I’ve been delaying my review of the second half of Season 5 of Vikings.
I don’t like writing unfavorable reviews. A fact that, along with an inability to write anything without injecting myself and the ubiquitous “I” into the review itself, prevents me from ever becoming a professional critic. I like writing about things that I fully enjoy watching.
However, I’m also a completist. And I’ve written a review of every season of Vikings up to Season 5, Part 1. If I didn’t write this review, its absence would eventually drive me crazy. Or crazier, maybe.
This wasn’t a good half-season. In fact, having watched the back half of Season 5, I find myself suddenly happy that Season 6 will be the last one. This story ended when Ragnar Lothbrok died in the snake pit, killed by a couple of English kings. The creators of the series want to keep our attention by making the story about Ragnar’s sons and King Alfred the Great. But, this story isn’t the one we signed up for. I miss Ragnar. And Aethelstan. And a whole bunch of other characters who are no longer around. I also miss the Floki and Lagertha of the earlier seasons. Their characters are still around, but in name only, it seems. Both are pale shadows of their former selves.
As the back half of the season begins (about 10 months after the first half concluded), Ivar the Boneless declares himself the new king of Kattegat. Rollo makes an appearance (I miss him, too), talks to Ivar and then locates Lagertha and Bjorn, who are hiding in the same hut he sought shelter in years before. Rollo drops the bombshell that he is Bjorn’s father, not Ragnar. I’m not sure that this is true, or even why it may be important, but it does make me recall his odd way of acting around Lagertha whenever his brother wasn’t around. Rollo wants Lagertha and Bjorn to come with him to Francia. Instead, they sail for England.
I want to point out that every time I see Bjorn on screen these days, he looks more and more like the Goon from the Popeye comics.
Meanwhile, Floki goes through a whole bunch of stuff with his followers in the new land he discovered. I think it’s supposed to be Iceland, but Floki thinks it is Asgard. During the course of the rest of the season, Floki’s new society falls apart completely. He abandons them all to go confront the gods in the caves he believes are the opening to Hel. He finds a Christian cross planted in the ground of the cave just as the volcano is erupting. We’re left with a cliffhanger as to Floki’s fate. Of course, this entire plot line seems to have nothing at all to do with the rest of the series.
Ivar, who has somehow become the series’ most interesting character, gets engaged to Freydis, who immediately begins an affair with another man so that she can conceive a child for the impotent Ivar. Freydis also manages to convince Ivar that he is a god, which is how he was able to conceive a child with her. Ivar alienates his brother Hvitserk by killing his crazy ex Margrethe. Hvitserk retaliates initially by becoming a Buddhist. Wait. What? Yeah, that’s right. Ivar becomes increasingly despotic, sacrificing a shieldmaiden he tells everyone else is Lagertha, then murdering the Seer when he cannot confirm his divinity. In fact, Ivar is murdering just about everyone. He sends Hvitserk on a diplomatic mission to see Olaf the Stout, then has Hvitserk’s new girlfriend killed as well. Hvitserk manages to convince Olaf to turn against Ivar, but not until Olaf has Hvitserk tortured for a while. When Ivar’s son, Baldur, is born deformed, Ivar abandons the infant to die in the wilderness the same way Ragnar initially tried, and failed, to end Ivar’s existence. At the end of the season, Ivar’s wife, Freydis, betrays Ivar and is also killed. That’s quite a body count.
Over in Wessex, things begin happening quickly. Bishop Heahmund and Lagertha are quickly removed from any active storylines. Heahmund is finally killed in battle, and Lagertha disappears for much of the remaining season, and is a feral crazy woman when she finally does reappear. Ubbe converts to Christianity, like his Uncle Rollo before him. Bjorn befriends the pseudo-Ragnarson, Magnus, who is eventually killed off as well. Judith kills her son Athelred because he was conspiring against Alfred. Then Judith gets cancer and dies. Ubbe somehow prevents an all-out war with the Danes in Wessex by challenging one of the Danish kings to single combat. Ragnar’s dream of Vikings settling in East Anglia are finally realized. Bjorn joins up with Harald, who returned to England from Kattegat, and then they sail back to Norway to depose Ivar. Serendipitously, they join forces with the army Hvitserk convinced Olaf the Stout to bring against Ivar. Freydis’ betrayal seems to put the final nail in Ivar’s coffin.
But, Ivar isn’t killed, of course. At the end of the finale, we see Ivar escaping with his followers. I imagine he will be back, even though Bjorn is now the King of Kattegat. Harald was also seriously injured in the final battle, but I believe he’s still alive. I’m not sure I care about that either. He was a promising character who turned into a lovesick fool.
Lots of stuff happens in these ten episodes, but I think the showrunners have begun to mistake plot for story. Maybe they’re just trying to shoehorn in the bits of real history we’re getting in this series. I don’t know. Reality is no defense for fiction, which is required to make sense. It feels like the story itself has floundered. All of the characters I cared about are either dead or effectively neutered. Floki is starring in his own spinoff series. Lagertha is suddenly an old crazy lady.
I feel compelled to watch Season 6 when it eventually comes out, but I’m no longer looking forward to it.
Bottom line: this half of the season was worth watching for the bits of spectacle it offered, making it not an utter failure. But, the story is ultimately lacking.
Firewater’s Latter-Half-of-Season-Five Report Card: C-
Work is force times distance. You can push against a wall all day, but if you don’t knock it down, you’ve done no work. This season’s results were a lot of pushing, with little ultimately accomplished. It doesn’t really work.