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Vikings – S5E8 – The Joke

Previously on Vikings, “Full Moon

Want to hear something funny? How about the thought that Ivar might consider not killing Lagertha, that his pride would not win out, and that Vikings could do without epic season-ending bloodshed. In “The Joke,” it becomes clear that, to Ivar, Ragnar’s only legacy is their brief time together in England. Believing Ragnar left him the keys to the kingdom, Ivar wrote off not only his brothers, but the rest of the world… back then. “The Joke” is the farce of time between, a surprising rout, the spoiling of paradises, the abomination of brotherly rifts planted by Ragnar and Rollo, playing out on a bigger scale through their sons (*cough*) and the Icelandic brotherhood. It’s a blunt instrument after last week’s symphony, sight and fury and hope. It’s the agonizing unknown, and only the first of three huge skirmishes, director Jeff Woolnough flexing his battle experience (“Revenge” & “The Last Ship“) to full effect. This episode might not have subtle depth and thematic layering, but it’s a fine member of the Vikings battle tradition with dominoes aplenty left to fall

Photos: History Channel

Animal House (Harald’s Kingdom)

As Harald’s side boards their ships, Ivar claims again that he’s all about avenging Aslaug and Hvitserk agrees that Lagertha “deserves” it. Ruh Roh, sounds like Lagertha’s definitely not dying! Harald tries to forbid Astrid from going, but she’s having none of it. He’s all You’re so adorably frustrating! like he didn’t hold her hostage til she married him, but his feelings seem genuine, so she definitely is dying. Ivar affectionately teases Heahmund and gives back his “magical” sword. Considering where we started, the actors have done an admirable job of making us sorry if their characters die. Hvitserk, though, he could still wander into the woods and three episodes later we’d go, “Where did that one dude… with the strugglestache… never mind.”

Kattegat

Lagertha’s crew slow-mo’s through Kattegat and Bjorn proudly gathers Guthrum with nary a glance aside. Torvi is left to hand their children to Margrethe and joins Ubbe. You know, this family’s inlaws are not known for their babysitting skills. Halfdan reasons that fighting his brother is no more than Bjorn must do. Their costumes might not be historically accurate, but the creaking leather, the braids, the swaggering… *heavy breathing*

Essex

Aethelwulf and Aethelred spar while Alfred and Judith watch. Repeating his conversation with the Abbot, Alfred surmises that they should build a navy but doesn’t believe Aethelwulf will listen. While the Aethels bro it up, the camera angle emphasizes the elder’s paunchiness and suggests a certain growing carelessness with a whiff of ugly sibling rivalry. As Aethelwulf wheels around sloshing ale and roaring MY SON at the crowd, the direction hints that he’s about to make a minor yet fatal error. After all, as glorified soldier, there’s only so much farther Aethelwulf’s story can go. He’s no Ecbert.

Iceland

Iceland’s first settlers continue being the absolute worst, grumbling under the sulking Floki and his raven. To get things off on the right foot, Floki suggests they first build a temple to Thor. Kjetill offers his land, which Eyvind calls ass licking. Kjetill chuckles because he is The Edge and could smash Eyvind, but their sons take it personally. Despite Floki’s invitation to leave, Eyvind says they can’t ever go back, because he was told that Odin built them gold houses and, like a certain percentage of our current population, fails to realize that religious language is figurative, which is, like, so embarrassing, y’all. So, he just acts mean and hateful. As you do.

Useless Meetings, Dark Ages Style

To honor Ragnar, Lagertha first attempts to avert the crisis between brothers, offering a meeting with hostage exchange, which gives each side a night with their respective prodigals, Hvitserk and Halfdan. EmoHvitserk is useless as usual. Ivar dismisses Halfdan’s debt to Bjorn as a matter of course for Vikings. As for Fate, Ubbe says the gods might be waiting for Hvitserk to choose before sealing his fate, while Harald believes his fate and Halfdan’s are entwined. Heahmund muses about God’s will in battle, slaking his blade’s thirst with heathen blood (OE speech: Psalm 2), something Ivar can get behind as he, like Floki, faults Lagertha’s faith.

The meeting is colorfully striking, held in a rectangle of long spear pennants, but as much as I love the visual, it feels choreographed, like Les Vikings Miserables, especially when the pennants retreat in sync later. Neither side really considers Harald, putting his kingdom in a fairly sad light. Alexander Ludwig puts in some good work as Bjorn reasonably and eloquently emphasizes their choice to accept their legacy and walk away honorably, ending the cycle of vengeance. Reasserting her right to Kattegat, Lagertha suggests they expand their territories jointly, ending with a personal appeal to Astrid, who weakly says she’s married. At last, Lagertha puts it in perspective for Ivar: if he wins, he’ll be a usurper, and if he loses, he’ll have shamed the gods and Ragnar. Her voice seems to provoke him.

The Joke

Playing up his infirmity, which signals a ploy (thanks, Ragnar!), Ivar calls for a mead and pretends at calling off the fight. Harald bitterly pours his out without even knowing spilled drinks are on the menu, because Ivar tosses his in Ubbe’s face. According to what he screams at Ubbe, the bluer the whites of his eyes, the worse his condition. Another questionable student of metaphors, he says he might break a bone today, but not promises. Fight his brothers? No problem, they’re disowned. Killing healthy warriors? Just give Kattegat to him. Harald laughs at “the joke” then punches Halfdan, swearing to kill him as both sides retreat. Plot-wise, in this new brotherhood of choice, Halfdan’s steadfastness balances the fraternal betrayal equation versus Ivar’s “joke,” completing Halfdan’s arc of self-definition.

Battle of Scar Mountain

As the armies line up, Ivar suspects Bjorn’s tactics, proposing he pull back a third to protect the ships, and sends Hvitserk with another flank through the woods. Harald plunks a protesting Astrid in the chariot, hand on his heart. RIP in advance! That leaves Heahmund and Harald at the front lines with competing drum beats. Once out of sight, Ivar stops to listen, needing to know if he’s right. Hvitserk’s crew immediately hits resistance, camouflaged Sàmi emerging with blow darts and bolasboth conveniently instantly fatal. The Sàmi’s guerrilla tactics were a great surprise, but the instantaneous death was a bit much.

Wagons ho, Strugglestache!

Each major battle in Vikings has its own unique flavor. While this doesn’t have the muddy terror of their Saxon valley ambush or the close-quarters combat of York, Scar Mountain illustrates skilled Viking armies clashing, wave after wave of warriors once the previous one is in the thick of battle. As Harald leads his last line in and trades joyful, blood-soaked taunts with Halfdan, a small but significant flank led by Lagertha, Torvi, and Guthrum streams from the woods and Bjorn’s last line enters the fray. Astrid entreats Ivar to join, but still Ivar holds back, declaring it lost.  Harald retreats, leaving Team Kattegat whooping on a smoking field of bodies.

In lieu of major character deaths, notable kills: a shield bashing a shieldmaiden’s spine, fingers through eye sockets, an arm dangling, a mallet buried in the forehead.

Lagertha pats one casualty, saying, “It’s Fate,” then discovers Heahmund unconscious by ANANYZAPATA. Stopping Ubbe from killing him, she asks that they save him without knowing why. Maybe the gods do. How about simply because Ivar wants him? Or, maybe to find out why the camera focused so long on Heahmund watching Lagertha cut through the field…

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About Sarah Powers (176 Articles)
By day, Sarah Powers is an eminently sensible journal editor, but, by night, she can be found watching questionable scifi, pinning all the things, rewriting lists, pantry snacking, and not sleeping. She was once banned over an argument about Starbuck and Apollo, and she has to go right now because someone is wrong on the Internet.

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