History’s Vikings tied up its second season recently with “The Lord’s Prayer.” Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) is finally home, surrounded by his loved ones, the raiding and wars taking a pause. However, it’s in his own village, the place where he feels most safe and comfortable, in which the most deadly danger may lie. His ally, King Horik (Donal Logue) has grown jealous of Ragnar’s expanding power, and working with a couple of those closest to Ragnar, decides to remove a potential rival for good.
King Horik’s turn is disappointing, but not unexpected. Horik is always weary of those who threaten his position, and Ragnar, a lowly earl, is respected and listened to more than Horik. Horik has become the junior partner in their arrangement, and that’s not a position Horik wants to be in. Viking society is brutal and bloody, a structure built on strength, and Horik does what any viking king would in his position – he tries to murder Ragnar and all his heirs (to prevent anyone seeking revenge or rallying people around a martyr in the future).
Unfortunately for Horik, he underestimates Ragnar, and it’s Horik and his family who end up slaughtered. Horik should know better, having spent extended amounts of time with Ragnar. While Horik doesn’t understand Ragnar very well, he has seen what Ragnar can accomplish, and what happens to those who don’t grant Ragnar the respect he has earned. It is understandable that Horik makes this fatal mistake, but it’s also one that, in retrospect, he should have been prepared for.
The one character that has been feeling inconsistent to me lately is Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård). Floki is a most loyal friend to Ragnar in season one, but in the second year, he inexplicably pulls away, cozying up to Horik instead. As I watched “The Lord’s Prayer,” I was already writing the review paragraph in my head arguing that Floki’s turn could be explainable, but without his motivations explored, feels weak. And then, Vikings reveals that Floki has never shifted loyalties, simply acting as a spy for Ragnar, which explains why Ragnar has not moved to save or severe his ties to Floki.
This does succeed at truly surprising, as does the fake death of Torstein (Jefferson Hall) and the loyalty of Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig). Siggy will sway whichever way the wind blows, or so I surmised, so she either knows about Ragnar’s plans to stop Horik, or she has more moral fiber than I give her credit for, staying true to her people rather than taking Horik’s bribe. Either way, I appreciate the writing and plot structure Vikings delivers in its finale, as well as keeping the tale at home, among the major players, rather than abroad.
One of the best scenes in this adrelaine-charged episode is when Ragnar quietly prays with Athelstan (George Blagden). Ragnar’s curiosity for all things outside of his frame of reference is one of his greatest assets, and his friendship with Athelstan, a foreigner himself, is touching. Seeing the two of them together here, after Athelstan finally returns to the fold, is a moving moment.
It also must be said that the strange dynamic between Ragnar, his current wife, Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), and his ex-wife, now an earl herself, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), is somehow working. Lagertha is right to go away initially, not being the type of share her man quietly. But after some bad experiences in the outside world, she returns to the man who is (mostly) good to her. She may not share Ragnar’s bed any longer, but is as important to him as ever. I’ll bet there will be some more development for her next season, and it could go any number of different ways.
One thing that may be lacking in season two is the death of a main character. Vikings is a very action-intensive show, and people are frequently killed. Season one is full of that, including when Ragnar unseats his predecessor. Season two dances around it, with Torstein’s fake and Rollo’s (Clive Standen) grievous injuries, but never goes there. In a series of this nature, it feels inauthentic that all of the major parts should continue year after year, and if no one perishes in season three (Siggy and Rollo probably being the most expendable at this point), the danger of the series may start to bleed away.
Still, for a show that teaches loose history loosely, Vikings continues to deliver as a compelling, interesting, informative adventure week after week. I am surprised that History Channel’s first foray into scripted programming is doing so well, but I admit really getting into this show, even forgetting about the uneven accents in most installments. I look forward not only to the further telling of Ragnar’s story, but also the next project History launches.
Vikings has been renewed and will return in 2015.
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