What do the TV gods have in store for the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, as season 5 of Vikings returns? Alex Braae recaps the first episode back.
Perhaps fitting for a show about an era where murderer and plunderer were legitimate occupations, Vikings got a bit messy for a while there. The first half of season 5 tried to pick up all the pieces after the execution of Ragnar Lothbrok, the possibly mythical dude who everything else revolved around. And often to make that work, characters seemed to break faith with their own internal logic. But the way Vikings has returned after the mid-season break suggests that isn’t going to be a problem any more.
Central to that in episode 11 was the return of Rollo, arguably the most compelling character throughout the entire run of the show. He seems to have aged a lot since we last saw him, and matured into his role as a ruler, along with perhaps becoming a genuine Christian as opposed to a Christian of convenience. Things are going nicely enough for him that he can afford to spare the troops to come and fight on Ivar’s side.
Last half of the season, that seemed like a frankly weird decision, going against his loyalty to Lagertha and Bjorn. But as he rolled into Kattegat as the real geopolitical big dog of the show, it pretty quickly became clear why he’d pick to fight on Ivar’s side. Kattegat, a lame little village back in season 1, is now a rich and thriving trade city. And Rollo can pretty much name any price he wants from Ivar in exchange for his support, which he does, at almost comical length.
But is Rollo really on Team Ivar from here on out? Probably not, as we see when he sneaks out to go and find Bjorn, Lagertha, Ubba and Bishop Heahmund. They’re off in hiding after suffering a pasting at the hands of Ivar’s army, but it’s the exact same place some of them once went into hiding with Rollo, so he doesn’t have any trouble finding them. Rollo offers them his guest room back in Francia, but they refuse, on account of Rollo’s repeated betrayals.
Rollo’s trump card is declaring his undying love for Lagertha, and that Bjorn is actually his son, a suggestion that is shut down immediately by Bjorn. It’s fortunate, because while fans have speculated over it, as a plotline it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Rollo leaves rebuffed, and on the way out gives up the location of the rebels (knowing full well they’re long gone though.)
But given how impressive his power, armies and hair are, it’s unlikely this will be the last we see of Rollo. Even his parting words to Lagertha – “we will never meet again” – seems like foreshadowing for another twist return.
The gang who are holed up in the hills decide that rather than go with Rollo, their best chance is to sail instead to England, and try their luck as mercenaries in the service of Wessex. That’s a great call from the showrunners, because the politics of England have always been one of the most interesting elements of the show.
There’s also potentially land in it for our Vikings, based on some deal that probably isn’t worth the parchment it was printed on, but still, they may as well have a crack. Lagertha is convinced to go back to England by Heahmund, who reckons that he’ll be able to walk straight back into his old job of being a Bishop. Alas, there’s a catch. While they might find safety in England, it will mean Lagertha and the Bishop won’t be able to be public about their relationship any more, which mainly seems to revolve around fighting and fornicating. Heahmund explains that in his religion, men of god have to be celibate, all the while he keeps his hands firmly clasped over his giant sword.
Ivar, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to quite know what he wants, except to kill Lagertha. He’s now the King of Kattegat, but the people don’t exactly seem thrilled to see him – probably because his only proven motivational technique is performative sadism. He’s also managing to subtly (and in some cases completely unsubtly) alienate both his key allies – the entirely untrustworthy King Harald, and the rather more curious character of Hvitserk – one of the four surviving sons of Ragnar. His survival over the rest of the season will depend on how strong his Plot Armour™ is, and whether the showrunners feel like they need an out and out villain.
And amid all of this, there’s still some drama going on in Iceland, where Floki’s colony narrowly votes not to sacrifice/murder him. Not a lot happens there in this episode, nor in England where it’s basically a matter of setting up themes and chess pieces for the season. But both show a lot of promise – particularly England, where a battle between Church and State looms with a young King Alfred on the throne.
Vikings has always been a show in which an enormous amount of plot gets packed into every episode, and it could probably stand to have a bit more colour – but! The plot at least seems to be moving in much more compelling directions now, so here’s hoping they can keep that focus and momentum up.
Final quote: Why are you here, King Harald asks Rollo, who has just turned up in Kattegat at the head of an intimidating army: “Because I miss the old place”. Didn’t we all Rollo, didn’t we all.
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