This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 4 episode 1
Nearly ten months have passed since Ragnar Lothbrok uttered four words that will likely change the political landscape of Kattegat, the village viewers have followed for three seasons on The History Channel’s historical drama Vikings. “Floki, you killed Athelstan.”
Season premieres often prove difficult to evaluate because the expectations typically grow to unrealistic heights as fans contemplate questions left open from the previous season. Why does Rollo offer to remain in Francia with the small band of Vikings, and will he accept the king’s offer of marriage to his daughter Gisela? Has Ragnar really abandoned his devotion to the gods in favor of Athelstan’s Christianity, or is it merely part of a long con? Knowing that Floki killed Athelstan, how will Ragnar react once they return home? And perhaps most importantly, will Ragnar survive the voyage home?
Well, it doesn’t take long to recognize that series creator/writer Michael Hirst comes out firing on all cylinders with the season four opener “A Good Treason.” Focusing on evolving alliances, both personal and political, the episode sets into motion a series of events likely to render significant consequences.
While the episode is rife with political intrigue, none of it seems to matter until we learn whether or not Ragnar Lothbrok survives the long journey home from the Paris campaign. The opening scene, however, only teases us as we see him healthy, clean, well-dressed and riding a horse through a lush valley. We quickly realize as he approaches the yellow glow in the distance, that Ragnar is riding towards the gates of Valhalla. That they close on him before he can make it through gives us access into a fever dream during which he reflects on his life. Does Ragnar regret attacking Paris? Does he regret leaving men behind? Does he regret his failed marriage with Lagertha? Regardless, it becomes clear that he is still fighting for his life forcing us to consider life after Ragnar.
Having distinguished himself in numerous battles during the siege, Ragnar’s son Bjorn seems destined to follow his father, and as he exhorts the assemblage regarding their Paris exploits, there seems to be little question that he has the people’s respect. Are we being prepared for the king’s death and the chaos that doubtlessly will follow?
Unfortunately, there are matters that must be attended to before the Vikings next move can be decided. Floki murdered Athelstan, and it’s unclear whether this decision weighs heavier on Ragnar or the eccentric shipbuilder who eliminated his friend’s spiritual guide. And while it’s natural to sympathize with Floki’s motives since he truly fears for Ragnar’s soul, the king has not yet rendered a decision about his friend’s fate.
Given everything that’s transpired during the past few years, the relationship between Ragnar and his first born son Bjorn has been fascinating to watch as we’ve witnessed a young boy, torn from his father by a mother whose husband betrayed her, grow into the strapping young father poised to become his land’s next king. Nonetheless, Bjorn commits a rookie mistake publicly placing Floki under arrest for Athelstan’s murder without first seeking his father’s guidance.
Upset by his father’s reaction, we watch Bjorn leave on a soul searching adventure and wonder whether this is the last time the two see each other. Is Ragnar’s reaction to his son’s decision to first identify Floki as a murderer and then order him chained to a pole in the village square too severe? Does Ragnar feel threatened by his ambitious, yet loyal son?
On the other hand, any ambition Bjorn possesses pales in comparison to Ragnar’s wife Aslaug who consults the seer to find out whether or not she will ever succeed to the throne once her husband dies. Does she plan to expedite the process now that her weakened husband has returned?
Saving the best for last, perhaps the two most intriguing plot points in the episode revolve around the shield-maiden-turned-Earl of Hedeby, Lagertha, and her ex-brother-in-law Rollo, a perceived savage about to marry the Frank emperor’s daughter.
Hedeby’s dashing, conspiring young bachelor Kalf, has already betrayed Lagertha once while she fought with Ragnar on a raiding party at the beginning of season two, so it comes as quite a surprise that he proposes to share the earldom with her now that they’ve returned from Paris. Is there something romantic brewing between these two good looking warriors? She seems pleased at his pronouncement, but Lagertha is nobody’s fool. We see her profess affection for Ragnar when she, like everyone else in the Paris church, thinks he’s dead, so might there be a reunion looming in the future? Will he even live long enough?
In an episode full of plot twists and unexpected alliances, it’s Kalf who puts down Einar’s revolt against the plan to share power with Lagertha. When Kalf assembles the villagers and begins admitting he made a mistake, we’re not surprised that he banishes Lagertha. But it’s the scene’s resolution that truly has us both pumping our fists in the air and feeling sick simultaneously.
And finally there is Rollo, the Viking warrior forced to live his entire life in the shadow of his brother Ragnar. There’s no question that the brothers love and respect each other, but to call their relationship tumultuous is an enormous understatement. Why Rollo chooses to stay behind with a small contingent in France is unclear, but it seems out of character to believe that he recognizes an opportunity to enter the realm of the nobles through marriage. That said, once inside, his decision to put down the Viking rebellion before it has a chance to spring into action mirrors Kalf’s execution of Einar and his followers. Pure Ragnar.
In much the same way that the season three finale closed with an ominous revelation, the final four words of this episode ring loud and clear, and we are left to wonder whether or not Ragnar will live long enough to avenge the deaths of those he left behind.