This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 5 Episode 4
“I didn’t come here to make peace. I came here to make trouble.”
This is one of those instances that after a period of intense action, Vikings wisely steps away and takes a moment to breathe as each of the major players reevaluate their individual situations and make plans to strike out in new directions. While the overall intent of the story arcs remains the same, “The Plan” sets out to remind viewers that these are men and women of action, and once again manages to provide a reasonable amount of attention to each.
With five stories to tell, 43 minutes is not a lot of time to do each justice, and in this instance, Floki’s isolation on Iceland receives the least amount of screen time. However, given everything else going on in the Vikings world, his story has become a bit stale. Still thinking he’s in the “land of the gods,” he decides he should share this wonder with other men and decides to sail off and bring back other “true believers” to an island free of the contamination of outsiders. Floki gives the impression that he has physically adapted to his situation, but whether anyone takes him seriously upon his return seems unlikely. As one of the last links to the Vikings past of Ragnar Lothbrok, it’s a sad state indeed.
Though our time in Norway with King Harald and Astrid is brief, it nonetheless lays the groundwork for what may be the most uncertain arc currently in place. Quickly becoming a favorite of mine, the stoic Astrid finally consents to marry Harald, but Lagertha’s lover may be playing a long game since she knows that Harald seeks to return to Kattegat and depose Lagertha. Their conversation regarding a whale’s usefulness transcends the literal meaning of the brief dialogue, implying that everything she does going forward she does for herself and to keep Lagertha in power.
However, all’s not quiet on the Kattegat home front, and once again, the queen is tested, though this time the attack comes from within. Lagertha must certainly be pleased that Ubbe returns alone, and while she’s disappointed that her son remains far from home, the news that Bjorn successfully avenged his father’s death sits well with her. What’s most interesting here are the machinations taking place with Ubbe’s wife Margrethe as she plants the seeds to undermine Lagertha’s rule.
As Ubbe explains to Lagertha what happened to cause his estrangement from his brothers, the queen immediately recognizes the opportunity laid at her feet. When he tells her that “I am at war with Ivar; my brother Hvitserk is now my enemy,” everything falls into place. Or so it seems. He agrees to her offer of an alliance against Ivar and Harald, but Margrethe clearly has other ideas. Will she allow the former slave girl to threaten everything she has built? Will Ubbe allow himself to be manipulated into doing things that go against his better judgement?
Her entire life, Lagertha has fought against men for power and respect, and now that she has achieved much of what she set out to achieve, that two women from her own household scheme to put their husbands in her shoes leaves her little choice but to plan for either contingency. Of course it’s much easier to accept Torvi’s advice that Lagertha keep Ubbe at arm’s length despite the alliance. After all, the queen likely agrees with her that Bjorn should succeed his mother on the throne of Kattegat. At the same time, Margrethe pushes Ubbe to be the man to rule Kattegat and points out that there are cracks in the foundation of Lagertha’s kingdom. In the end though, Lagertha leaves the decisions in the hands of the gods.
Whether or not Lagertha has learned anything from her most recent confrontation with Harald remains to be seen, and even though she overhears Margrethe plotting to overthrow her, this situation is much more complicated. The queen chooses to initially wield a soft hand and tells the conspirator that “if you can find the courage to be loyal, then I will respect you like no other.” Does she truly mean it? Can she possibly trust the son of the woman she murdered to have her back in the impending fight with Harald? Like Ivar, Lagertha always has a plan, and while this predicament just presented itself, the queen has always been a quick study.
Nevertheless, Lagertha’s troubles continue as the Seer tells her that though she will see her son again, it will be “in terrible circumstances.” The vagueness of this prediction dovetails the precarious situation in which Lagertha finds herself as she prepares to fend off betrayal from all sides. “Do you suppose you could change your fate if you knew it?” he asks her, and as those around her plan for a post-Lagertha future, the queen’s surely not ready to give up her throne just yet. Because of the link with Aslaug’s sons and the revenge they still seek against the woman who murdered their mother, this chapter of the Vikings tale holds an abundance of narrative possibilities.
Even though Lagertha continues to enjoy a strong relationship with Torvi, her wanderlust son’s plan to explore the Mediterranean leaves her vulnerable. And while Bjorn loves his mother, he’s decided that he can’t live his life fearing for her safety especially knowing her warrior background and the lengths she’s gone to, to protect her realm. And after spending the opening of the season lurking in the shadows, Bjorn’s story finally moves to the forefront. “My father would have relished this opportunity,” he says as they sail through the Pillars of Hercules, and while Bjorn has learned a lot from both his parents, he may be seeing his father’s intentions through rose-colored glasses. Yes, Ragnar wanted to establish colonies to extend the reach of the Norse, but at heart, he was a raider, not a trader.
As Vikings moves through its fifth season, establishing peripheral characters whose impact help drive the narrative remains a strength, and Bjorn’s companion, the wanderer Sinric (Frankie McCafferty), has made himself an indispensable member of the party. He advises them to bypass Rome in favor of Sicily, and what makes this thread so interesting is that it’s still not clear what Bjorn hopes to achieve on this trip. His desire to visit the seat of power is understandable if he wants to forge relationships for future endeavors, but he hasn’t really verbalized that intent. It’s also telling that Bjorn isn’t sure he’ll survive this encounter though it’s not clear why. Does he feel he and his men won’t be able to behave in a foreign land even though their purpose doesn’t appear to be raiding? Or is this trip simply a more civilized raiding party on a smaller scale?
Once Bjorn and Halfdan are introduced to Euphemius (Albano Jeronimo), the commander of the town, the twist that follows is quite unexpected. Recognizing them immediately as Vikings, his offer to hire Bjorn and his men as his personal bodyguards throws Bjorn for a loop, but he agrees nonetheless. A wise move on Ironside’s part since it gives him access to the inner circle allowing him to formulate a new plan. At dinner that evening Halfdan is captivated by a Christian nun whose beautiful singing has made her famous in the region. However, it’s Bjorn’s desire to head to Africa to meet the Arab leader Ziyadat Allah that draws Kassia (Karima McAdams) into the picture. When Euphemius initially refuses to accompany Bjorn on this journey, Kassia’s intervention saves Ironside’s plan, and reluctantly, the commander agrees to head to Ifriglya with them.
There’s no denying Kassia’s beauty, and her piety from what we’ve heard is unquestioned, but since it’s clear Halfdan has developed a fascination with her, her involvement may spell trouble for the Vikings. If he hasn’t noticed her already, it’s only a matter of time until Bjorn’s animal magnetism emerges, and how Kassia handles the situation will undoubtedly impact the Viking voyage moving forward.
And then there’s York, the Saxons, and Ivar. Ivar, who always has a plan even when others around him believe he’s begun to descend into madness. His chess match with Aethelwulf and Heahmund has been riveting to watch as he continually keeps the Saxons off balance with his unorthodox methods. The bishop advises a blockade of York which will eventually starve the Northmen into relinquishing the town as they become sick and weak. The king agrees with this plan, but the struggle for power these two have subtly engaged in over the past few weeks eventually comes to a head.
Judith has always perceived her husband to be weak, and while he’s done much to alter that perception, tonight he takes a bold step that has been a long time coming. Heahmund remains fascinating on so many levels, and when the Northumbrians arrive to reinforce their troops, his comment that “we are the wrath of God” is only the beginning. He plans to show no mercy to the pagan unbelievers which is not exactly what we’ve come to expect from a man of God. However, the troop increase appears to tip the balance in favor of the Saxons, and coupled with the blockade strategy, the situation appears grim for Ivar and his men.
Finally though, the intensifying conflict between Heahmund and Aethelwulf positions these two Christians for an inevitable showdown, and tonight we witness the first step in establishing alpha dog status. Whether we actually believe the bishop experiences the visions he implies come from God has become irrelevant. Aethelwulf has had enough of them, and watching him finally put the bishop in his place, speaks volumes of the king’s progress as a leader. And when Heahmund attempts to smooth things over, the king recognizes the disingenuous nature of his ally. “I think you’re not humble Bishop Heahmund,” putting the warrior monk on notice. It’s a wonderful scene and a long time coming.
All the while these two battle for control, Ivar waits patiently in the background, seemingly able to predict the Saxons’ every move and every thought. “Of course I have a plan,” he tells Hvitserk, though he refuses to enlighten his brother just yet. “I’m a cripple, not an idiot.” And even though Hvitserk chose to stay with Ivar rather than return with Ubbe, this is a relationship that also appears to be on shaky ground. Does Hvitserk regret staying with his younger brother? Though Hvitserk seems to relish battle much more than his older brother, the rift among all of them cannot be ignored. Regardless, Ivar’s bold maneuver has caught the Saxons off balance and keeps viewers waiting another week to learn the intricacies of his attempt to defeat his enemy.
Vikings once again masterfully manages to give adequate attention to each of its plot threads, as the anticipation for two or more to finally converge builds each week. “The Plan” adroitly evokes images of an impending multi-front war that will alter the political and religious landscapes for centuries to come. And as the Seer points out, “The consequences of Ragnar’s death are not yet played out.”