The increasingly hated Ivar revels in fake news, but will his people care? Alex Braae reviews the latest episode of Vikings.
So, you might remember that there was a person about to be sacrificed at the end of the last episode, as a symbol of Ivar’s divinity. There were fears that it might be Hvitserk, but it turns out instead Ivar has just rustled up some Lagertha-lookalike to murder instead. It’s not even a particularly convincing fake, and even some of the people being forced to watch at spear-point are loudly calling bullshit.
It’s the sort of moment where afterwards Ivar will proclaim that he had the largest ever human sacrifice crowd, and at least a much larger crowd than Lagertha ever got. But it doesn’t really serve to do anything other than underline his fundamental weakness – people hate him, and they’re only allowing themselves to be ruled by Ivar because he’s more than happy to knock them off. That’s what happens to a couple of rebels get caught saying he’s not a god – they get hung promptly.
It leaves Hvitserk in a horribly compromised position, as the sort of John McCain of the court. He’s both an integral part of why Ivar is on the throne, and now completely on the outer, being forced to take principled but utterly futile stances on key issues, like who exactly it was who just got murdered. He totally trapped by circumstance, and by his own conscience, but it’s hard to imagine that will last for the whole season.
For much of the episode, it’s hard to tell if the writers are completely grasping for something for Ivar to do, or if they’re just depicting his descent into megalomaniac madness. That becomes a lot clearer right at the end, when he slams an axe through the head of the old wise one, who also declines to affirm his new status. He’s just losing it, basically, in the manner of Tony Montana around the end of Scarface, and the people closest to him are feeding the delusions. It makes Ivar the closest the show has to an out and out villain, and as a choice it’s not necessarily the most interesting one the showrunners could have made for his direction. But it is, most definitely, a deliberate choice, and they lean in to it hard.
Meanwhile, over in Britain, King Harald is on his way down the river to sack and loot his way through Wessex. That prompts a crisis of confidence at Alfred’s court, with many of his nobles deciding the time to act is now, to get Alfred off the throne and his brother Aethelred in there instead. And it’s a big moment for Aethelred as a character, who probably proves that he won’t be able to do the job by bottling the coup, right at the moment when they’re meant to be locking the doors and whipping out swords to kill everyone. But he can’t go through with it, and it probably means the end of his ambitions. I sense redemption might be around the corner for him in some shape or form, but I also can’t see such a weak and indecisive character from surviving the whole season.
It’s also notable that the internationalist, immigrant welcoming Alfred decides to get Ubbe to teach him to fight – all we really see of this is Ubbe throwing axes at his head (if you can dodge an axe, you can dodge a dodgeball or something) But for those that know their history, Alfred was regarded as pretty good at this whole part of being a medieval ruler. And it was one of those kinda frustrating, Dragon Ball Z-esque episodes where we could clearly see a massive fight was coming, but it hadn’t arrived by the time the credits rolled. Even with a training montage and a haircut though, it’s hard to see Alfred beating King Harald first time around.
The rest of the episode basically takes place entirely in Iceland, with a couple of characters who I haven’t invested in to any degree whatsoever being banished, and another character being killed. More will almost certainly happen out here, but you’ve sort of got to wonder – why? There’s so much more that could be done with the time spent there in the two other theatres that really matter – Wessex and Kattegat.
Final quote: Aethelred, explaining to his wife that he’s totally DTF. “Forgive me, I have some business to attend to. When I return, I shall perform the duties of a husband.” Good grief dude, there’s no need for that sort of smut.
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