Vikings returns Wednesday night to a story of sex and love and, oddly enough, some poignant farewells.
Ragnar may have just returned to Kattegat, but he’s already saying goodbye to his loved ones. Ragnar is off to England to seek his vengeance there against the conniving King Ecbert. Bjorn, and those who prefer to follow him, would rather set sail for Rome and new, unspoiled shores.
It’s these farewells that struck me most about the midseason premiere. When Ragnar tells Floki that he loves him, I don’t mind admitting I got a little teary-eyed. It’s the words Floki has so desperately longed to hear, all through the previous season and the first half of Season 4. Ever since he killed the monk, Athelstan, and he and Ragnar split ways. Even after Ragnar tortured him and took him from his family, all Floki has wanted was Ragnar’s love.
As Ragnar walks away, we see Floki nearly buckle over, tears wetting his cheeks. “I love you too, Ragnar Lothbrok!” he calls out.
But he won’t be joining his friend and king. He swore to accompany Bjorn in the sleek new ship he built for Ragnar’s son.
Ragnar tells Floki of his premonition: that if he doesn’t accompany him, he’ll never see Floki again. The ship-builder laughs it off. They’ll meet again in Valhalla of course. “I’m not so sure,” Ragnar says. We’ve seen Ragnar’s dreams, of course, where he’s denied entrance to the hall of warriors.
Later, Ragnar visits his past in the form of Lagertha. He asks her for forgiveness for everything, for all his mistakes. He finally tells her how much he regrets letting her go. They even kiss.
This is a far different Ragnar than the one we’ve seen in recent seasons. Maybe it’s his newfound desire for vengeance that’s cleared his mind. His moment at the tree, his failed hanging, suggest he hasn’t exactly found peace. But maybe he’s found some humility. Perhaps defeat at Paris was exactly what he needed. Certainly he needed to be jarred from his misery.
In a sense, upon returning to his home, Ragnar is an outsider. That’s the title of the episode as well. But really, there are two outsiders in the midseason premiere.
The second is Ivar, Ragnar’s youngest son, and a cripple since birth. The episode somewhat ham-handledly introduces us to Ivar’s otherness. While each of his brothers takes a turn with a blond slave-girl, Margrethe—who looks a bit like Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones—Ivar watches.
He spies one with her in the barn. Another in the woods. Ivar must somehow be following the girl, because he miraculously ends up wherever she’s bedding one of his brothers. How he manages to follow her, or at least be at the right place at the right time, is beyond me.
But it does set him up for his own roll in the hay with the girl, and sets us up for the inevitable ways that goes wrong. Certainly nobody watching thought leaving Ivar alone with the girl was a good idea.
When things don’t work for Ivar down there he decides he has to kill her to keep her quiet, so great is his humiliation. But she talks him out of it, tapping into his shame. To have sex is easy, she says. To be Ragnar’s son and find greatness? That’s hard.
He’s an interesting character. On the surface, he’s rough and wicked. He likes to kill, he tells Margrethe. But there’s hidden depths beneath that cruelty. He’s also remarkably talented with sword and bow and axe, though his immobility will always leave him stranded in battle no matter his skill.
He’s the only of his brothers who wants to accompany his father to England. He tells the others they’re not worthy of Ragnar. While Bjorn may not bear Ragnar the same ill will or disdain as his younger brothers, he still refuses to go with his father. “He’s his own man now,” Ragnar tells Floki.
The other three—Hvitserk, Sigurd and Ubbe—believe that nobody, not even the gods, love Ragnar now. Only Ivar the Boneless chooses to accompany him across the sea.
For his part, Bjorn goes to the Seer to ask what his father’s return means. The old man—who must be ancient by now—tells him calamities. Not just one, but many. So many you’ll rue the day your father returned.
I guess the show is prepping us for some dark days ahead. That’s fine with me.
I enjoyed this return to Vikings, though the distance between the two halves of Season 4 was too great and left me (and many other viewers, I’m sure) a little rusty. It may as well be Season 5, so great the changes and so long between 4A and 4B.
It’s also a little tricky to suddenly have a new cast of primary characters to contend with. While the four younger sons of Ragnar aren’t new characters, their adult versions are. Then there’s Lagertha’s new female lover, Astrid, who has really bizarre hair.
This was a moving, poignant episode, but also a strange one. I expected the show to come back with more of a bang, to slap us across the face and really get the blood flowing. It was much more calm than that. That’s fine, I suppose, but after such a long wait it’s also a bit jarring, if only because so much of Ragnar’s character development seems to have occurred off-screen.
Lagertha is still awesome, though, and beautiful and dammit Ragnar what on earth were you thinking???
Did you enjoy the midseason premiere of Vikings? Let me know what you thought in the comments. Thanks for reading and sharing!
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