This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 4 episode 3
A man can be expected to endure only so much before reaching his breaking point, and in Season 4 Episode 3 of The History Channel’s Vikings, it’s Athelstan’s message to Ragnar and King Ecbert that rings loud and clear. “Mercy” highlights frustrations that have both kings re-examining their spiritual lives, and it seems the two may have more in common than previously thought.
These frustrations hit the Lothbrok men harder than anyone as Rollo makes an abbreviated attempt to learn the language of his new home, and it’s impossible to ignore his humiliation when he gives up, tears pages from a book, and tosses his tutor to the floor. How much more of Gisela’s poor treatment can he be expected to endure before lashing out against Charles’ kingdom? How can he not be plotting a return to Kattegat to beg his brother’s forgiveness? But first does he continue learning the language to gain intel with which to buy his way back into the good graces of his brother?
Even though Rollo’s wife detests him, it’s Bjorn who’s in the most immediate danger as dramatic irony hangs heavily over every scene. We anticipate the Berserker hired by Kalf to assassinate Bjorn on King Horik’s son’s behalf to spring out of the shadows at any moment. And as if this knowledge doesn’t generate enough tension, his obsession at killing a bear that’s managed to escape his traps, forces us to consider whether we’d rather see him torn to pieces by the bear or by the assassin.
Floki’s pain and anguish resonate throughout the first three episodes, and coupled with their child’s death, it’s become increasingly difficult to watch Floki and Helga struggle to cope with the worst thing parents can face. The irony that the anti-Christian hangs in a crucifixion pose is not lost on the viewer. When Ragnar approaches the cave with an ax, his intentions are unclear, but in the most emotionally charged scene in the episode, he tells Helga that she’s “suffered enough” and frees Floki. It’s simply heart wrenching to watch Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) and Helga (Maude Hirst) face the pain of losing a child, and we look on in the cave’s dark light as tears stream down her filthy face unsure of how to comfort her husband.
Now what? Will Ragnar accept his friend back into the fold? With war seemingly looming on the horizon, will Floki’s shipbuilding skills outstrip his eccentricities?
Since returning from the Paris campaign, Ragnar has made it clear that Aslaug stands on thin ice, and when he employs Hamlet’s “play within a play” storytelling device to bring up her dalliance with Harbard, she has to know that her days may be numbered.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Vikings can be found in the relationships, and when we glimpse Lagertha in bed with Kalf, her relative absence from the first two episodes is seemingly alleviated. He tells her he loves her, and not only does she fail to reciprocate, her radar activates. Does she suspect that Kalf has ulterior motives? Will she be caught in the crosshairs? Does he intend for her to be taken out?
Now that Aethelwulf has returned with the rescued Queen Kwenthrith and her son Magnus, doe he release Judith to be with his father and marry Kwenthrith, or do father and son face off? Does anyone really believe that Magnus is Ragnar’s son?
Judith’s obsession with Athelstan continues, but when both Ecbert and Ragnar come face to face with a vision of the dead priest, his impact continues to be felt. It’s not surprising that Athelstan’s message of mercy leads Ragnar to free Floki, but Ecbert is truly moved and feels compelled to tell Judith what he’s seen. He does it not to draw her closer but to give her a sense of closure.
However, the religious overtones of this mystical scene must be examined further to understand what plagues Ragnar and King Ecbert. Something draws Ecbert from his post-coital bed with Judith to the candlelit transcript room, and amidst a breeze that scatters the documents, he comes face to face with Athelstan making the sign of the cross. On the other hand, Ragnar wakes with a sense of foreboding and ends up sitting in his throne while Athelstan washes his feet in an obvious nod to Mary Magdalene. Of course, we’re supposed to consider the Biblical tale in which Mary washes Jesus’ feet, but it seems implausible that Ragnar would be aware of this. So what’s real? Are both simply dreaming?
All of this is set against a backdrop of impending war as Wessex continues preparing its soldiers, Count Odo readies a defense of Paris, and Ragnar cleans fish giving the impression that he’s not ready to resume exploring distant lands. He plays with his children and participates in the mundane aspects of Viking life, but provides no inkling as to his next move. Has he pillaged and plundered enough, or is it simply a matter of regaining his health and strength before setting sail once again?
After two set up episodes, it’s time to move the story arcs forward. That’s not to say that the character development that takes place here isn’t important because it is, but it’s time for Bjorn to return to Kattegat, Lagertha to recognize what Kalf’s really up to, Rollo to make a move one way or another, Ecbert to go to war with someone, and Ragnar to return to action.