred ground for believers. Unlike Ivar’s identity mantras, Floki tellingly declares himself unmoored from his past identity, and, apparently, its loyalties. Lagertha forbids taking warriors at such a crucial time. He smirks devilishly and sneaks off, gathering enough followers to grow crops and “the spirit” he says with a characteristic flourish.
Back on the docks, Ubbe and Floki share another beautiful moment when Ubbe soberly tells him of his falling out with Ivar, and Gustav Skarsgaard’s face goes through an Olympics of gymnastic feelings as he digests, weighs, and accepts the inevitability of fraternal war. Then Ubbe asks if he really thinks he’s found the land of the gods.
“Why would I lie to you, Ubbe?”
“Because you’re insane!”
“…Am I?” *smirk*
Here is where the director makes all the difference. Mirroring Floki’s ghostly walk in “All His Angels” to sacrifice Athelstan, Ragnar’s self-proclaimed only support, Donnelly features Floki moving through the streets with the same righteous purpose to remove Lagertha’s support, meeting his group in an Upper Room setting. He anoints with blood Kjetill, Eyvind, a woman called Aud, and Guthrum (!) to secretly prepare the families and meet him at the boat yard in 9 days, the ultimate symbolic number in Norse culture. In Christianity, the Upper Room was a secret place Jesus’ disciples and mother waited and prayed after his death, forming the first Church; with Ragnar dead, Floki uses this vacuum to push his religious agenda. In retrospect, Guthrum’s membership is no surprise, as he is a prince without country, no matter Torvi’s careful attentions, and one wonders how this will unseat her alliances if Lagertha allows her son to steal away, surely another “sign” that the gods are against her.
Bjorn’s story opens with a new but nonetheless incredible sight for Vikings: a camel caravan. The Emir, Ziyadat Allah, greets the Vikings in their language and provokes his own religious dialogue, allowing that Allah is the one true god, but there are other prophets. He surprises Euphemius by saying he is not against the Emperor, and proposes a trade with the Vikings. Further knocking them off their game, he provides Halfdan and Bjorn a hookah and two human “gifts” for their pleasure; Bjorn certainly enjoys his, while Halfdan discovers his is a man. The next morning, Bjorn channels Ragnar’s infamous faces as he wonders if that’s a problem and Halfdan changes the subject. Perhaps it was a test or, perhaps the Emir senses Halfdan’s secret desires.
With the Vikings distracted overnight, Euphemius is arrested and escapes, but not for long. Bjorn and Halfdan wake to find the guards interrogated and beheaded, Halfdan leaning on Bjorn’s shoulder to mutter about their crap nature as bodyguards. More comic relief: cooks argue over butchering “the best part” of Euphemius’ corpse, hacking off his arm in a total juxtaposition of the Saxon camp amputation. That evening the Vikings unknowingly dine on roast Euphemius, the Emir announces triumphantly. Kassia glares at them, inspiring Sinric to advise they leave pronto… but they are captured. Sinric hopes an approaching sandstorm might save them from beheading as Kassia gives the command. Cliffhanger! Although this plot was generally well done, it is my least favorite of the three, as I have a growing worry that we may never understand the situational politics, considering Kassia, the supposed power center, rarely speaks. However, I am thoroughly enjoying this brewing bromance of equals between Bjorn and Halfdan, wherever it takes us.
Vikings S5E5 Review Score
Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgård, Clive Standen, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Moe Dunford, Peter Franzén, Jasper Pääkkönen, Josefin Asplund, Georgia Hirst, Alex Høgh, Marco Ilsø, Jordan Patrick Smith, Ida Nielsen, Jennie Jacques, Darren Cahill, Adam Copeland, Kieran O’Reilly, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Kal Naga, Kris Holden-Ried, Albano Jeronimo, Karima McAdams