Vikings Season 4 Episode 9: Death All ‘Round Review

The Northmen begin their Paris assault, Aethelwulf and Alfred arrive in Rome, and Ecbert makes an enemy.

This Vikings review contains spoilers.

Vikings Season 4 Episode 9

Last week we endured three brutal deaths, but ironically things slow down in “Death All ‘Round,” as only Erlendur finally succumbs, owing as much to his own hubris as to the arrow that pierces his chest. In the final episode before Vikings heads into its mid-season finale, the pace plods along as steadily as the Northmen’s boats being pulled over wooden tracks, but once again it’s the anticipation of the kings and their stories that sets up next week’s saga almost certain to devolve into a bloodbath.

It was somewhat surprising last week that no one questions the wisdom and perhaps even sanity of Ragnar’s order to hoist the boats up the cliff. Though we don’t hear him elucidate his true motivation until the very end of tonight’s episode, Ragnar clearly doesn’t subscribe to the “blood is thicker than water” adage. When he confides to his son that “I don’t care about Paris, I came for Rollo,” we’re not surprised. And truth be told, perhaps a bit conflicted because it’s difficult to root against Rollo..

What is surprising though is that no one, not even Harald and Halfdan, challenges Ragnar’s fitness to command. When Bjorn observes his father throwing up in his tent, we half expect the son to chastise his father, now rendered a pitiful, strung out junkie. But instead, Bjorn acknowledges that his condition results from the medicine prescribed by Yidu and suggests he take some to regain his composure. That Ragnar’s running on drug fumes may become problematic once the fighting begins, but the scenes featuring these two have become some of my favorites.

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Because we’ve become so emotionally invested in the Northmen, it’s easy to forget that this is a ruthless group of murderous, vicious, thieves intent on taking for themselves the fruits of others’ labors. And when a small band led by Halfdan and Harald discover a modest farm, they root out the terrified inhabitants hiding in the hayloft and proceed to rape, murder, and mutilate them before stealing their animals and any goods worth taking. Would Ragnar have sanctioned this despicable behavior? Perhaps in his younger days, but now it’s uncertain. Seeing them eating the animals they took, Bjorn asks Harald if they killed the farmer. Replying in the affirmative, he reasons they would have revealed the Northmen’s position, and “You would have done the same.” Though he doesn’t challenge the man who’s openly challenged his father, it does appear Bjorn might have spared the peasant family.

The strength of this episode though lies not in its action sequences or critical dialogue, but in the nuanced facial expressions and body language of the principals. Strongest of all is Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) whose withdrawal hallucinations reach their peak as he attempts to kill the non-existent spiders he perceives crawling first out of his mouth and then on the floor of his tent. We marvel at his ability to continue functioning on a daily basis, but the glances between him and his son cement the fact that though he might at times question him, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) unfailingly supports his father. Meanwhile, having lost her child reduces Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) to a shell of herself,  one need only discern her visage to know that Earl Ingstad suffers profoundly.

Revenge plays a significant role in the episode, and we’ve known for some time that Erlendur wants to kill Bjorn. But he now throws a wrench into the mix forcing Torvi to take out Bjorn.  She offers to return to Erlendur if he’ll abandon his plot, but he gives her the crossbow, loads it and instructs her in its operation. As she walks down the center of the camp all eyes fixed on her, the men and women continue working. Lagertha notices her son’s companion and clearly suspects the worst, but even she carries on as well. Finally, Torvi comes face to face with Bjorn telling him that Erlendur has given her no choice, and once again we’re forced to ask whether or not Erlendur has been paying attention. Clearly not. 

With Erlendur standing some distance behind her, Bjorn asks her what she’s waiting for when she suddenly wheels around and shoots Erlendur in the chest. Bjorn places the Berserker’s ring on the arrow, a simple gesture rife with meaning, and when Ragnar emerges from his tent, Bjorn nods to him as if “we’re in the clear now” even though he has to know danger lurks around every corner.

What would an episode of Vikings be without the mystical Floki showing us something we can’t readily explain. Here, we’re not sure whether it’s his vision of Aslaug in the rain screaming for Harbard when suddenly we’re transported back to the Viking camp. Lagertha is in labor, and Bjorn and Ragnar enter her tent to find her bloodied, lamenting that she’s lost the baby. On one level it’s puzzling that she wants to keep Kalf’s child, but we understand further when she reminds us that the seer told her she couldn’t have more children. With Lagertha now sobbing, Ragnar comforts her, and for a moment she allows it before telling both to leave her alone. They withdraw a few feet behind her and sit, watching lovingly over her. A beautifully touching scene as mother, father, and son emotionally embrace. However, it doesn’t explain why, given the life she leads, that Lagertha even wants to bring another child into the world.

Oblivious to the fact that Ragnar and the Vikings prepare for their third trip to Paris, Charles names Roland a count and Defender of Paris. And then we’re as perplexed as Roland when Charles asks his permission to sleep with his sister, Therese. Gisla looks puzzled, and at this point it’s difficult to get a read on what she’s really thinking, but back in their chamber, she confides in Rollo that it’s odd her father should entrust the defense of the city to a common soldier whom she fears has become power hungry. Make no mistake, she wants him taken out, but Rollo says he’s content with what he’s been given. Can he be this naive?

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While Gisla is wise to question her father’s decisions, the emperor continues to baffle us alternating equally between buffoonery and prescience. With something clearly bothering him, Charles leaves his bed to peer out a window overlooking the river leading into city. It’s as if he senses something’s about to happen, which of course it is, but when his bed partner is revealed to be Roland, we’re left shaking our heads.

We’re treated to a perfunctory glimpse of Aethelwulf and Alfred who have finally made their way to Rome and a meeting with Pope Leo. The Pope is aware of the pagan Vikings and thinks Christians simply need to increase their penance if they hope to hold off the Northmen. Again, another powerful man underestimating the coming threat.

One of the more interesting editing sequences occurs as young Alfred hesitatingly walks down the cathedral aisle to the Pope at the same time another Roman Catholic cleric pronounces Ecbert King of Mercia. The Pope presents a sword to Alfred and a garland is placed upon his head naming him a Consul of Rome while simultaneously an actual crown is given to Ecbert investing him as King of Wessex and Mercia.

Even these brief forays into Wessex and Frankia remind us how tightly woven is the thread binding the Vikings, Franks, and English. As if the threat from the north is not enough, Ecbert knowingly creates a scenario that can’t possibly end well. King Aelle confronts his neighbor about the usurpation of Mercia behind his back since he thought they had an alliance calling for equal distribution of Mercia. The cool as ice Ecbert essentially tells him to deal with it, that things are no longer as they were, a situation that now sets up yet another political quarrel. You have to wonder whether Ecbert believes Aelle will sit idly by because Judith now shares a bed with him.

And what of the scene between Ivar, Sigurd and their mother, now drinking heavily. Sigurd announces he found Siggy’s body in the river, and Aslaug cruelly tells Ivar she’s the only reason he’s alive.  He’s likely too young to grasp the full force of her words, but they’re not lost on the viewer as we contemplate the source of her anger. Harbard? Ragnar? Sigurd is up to something; what, has not yet become clear.

While not a great episode, “Death All ‘Round” nonetheless fills a need preparing us for what may well be Ragnar Lothbrok’s last stand. To this point Michael Hirst has serviced the various story arcs well, but at some point we need to see Ecbert placed in more threatening situations. That said, when Ragnar tersely crystallizes his intentions, Thursday night can’t arrive soon enough. “I have to kill you. I must kill you. I must kill you. I have to kill you. I will kill you.” Chilling.

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4 out of 5