This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 5 Episode 11
“I refuse to believe that this is the end of my story.”
The Lothbrok family saga continues as Vikings returns to begin the second half of its fifth season, and as the first generation’s time winds down, the burning question is whether Ivar the Boneless can carry the series the way his father and Lagertha have done to this point. Rather than come flying out of the gate, “The Revelation” takes a more cerebral approach as Bishop Heahmund convinces Lagertha and Bjorn to accompany him to England, while Kattegat’s new king Ivar vows to avenge his mother’s death. And in arguably the episode’s greatest surprise, the newly crowned and unexpectedly able King Alfred challenges the church and orders defensive preparations to prevent another Viking invasion of Wessex. For an episode that contains only one brief battle scene and one axe hurled in anger, writer/creator Michael Hirst gently draws us in with a more introspective look at the principals as each weighs his/her options in this rapidly changing environment.
With the charismatic Ragnar Lothbrok now only a distant memory in the minds of the Northmen as well as those of the show’s fan base, and Lagertha looking older and more worn down than we’ve ever seen her, someone has to fill the narrative void they leave behind. To this point Alex Høgh’s powerful portrayal of the mercurial Ivar the Boneless has been difficult to ignore, but unlike his father, he lacks a human side for viewers to relate to. Ragnar’s love for Lagertha and his children never strayed too far from his side no matter which country or village his men were sacking, while Ivar’s vicious motivations stem from an innate feeling of inadequacy that originated at his birth.
“The Revelation” takes us inside the minds of those in power, those seeking it, and those who have lost it, and the opening scene reminds us that victory does not come without cost. Despite the fact that Ivar and Harald have taken Kattegat, it’s a hollow victory for Harald who not only mourns the death of his brother but of the fact that it was he who struck him down in battle. Unlike Ubbe who chooses to let his brother live, Harald violently and with some measure of immediate satisfaction, ends Halfdan’s life. With his wife and unborn child also dead, Harald takes no comfort in the victory, yet the insensitive Ivar tells him to simply move on. Whether Harald can ultimately enjoy the spoils of war is one thing, ceding power to Ivar is quite another. Has Harald set aside his desires to rule the North and will he be content with Ivar in the position of power that he at one time viewed as his own?
However, before Ivar has much of a chance to establish himself as Kattegat’s new leader, Rollo’s fleet sails majestically into the village, and when he tells his nephew he’s returned “because I miss the old place,” it’s clear that there’s much more to his arrival than reliving the past. It’s a shame we don’t see more of Ragnar’s older brother, but his appearance here is designed to remind Ivar that he’s not free to do as he pleases. Ivar probably believes that he doesn’t need to be concerned about his uncle since Rollo helped him take down Lagertha and Bjorn, but when Rollo lays out his terms for an alliance, Ivar suddenly takes on the look of a boy being scolded by an adult. Is Rollo setting up Ivar to fail, or is he merely reminding his nephew that there’s a pecking order in place?
We’ve watched as Rollo struggles to carve out a place for himself during his younger brother’s rise to power in the north, but once he moves to Frankia and marries Gisla, it doesn’t take long to learn that this is an intelligent man, who for whatever reason, was unable to separate himself from Ragnar’s success. Now, however, his motivations for helping Ivar become even cloudier. He rides to visit Lagertha and Bjorn with a proposal and a stunning revelation. “I have always loved you, and Bjorn is my son.” Wait! What? His offer of safe passage to Frankia makes a lot of sense within the context of the current state of affairs, but claiming to be Bjorn’s father simply comes out of nowhere.
On the one hand, it’s completely believable he’s been in love with Lagertha. Hell, I’m in love with Lagertha; she’s virtually the perfect woman. But from a narrative standpoint, her bearing Rollo’s child seems contrived. There are no previous indications that these two had any kind of a serious relationship, and they never appeared to be more than brother and sister-in-law. You have to love Bjorn’s reaction to this news. “Who do I resemble most in spirit and principle?” he rhetorically asks his uncle. Nevertheless, after losing their home to Ivar precisely because Rollo comes to the Boneless’ aid, mother and son are naturally skeptical of everything that comes out of Rollo’s mouth.
Nonetheless, Rollo is full of surprises, and his conversation with Bishop Heahmund brings back memories of Ragnar’s fascination with Christianity and his burgeoning relationship with Athelstan. Of course, he’s been exposed to Christianity during his time in Frankia, but it’s interesting that he asks for Heahmund’s blessing before moving on. And after Lagertha refuses his offer, it’s not all that surprising that Rollo returns to Ivar to continue their negotiations. However, this is a Rollo we’ve never really seen before, nor has Ivar, who is a bit taken aback by his uncle’s demands and the force with which he makes them. His terms are extraordinary, but as he tells Ivar, “I am in a position to do so.” A bit of arrogance perhaps, but he’s not wrong. As Rollo sails away, his motivations remain unclear, and his words to Lagertha can’t help but resonate. “We will never meet again.” Is this it for Rollo?
But in many ways, “The Revelation” is Lagertha’s story, and after all of the storms she’s weathered throughout her life, it’s extremely difficult to watch her navigate the final leg of her journey. She and Bjorn have never looked as helpless as they appear holed up in the ruins of a building, agonizing over their dwindling options. Though Heahmund’s suggestion that they accompany him England doesn’t appeal to Bjorn, Lagertha sees it as her only reasonable choice. “I am tired of fighting. Let’s go to England.”
Complicating matters though is Heahmund’s confession that he’s in love with Lagertha, a feeling she has not indicated is reciprocal. Though she’s content to have him as her sexual partner, his explanation that their relationship would carry with it certain restrictions should she follow him to England asks Lagertha to be something she most certainly is not: a woman content to hide in the shadows. But she doesn’t have many options, and as they begin the voyage to England, she’s still unsure of Heahmund’s true intentions. “Why would I betray you? I love you,” he confesses. The bishop understands the prevailing attitude in his home country, and while he does seem to be mesmerized by Lagertha, we have to wonder what the reality of her situation will be once they arrive in England.
And then we’re presented one of the more disturbing images we’ve seen outside the battlefield as Lagertha and the other members of her family are wheeled into town, confined like animals in iron cages. The intent is unmistakable, and now Lagertha must question her decision. Once the dust settles it will be interesting to see if Heahmund can sell the king on the value of having Lagertha, Bjorn, and the others fighting on his side. For now, things look a bit grim for the north’s most famous shieldmaiden.
Meanwhile, Floki’s Icelandic utopia continues to struggle to find its footing, and after the temple is burned to the ground, the master boat builder has had enough. It’s painful to watch Floki because we know this endeavor began with the purest of intentions, and when he offers his own life as a sacrifice to the gods, it’s fully expected that even his detractors will step forward in his defense. Such is not the case, however. “Floki deserves to die,” Eyvind proclaims, setting into motion a debate that ends quite unexpectedly.
But before we reach that point, the power struggle that’s been brewing for quite some time begins to turn ugly. And then the younger generation decides to intervene. With the vote tied, Eyvind’s son resorts to common sense and votes that Floki live because he’s too important to the community’s survival. With a wife and child to look after, Helgi, unlike his father, understands that things have spiraled out of control, and if the group is to survive and make a life here, then change must take place. In many ways this episode provides a hint at how the next generation plans to institute change.
Even though it occupies only a few minutes of the episode, King Alfred’s stunning transformation holds the potential to change everything. It seems like just yesterday he was an ineffectual young boy, intent on following his mother’s every wish. But Alfred has grown up seemingly overnight, and now directs his inner circle to shore up the city’s defenses in anticipation of another Viking invasion. However, it’s his religious intervention that provides our first glimpse of the kind of leader he’s destined to become. He orders that religious education be conducted in English so that the common man can understand and ultimately feel closer to God. Not surprisingly the church raises concerns, but along with his brother Aethelred, he seems to have Wessex on sound footing moving forward.
Queen mother Judith has always presented a fascinating study in morality, and now with the men in her life dead and out of the picture, she turns her attention to her son, the king. There’s a lot to criticize in Judith’s past, but she’s not wrong when she insists her son find a bride to reduce his vulnerability as king. Wisely, she’s not willing to leave this important task up to Alfred and tells him she’ll begin the search at once. She’s learned a lot as Aethelwulf’s wife and King Ecbert’s mistress, and now, perhaps more than ever, the wisdom she’s acquired will make its greatest impact through the son she bore by Athelstan.
After a long ten month wait, “The Revelation” seamlessly immerses viewers in the rapidly changing landscape throughout Europe and Scandinavia, but it’s the transitions of power the create the most tension and the most compelling tales. For now, we eagerly await Lagertha’s reception in England and Ivar’s in Kattegat. Long live the queen.
Dave Vitagliano has been writing and podcasting about science fiction television since 2012. You can read more of his work here. He presently hosts Sci Fi Fidelity Podcast and The Den of Geek Podcast.