Many, many days after the premiere of this season, an exotic foreign vacation, and painless acclimating to reality later, it is time, my friends, it is time.
So, what you’re telling us is that you’re finally going to stop being lazy and get down to the nitty-gritty?
Woah woah woah, let’s not get carried away – I had obligations to attend to, I had things to do. But, yes. Basically. I have actually budgeted time to do this, I have blocked out part of my schedule to get this review schtick goin’, I have a load of laundry in the washing machine, I have snacks in hand, and all of this means that I am ready to watch some brutal Vikings ridiculousness.
Though, I suppose I should reiterate that, between seasons, I don’t actually watch the previous season(s), meaning that if there are inconsistencies that I miss, character developments I have forgotten, or loopholes that I have embellished since watching it last, it is on me completely and I am more than happy to eat crow whenever someone points it out to me. Luckily, I know that you guys will always keep me on track in the comments!
Why not? Wait, don’t tell me. You couldn’t make time to rewatch Vikings because there are too many British murder mysteries to watch on Netflix.
Bingo. I may be on season 16 of one of them, but I refuse to be affected negatively by your judgment. Needless to say, I am more than thankful for the 30-second recap at the start of every new season. That’s basically all I need to remember, right? No? Well. Anyway.
Here we are. And let’s get to it!
We start this season off with a not-mortally wounded Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) riding a noble steed through a rocky, vegetated landscape. Considering the aforementioned not-mortally wounded state of him as he squints meaningfully at the hills, I would venture to say that this is indeed a dream and with any luck there will be strange hallucinations of dead friends and – if we get lucky – a message from the gods. As Ragnar nears his destination (instead of the pearly gates, it is a door into the dining hall of Valhalla, replete with the sound of laughter and clinking cups), the doors begin to close and before his eyes are the bloodied and bruised forms of his loved ones at various points of the show, some by his hand, others by their own. It’s kind of a dick move by the gods, but I assume the message is bro, your time isn’t now. Come back later.
I’m sure that’s the exact vernacular of Valhalla’s occupants.
Meanwhile, we cut to Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) wandering through the woods until she tracks down the Oracle (John Kavanagh), asking him about the distribution of power in the event of Ragnar’s death. She’s dressed in dark clothing and bathed in pretty severe lighting, which automatically says to me that they’re going to completely undo any of the compassion that they had built for her in the last few seasons and replace it with a villain plot, but, maybe I just have too little faith in how the writers tie in villainous arches without it feeling hamfisted and obvious, or in the worst case, completely random (see: my ex-fave shipbuilder with flawless MAC-makeup artist applied eyeliner). I would be happy to be proven wrong.
Anyway, the Oracle remains mum about the who sitch for the most part – while he confirms that he has seen a woman ruling Kattegat, he does not confirm that it is Aslaug bedecked in the ruling furs. “The gods are watching,” he warns. She seems as unflappable as ever with a Regina George-worthy look that says, simply, duh.
Would you really be surprised if they went full-villain with her, though?
Not at all. This show has (in a word) interesting relationships with the women in it in general, but Aslaug has had a target on her back since scene one.
Back in Kattegat, Ragnar’s kids have grown significantly since we last saw them, playing with one-another on the recognizable decks of the once-nondescript fishing town. Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) enters and embraces the four boys, indicating that the troop is nearly home and they have been gone for a long while, so long, in fact, that Bjorn’s daughter with Thorunn is nearly a toddler. Oh, don’t remember that subplot? You don’t remember the shieldmaiden that was wounded in battle and then suddenly very concerned about how she looked, despite battle scars being revered in things like warriors in their culture? You don’t remember how she bemoaned not being physically attractive to Bjorn, despite him giving absolutely no indication that he had lost his attraction to her, that she ran away because suddenly her worth was not as a fighter and being beside him in battle, but being a perfect sexual object and she had failed because she wasn’t supermodel pretty anymore?
Nope, I don’t remember that garbage, either.
You seem bitter, dude. If this were a commercial, I’d tell you to eat a Snickers.
I have a lot of feelings about that plot, still. Anyway, she left their kid behind. As it is a daughter, Bjorn gives it a look that can only be described as – understandably, Aslaug is offended by the rebuff of his own child, despite probably knowing it was going to happen, and assures him that they’ll be taking care of her. A+ Bjorn, way to not even ask what the kiddo’s name is.
Ragnar has been put to rest in his room, comatose and obviously not as mobile as dream-Ragnar. Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) approaches sullenly and places carved runes on Ragnar’s chest, telling him that they will help to heal him and the imagery is so strikingly sad, like when my dog knows that he shouldn’t have eaten that roll of toilet paper, did anyway, and knows that I found the mangled roll but is sorry, so sorry, that it makes a part of my heart hurt even though both of them are kind of shitty people.
Later, after the spoils of war have been shown to Aslaug, they hold a pseudo community meeting to talk about their intense gains. In lieu of his father being an intense sneeze away from death, Bjorn helms the meeting, toting their successes to familiar faces in the crowd and the township as a whole. Straight up, he lacks the innate charisma of his father, but he tries to work the crowd the best he can, until…
Well, then he kind of blows it. He has Floki publicly arrested for the murder of Athelstan.
Huh. Well, if we know anything about Ragnar, he simply loves when people do things for him.
Yeah, I totally don’t see this backfiring.
So! Floki has been outed as Athelstan’s killer and has been arrested, he is subsequently tied to a pole in the middle of town and has food and rocks hurled at him. Nothing kills an ego quite like public humiliation. Later, it is hard to watch as Floki and Helga’s (Maude Hirst) little one Angrboða feed her father bits of food while he is chained and paraded. He begs for Helga to help him escape, even if he (surely, must) know that to do so will put her and their child in a grave situation. I have always loved Helga, it is hard for me to see her in such a situation. Please be kind to her tender souls, show, please please please.
In Hedeby, Kalf (Ben Robson), Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), and the remains of their soldiers return with war stories and mad swag. We’re reminded of the continuing existence of Einar (joy), Erlendur (why??) and the fact that the humorless Kalf (ugh) are still being portrayed as threats to Lagertha’s legacy, as if she isn’t 1) one of the most beloved members of the show, 2) fierce as fuck, and 3) capable of shanking a bitch in the gut and still retaining the good fortune of everyone in Hedeby. Anyway, he basically promotes Lagertha to co-captain of the ship and allows her to split the earldom with him, even though the two of them are not married.
I don’t care how much the writers try to convince us of Kalf’s amazing ways or how he’s even near the level that is Lagertha, dude has the personality of a soggy white bread loaf. Not buying it, have never bought it, will never go to the store to get it.
N e x t.
Back in Kattegat, the townspeople welcome the arrival of your friendly neighborhood slave traders. Aslaug approaches a woman of Asian descent after some consideration and seems to be even more intrigued when she defiantly dislodges her chin from Aslaug’s imploring fingers. Stay tuned, dollars to doughnuts, that woman will be some kind of plot point.
They really, really lay it on thick when they want to.
In other news, Ragnar finally stirs. One of his sons (who? I don’t remember, they all kind of run together. Ubbe? Maybe?) discovers that he is awake, fetches Ragnar some ale (evidently, that’s the easiest way to cement your pathway to becoming king – nailed it), and tells Aslaug that Ragnar, the king, has woken up.
Later, when he arrives at the dining hall, it is met with fanfare and excitement, even if he assumes Aslaug’s lackluster reception of him rudely enough, quickly turning his attention to the former slave, now new Aslaug handmaiden from earlier (would that be the correct terminology?), confirming the flippant and predictable this person will be important guess from earlier. How likely is it that Ragnar is going to impregnate her? Survey says: he’s going to give it his earnest college try.
Luckily, Ragnar’s caddish tendencies, easily ranked as my least favorite of his, as I think it detracts from him as a character and as a whole, are quickly cut short by the chastisement he lays thick on Bjorn for making the executive decision to imprison Floki without his father’s say in it. He lays this gem on his son:
“Did you also think that if I wanted him arrested I would have done it a long time ago. Now you have made it public and left me with no options. Now I am forced to deal with my errant friend.”
I feel bad for Bjorn, in a way. He’s honestly just trying to impress his father, it’s practically a timeworn tradition in society to do so.
Sure, I’ll give you that. But there is a difference between getting a good job, buying an awesome car, and picking up a mutual hobby because you heard your father mention it once and you want him to be impressed with your good tastes, your financial successes, as well as be able to talk to him about the varied array of bird calls native to Britain, and imprisoning his friend and also leaving his brother behind in a foreign country.
Oh, didn’t you hear? Rollo (Clive Standen) is still in Paris, which I am sure is going very, very well and is not at all an awkward transition.
Cut to him, and I am sure we have never seen a more telling rendition of Bull In A China Shop. Also, this has got to be one of the most depressing weddings I have ever seen on television. Listen, I think Princess Gisla is as interesting as an empty bag of potato chips, but even I feel a little bit bad for her as her father forces her head down while she is wedding this hulking stranger. My only hope is that the forthcoming exposure we have to her as this season goes on fleshes her out in a positive way and doesn’t turn Paris into Wessex 2.0, because I would honestly love if Rollo had a solid character in his life (other than Ragnar) that could help keep his characterization consistent for a millisecond. Am I shipping Gisla and Rollo? Gislo? Risla? Rosla? Gillo?
Way, way too early to tell. But I am going to give it a shot, if only because there is nothing sadder than a reluctant bride crying on her wedding day while doing the bidding of her clinically wimpish father. Rollo has gone through so many transformations through the show that it is possible to get whiplash going through them all, but it was hard not to see the bemused respect he had for her when she was the epitome of an ice
cube queen in their ceremonial chamber, the humor he had when she pulled a knife out and threatened him, the way he fell asleep without a singular hint of ravishing the aloof, virginal princess. The potential for angst is huge and if there are shades of historical romance in this show that turns the ridiculous plot devices to 11, I may just buckle in for the ride. The more I think about it, the more I need it.
Anyway, so Rollo was left in Paris and got married to a princess. That is without a doubt not something I thought I would type back in season 1. Bonus! He has seemingly lost some of his rape-ier tendencies. Let’s hope it stays that way.
You aren’t going to mention how you actually, legitimately, pressed pause when Rollo was standing shirtless in the bedchamber?
Honestly, I just assumed that’s what everyone did at that scene. Am I wrong? Oh.
Back in Hedeby, Kalf gathers everyone together and basically says “actually, jk~” about allowing Lagertha to be co-earl with him, urged on by Einar, earlier, who basically told Kalf to put the kabbash on the whole thing and cut the bullshit, because Lagertha liked him more. Which?? Ok?? I mean, Einar, dude, you really suck. Lagertha – despite all of the bed partners in this show that have tried desperately to prove otherwise – has standards and you didn’t meet them. Move on.
In a remarkably and nearly interesting development, after Kalf leads Einar and his men (the dissedents who aligned with Einar after the agreement between Kalf and Lagertha) to the center of a field, he unloads a barrage of arrows on the lot of them. Seriously, Kalf’s arrows mow them all down with the advanced weaponry he brought back from Paris. Einar ends up with an arrow in his throat and castrated by Lagertha, and, wow, I can’t believe I am saying this, but I actually did not see Kalf going down this route. I can’t think of a more fitting end to a more irritating character.
I will say, he looked a little worried when he saw Lagertha’s expression as she channeled her inner Lorena Bobbit.
And you wouldn’t be? I imagine there are few things that top the boner-killing abilities of seeing a woman, who you are intensely attracted to, satisfied with her castration job while her face is streaked with blood.
Back in Paris, Rollo hears about a Viking camp outside of Paris from Eirik, a man of power in Rollo’s forces left in Frankia, intent on raiding Paris while pledging their still-allegiance to Ragnar. This ends as well as you imagine it would – which is to say, really poorly. Rollo agrees to meet the camp and, like Kalf before him, signals to hidden forces surrounding the area and the Frankish bowmen kill every Viking man, woman, and child in the vicinity.
Rollo is warned by Eirik that Ragnar will avenge them and that his betrayal will not end well.
Huh, contrary to the sentiment you had earlier, I feel like you type some variation of that phrase every season.
I am pretty sure I do.
In Kattegat, Bjorn meets with Ragnar to tell him that he is going away. He isn’t going to find Thorunn or anything like that, he is going “out in the wilderness, away from everything, [to] find out [if he] could survive.” This is basically the Vikings version of an early-20s dude backpacking around Europe to find his spiritual energy, but with a bit more death and murder. Ragnar has hints of tenderness as he looks at his son, despite of the headache it has all turned into, and you can’t help but wonder what is going on inside of his head. He has to know that his son really does need to get his ducks in a line if he will ever become a ruler in his own right, but he also has to know that he may lose him in the process.
The way Ragnar tells Bjorn “prove me wrong” has GOT to be one of the most savage parts of this episode. My heart dropped for poor, clumsy, inelegant Bjorn in that moment. I hope he proves us all wrong.
And then, of course, that leaves his inevitable confrontation with Floki. The conversation is as tense as one would expect it to be, raising all the flags one needs to have to know that this season will be a trial for them both if they make it to the end. “Are you going to kill me?” Floki asks and it is met with Ragnar’s typical ambiguity, answering neither yes or no, instead showing anger – nah, that’s not right – disappointment at the actions of his friend, at the fact that they’re now where they’re at because of them.
And with that, episode 1 is complete.
What are your general thoughts?
As a first episode of any season, this episode was all about resolving some loose ends while unweaving another massive crocheted blanket. We had some follow-up on plots from last season, which is great, but we also had a lot of hints towards future tensions, the problems that will come, and what we have in store. All-in-all, it felt strong, though I hope they steer clear from some of the more cliched plot devices that they have used in the past.
Last season ended on a pretty rough note for me, and as a whole had many twists and turns that I found either egregiously dull or painfully obvious. The way things are setting up promises a fourth season that will be, at the very least, entertaining. I am excited to see where everyone will go from here and I eagerly await the character development that has already been hinted at in the first episode.
How about an arbitrary rating before you go?
Certainly! Simply put, I give this episode five surprise crossbow ambushes out of six.
How did you all feel about this episode?