The second half of the fourth season of Vikings elevates the season as a whole, even though the story of Ragnar Lothbrok takes some turns here that I don’t really like.
Episode 11 “The Outsider” would have come seven months after Ep. 10 back in 2016, which is why these two halves are treated as separate seasons. When we last saw Ragnar, following a time jump of many years after his defeat at the hands of Rollo, he was returning to Kattegat and daring anyone to kill him to become the king. Seven months later, Ubbe steps forward, but instead of challenging Ragnar, embraces him.
Ragnar wants his sons to join with him to return to England. Bjorn has made other plans to raid the Mediterranean, with Floki, Harald and his brother Hvitserk. Ubbe and Sigurd are staying behind to protect their mother and Kattegat. Kattegat itself has grown into an important trade center, no longer the quaint fishing village of seasons past. Ragnar visits Floki and makes his peace with him, telling Floki that he loves him. In Hedeby, Lagertha also refuses to join in Ragnar’s new crusade. It seems that Ragnar’s star is fading. He even fails when he attempts to commit suicide, because ravens chew through the rope he’s using to hang himself. Back in Kattegat, only his crippled son, Ivar the Boneless, wants to come with him to England.
Ragnar digs up old treasure, meant to be used to help buy his way into the afterlife, and uses it instead to bribe older warriors to join him and Ivar on their journey to England. This is an act of desparation on Ragnar’s part. Most people seem convinced that the gods have deserted the king.
Harald and Halfdan arrive to sail with Bjorn. The ambitious Harald is still a threat to Kattegat, but at least he’s an open one. He tells Bjorn that he cannot overthrow Ragnar. Before Bjorn’s expedition, and Ragnar’s smaller one, can set sail, Lagertha returns to Kattegat and, along with Aslaug, performs a sacrifice to the gods for their sons. Lagertha also lets Aslaug know that she will never forgive her for taking Ragnar and Kattegat from her, and lets Aslaug know that she will never be Queen of Kattegat. This is what fancy writers call foreshadowing.
Here’s where our various story threads split up again after briefly comingling in Kattegat.
Ragnar and Ivar’s ships capsize during a violent storm on their way to England. Ragnar, Ivar and a few others wash up on a beach in England. An older Aethelwulf finds Ragnar’s raven banner on the beach and alerts his father, King Ecbert, who doesn’t seem overly concerned. Meanwhile, Ragnar convinces Ivar that the two of them must abandon the others and go to the Royal Villa alone. They kill their fellow Vikings in their sleep, a move that seemed a little harsh to me. Then Ragnar and Ivar go to turn themselves in at the Royal town.
King Ecbert promises Ragnar that no harm will come to Ivar. He introduces Ragnar to Magnus, his supposed son with Kwenthrith. Ragnar says he never slept with Kwenthrith, and then Magnus is expelled from the town by Aethelwulf. Maybe this has some sort of payoff down the line, but seems as harsh as killing your soldiers in their sleep to me. Ragnar asks Ecbert to kill him, but Ecbert has arranged to turn him over to King Aelle of Northumbria instead. As Ragnar says his farewells to Ivar, knowing he will soon be executed, he tells his son to take his revenge on Ecbert and to be ruthless. King Aelle tortures Ragnar and eventually drops him into a pit of snakes, where he dies. This happens in Episode 15 “All His Angels.” It is the biggest death in the series so far, the death of the main character, as this has been Ragnar Lothbrok’s story from the beginning. And while he faced death bravely, he was a beaten and broken man, both spiritually and physically. A sad ending to his personal story.
After watching this episode, my main thought was this: “Where can this series go from this point?” While the show has done a masterful job juggling multiple plot threads, we always had Ragnar as our touchstone. Everything that happened in the series related to Ragnar in some fashion. How would that continue to hold?
While Ragnar’s thread was finally playing out, other stuff was happening. Bjorn’s fleet arrives in Francia, where he asks his uncle Rollo for safe passage. Instead, Rollo has them all immediately imprisoned. He eventually releases them on the condition that he’s allowed to sail with them. Bjorn agrees, but then has his uncle keelhauled to the point of death. Rollo laughs when he’s brought back up and revived. I’m not sure I get the joke. Vikings are a strange bunch. They all go and raid a Muslim city in Spain. Since Floki refuses to have another child with Helga, she adopts a Moorish child, Tanaruz, as her daughter and takes her back with them.
Prior to the return of Ivar and Bjorn, Lagertha has been busy as well. She imprisons Ubbe and Sigurd in Hedeby and then attacks Kattegat, intending to usurp Aslaug’s position. Aslaug attempts to renounce her position and promises no retribution from her sons in exchange for safe passage. Lagertha seems to agree to this, but then proves herself to be thoroughly Viking by killing Aslaug anyway. I was happy to see Aslaug go, I’ll admit. Ubbe and Sigurd arrive in Kattegat but find it impossible to get revenge against Lagertha. Ivar arrives back in Kattegat and finds out about his mother’s death. As her favorite child, he’s not happy about this turn of events. He challenges her to single combat, but she refuses. He vows that he will one day kill her. The Seer has already told Lagertha than one of Ragnar’s sons will kill her.
There’s this bit about the one-eyed man in the black cloak—presumably an avatar of the god Odin—who brings news of Ragnar’s death to his sons, in different locations in the world. I prefer to ignore the implied supernatural elements in this story because I feel they are unnecessary. This bit of humbug added nothing to the series as far as I’m concerned. The Seer is as much mysticism as we need, I think.
So, our various story threads converge once again in our hub world of Kattegat, now ruled by Lagertha, who now seems to prefer the company of women, especially one shieldmaiden named Astrid. Lagertha orders great defences to be constructed around Kattegat, great ditches and pallisades and towers. She intends to hold on to her power, it seems. Bjorn convinces his half-brothers that they will have to kill him before they could get to Lagertha, so, for the moment, they turn their attention to getting their revenge for Ragnar’s death.
Ubbe marries the slave that the brothers had been sharing up to that point. He decides that he and Hvitserk will continue sharing her. Bjorn begins a relationship with Astrid, who I had assumed was his mother’s lover. Just because Ragnar is dead doesn’t mean love doesn’t remain complicated.
Meanwhile, King Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan have been plotting to take over Kattegat. They convince a man named Egil to launch a failed attack on Kattegat. Egil is captured and tells Lagertha about Harold’s involvement. There’s a brief side story about Harald seeing the woman who convinced him to become king over all of Norway. She ended up marrying a mere earl. Harald kills her husband. The woman pretends to forgive Harald and is about to kill him when she is, in turn, killed by Halfdan. I’m not sure of the purpose of this story, but as the season comes to an end, Lagertha is aware that Harald is her enemy. I’m sure that continues to play out in Season 5.
The Brothers Lothbrok easily get their revenge against King Aelle, who gets the blood eagle treatment. Loki made a war chariot for Ivar to ride in during battle, and he emerges as a terrifying warrior. Ivar proves himself to be a superior tactician as well, convincing his brother Bjorn to use the terrain to defeat the Saxons. Aethelwulf is forced to evacuate the capital. King Ecbert refuses to leave, instead ceding the crown of Wessex to his son. Bishop Edmund also remains behind with Ecbert, helping him drink up some of the royal wine. During the confusion of the ensuing battle, Helga is killed by her adopted Moorish daughter, who then commits suicide.
After Ecbert is captured, Ivar demands the blood eagle for him as well. Bjorn, who has apparently inherited some of Ragnar’s abilities to see the big picture, instead allows Ecbert to choose the manner of his own death in exchange for signing over East Anglia. Ecbert commits suicide in his bath, of course. That man liked his baths.
Is the agreement even binding since Ecbert had renounced his throne? That’s Aethelwulf’s problem, I guess.
In an argument over whether they should take Bjorn’s advice and continue to raid the Mediterranean, or continue to raid England, Ivar kills Sigurd with a throwing axe after his brother insults him for the last time. In effect, that’s where the season ends, except for a brief postcript in which a bishop oversees a funeral and then has sex with the widow afterwards.
Yes, love remains complicated in the Vikings world.
I hate that Ragnar is dead now, as are most of the characters who have driven the plot so far. It seems that our focus is turning to the sons of Ragnar, which I don’t find exactly compelling yet. At least Lagertha is still alive. She’s always interesting, and now she has a new named enemy. Frankly (pun intended), I no longer find Rollo’s story to be interesting at all. Floki is still alive, too, but with the deaths of Helga and Ragnar, is really all alone. His story feels like its over. Time will tell.
Season 6 has already been announced as the final season of Vikings, but in many ways this one could have been the last. Perhaps should have been. I haven’t watched Season 5 yet, so perhaps I’m speaking out too soon.
In spite of Ragnar’s exit from the series about him, I still liked Part 2.
Firewater’s Season 4 (Part 2) Report Card: A