Revenge does not come without a price, and the Vikings Season 4 finale puts on full display the fracturing family Ragnar Lothbrok leaves behind. Even though Lagertha and Rollo’s arcs are noticeably absent in this epic installment, the sheer weight of the brothers’ journeys demands that their tales stand isolated from the rest of the saga. And as always, Vikings delivers.
Though I’m generally not a fan of extended fight scenes and battle sequences, Michael Hirst’s decision to focus solely on the great heathen army attack on Wessex vividly reminds us of the brutal nature of war and the Viking spirit and mentality as they glorify Odin and the gods by avenging their king’s death. But more importantly, the circumstances of “The Day of Reckoning” push each man to the brink with little room left for choice, and at this point in the narrative, it has become imperative that we see Ubbe and Sigurd test themselves in battle. We know they fought in the rout of Aelle, but that all five sons acquit themselves admirably in this attack only complicates the future.
Even more powerful though are the slow motion scenes that find Aethelwulf lying bloodied in the mud with the stark realization that the battle is lost. He fights valiantly, but is no match Bjorn’s army and Ivar’s battle plan. Having retreated to the castle to warn his father, Judith, and his family, Aethelwulf lives to fight another day. Will he too seek revenge for this monumental defeat?
While it’s true that Ragnar’s sons avenge his death by overrunning Wessex, Bjorn also sees the bigger picture in realizing his father’s dream of establishing a farming settlement in England. Nevertheless, it’s also here that the Lothbrok family begins coming apart at the seams when Ivar challenges his brothers in front of the army. Again, there’s no question as to who’s in charge, but when the five brothers sit below while Ecbert hangs above in the same cage that once housed Ragnar, Ivar’s bloodlust begins to emerge leaving the others to try to rein him in. It’s an especially powerful scene because we know that Ivar has no desire to consider the geopolitical ramifications of what they’ve done and will do. On the other hand, Ivar’s role in defeating Aethelwulf cannot be overlooked.
Though it appears Bjorn has little desire to rule, the fact that he elicits the others’ opinions reveals a strength of character every successful leader possesses. However, despite being the youngest, Ivar’s decision to challenge Bjorn and his other brothers at each step does not come as a shock, and his desire to Blood Eagle Ecbert and continue raiding remains totally within character. Nonetheless, the fact that their father is not around to guide them leaves the door wide open for the psychopathic Ivar to begin his push toward greatness. Is this the path his father desired for him? That’s difficult to know.
What’s crystal clear though is that Ivar has taken giant steps towards usurping the army now that Bjorn has made clear he intends to continue on to the Mediterranean. Ubbe’s feeble attempts to control his youngest brother fall on deaf ears, and Hvitserk remains silent. But it was only a matter of time until Sigurd and Ivar square off against one another, and the third time turns out to be the charm as Sigurd finally pushes his little brother too far calling him crazy. This time, Ivar’s ax does not miss, and the die has been cast as the army stands by watching its commanders begin to implode. Will the sheer force of Ivar the Boneless draw men toward him or push them away as they make their decisions as to which brother to follow?
It’s easy to get caught up in the Lothbrok family dynamic as the brothers briefly cease fighting with each other and join forces to decimate the Wessex army, but that’s only a fraction of what “The Day of Reckoning” intends to show viewers. Ragnar’s legacy lives on as his sons execute his plan to perfection, but it’s poor Floki who suffers the most damage leaving us to wonder how much more this man can take. It had become clear that their daughter’s death continues to plague Helga, so when she adopts the slave girl Tanaruz during the sacking in Spain, it seemed only a matter of time until something had to give. And tonight, that something occurs, when the girl takes the opportunity during the battle’s chaos to turn on her captor and plunge a knife into Helga’s chest before turning the blade on herself.
Sigurd’s death, while significant, certainly doesn’t come as a shock, and though Helga’s death in England doesn’t fundamentally change anything in the overall arc, the heart wrenching image of Floki carrying his wife’s body shows a side of the Vikings that we too rarely see, and it will be interesting to see how this changes his perspective moving forward. Nonetheless, he has now lost his daughter, his best friend, and the love of his life, and there’s only so much a man can reasonably be expected to endure before succumbing to the darkness that closes in on him. And while Floki’s enigmatic behavior has always highlighted his strengths, how this dramatic turn of events affects him emotionally remains to be seen. “I too am dead,” he tells Bjorn.
Of course, the main thrust of “The Day of Reckoning” lies in the fact that Ragnar’s sons momentarily put their differences aside to rally in a common purpose, so their exchanges with Ecbert present an especially compelling aspect of this chapter of the tale. Though he tells them he loved their father, like Ragnar before him, do the sons carry out the dying wish of King Ecbert as well? It’s not clear whether or not they understand the full depth of the relationship their father enjoyed with the former king of Wessex, but it’s that power shift that may give Ecbert the last laugh, if indeed that’s what he’s after.
Having earlier renounced the throne in favor of Aethelwulf, this transition appeared to be a ploy to enable him to die in the kingdom he built while still retaining its power and prestige in the family. Will Ecbert enjoy the last laugh after consummating a deal with Bjorn that presents the Vikings with a legal claim the land of East Anglia? Ecbert reiterates the fact that as king he has the legal authority to enter into an agreement that allows him to choose his own manner of death, but there’s the rub. We know that Ecbert is no longer king. Was that his intention all along? Does the thought of Ragnar’s people settling in England stand as a tribute to his friend, or is this a dying man’s attempt to exact a little revenge of his own?
Perhaps the most puzzling detail of tonight’s episode resides in Halfdan’s decision to accompany Bjorn on his journey. Harald has been completely open regarding his desire to control all of Norway, so it’s a bit surprising that his brother, with whom he seems to possess a close relationship, chooses to abandon him at this juncture. Unless, of course, there’s a play afoot in this decision as well. Are the brothers covering both bases since it’s reasonable to assume they both feel their siege of Kattegat succeeded? Does Halfdan plan to take out Bjorn, Ivar, and the others?
How Ivar’s fratricide gets resolved will presumably be left to Ubbe and Hvitserk since it seems unlikely that Bjorn will have any reason to involve himself. Will the events in Wessex impact Ubbe’s desire to avenge his mother’s death at the hands of Lagertha? And finally, the long anticipated introduction of Jonathan Rhys Meyers into the saga materializes as we see him portray a priest who has an interesting way of comforting grieving widows.
So just like the Lothbrok brothers, we stand at a crossroads unaware of what lies beyond each possible course of action. The young men complete their mission and perhaps even gain more than hoped for, but the cost of this success will have momentous ramifications as the narrative pushes ahead. “The Day of Reckoning” provides an exquisite look at the fact that nothing comes without a price, and it will be fascinating to see how the story unfolds now that so many have been impacted in so many ways.