Previously on Vikings, “The Joke”
For a simple story, this was a heavy one. In the last two episodes of season 5A, the director’s baton passes to Daniel Grou, veteran of “The Outsider,” Ragnar’s reintroduction, and “The Vision,” Ragnar’s last sacrifice and near drowning with Ivar. Both pay homage to deep Vikings cuts—resentments and rivalries; sacred ceremonies and meaningful goodbyes; earthly revelations and profound visions. These episodes, “A Simple Story” and “Moments of Vision,” make such promises. Even as Heahmund’s interest in Lagertha is nothing new, it becomes something new: a Christian bishop swearing his life to a Viking queen. Rollo’s banishment becomes a slow-returning tidal wave, poised to transform the tiny fiefdoms of Norway into a European-style kingdom. Eyvind’s ambition crosses lines in destroying Thor’s temple, then instantly rebounds to claim his son as the Iceland’s first blood. And in England, a simple bee kills the Warrior King, ushering in a new type of ruler, the holy scholar Alfred the Great.
From a critical perspective, there is much to laud, from the slowly blossoming results of Fate vs. Faith to its signature window lights at crucial turning points, and from games of brinkmanship to the sacred music blending over an emotionally powerful flash-point montage. Moe Dunford’s Aethelred takes a sobering, rather human, final bow, and Jennie Jacques’ Judith at last makes her move towards vindication, carrying out Ecbert’s, and her own, secret wishes. Both are a thing to behold.
Yet again, however, the Lagertha issue cannot be overlooked. With an almost certain time jump in the mid-season interim, Lagertha Prime’s probable last big story does not center her, disappointingly, but Heahmund. In sympathy to viewers gnashing their teeth, I offer a few angles to view their inevitable (off-screen or censored?) encounter:
- In an episode where Athelstan’s affair with Judith pays the ultimate dividend, Heahmund features as a kind of final form Athelstan—hedonistic and religious; a warrior and a counselor. Ragnar never quite talked Athelstan into bed or total allegiance, but Lagertha didn’t have to ask for either.
- Heahmund and Lagertha are mirror equals. Per Judith, the bishopric is a religious principate and Lagertha is a pagan queen. He’s her first “equal” lover since Kalf, or further back, Ragnar, and with no bishopric to return to, their partnership is cost-free.
- Extreme pre-courtly love. Heahmund spots his idealized woman across the field and, regardless of the details, swears his sword to earn her favor, i.e. keeping him alive. No lute, lyre, or poetry needed. They’d just break them.
- Problematic writing building Lagertha up, then making her a stereotypical maneater. Between her blue vinyl and Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s gelled hair, it’s impossible to see them completely through a Dark Ages’ lens, one that might let us overlook obvious lines, like, “I’m a priest, but I’m a man.”
With so many fans experiencing Fatal Romance fatigue when it comes to Vikings’ women, especially Lagertha, examining LagerMund in every possible light might provide a positive, or negative, alternate viewpoint. But, perhaps, as the title claims, it is just “A Simple Story”…
… of men and women and Fate.
Cuts between devastated families waiting in vain and dead warriors remind us that the cost of this blood feud is massive and personal. Heahmund thanks Lagertha for saving him, sending her all the signals. Maybe it’s his talks with Ivar and Hvitserk that drive him to later declare that Fate brought them together as equals, offering to die for her, despite not knowing her. Oh, he’s known “her,” his whole life, and they’re about to die. Like a predictable romance novel, Lagertha blows out the candles, asking if he’s sure he wants to sin again. Meanwhile Ubbe complains about Margrethe’s ambition to Torvi, wishing he’d fathered children with her instead. Torvi somewhat sympathetically kisses him, which Margrethe sees in a vision, vindictively telling Torvi’s children their mother is probably dead.
… of sibling rivalries.
Hvitserk remembers that Rollo once offered help (When Hvitserk was 10??) so he goes to Normandy to cash that raincheck. Astrid mournfully tells Harald that she wants their child to hear the cries of battle. When Hvitserk returns with Frankish soldiers, Bjorn again negotiates, only to face Ivar and Hvitserk’s mockery. Ivar closes the talk by calling in enforcers, and Harald bellows at the break in parlay, earning an apology from Bjorn for Rollo’s involvement in their quarrel. It’s only going to cost both sides more people.
Bjorn returns to the round table with the bad news and reminds them of Ragnar’s origins, purpose, and ambition, all lost if Ivar wins. Everyone looks sick, considering Kattegat’s vulnerability, but there are too many Franks regardless. Halfdan, staring off, says the gods have already decided anyway.
… of ambition.
Kjetill points out to Floki that Eyvind is guilty of the very thing he accuses Floki of, ambition for power he’d never have otherwise. Floki agrees, sensing that Eyvind wants to provoke violence to facilitate his move. When the temple is finished, the men gather to raise Thor’s image, calling to Eyvind’s son Bul for help. He categorically refuses, earning a taunt “Bul-de-dog” from Kjetill’s younger son, Thorgrim. Tempers flare and they fight, Eyvind lurking behind.
Later, in the most striking priestess costume to date, Aud leads the dedication of the temple and its sacrifices, Thor’s image glowing in the northern lights. As they pass the blood, Bul aggressively interrupts, throwing it in Asbjorn’s face. Floki draws his ax, but stops. Eyvind waits. It’s a gamble, angering Thor.
…of the little things.
Aethelwulf gathers everyone at a Witan, an assembly of powerful men, intending to discuss the never ending waves of the Great Heathen Army. Comparing them to swarming hornets, Aethelwulf warns the nobles that this isn’t just a Wessex problem, it’s an England, Scotland, Ireland problem. But alas, it is not for the hornets to undo this Warrior King. Laying the crown down, he reads the chronicles and swipes absentmindedly at a bee, recoiling at its sting. He huffs ruefully, looking at his fast-swelling hand and the flailing insect—they are the same. Felled by allergies in the Dark Ages. And yet perhaps he realizes, in God’s will, that he unknowingly called the Witan to name his successor.
All his physicians and priests can do is fret, giving time for his family to say goodbye. He tells Aethelred to do what is best for Wessex and calls Alfred his son. Embracing the boys, he says they must care for Judith; she’s wiser than both. He tells Judith not to weep for him—the angels are here.
“Can’t you see them?”
Judith tells her boys that the Witan will offer Aethelred the crown—any aethling with royal blood was a candidate then—but he mustn’t accept, because he was trained as a warrior king according to Aethelwulf’s own image, not Ecbert’s will. Angry, he scolds Judith for her relationship with Ecbert, but it’s nothing she hasn’t heard before with her ruined ear. This was her purpose, after all, to protect Alfred. She reminds them of Ecbert’s investment in Alfred, developing the skills Aethelred doesn’t have. Both boys, to their credit, look purple with embarrassment and swallowed ambition.
Privately, Judith presses Lord Cuthred, the only other aethling powerful enough to ascend, for support in exchange for Heahmund’s now-empty bishopric. At the Witan, he first nominates Aethelred, but the boy resentfully declines. To Alfred’s nomination, the lords vehemently protest, until Aethelred, at Judith’s silent bidding, supports Alfred himself. In her triumph, she forgets herself, adding, “Aye!” to the sea of male voices, and yet, her will is done.
…of sacrilege and vindication, a montage.
Monks sing at Alfred’s coronation. Heahmund staggers through camp to swear fealty. Thor’s temple goes up in flames. Bishop Cuthred announces Alfred’s crowning. Judith’s hair is up. Wardruna picks up the score. Alfred, Floki, and Heahmund see their Fate sealed. ANANYZAPATA. The scepter. “Bul-de-dog!” “Long live the King!” The bee. The throne. Aethelred’s silence. Judith’s joy and fear. Bul’s knife. His death. His mother’s screams. Floki’s anguish.
Vikings S5E9 Review Score
"A Simple Story"
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, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Kris Holden-Ried, Leah McNamera, Jack McEvoy, Mei Bignall, Kelly Campbell, James Craze, Elijah Rowen, Donna Dent, Rob Malone, Scott Graham, Lulubelle Earley, Orlaith Doherty, Ben Roe, Dagny Backer Johnsen, Anthony Brophy, Jonathan Delaney Tynan