This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 4 episode 2
“How can I be free?” Judith asks King Ecbert in an early scene of “Kill the Queen,” the second episode of Season 4 of The History Channel’s Vikings, and it’s this simple question that launches challenges for a number of characters, all of whom struggle for autonomy.
Bjorn has ventured off alone and must contend with the harsh conditions of the Scandinavian winter, but for what? His desire to prove something to his father seems ill advised and unnecessary since it’s always been clear that Bjorn is Ragnar’s favorite and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
While Bjorn is off on his journey of self-discovery, his younger half-brother Ubbe accompanies the search party and discovers Floki hiding in the stream. Though he is still considerably younger than Bjorn, we have to wonder whether this success will narrow the gap between the two in their father’s eyes? Even at this stage, Ubbe seems a born leader.
Engaged in a love/hate relationship with her self-centered husband, Helga frees Floki from his bonds, and we watch as he attempts to stay one step ahead of the manhunt tracking him. But why does she put herself and her child at risk? While we wonder how Ragnar will bring the Floki situation to a close, it seems strange that Helga takes this course of action. And when Ragnar confronts her, it’s not surprising that she admits what she’s done, and he tells her he understands. Ragnar and Floki’s relationship is about as complicated as it gets.
Attempting to understand Floki has always been problematic, and while we recognize his devotion to the gods, his unrepentant attitude pushes Ragnar too far leading him to chain Floki in a cave conjuring up images of Prometheus and his terrible ordeal. When Aslaug defends Floki’s actions, Ragnar knocks her down, and as despicable as she is, it’s still difficult to watch. “It’s about loyalty and trust. Something you can’t understand,” referring back to his discovery that his wife cheated on him with the wandering storyteller Harbard. How long will he put up with her schemes once he discovers her ambition to be queen, and what is poor Floki’s fate? Will his gods rescue or abandon him? Are either of these characters redeemable?
We’re not certain how much time has elapsed when Ragnar finds Helga futilely digging in the frozen ground. His reaction when she informs him it’s a grave for her daughter is not unexpected, and he ends up helping, watching as she lays the child to rest. Has Floki’s devotion to the gods killed his daughter? Are he and his daughter finally free? And even though Helga has not told Floki of their daughter’s death, we wince at his wails assuming he senses what has happened.
Unseen last week, King Ecbert and Essex play a much more prominent role here as he proposes a military buildup and a plan to rescue Princess Kwenthrith of Mercia and her child who are being held by rebel nobles. In Aethelwulf we see another king’s son living in his father’s shadow make an attempt to carve out a place for himself, and he performs brilliantly during the brutal hand-to-hand battle sequences, eventually rescuing Kwenthrith. “What took you so long?” Of course, while Aethelwulf knows that his wife, Princess Judith, has cuckolded him previously, he has no idea she’s now sleeping with his father. Once Aethelwulf returns with the rescued Kwenthrith, it seems likely a confrontation regarding this sordid situation will follow.
Speaking of Judith, of all the characters that look to free themselves from real and imagined bonds, she is the one that actually verbalizes her ambition to study the sacred texts, something that confounds the priest Ecbert brings in to teach his daughter-in-law. However, we know she has some ulterior motive, and Judith’s affair with Athelstan forces us to wonder whether or not her desire to learn the secrets of illumination has anything to do with an unholy lust.
For all that, even though we see him only briefly, it is Duke Rollo’s appearance and actions that will likely produce the most significant impact. Making an attempt to fit in by cutting his hair and dressing appropriately, we feel horrible for him as Gisela continues to mock him and can only wait for her to receive her just due. But it’s his military acumen that pushes this scene to the forefront as he suggests building forts to prevent the Vikings from sailing up river. Additionally, his suggestion to build many more boats leads us to wonder what he’s really up to. Is this a longer con from the brother we thought was trying to free himself from his brother’s far reaching shadow, or is Rollo fated to face off against his brother sooner rather than later?
But perhaps the most disturbing relationship involves Count Odo, his mistress Therese, and her lover Roland who also happens to be Odo’s right hand. She subjects herself to Odo’s sadomasochistic whims simply to gather enough anti-Charles intel to then discredit Odo in Charles’ eyes. The pain seems to far outweigh the gain here.
Now that Season Four is slated to include 20 episodes, we can expect a number of set up storylines, and that’s what we have here. Some great battle and action sequences, some characters facing similar dilemmas, and confrontations aplenty on the horizon. All in all, a solid follow up to the season premiere.