Vikings: Season 5 (Part 1) — a review


I’ve gone on record as a fan of the History Channel series Vikings. My love of the world created in this series, and its pantheon of larger-than-life characters, hasn’t suddenly come to an end. I’m still a fan (you can read my reviews for every season here), and I’ll be watching this series until the bitter end.

That end will come soon enough. Season 6 will be the last one for Vikings, and it is expected to premiere in late 2019. Like 4 and 5, it will consist of 20 episodes, split evenly into two parts, and the true ending will come sometime in 2020. Time will tell if that ending will truly be bitter.

Whenever I read a negative review about this show, the reviewer is invariably complaining about the historical accuracy of the narrative. It seems that the show’s writers have taken some liberties with the facts of the Viking invasions and British history during that period.

I personally have no issues with this. I’ve been watching this story unfold the same way I watched Game of Thrones or Sons of Anarchy, and countless other fictional programs. I just assumed large portions of it were entirely fictional. The History Channel, in spite of a name that might suggest otherwise, has never been a slave to historical accuracy in the past. This is the same network responsible for Ancient Aliens and Bigfoot Captured. This channel revels in UFOs, hidden bible codes and paranoid conspiracies. So do I, for their entertainment value, if for no other reason. I give them a pass on that score.

In fact, if the death of Ragnar Lothbrok was one of those things that was historically accurate, I would much rather he had been kept alive for this season. His presence was missed in every episode, and this has affected my scoring of the first half of this season overall. It’s not the same show. That’s no big announcement. But, the series is now no longer Ragnar Lothbrok’s story. Rather, it is the story of his legacy.

That’s still a pretty entertaining story. It just lacks the focus provided by a strong central protagonist.

As the season opens, Ragnar’s surviving sons, Ubbe, Ivar and Hvitserk (Sigurd was killed by Ivar at the end of the previous season) jointly rule the land in East Anglia acquired from the late King Ecbert. Rather than resting on their laurels, Ivar talks his brothers into going north to conquer York. Ivar the Boneless can now walk with the aid of leg braces and a crutch.

King Aethelwulf joins forces with Bishop Heahmund, and together they attack York. But, the Saxons are forced to retreat after being led into a trap. Ubbe and Hvitserk want peace with the Saxons. Aethelwulf seems to accept their offer (which they made behind Ivar’s back), but then the brothers are humiliated by the warrior-priest Bishop Heahmund, who wants no peace with pagans. Ubbe’s failure allows Ivar to assume leadership of the entire Great Army. Ubbe leaves for Kattegat with the few Vikings still willing to follow him, but Hvitserk defects to join with Ivar.

While all of this is going on, Bjorn Ironside has returned to the Mediterranean. King Harald’s brother Halfdan joins him while Harald returns to Kattegat, expecting that Egil has already usurped Lagertha’s position in Kattegat. Bjorn and Halfdan have several adventures in Sicily and in Africa that ultimately amount to nothing, only a freak sandstorm saving them from being executed and allowing them to escape.

Harald, meanwhile, is imprisoned by Lagertha. But, his men free him and he kidnaps Lagertha’s lover Astrid. Harald proposes to Astrid, offering to make her his queen. After a couple of episodes, Astrid agrees. There is a big wedding.

When Ubbe arrives in Kattegat, he agrees to ally with Lagertha against both Ivar and Harald. Back in England, the Saxons lay siege to York and attack only when they believe the Vikings are all starving and burning their dead. Ivar has tricked them, however, hiding his forces in the sewers while their enemy enters the city. Through a surprise attack, Ivar’s forces defeat the Saxons again and Bishop Heahmund becomes Ivar’s prisoner. Ivar and Hvitserk set sail to return home, leaving a garrison in York.

Ivar ends up in an alliance with King Harald, planning to attack Kattegat in two months. Astrid betrays Harald by bribing someone to warn Lagertha of the attack. Bishop Heahmund agrees to fight on Ivar’s side as well.

Bjorn returns to Kattegat. So, he and Ubbe are allied with Lagertha. During the first battle, Lagertha’s forces come out on top. Lagertha captures Bishop Heahmund and, of course, he falls in love with her and pledges his sword to her cause. Hvitserk travels to see his Uncle Rollo, who gives Ivar’s side Frankish reinforcements on the condition that Bjorn is not killed. With these reinforcements, Ivar’s forces are victorious. In the battle, Harald kills his brother Halfdan, but Queen Astrid is also killed, by Lagertha. After her defeat, Lagertha appears to be a broken woman, and her hair has turned white.

Back in Wessex, King Aethelwulf dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Judith talks her son Aethelred into rejecting the throne so that Alfred can become King.

And then there’s Floki, the slightly mad but genius shipbuilder. He had sailed off alone, trusting in the gods to guide him, and he discovered a land he is certain is Asgard. Prior to the War of the Ragnar Sons, he returns to Kattegat and convinces a group of Vikings to return to the land with him, against Lagertha’s wishes. Floki has an idyllic community unlike anything they’ve ever known in mind, but Vikings have a tough time not killing each other. As Part 1 of the season ends, Floki is offering himself up as a blood sacrifice to the gods in an attempt to save their new community.

There’s a lot of fighting and killing in Part 1 of Season 5. The storylines are scattered and confusing, and largely just seem concerned with moving pieces around on the game board. At the conclusion of Part 1, Ivar is, in effect, the King of Kattegat, while Bjorn, Ubbe and Lagertha go into exile. Back in England, King Alfred the Great is on the throne in Wessex.

We never stay with a single character long enough for the show to get boring, but many of the story threads seem pointless to me. Ivar the Boneless emerges as the most formidable son of Ragnar Lothbrok, even though he has a lust for power that his father never had. Of course, we can’t count out Bjorn, Ubbe and Lagertha yet, especially since Lagertha still has the sinful Bishop Heahmund on her side. King Harald, who has lost his queen and his brother, seems content to allow Ivar to play at being the king of Kattegat for the moment, but we can’t forget that his plan all along, one that he’s been very vocal about, is to be king of all of Norway. That will include Kattegat as well.

I have a feeling that there are more battles to come.

Who knows what’s going to happen with Floki?

I still find the series to be entertaining. It’s also a good-looking show with incredible battle scenes. I’m not always sure what’s going on, however. And I miss Ragnar.

Firewater’s Season 5 (Part 1) Report Card: B


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