This Vikings review contains spoilers…
Vikings Season 4 Episode 8
To say that the winds of change are upon us would be a grave understatement as last night’s episode, “Portage,” plants the seeds for drastic political upheaval among three kingdoms. Clearly, the episode’s title refers to Ragnar’s latest plan to snatch victory from the hands of defeat, but it’s the cunning betrayals in Wessex, Frankia, and Kattegat that leap to the forefront.
It doesn’t take long for Harald to question Ragnar’s leadership, and perhaps he’s merely feeling out Lagertha’s take on the Vikings’ defeat in Paris, but when he tells her that “someone is always responsible for failure,” the look on her face tells us everything we need to know about her continued loyalty to her ex-husband. To be fair, Ragnar’s decisions deserve to be questioned, but when he suddenly stands up in his boat sailing away from Paris, the tactical look in his eyes is unquestioned.
Telling Bjorn to stop the boats and make camp makes us think that Ragnar is simply buying time before plotting his next move, if in fact he has a move left. But when Bjorn demands to know why, his refusal to offer his son an explanation leaves us as concerned as those who’ve heard the order. Nonetheless, Bjorn gives the order, and we have to wonder what this means. How much of this renewed vigor results from the defeat and the flagging trust his people have in him as opposed to the possibility that what comes next is all about taking down the brother he feels has betrayed him?
Contemplating the enormity of the task means that Ragnar must ask Floki for help. When Ragnar asks Floki if he can do it, the shipbuilder says yes. And in the most enigmatic line in the episode, “Everything I do, Ragnar, is for you.” For you or to you? Has his fight with Ragnar ended? Torvi looks suspicious as Bjorn rides up the cliff in a boat, and when we see Erlendur aim a bow at Bjorn, the assumption is that someone will stop him. And while it turns out to be a vision, it’s meaning seems clear.
While it’s surprising to see Ragnar return to the bold leader we’ve known in the past, it’s positively shocking to see him drown Yidu after she refuses him the medicine and then challenges his hold over her. Unfortunately, his two young sons witness the horror from the shore, and after he takes the medicine from her pockets, he tells them to disguise the boats from the Franks. “Hide yourselves well.” And then pushes her dead body downstream. The power of this scene strikes at the heart of the show, and if nothing else, lets us know that Ragnar Lothbrok is not to be underestimated. Is this the kind of education he hoped his sons would receive?
In many ways this episode examines the manner in which those in power or seeking power overcome the obstacles placed in their paths, and none is more compelling than the turmoil brewing in Paris. It’s obvious that Charles is in trouble, yet he somehow manages to hang on, in part because of Count Odo’s desire to save the city. That Odo works behind the scenes to ascend higher only complicates the situation, and in the end, causes his undoing. With each passing day Rollo’s role within the Emperor’s inner circle seems to fluctuate, and when Odo tells Charles that his trust in Rollo is misplaced because the Northman’s primary motivation focuses on bringing down Ragnar, it’s difficult to argue his logic. But when he suggests arresting Rollo, he goes too far.
We’ve certainly learned that Rollo is nobody’s fool, and when he tells Charles that “as long as my brother is still alive, he is not defeated. You talk as if you no longer need me to protect you,” Rollo senses something’s amiss. Gisla mentions that she is pregnant, and Charles recognizes the significance of the first child of the Frankish-Viking alliance. Does he conceive that Ragnar might eventually become part of this connection?
Has there been a character more duplicitous than Therese, Odo’s mistress? He’s made no effort to see her since the battle’s end, and now she approaches him with the idea that he might like her to whip him instead, and we have to wonder whether this is simply some type of metaphor. Well, no, it’s not. As Odo has gone behind Rollo’s back, so too has Therese, and when we glimpse Odo’s bloodied, limp body still hanging from the restraints, there is a sense of satisfaction that Charles has had him executed for treason.
However, the Iron Hand of Frankia given to Rollo now places him in charge of the defense of Frankia, and Gisla tells her father he has made the right choice. But Therese’s subterfuge continues as she tells the king that she thinks he carries a terrible burden alone. What are she and Roland up to?
Part of the beauty of Vikings revolves around the complexity of the characters, and in many ways Essex’s Ecbert stands at the forefront. Now that he has returned victorious from Mercia, Kwenthrith’s eagerness to return to her kingdom stands out. Noting that she’s pregnant with Aethelwulf’s child seems to surprise the king, but when she tells him she wants to return to Mercia as queen, he reveals the truth that she is not queen because he has usurped that role. When screams “How do you sleep at night?” we understand her even though we hate her.
It is surprising though, when we observe Judith painting the holy texts as Kwenthrith enters to tell her that she’s pregnant with Judith’s husband’s child. But I was taken aback when she asks Judith’s assistance to escape with her son Magnus. I wonder whether or not Judith will help, but we get our answer quickly as Kwenthrith’s apprehended attempting to leave. Since Magnus is believed to be Ragnar’s son, Ecbert sees the boy as a bargaining chip should the Northmen return.
I’m also not surprised when Ecbert tells Judith that he loves her, but in the same way I’m horrified when Ragnar kills Yidu, Kwenthrith’s stabbing her guard before holding a knife to Ecbert’s throat provokes her own death. And while Judith saves his life by killing Kwenthrith, its impact is yet to be felt. “Look what you have made me become,” Judith tells him, and her anguish is palpable. Will this one act irrevocably change her?
At this point the Harbard/Aslaug story arc appears to be going nowhere fast. Sigurd takes his mother to see Harbard having sex with two other women, and we have to wonder how she could be that naive. When Harbard goes to see Aslaug, he finds her weeping and smashing things in her home, and he tells her he only sleeps with these women to free them of their troubles. Though she tells him “I have broken my life for your sake,” there’s no sympathy left for her. She gets what she deserves.
In an episode in which brutality cannot be masked, there is a certain amount of vindication for prior acts. We suspect the Lothbrok brothers will clash again, the only question is whether or not the split is permanent. Heretofore, the odd man out has been King Ecbert, and as he solidifies and increases his influence, it seems only a matter of time until he crosses paths with Ragnar. Another strong story as the mid-season hiatus approaches.