This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 13
“If anyone kills him, it should be me. A brother’s privilege.”
Like most shows, Vikings is at its best when the action and dialogue flow easily, and the seemingly disparate storylines offer some measure of cohesion. Even though there’s still significant physical and narrative distance among them, “The Signal” presents highly satisfying developments in Kiev, Kattegat, and aboard Ubbe’s ill fated voyage.
It’s never easy to understand the Lothbrok brothers, and the circuitous route that eventually reunites Ivar and Hvitserk provides an opportunity for both to confess their true feelings about their strained relationship. While Ivar recognizes his brother’s emotional weaknesses and has always been willing to forgive any perceived lack of loyalty, this physically brutal confrontation ironically sets the stage for the alliance that allows Prince Igor to escape Kiev. To this point the action sequences have been relatively light, but when Hvitserk holds Ivar’s swordlike crutch aloft, his decision to throw it aside rather than impale his younger brother speaks volumes about the blood that flows through their veins.
Of course, the exchange begins when Hvitserk turns Ivar away from seeing Oleg, and we’re still not certain how things will transpire as we watch Oleg and Katia peering down on the brothers as they scuffle in the street. When Oleg tells Ivar that “I believe he loves and hates you in equal measure,” in retrospect, Ivar’s response appears to function as a means to keep the prince in the dark about the plan to leave with Igor. This introspective scene works because we still don’t know whether Katia has betrayed Ivar’s confidences about Igor, and with all the talk of killing, the threat hanging over Ivar’s head appears to increase.
Though the brotherly reconciliation remains tenuous, Hvitserk’s suggestion that they use the impending Easter celebration as a distraction forces Ivar to make a decision about how much faith he puts in his brother’s assessment of the situation. When Katia, adorned in a striking white fur coat and matching hat, comes to retrieve the young prince for his escape, the narrative flow embodies equal parts hope and danger. Watching a bloodied man struggle with a realistic facsimile of Christ’s cross momentarily distracts Prince Oleg from the clear and present danger the Lothbrok brothers represent, and when he suddenly notices Igor’s absence, the tension escalates. The ill-advised trope of a guard preventing Ivar’s cart from leaving the city burdens an otherwise perfect sequence. True, from a storytelling perspective, this cart search could go either way, but allowing Ivar, Hvitserk, Igor, and Katia to escape and make their way back to Kattegat to ultimately face King Harald makes for much more compelling television.
Ubbe’s decision to leave the Icelandic colony hopefully leaves that story behind in favor of the dark intrigue surrounding Kjetill and his family. Now, however, caught in the midst of a terrible storm, Ubbe and Torvi may not have to carry through on their undisclosed plan to deal with Kjetill’s atrocities. Though it seems unlikely this is the first storm these seafaring people have experienced, its ferocity signals an impending doom that leads to an emotionally crushing scene when Torvi’s child is swept overboard.
Never given enough screen time, Georgia Hirst (Torvi) gives an absolutely gut wrenching performance as she desperately clutches her newborn son Ragnar while frantically searching the ship for her daughter. We see the heartbreaking image of the child’s vision of a sea monster seconds before succumbing to the vicious waves, a call back to the story Torvi tells her as a means of calming her fears caused by the storm. Once the storm abates, Ubbe must face the ramifications of his decision to take his family on an expedition that leads to the loss of yet another child and whether Torvi holds him responsible for this tragic event.
As viewers navigate the turbulent waters of the Vikings landscape, all signs point toward a convergence in Kattegat. It’s fascinating to watch the wives of Bjorn Ironside delicately maneuver both their relationship with each other but with opportunist Erik as well. Gunnhild knows she’s the best choice to lead Kattegat, but must now contend with Ingrid as well as Erik who disingenuously claims he has no desire to rule. We’ve watched a number of sleazy characters come and go during the series’ six year run, and while Erik may not sit at the top of the list, he certainly deserves consideration. This is the crown Ragnar Lothbrok forged we’re talking about.
Nevertheless, Erik’s insertion into the election process pales in comparison to the unexpected resurrection of King Harald Finehair. His entrance is nicely foreshadowed by the strangers who steal into Kattegat, murder a guard, and seemingly set out to wreak mayhem. But we’re not sure who they are or from where they’ve come which adds to the already tense situation that surrounds the election. Whether he anticipated this or not, when the dead guard’s body is discovered, the alarm sounds, and the election process is interrupted giving Harald the perfect opportunity to make his dramatic entrance.
That Kattegat conducts free and democratic elections speaks to Ragnar’s legacy, but like most political processes, the true intrigue remains hidden behind the scenes. Vikings has certainly presented its fair share of supernatural situations, most often centering on some sort of ceremony or a mysterious meeting with The Seer, but “The Signal” takes that aspect of the show to a new level when Ingrid reveals another side of herself that likely won’t end well for her. Clawing away at the rocks sealing Bjorn’s tomb, we’re immediately struck by her desperation, but what happens next opens up a fresh narrative detail that takes viewers into new territory. Summoning Frey and Freya’s magic, Ingrid performs an erotic, yet frightening ritual that probably won’t sit well with the community should she be discovered. Again, Erik’s presence as he peers into the tomb to witness Ingrid’s prayers seems a bit too easy since we know what comes next.
Harald’s entrance, however, changes the dynamics and takes away much of the power inherent in Erik’s manipulative schemes with Gunnhild and Ingrid. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the irony of the last meeting between Erik and Harald as Finehair lay gravely wounded on the battlefield. Though we generally abhor Harald’s methods, there’s a certain charismatic quality he exudes that transcends this behavior. Will the election even continue now that he reminds the people he has already been chosen king of all Norway precluding any need for Gunnhild and Ingrid to carry through with what he now views as political theater. Or, do Erik and the two wives of Bjorn Ironside take a page from the Kievan playbook and plot to eliminate Harald from the equation and secure the throne for themselves?
Will Ivar bring Prince Igor to Kattegat and prepare him to eventually claim the Rus throne? Will Ubbe and Torvi find their way back to Kattegat and search for new meaning after the disastrous voyage? And will Gunnhild stand by silently and allow Harald to run roughshod over her plans for the village? “The Signal” seamlessly weaves the three threads together setting into motion a much more expansive tale as Vikings moves through its sixth and final season.