Another week, another very solid.. hell.. great episode of Vikings. Episode 3, “Homeland” gives us some excellent character moments where we truly get to know the players that we, the audience, need to know more about.. rather than hanging the story on already established — fairly drab and over exposed — characters. We don’t need to know much more about Lagertha, the shield maiden queen of the Vikings, and Ragnar’s ex-wife. We don’t need to know more about Floki, the zany boat builder that is either always tripping on ‘shrooms or just has serious perception issues when it comes to reality…
Instead of the old, we are treated with excellent performances again by the younger cast. Alex Hogh Andersen‘s Ivar was once again brilliant, but the standout was Jordan Patrick Smith (yes, both actors go by their full names; is that a millennial thing?) as Ubbe. In this ep we get to see how Ubbe reflects his late father, as he shares Ragnar’s dream of a peaceful place for their people to settle and farm; to live a life where they didn’t have to raid and fight and kill. Ivar’s interpretation is that their father meant for them to wipe the world clean so there were none left standing for Vikings. Ivar desires blood, Ubbe desires peace. And, thus, the cracks begin to form.
Smith did some amazing work this episode, often times without even saying a word. All the young stars are coming into their own this season, and if the caliber of writing and acting continues on this path, this season may just be the best yet.
Episode 3 gave us one of the longest battle sequences yet, with heroes emerging on both sides. Ivar shows his tactical brilliance, as well as physical shortcomings. He’s not meant for combat. He’s capable, sure, but only when he’s underestimated. Otherwise, anyone worth half their salt with a weapon has him dead to rights due to his obvious physical handicap. Nevertheless and not to be outdone, Ivar was still a major force for the Norsemen even when incapacitated and he truly showcased just how out to lunch he is.
Also shining in the action was Jonathan Rhys Meyers (three names.. again) as Bishop Heahmund on the side of the Saxons. Meant to be depicted as a precursor of sorts to the Knights Templar, Heahmund is pretty much unstoppable in battle, and fearless. We see him effortlessly cutting down swaths of Northmen like a hot knife through butter, though for all his prowess in battle and his piety, we can see early on he’s the obvious antagonist this season. 4.5/5 Bloody Eyed Bibles.
How many times can a show try to reinvent itself without eventually jumping the shark completely? How many times can a show shift identities without losing its audience along the way? History’s Vikings has shifted its tone almost every season from the fantastical to very grounded and back again. Now entering it’s fifth season, Viking‘s showrunner/writer/lore master Michael Hurst has the daunting task of redefining this show again — this time, without the foundation which the show has always anchored itself on…
[[[*Spoilers from here if you haven’t been caught up to this point in the series*]]]
For four captivating seasons, Travis Fimmel portrayed the main character, the quasi Historical figure Ragnar Lothbrok. Without delving too deeply into the character, we will simply leave it that he was charismatic to say the least. Everything started and ended with Ragnar; every plot thread for the most part flowed through him. Being that Vikings is loosely based on real historical events, everyone dies at some point. Last season we tearfully (yes, tearfully.. if you didn’t tear up and bellow in agony at Ragnar’s death, check your pulse) said our goodbyes to the character that has been the life force of an otherwise “just OK” television show. He made it great. How do you fill that hole? How do you carry on, and, most importantly, who do you root for?
As Season Five begins to take shape, Hurst does a decent job of giving us options, some of which may not even be vikings themselves. From Ragnar’s sons, each with their own interpretation of what their father’s hopes and dreams were, to his former allies and even adversaries, all are left in the same predicament the audience is: how to carry on and how to fill the void left by such an iconic human being.
Speaking of his sons, it seems like the right call was made, to shift the spotlight mainly to their struggle. Longtime cast member Alexander Ludwig returns as the eldest Bjorn Ironside, and he shows potential to be THE GUY, and while limited thus far, he does well with his screen time. The biggest standout was, however, Alex Hogh Andersen, as the youngest son, the crippled Ivar the Boneless. Andersen’s portrayal of the brutal, maniacal, bloodthirsty, brilliant, sadistic, yet damaged and incredibly vulnerable human being is another facet I’m glad will be getting the lion’s share of screen time this season.
I was quite concerned when Season 4 came to a close. The show seemed to have lost its way in the wake of Ragnar’s death. Vikings appeared rudderless and began to be a little unnecessarily salacious. Plot threads and characters were crammed in that went nowhere and provided zero momentum to the story. I am happy to report that Season 5 has none of those problems.. yet. It seems as if the show remembers that it’s not Game of Thrones, nor does it have to be. With this exciting, new direction, I only hope it doesn’t fall into the Walking Dead trap of having too many characters fractured and all over the place. This show works best when it’s localized and centered on a handful of characters dealing with their interpretation of the conflict, and with a clear protagonist. So far, so good.