With season six of the epic Norse saga almost upon us, let’s remind ourselves of the blood-feuds, bonking and battles, the turmoil, tom-foolery and tyranny, the murder, magic and mayhem that unfolded across season five…
A mass parting of the ways follows the successful avenging of Ragnar’s death – and the burial of Sigurd, son of Ragnar – at the end of season four. King Harald leaves for Kattegat. Bjorn and Halfdan sail off in search of adventure. And Floki sails off into the great unknown, putting his fate in the hands of the Gods.
Hvitserk and Ubbe want to settle and farm. Ivar wants to establish a permanent stronghold, so they can keep raiding, and fighting the Saxons. After some wrangling, they head north and seize York, massacring its inhabitants during what is essentially a ye olde Bank Holiday. It’s just not cricket.
Ivar soon walks, like some proto-type Iron Man, with the help of leg braces and a crutch.
Lagertha imprisons Harald as soon as he arrives in Kattegat, having already rumbled his intent to invade. Harald’s men break him free and they escape by boat to Vestfold, kidnapping Astrid, Lagertha’s advisor and lover, as they flee. Astrid resists Harald for a long time, but eventually marries him. Margrethe – former plaything of the sons of Auslag, latterly wife of Ubbe – whispers in the ears of all who will listen about Lagertha’s weakness for not killing Harald.
Floki awakens on Iceland, and mistakes it for Asgard, the land of the Gods. Illness and hallucinations convince him that the Gods are hungry for mortal settlers, so he sets off for Kattegat.
King Aethelwulf joins forces with the warrior priest Bishop Heahmund to re-take York. Their first attempt ends badly. Ubbe has had enough of fighting, and wants to claim their farming land in East Anglia (over which, unbeknownst to him, they have no legitimate claim). Ivar wants to keep fighting. Ubbe and Hvitserk sneak off to negotiate with the Saxons, but return beaten and humiliated, a loss of face that allows Ivar to cement himself as the leader of the Great Army. Ubbe decides to return to Kattegat, but Hvitserk stays behind to support Ivar’s expansionist aims.
Meanwhile, Bjorn and Halfdan are having a lovely time on their Mediterranean cruise. Their guide Sinric takes them to Sicily, where Commander Euphemius, the island’s client ruler, hires Bjorn and Halfdan as bodyguards. They meet Kassia, a Christian nun, for whose kidnap from Byzantium Commander Euphemius has been sentenced to death by the Holy Roman Emperor. They all travel to North Africa to meet Ziyadat Allah, the political power behind Euphemius.
The North African leg of their lads’ holiday is a disaster. Ziyadat – who is in league with Kassia – imprisons Commander Euphemius, and later serves him as dinner. Bjorn, Halfdan and Sinric are seized, but are saved from execution by the timely intrusion of a sand-storm. They escape across the desert on camel. Legend records that they only gave Commander Euphemius two stars on Trip Advisor.
Ubbe returns to Kattegat, and forms a pact with Lagertha against Ivar and Harald. Margrethe keeps trying to incite Ubbe against Lagertha.
Heahmund and Aethelwulf surround York and try to starve the Vikings out. Ivar fools the Saxons into thinking that their plan is working by pretending to burn bodies. When the Saxons enter York, the Vikings swarm them from the sewers and humiliate them once again.
Alfred and Aethelwulf escape the massacre. Heahmund is surrounded and captured, and is forced to join Ivar’s army. Ivar leaves a garrison at York and sails to Vestfold with Hvitserk, Heahmund and some of his great army. He forms an alliance with Harald against Ubbe and Lagertha, but only on the condition that Ivar will be made king of Kattegat instead of Harald.
Floki returns to Kattegat with news of ‘Asgard’. Lagertha forbids him to take settlers from Kattegat. Floki defies her. Lagertha catches them as they prepare to leave, but lets them live. Floki’s settlers are less than impressed with Iceland, but Floki entreats them to have faith.
Things don’t get off to a great start. Floki holds the unwavering faith of Aud and Ketill, but Eyvind and his family seem set against him. Work begins on constructing a temple to the Gods.
A little later, Thorgrim, son of Ketill, and Bul, son of Eyvind, come to blows as the statue of Thor is hoisted into the temple. When it is consecrated with goat’s blood, Bul again indulges in mischief, resulting in Floki almost killing him with an axe. Later, the settlers are awoken from their sleep by shouts of fire. Thor’s temple burns to the ground. Thorgrim accuses Bul, who pulls a knife and charges at him. In the struggle, Bul is killed, further inflaming tensions in the camp. Later, Thorgrim’s body is discovered in a hot spring.
Astrid asks a fisherman called Hakan to sail to Kattegat and warn Lagertha of the coming attack. Hakan and his crew deliver the message, but not before raping Astrid. Later, a newly-pregnant Astrid insists on joining King Harald in battle.
Bjorn and Halfdan return to Kattegat and learn of Ivar’s plans. Margarethe keeps trying to sow seeds of division, to which Lagertha responds with ever greater fury.
Bjorn and Torvi split. Ubbe and Torvi become lovers. Margarethe’s madness escalates as a result. Lagertha enlists the help of the northern Sami people. Bjorn is soon married to Princess Snaefrid, daughter of the Sami King. He really gets about, that boy.
Near Kattegat, the opposing forces face each other across the battlefield. A last minute peace summit fails, mainly due to Ivar being a bloodthirsty nutcase. Battle commences.
Lagertha’s forces prevail due to a combination of the Sami’s proficiency at guerrilla warfare, and Ivar’s cowardice and tactical miscalculations. Lagertha finds a half-dead Heahmund on the battlefield, and orders his life saved. They hook up.
Hvitserk and Ivar send for Rollo’s help.
Aethelwulf dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Despite Aethelred being the heir apparent, his mother counsels him to refuse the crown, letting it fall to Alfred instead. The decision proves unpopular. Nobody thinks Alfred is cut out for Kinghood.
The battle for Kattegat begins. Snaefrid, Bjorn’s new bride, is felled by a sword. Ubbe encounters Hvitserk in battle, but can’t bring himself to kill him. Harald kills Halfdan. Hvitserk kills Torvi’s son Guthrum. Astrid commits death-by-Lagertha. Rollo’s soldiers help assure a decisive victory for Ivar and Harald.
In exchange for his military assistance Rollo demands – and is granted – a ludicrously exorbitant military and trade deal in his favour.
Having escaped, Ubbe, Bjorn, Heahmund and Lagertha hide in an abandoned farm. Margarethe is chained in the pig pen, the safest place for her to be given the depth of her madness and sedition. Heahmund promises the Vikings sanctuary in England.
Rollo tracks Lagertha down, and offers her safe passage to Frankia. He also professes his love for her, and tells Bjorn that he is his real father. Bjorn swithers over killing his Uncle Daddy, but relents.
Rollo tells Ivar where Lagertha is, knowing full well she will be gone by the time Ivar reaches her. Margarethe, still chained, is taken back to Kattegat as a prisoner. Hvitserk soon liberates her, but she’s later murdered on Ivar’s orders.
Freydis, a slave Ivar freed back in York, becomes Ivar’s queen. She rapes a local man and falls pregnant with his child. She later has the poor fellow throttled. She then announces that the Gods have granted her a child with the very cock-less Ivar.
In England, King Alfred agrees to spare the Vikings’ lives in return for their fealty and tactical assistance. Alfred even agrees to honour their land rights in East Anglia if they can prove their loyalty.
Heahmund learns about the conspiracy to kill Alfred when he confronts Lord Cuthred, his rival and replacement as bishop. When Cuthred tries to blackmail Heahmund over his relationship with Lagertha, Heahmund murders him. Heahmund is imprisoned for this act, but later released and restored to his former title for telling King Alfred about the conspiracy against him. Ubbe and Torvi agree to convert to Christianity to help strengthen Alfred’s precarious position. Bjorn isn’t amused. Alfred marries Princess Elsewith (who’s already bjonked Bjorn by this point).
Things are grim in Iceland. Floki calls on the settlers to recognise their common humanity, especially now that Ketill’s daughter, Thorunn, is pregnant. Eyvind and Ketill – who are about to become grandparents to Thorunn’s baby – agree to bury their differences and look to the future. Hope is soon dashed when Thorunn turns up in a shallow grave. Floki banishes Eyvind and his family.
Much later, Helgi, one of Eyvind’s sons, returns to camp pleading for help because everyone in the exiled clan is sick or dying. Floki is sceptical, but Ketill claims he cannot live without hope, so they set off to save them. Except they don’t. Ketill beheads them all and puts their heads on pikes out in the snow (an early precursor, perhaps, of the Iceland supermarket chain’s party-platter range).
Floki knows his dream is dead once and for all when Aud, Ketill’s surviving daughter, hurls herself off a cliff. Ketill tries to provoke Floki into a bout of murderous rage, but he refuses to break, instead wandering off in search of the Gods. He finds a cave he believes is the mouth of Hel. Deep within he finds a Christian cross. His scream of anguish triggers an avalanche of ash and rocky magma that buries him alive.
Harald arrives in York and is greeted by its caretaker ruler, Jarl Olavson, and the shield-maiden, Gunnhild. When Alfred learns of Harald’s arrival and hostile intentions, he demands the Vikings fight for him. Ubbe teaches Alfred how to fight.
Magnus, who claims to be Ragnar’s son by Queen Kwenthrith, meets his Viking ‘family’.
Ivar faces dissent in Kattegat from both citizens loyal to Lagertha, and his own brother, Hvitserk, who openly despises and defies him. Ivar demands the seer acknowledge his divinity. When he refuses, Ivar kills him, and has his body burned. Way to smash the magic eight-ball, Ivar.
There’s mounting dissent in Wessex, too. Aethelred meets with Lord Cyneheard and the gang of conspirators plotting to overthrow his brother. They plan to lure Heahmund, Alfred and the Vikings to a War Council, and slaughter them. Aethelred agrees to participate, but at the crucial moment refuses to give the signal. Cyneheard is later arrested for treason, and then interrogated by Judith while he’s being violently tortured.
Ubbe and Magnus meet with King Harald. Ubbe offers Harald gold and silver to stand down. Magnus does not want to fight alongside the Saxons, but against them, and so joins Harald… bad call, new guy. Harald is defeated. Jarl Olavson is killed. Heahmund falls. Lagertha goes missing, presumed dead. Gunnhild is captured. Aethelred saves Alfred’s life.
Alfred now knows that Aethelred is the leader of the conspiracy against him. Alfred has the rest of the conspirators arrested, but leaves Judith to talk with Aethelred. Instead she poisons him, ‘killing one son to save the other’, as she puts it.
Alfred grants East Anglia to the Vikings. Bjorn frees Gunnhild. She accompanies him to East Anglia, where the pair quickly grow restless, to the point where they marry each other. Still not satisfied, they convince King Harald to help them overthrow Ivar.
Ivar orders Hvitserk on a diplomatic mission to cement an alliance with King Olaf. While he’s away, Ivar has Thora – Hvitserk’s lover – burned alive, along with scores of other agitators and dissenters. While at King Olaf’s court, Hvitserk manages to convince the half-mad king to overthrow Ivar.
When King Alfred learns that 300 ships loaded with Danes have arrived near his kingdom, he makes Ubbe head of his army. Ubbe and Torvi meet with the Danish kings Hemming, Angantyr and Frodo, and ask them to farm instead of fight. They agree, but only once Ubbe has vanquished Frodo in deadly hand-to-hand combat. King Alfred escorts them to their new home in East Anglia.
Lagertha is found, sick and babbling, and nursed back to health. Judith discovers a lump in her breast, and isn’t so lucky. She dies. Ubbe, Torvi and Lagertha leave for Kattegat. Bjorn and Harald’s army joins up with the forces of Hvitserk and King Olaf. Ivar learns of the impending attack and begins beefing up security and swelling his ranks.
Ivar and Freydis have a son, Baldur, who is born deformed. Ivar takes him out into the woods and leaves him to die.
The battle for Kattegat begins. Despite a valiant effort on Bjorn’s part, Ivar’s defences and military acumen prevail, and leave the attacking forces with heavy losses. Magnus perishes.
Retreating, Bjorn makes an emotional plea for the people of Kattegat to reject Ivar’s tyranny. ‘You know me! I am not your enemy!’ Ivar has the soldiers who refused to shoot their arrows into Bjorn hanged.
Freydis sneaks out of Kattegat and reveals to Bjorn the location of the secret entrance a paranoid Ivar had built into the walls to help aid his escape should the need ever arise. Bjorn and his allies retake Kattegat. Ivar escapes, but not before throttling Freydis. Bjorn is crowned King.
But for how long?
In the messy, murdery world of Vikings, nothing is ever certain. But probably still marginally more certain than Brexit.
Get ready for the final season of Vikings (though probably not the final season of Brexit).
Read a fan plea for season six of Vikings here. And read all about nerdy details from the season five Blu-ray set here.
Vikings season six starts on Wednesday the 4th of December in the US.