This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 4 Episode 13
It’s understandable why the latest episode of Vikings bears the title “Two Journeys,” however, the beginning of Lagertha’s long awaited overthrow of Queen Aslaug must be considered along side Ragnar’s trip to Wessex and Bjorn’s voyage to the Mediterranean. When you throw Ivar and Rollo into the mix, we watch as the family members’ journeys toward absolution, retribution, and self-discovery take us down familiar paths whose endpoints remain obscured. With the return of Rollo and brief appearances by Aethelwulf and King Ecbert, Michael Hirst artfully sets the stage for the inevitable violent confrontations that loom just over the horizon.
We’ve watched Ragnar endure his crisis of faith and the estrangement it’s led to, but now, when we examine Rollo’s struggle to hide his inner Viking warrior while living the life of a Frankian nobleman and that this civilized behavior has likely been a sham all along, Rollo’s sudden change of heart isn’t all that surprising. While he may love his wife and children, this entire chapter of his life appears to be solely about proving his own greatness to his brother and the rest of the Viking world. As both enter their later years, will these personal struggles bring the brothers together, or is the damage irreparable?
Hirst offers a series of contrasts meant to illuminate the trials each must tackle if they are to achieve inner peace. Initially, we see the remnants of Ragnar’s three ship fleet strewn along an English coastline set against Bjorn and Harald’s impressive flotilla sailing magnificently into Frankian waters. Even though Bjorn and his father remained close after his parents split, the residual effects have appeared more and more frequently. While there’s nothing wrong with a man Bjorn’s age setting off on his own to break away from his parents, here, there seems to be more at play.
Lacking the brutal tendencies of his father who seems less inclined to learn about the outside world than to steal from it, Bjorn’s visionary impulses play as much into making a name for his people as himself. Does he want to impress his father? Of course, but Bjorn is not Ivar. With his fleet intact, Bjorn approaches the Normandy Coast, and we’re treated to an expected sight when he’s asked if he’s going to contact Uncle Rollo who coincidentally watches from a window as Bjorn sails into Frankia. Nonetheless, it’s still an effective scene since it’s Rollo’s response to these Viking invaders that’s still in question.
While his eccentric behavior and innovative boat building gifts have earned Floki a spot on most Vikings’ fans favorite character lists, his appeal goes much deeper than that. He’s long been the conscience not only of the viewer but of the Nordic culture as well. We don’t know whether his eagerness to embark on this trip has more to do with supporting the son of the man he’s loved his entire life or the chance to actually experience his new designs in action. Regardless, from his perspective, the reunion with Rollo does not go as he’d hoped, a nod that the gods are displeased.
Dressed in his Frankian finest, Rollo stands before Bjorn, an indignant Floki, and a starstruck Hvitserk all of whom are brought into the royal chamber to face Rollo, Gisla and their three children. It’s clear Floki anticipated this hostile meeting. The disgust on Gisla’s face as she stares down Rollo’s countrymen hearkens back to the first days of her marriage to Rollo, and while that relationship was both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch develop, her response to Bjorn’s arrival makes perfect sense.
Most fans despise Gisla for the manner in which she treated Rollo initially, and that we eventually come to not only respect her but maybe even like her a little bit as she stands up to her father the Emperor, speaks to the depth of development each of these characters receives. There are so many directions this scene could have gone, but when Bjorn shows Rollo the map fragment on which he’s based his journey, it’s not at all surprising the way it unfolds. Rollo grabs it out of his nephew’s hand, and listens to his request to sail along their coast line on the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Bjorn’s desire for safe passage seems innocent enough, but this is the oldest son of Ragnar Lothbrok after all, so we understand the Rollo’s reticence.
However, the fact that Rollo is first and foremost nobody’s fool is complicated by the fact that his wife is the daughter of the Emperor, and she has witnessed first hand the brutality of these pagan invaders. The fact that Bjorn and his men are not here to invade rings hollow with her and the other advisers, so it’s not unexpected that Bjorn, Floki, Helga, Halfdan, and Harald are held in chains while Rollo decides what to do, and the brothers openly question Bjorn’s judgement in trusting Rollo. Coming on the heels of Ragnar’s fall from grace, this setback has to sting. Of course, this raises the question as to why Bjorn aligns himself with these two in the first place since he can’t possibly trust them.
Throughout the series’ four seasons, Clive Standen’s Rollo has transformed himself from a one dimensional, brutish warrior obsessed with his brother’s fame, into an intelligent, disciplined, dare I say, refined man capable in a way that likely shocks his nephew. Does he really need to restrain Bjorn? Probably not, but he sends a powerful message not only to Bjorn but Harald as well.
To be honest, I expected Rollo to propose a joint venture to the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire, and given Bjorn’s ostensible inclination toward mending fences with his uncle, it seemed probable he would accept. But as we watch Rollo stand with Bjorn at the ship’s bow as it rushes through the water, it appears that Rollo has no agenda other than redeeming himself for turning on his people. He has a lot to answer for, and Bjorn makes certain his uncle knows that. As the men pull him from the water moments before drowning, the look on Rollo’s face shows he’s not only passed the first test, but relishes whatever else Bjorn has to offer. Does Rollo wish to reintegrate himself into Nordic culture, or is there something else at play here?
Nonetheless, Rollos’ decision does not sit well with Gisla who is most definitely not her father, so it will be interesting to see how she handles this betrayal as we move forward. Channeling her inner Medea, she tells him that “If I thought our children were Viking, I would kill them before killing myself.” He knows there is no coming back from this decision, but does he overlook what his wife’s capable of becoming and doing? Does she have it in her to murder her own children?
Much of the draw of Vikings centers on the transformations the characters go through, and the newly minted connection between Ragnar and Ivar has certainly moved to the forefront as we anxiously await the identity of the next king of Norway. You have to love Ragnar telling Ivar to lose his brace because he’s not normal, but then following that up with “Once you realize that you’ll find greatness.” It seems Ragnar instinctively understands his own limitations as a husband, father, and king and now wants only to nurture Ivar’s potential.
Though Ragnar appears to have come to terms with his own failures, it’s still painful to listen to his men berate the man who technically still reigns. Nonetheless, Ragnar has dropped enough hints that his time on earth is fleeting and when he tells Ivar “I didn’t come here to go back,” what follows comes as quite a shock, even for Ragnar.
Arguably the most momentous scene in the episode moves quickly, and it’s difficult to know how to react as Ragnar reaches a depth we’ve really never seen. As their men sleep, Ragnar and Ivar brutally and systematically execute each and every one of them. Ivar’s weapons skills we witnessed earlier in the season are in full bloom, and the last left alive is a young girl who tries to use the prospect of sex to save herself seconds before Ivar summarily drives a blade into her. Is father preparing his son for what lies ahead in pursuit of the throne, or are they simply psychopaths spiraling out of control?
Despite that horrific scene, what strikes viewers more than anything is the relationship Ragnar has missed with all his boys, Bjorn included. There’s a playfulness between father and son that tugs at the heart as Ragnar carries Ivar on his back, doing all the things they never did when he was young. Does Ragnar blame himself for being an absent father? Does he regret letting his crippled son live? While he shows his son many things, it’s something he says that underscores his own struggle. “You give the gods too much credit.”
When Ragnar tells his son that his legs have given him a strength his brothers don’t have and that he is special “not in spite of his legs but because of them,” Ivar finally hears the words he has spent his entire life waiting to hear from anybody. Coming from his father, Ragnar Lothbrok, the impact may be the final push he needs as he climbs the seemingly inevitable mountain toward the crown.
What comes across crystal clear is that despite his age and injuries, Ragnar is still a formidable man which makes many of these moments so poignant. There aren’t many tender scenes in Vikings, and when Ivar realizes that his father is likely going to his death to save his son, both fight back tears as Ragnar kisses his son’s head. They say you can’t make up for lost time, and maybe you can’t, but these two have become as close as any father and son could be. Is this Ragnar’s final act?
While it’s likely not her final undertaking, Hirst has superbly managed to keep fans engaged in the trials that have led Lagertha to this point in her life. No character has endured more suffering than she, and Earl Ingstad has borne each indignity with grace, all the while carefully plotting her eventual return. Now that her time has arrived, we can only sit back and eagerly watch as she takes back everything that is rightfully hers.
In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that Lagertha appears more suited to a leadership role than her ex-husband, and one can only wonder how Kattegat would have turned out had she remained by Ragnar’s side. Director Sarah Harding provides a powerful contrast as Lagertha trains an army of shieldmaidens and soldiers counterpointed against Aslaug’s violent visions of battle and blood. “I’m taking Kattegat back. Aslaug isn’t fit to be queen,” she tells Astrid who asks, “what about his sons?” Fortunately, she makes the right call, but whether to kill Ubbe and Sigurd isn’t as simple a choice as it may seem.
When Lagertha brings Ubbe, Sigurd, and Margrethe to her home for dinner and then tells the brothers they’ll have to decide who gets her, we fear the worst. Wisely, she merely imprisons them to keep them safe from what’s to follow, but she may not be finished with them yet. Lagertha unleashes her army on Kattegat, and after her point has been made, she calls “Enough. These are my people.” At the same time Aslaug puts on her royal robe, headpiece and carries a ceremonial sword leading us to wonder whether she plans to surrender or commit suicide?
Given that “Two Journeys” is only the third episode of this season’s back ten, Hirst leaves plenty of room for the plotlines to develop. What works so well here is the juxtaposition between Lagertha and Gisla as both attempt to harness their dark emotions while still retaining not only their pride and dignity but their power as well.
Set against the journeys of Lagertha and Gisla come a number of more slowly developing stories including Bjorn and Rollo’s journey and Ragnar and Ivar’s disjointed plot to make Ecbert pay. There’s a great deal going on, yet an invisible thread holds it all together as we wait for the dominos to begin falling. Who will still be standing?