This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 15
“I have other ambitions, unfinished business.”
Vikings continues to deftly interweave the multiple story threads that have long been a staple of the series, and whether these connections are driven by characters, action, or visuals, they provide a deeper layer of meaning within this elaborate saga. From the images of Katia and Gunnhild wearing all white to the emotionally disturbed actions of Kjetill Flatnose and Prince Oleg, “All At Sea” maintains these exquisitely subtle narrative touches as one set of conflicts are put to rest and new ones begin to brew.
The natural inclination may be to overlook the significance of Ivar’s time in Kiev since the only tangible result lies in Prince Igor’s escape from his uncle Oleg. Ivar aspires to greatness and seeks to once again rule Kattegat, but he clearly needs to change his approach if he’s to win the hearts and minds of his fellow vikings. Meeting Katia in Rus forces him to re-evaluate his relationship with Freyis, and while Igor’s assessment that Ivar sees himself in the young prince, the son of Ragnar Lothbrok undergoes an emotional epiphany that appears to change his total outlook. Yes, he prods Igor to kill his uncle, but when we examine the alternative, there really is little choice. The boy becomes a man in that instant, and the people love him for it.
Despite the importance of Ivar’s transformation, this chapter belongs to Oleg and the impact the Easter celebration appears to have on the prince’s mental health. On the one hand, it does seem as if his descent into madness happens rather quickly, but his first wife’s betrayal and natural suspicions of Ivar and Hvitserk lead him down a path from which he seems unable to escape. The irony of his devout Christian faith set against the sadistic methods he employs momentarily gives pause, but when it’s clear he’s devolved into thinking he is the son of God, a sense of relief begins to filter into the scene. It’s still difficult to feel empathy for him even when he quotes Jesus’ words on the cross just before Igor sends an arrow into his chest.
Nevertheless, the real bombshell that drops in Kiev is the revelation that Katia is pregnant with Ivar’s child. While this can certainly be viewed as a bit of a narrative cheat, it does force Ivar to make a decision he’s not sure he’d ever have to make. With all the subterfuge surrounding many of the characters, Katia’s motives along the way turn out to be relatively pure and provide a sense of relief that are embodied in her frank assessment of her relationship with Ivar. “I will only disappoint you when you realize [I am not Freydis].” Has Ivar fallen in love with her because it gives him a chance to correct his earlier mistakes with Freydis, or does this turn out to be a case of star crossed lovers fated to remain apart? In truth, they give each other what they need at the moment and are probably wise to go their separate ways now that each has been freed.
Amidst all the often duplicitous machinations of the adults, it’s easy to miss the fine work from Oran Glynn O’Donovan (Prince Igor) as he’s grown up before our eyes. Igor’s learned a lot in a short period of time, and when he watches Ivar and Hvitserk ride out of Kiev, the young prince no longer hides his emotions. Tellingly, Hvitserk tells his brother that he too notices a change, and we’ll know soon enough what that actually means.
Set against Oleg’s deterioration are the watershed events taking place on the newly settled Greenland. The episode’s opening scene in which Kjetill and his family erect a fence around their piece of land perfectly sets up the confrontation that ultimately gives him what he wants – to be king of Greenland. As if Ubbe doesn’t have enough to deal with after the death of his child, Kjetill goes rogue and purposely isolates himself from the rest of the community. Season 6B has been relatively light on battle sequences, and though the attack on Kjetill’s family is short lived, the rage emanating from the starving settlers dominates the scene. Not that we ever doubted Torvi’s battle readiness, but when she fights one-handed while clutching her infant in the other, her desperation speaks loudly for the entire community.
It wasn’t clear how Ubbe would re-enter the situation in Kattegat, but his quick decision to flee the island without a plan also reinforces the fact that peaceful coexistence with Kjetill no longer remains a viable option. Like Oleg, Kjetill loses touch with the reality of the situation, but here, unlike the prince, Flatnose’s murderous nature re-emerges. Standing atop the beached whale screaming at the retreating Ubbe, Kjetill makes clear his group is in for a rocky road. “I am king of Greenland. Rejoice.” While rejoicing may have to wait for this group, Othere’s insistence that God will provide comes to pass, and though Torvi and Ubbe once passed themselves off as Christians, which deity is responsible for the rain that provides drinking water doesn’t really matter at this point.
And while the events in Kattegat appear relatively mundane compared to those in Greenland and Kiev, the impact there is just as momentous. Who would have thought Harald Finehair would end up being a good guy, but his decision to take both Ingrid and Gunnhild goes beyond mere egocentric behavior and should restore a sense of stability to the town as it moves forward. The revelation that in his prior incarnation as a slave trader, Erik once sold Ingrid comes at an opportune time as his influence with Harald is on the rise. And while her marriage to Harald is purely political, she seems willing to work with him even though her child’s parentage remains in flux. Should Erik somehow get squeezed out of Harald’s inner circle, sparks will undoubtedly fly.
However, it’s Gunnhild’s decision to “join Bjorn in Valhalla” that fuels the most controversial aspect of the episode. Though she doesn’t kill herself with a dagger as she seemed to presage in the previous episode, the choice to carry out this act during the wedding ceremony raises other questions. Does she intend to disrupt and sabotage Harald’s reign in Kattegat? That seems out of character for the beloved shieldmaiden, and the tears falling softly on Harald’s cheek as she swims to her death add a touch of sensitivity to the scene and affirm the love he holds for the woman who would have truly been queen of Kattegat.
Vikings reaches the halfway point of Season 6B, and “All At Sea” teases not only Ivar’s determination to regain power in Kattegat but Ubbe’s to make a mark for himself outside of the family dominion. Will fate bring the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok together one final time? Only the gods know.