This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 5 Episode 18
“What kind of father could do that to a son?”
And while the reign of terror accelerates in Kattegat, a psychologically wounded Lagertha emerges from the shadows, Bjorn marries Gunnhild, and the Viking success in Wessex now hinges on Ubbe’s single combat challenge. With several major battles looming on the horizon, Vikings takes a moment to focus on the intimate, behind the scenes political and personal schisms that drive the current narratives. Despite juggling five distinct story lines, “Baldur” still manages to effectively navigate the series of crises that will come to define the series moving forward.
Once again, Floki’s story contributes little to the larger picture, and the fact that we don’t really bear witness to the greater impact of the savage slaughter at the hands of Flatnose and his son seems a bit short sighted. Floki’s journey into what he believes is the mouth of Hel in order to confront the gods simply obfuscates what is really important here – assessing what must be done to put the colony back on a long term survival track. Yes, the story of Iceland’s growth is important, but as it stands, even the once likable Floki has faded into the background amidst a new wave of far more appealing characters.
In the absence of their father, the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok continue to provide compelling storylines that weave in and out of their individual lives. The perpetual wanderlust Bjorn Ironside has not only settled down and married a highly capable version of his mother, but now prepares an army with King Harald to overthrow Ivar, retake Kattegat, and place himself on the throne. Gunnhild has made no secret of her desire to become queen of Norway, but we have to wonder whether Harald can overcome the envy he feels watching the woman he loves married to the man with whom he has agreed to attack Ivar. Bjorn seems determined, but whether he’s suited to the crown remains to be seen. And looming in the background, seemingly fated to bring down the brother he claims to love, is Harald’s lapdog Magnus.
While it’s certainly satisfying to see the son of Ragnar and Lagertha make a move to take back the community his parents built, he’s not the only Lothbrok son with an eye towards Ivar’s removal. Hvitserk continues to search for direction in his life, and it’s become clear that he regrets his decision to align himself with Ivar. As the seeds of discontent in Kattegat begin to emerge, Hvitserk’s forced diplomatic trip to cement Ivar’s alliance with Olaf the Stout removes the only dissenting voice that could sway the tyrant. It’s always interesting to watch Hvitserk navigate the dangerous waters that surround the men in control, and though his self-assured manner earns him a fair degree of respect, it’s his surname that truly counts. Forced to strip before being led through the snow to meet King Olaf in the Viking equivalent of a sauna, Hvitserk’s disorientation and recent fascination with eastern religion nearly become his undoing. Amidst the mystery and steam he tells Olaf “I think all this is an illusion, and you are what they call The Buddha.” The humor here is tempered since we know Hvitserk’s life hangs in the balance.
Hvitserk has never been afraid to speak his mind, and we can only assume that he leaves Thora behind in Kattegat at Ivar’s insistence during his trip to see Olaf. Finding his graven image split down the middle and a pig’s head affixed to the top sends Ivar on a rampage that coincides with Olaf’s refusal to join Hvitserk in overthrowing his brother. For a moment it appears Ivar might spare Thora and her family as the increasingly mad monarch tells her he only wants to rule her out. “I use my divinity to protect you like a father,” but she stands strong and invokes the memory of Ragnar to seal her own fate. The scene is made even more disturbing because it seems that, like Olaf’s ultimate reaction to Hvitserk’s offer, Ivar respects her boldness and willingness to speak the truth. But Ivar is not Olaf, and as Hvitserk’s torture ends with Olaf’s change of mind, Thora faces a fiery death, an act that will only fuel Hvitserk in his quest to kill his youngest brother.
Though Hvitserk and Bjorn remain unaware of their like-minded vision, it’s only a matter of time until they face the prospect of joining forces which will either make things easier or muddy the waters when the moment arrives for Bjorn to assume the throne. Assuming they manage to oust Ivar, that is. What make this situation additionally intriguing is that Hvitserk has shown no desire to acquire power for himself, and even though Bjorn killed his mother, the connection with their father could be enough for him to throw his support behind his oldest brother. Now, we just need to wait to see whether Bjorn and Harald are willing to join forces with Olaf and Hvitserk.
Of all the Lothbrok sons, Ubbe, more than the others, possesses his father’s vision of what the future could hold for their people as the Scandinavian and European countries continue to confront each other. His ability to win King Alfred’s trust now finds him in charge of the Saxon army, and when the peace negotiation with the three kings fails, Ubbe takes the fate of Alfred’s kingdom squarely on his shoulders. However, both the actions and boldness Torvi exhibits in the presence of kings, both in court and on the battlefield, makes for an interesting parallel with Judith’s maneuverings to keep Alfred in power.
And as Ubbe and Torvi try to find a diplomatic solution to the clear and present danger facing Wessex, Ivar faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his reign. It’s impossible to ignore the effect Freydis’ words have had on him, but now, as she gives birth to a child we know is not Ivar’s, her proclamation that deformity is a gift from the gods takes on new meaning. At times, Freydis appears just as delusional as Ivar, and the look on the midwife’s face reveals that the gods have spoken once again. Ivar’s response to this ordinarily heartbreaking moment takes us back to Ragnar and the decision he makes after the birth of his youngest son. “You are not divine,” he tells him and crawls away leaving the child alone in the elements. Ironically, he also sees the child’s deformity as a threat to his own proclaimed divinity, and knowing this, it’s difficult to feel empathy for the man who’s become a monster.
Will baby Baldur enjoy the same fate as his father? Will the gods save this helpless infant, or will his mother come to his rescue in the same way that Aslaug saved Ivar from certain death? For all her faults, Aslaug fiercely protected all her sons, but none more so than Ivar, even though as a child he began displaying the personality flaws that as an adult guide his actions for better or worse. There’s no question that Freydis has guided Ivar through these tumultuous times, and now we must wait to see her reaction to her child’s disappearance. Is the child’s deformity a message from the gods that they know what she has done to Ivar a son?
Nevertheless, it’s the fate of Lagertha that remains at the forefront for most Vikings followers, and tonight’s revelation does not disappoint. Of course, it saddens us to see the once proud shieldmaiden in such a psychological state, but there’s something about the connection Judith enjoys with Lagertha that makes this relationship, however brief, so fascinating to observe. What is it that drives Judith to take such an interest in Lagertha’s recovery?
We learn that Judith is now dealing with her own health issue having discovered a lump in her breast which explains the sorceress she’s gone to see for a cure, but it’s the chilling scene in which Lagertha begins to regain her wits that offers the episode’s most dramatic moments. The stirring vision she has of Ragnar confined in the cage hanging above the snakepit morphs into the metaphorical cage in which she now finds herself. Nevertheless, it’s the conversation the two mothers have that offers so much meaning as the two approach the end of their lives. Having earlier told Alfred that “I am no longer Lagertha, shieldmaiden; I have nothing to protect myself with,” the former queen of Kattegat finds comfort in a woman with whom she has much in common.
Particularly moving is Judith’s confession to Lagertha that she murdered one of her sons during a sequence that finds both women clearly preparing for the end. Both must come to terms with past actions, and Lagertha’s pronouncement that “You’ve been a warrior like me, in your own way,” provides insight into the understanding that exists between them. Women in their positions enjoy much that others don’t, but with those benefits come difficult and often painful decisions. Right or wrong, both did what they felt they needed to do to survive, and now must sit back and watch the next generation pick up where they’ve left off.
With only two episodes remaining, it seems pretty clear that Vikings is preparing for the departure of one of the series’ most beloved characters, and hopefully Lagertha will be afforded the opportunity to go out on her own terms. “Baldur” covers a lot of ground and puts Ragnar’s sons in position to continue their father’s dream of not only expanding the Viking influence throughout Europe but of treating the people with the respect they deserve. Are you listening Ivar?