By Corey Davies
When we left the Vikings cast what feels like forever ago, we’d just had one of the show’s trademark time jumps; a lot changed during Ragnar’s holiday, and Vikings’ return feels almost like the start of a new show. Returning after a mid-season break can bring a wealth of fresh ideas into the mix, and Viking’s is no different.
Before we get on to what’s changed, let’s start with what stays the same in the show. Firstly, the music is perfectly on point for the tone of any given scene, using traditional sounds to create a perfect atmosphere. Among the characters that stay the same is Bjorn, who’s exactly as we saw him at the siege of Paris. Bjorn is basically Ragnar at the beginning of the season one at this point, and I’ll forever remain impressed with how perfectly Alexander Ludwig has cloned Travis Fimmel’s mannerisms and speaking pattern. Bjorn and Floki are building a new kind of boat that will take them to a land they’ve never been to (Italy), in an adorable repeat of Ragnar and Floki’s plan to build a new type of boat to go to a land they’ve never been to (England).
Speaking of Floki, he too remains one of the constants in the show: hopelessly dedicated to Ragnar and still (somehow) in the shadow of Athelstan. The two share a reconciliation after their strained relationship from the last couple of seasons, and Ragnar provides an almost meta-commentary on how it’s fitting he’s building a new style of boat for Bjorn (Ragnar fulfils this role a couple of times throughout the episode) before Ragnar leaves with the two yelling “I love you” at one another from a distance.
Ragnar himself, while not wildly different, has changed enough to notice. There’s a manic edge to his actions; he still flirts with the first pretty young lady he comes across; and still moves in the alien way we’ve come to expect, as if he’s about to either attack or kiss whoever he’s looking at. He seems desperate to cling to the past; he wants to go to England, he doesn’t want to be king, he wants Lagertha by his side. Here Ragnar is the embodiment of the old Vikings, and anyone familiar with the saga knows, the old boar is about to go. Familiarity with Ragnar’s story from the sagas isn’t the only hint of this, he spends the entire episode implying he’s about to die, and as if that wasn’t quite enough, he tries to hang himself. Though this odd concoction of subtle and blunt explanation is something we should expect from Vikings by now (looking at you, Jarl “you are the eagle and the eagle is also you” Borg).
The other sign of the changing focus of the show is that the episode spends half of its run time focusing on four of Ragnar’s children, specifically the ones we know least about. Bjorn is pretty much absent from the episode since we’re already familiar with his character, the other four become the focus of this episode. I will admit three of them remain all-but-faceless Ragnar clones to me, with various aspects of his personality coming through, be it his respect for servants from one, his belligerent disregard for authority from another or some other third thing from the other one. I’m sure that given time they’ll all start to shine in their own ways but for now, the only one really worth caring about is Ivar. He’s still the psychotic little apple of his mother’s eye (who for his entire life has been channeling progressively more of Cersei Lannister by way of Norma Bates) that Ragnar always seems to look over.
The relationship, or lack thereof, with Ragnar has clearly influenced him in an interesting way. In spite of his lower half being useless, he’s an accomplished warrior, equalling one brother with a bow, another with the throwing axes and dueling the final one to a standstill with the sword. Ivar is the picture boy of fragile masculinity though; as soon as it becomes apparent he can’t ‘satisfy a woman’ he flips out and tries to strangle her with a cord. She stays alarmingly calm about the whole thing, soothing him and even cuddling up to him in the aftermath as he cries.
In a much less disturbing bedroom, Lagertha has a brief sex scene with her new partner, who is a woman! From a show that can almost be accused of queerbaiting using the relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan (and arguably Floki’s attitude towards Ragnar) for seasons on end, this feels like somewhat of a breakthrough and I’m really sad that #Bikings is still being mainly used for people riding bikes on twitter. Lagertha and her girlfriend allude to some sort of plan early on in the episode, so it seems clear that they’ll be back to play a bigger part in the story.
The episode concludes as the two stories collide, Ivar demands Ragnar asks him to go on the raid to England with the same respect he used to ask all his brothers. This episode, while not the most exciting opening Vikings has ever produced, sets up for some incredibly interesting things going forward. The three threads of Bjorn going to Italy, Ragnar going to England and Lagertha’s secret mission will probably be wrapped up in the remaining episodes of this season, leaving the landscape of Vikings radically changed. But if this episode is anything to go in, as much as is going to change, more than a little is going to stay the same.