This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 5 Episode 6
While the obvious allusion of “The Message” refers to Astrid’s bold move to send word to Lagertha about the coming invasion, the other, more subtle messages that are present also deliver powerful and meaningful intentions in their own right. As such, Vikings continues to move the narrative at a rapid pace while the Norse forces prepare to converge on Kattegat, and the Saxons lick their wounds in York.
From the start, Astrid’s willingness to marry King Harald carried with it a subtext that she would eventually find a way to prevent Kattegat and Lagertha from being overrun by Harald’s forces. Though he presents himself as a simple man, we’re now asked to believe that his trust in Astrid is absolute, and he prepares to sail with Ivar unconcerned about her loyalty. Give her credit: While Harald’s likely under no illusion that she’s in love with him, the playful scene in the woods sends a message that she’s willing to give their relationship a chance. At least that’s what she wants him to think.
In the meantime, Astrid somehow thinks it’s a good idea to trust one of the village’s whaling captains to sail to Kattegat and relay Harald and Ivar’s attack plans to Lagertha. Demanding monetary compensation is totally reasonable, but when he adds sex with the queen to the negotiation, Astrid seems to be in over her head. Still, her options are limited. Once Ivar arrives and plans are made, she manages to find out as much as she can, but Harald’s inference that returning as a queen will be strange for her contains undertones that Astrid either ignores or overlooks. The story fast forwards, and somewhat surprisingly, the captain keeps his end of the bargain and delivers the news to Lagertha and even includes the bonus information of the alliance with Ivar and Hvitserk.
Of course we have no idea how much Harald knows and whether the captain reveals the queen’s request to him, but as it turns out, having sex with his entire crew may work to her advantage. While the captain might be tempted to tell the king about her request and the money and jewels, he’d likely leave out the part about the sex. Would Harald leave it at that and confront her, or perhaps keep an eye on her and alter the invasion date accordingly? A complex situation for sure, further complicated by the fact that Ivar is involved, and he appears to be in no mood for a delay. Because there are so many unknowns in this equation, the Astrid/Kattegat arc has risen to the top of the ladder.
By the time Floki’s group is ready to depart, its number has risen significantly. But as expected, Lagertha has a man on the inside and confronts her friend at the docks. “I have done nothing to justify your betrayal,” she tells him, a theme the queen brings up consistently of late. While it’s true that men have betrayed her time and again, she sees the situation with Floki and his followers differently. This situation is bigger than both of them because the viability of the Kattegat they know, love, and built risks being taken over by outsiders. Granted, Floki likely sees her resolve as a power struggle between her and Harald, and while that may be true, the religious aspect cuts deeper for Lagertha. He doesn’t see her belief in the gods in the same pure sense that he sees his own and that of his followers, a judgement she remains unwilling to accept.
Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that in the end, Lagertha allows the group to sail away. “Did you really think I could have you killed, Floki?” However, speaking of having killed, Ubbe’s wife Margrethe continues to undermine Lagertha’s leadership, and unlike Floki, the former slave owes everything she has to the Lothbroks. It’s understandable that she seeks prestige and rank for her husband, but not at the expense of betraying another woman who has been nothing but supportive of her rise to her present station. As if Lagertha doesn’t face enough problems with Harald and Ivar on the horizon, this spat with Margrethe is the last thing she needs, but the story works simply because, to this point, it has been so subdued. But while Ubbe’s wife has been hurling hand grenades, Lagertha drops a bomb on the young girl threatening to cut out her tongue and enslave her once again if she continues to sabotage the queen’s rule. Margrethe’s feeling that Ubbe can save her from Lagertha’s threats sets up a fascinating showdown.
On the other hand, Bjorn and Halfdan’s escape from the executioner’s blade does ask us to suspend a bit of our logic regarding desert conditions and the fact that the sword did appear to be in motion. That said, an accurately placed dagger to the groin works wonders escalating a getaway, but once the storm hits and Bjorn, Halfdan, and Sindric make their way into the desert away from Ziyadat Allah’s camp, how do they obtain transportation, food, and water to be able to return to their boats? All the same, his return to Kattegat further complicates the situation since Halfdan will undoubtedly side with his brother in the fight against Bjorn’s mother. These two seem destined to get caught in the middle of the inevitable Ivar/Harald confrontation, and though Halfdan’s loyalty seems obvious, Bjorn and Ivar are no doubt headed for a stare down.
Though the Saxons appear to have fallen into the background at the moment, Aethelwulf’s admonition that “I don’t want to run anymore,” puts on display the shell of a man who once believed it his destiny to erase the pagans from the land. And while Ivar has no immediate plans to return to York and Aethelred’s training appears to be going well, it’s Alfred’s decision to follow in his birth father Athelstan’s footsteps that catches his mother off guard. In the long run, these two courses of action open up many possibilities as the landscape changes years down the road.
All of which brings us back to Ivar and Harald’s invasion of Kattegat. Complicated on so many levels, this single plotline remains rife with possibilities both inevitable and expected. Brandishing Bishop Heahmund’s sword after his troops arrive at King Harald’s village, Ivar’s long con begins when he tells Harald that being king of Kattegat is not important to him. Is Harald aware of the subterfuge that’s beginning right under his nose, not only with Ivar but also Astrid? And can Hvitserk learn to keep him mouth shut around the grownups?
Heahmund’s sword comes into play now that Ivar possesses it, but its importance lies more in what it represents than its physical properties. Yes, it’s made of steel unlike any the Northmen have seen, but Ivar knows that at his core, the bishop is more warrior than priest. Whether Ivar anticipates this outcome from the start, we don’t know, but the choice he offers Heahmund speaks to both men’s egos. “All I’m asking you to do is kill more of those you call heathens,” he tells him, though their relationship cuts much deeper than that.
Taking the man’s sword clearly emasculates the bishop, but Ivar’s decision to bring him into the Kattegat fight appears to give Heahmund the opportunity to prove himself. Unlike Ragnar, who sought spiritual knowledge from Athelstan, Ivar’s intent with the bishop, however, has not yet made itself known. Though Ivar always appears one step ahead of his competition, he has shown no signs of his father’s inquisitiveness regarding other men’s gods. That said, he has pointed out to Heahmund the dichotomy between their two religious beliefs and the inflexible approach that Christians take when it comes to the Norse gods. Still unsure what Heahmund’s decision will be, when a man in the crowd persists in mocking the bishop, the man of God runs a blade into his throat, killing him. “I think he will fight,” Ivar gleefully surmises.
Once again, Michael Hirst finds the perfect narrative balance, and “The Message” prepares viewers for a series of epic battles that have no choice but to disrupt the framework of the world as we presently know it. With everything neatly in place, we now have only to sit back and watch Vikings separate the contenders from the pretenders.