This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 18
“Here is the grave of the most famous Viking who ever lived.”
There’s an element of truth to the well-known axiom that says it’s always calm before the storm, and as we near the end of the saga, Vikings allows its characters a moment to catch their collective breaths before taking steps that will drastically alter their respective political and personal landscapes. “It’s Only Magic” delivers a series of emotional interiors that lays the groundwork for resolutions in Kattegat and France and provides a fresh beginning in a wondrous new world.
The idyllic opening scene sets the tone for the entire episode as the dramatic music swells and the camera pans along a picturesque shoreline leaving Ubbe and the other survivors unsure which god to thank for their deliverance. Still, Ubbe’s admission that “I don’t know anything anymore,” strikes at the heart of the crisis of faith that continues to plague him. He’s certainly not ready to abandon the gods he’s grown to love, fear, and respect, but Othere’s Christian influence can’t be discounted.
It’s clear from the start that Michael Hirst wants to drive home the fact that no matter how peaceful and calm things appear to be for Ubbe’s band of Vikings, potential danger lurks behind every tree and valley. We rejoice along with the men as they playfully bathe in the lake after they’ve endured so much hardship to finally arrive at this “golden land.” But we know our history, and suspect it’s only a matter of time until one of the indigenous tribes that lives on what is likely Newfoundland appears to challenge the group. The camera shot gives a momentary implication that someone is watching, and history tells us that the inevitable confrontation can go one of two ways.
Whether it’s the effects of their horrific journey or the brutality that took place in Iceland and Greenland, these settlers appear ready to leave their Viking ways of raiding and pillaging behind in favor of a more humanistic way of living. While it’s no surprise that they offer a blood sacrifice to the gods, their painted faces provide an obvious connection to the Native Americans watching them from a distance. The exchange of gifts is a brilliant touch both narratively and literally, and Ubbe’s realization that “perhaps they’re just as curious as we are” rings true. And though the final confrontation places Ubbe’s group in imminent danger, we suspect the resolution will come down to an ability to successfully communicate each other’s intentions.
While Ubbe’s group settles into the bounty this new land offers, Michael Hirst makes clear his intention to provide a contrast with the war brewing between King Harald’s army and King Alfred. However, it’s the king’s deteriorating physical condition that highlights this chapter of the episode. Alfred’s stirring speech to the troops that they must stay strong reminds us that despite his limitations, we’re witnessing a great leader in the making. He symbolically cuts off his hair before delivering the most telling words of his reign. “I no longer believe in negotiating with the devil.” Of course, the flashback to a young Alfred playing chess with Ivar speaks to the king’s maturity and desire to predict what his pagan opponent might do on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, as always, Ivar the Boneless remains the key to the forthcoming battle. Ivar’s relationship with his brother Hvitserk has often teetered on the edge of disaster, but it’s Hvitserk’s observation that Ivar’s eyes have turned a deep blue that gives viewers a narrative jolt. Can we make a preternatural connection between this physical change, a change that neatly coincides with Alfred’s issues, and the impending doom that Hvitserk suggests? It’s been awhile since Ivar claimed he is a god, so there is that to consider as well.
However, it’s the brotherly conversation that Ivar and Hvitserk engage in that holds the key to this aspect of the Vikings narrative. Ivar once again intimates that he plans to accelerate Harald’s demise, and the battle with Wessex provides that perfect opportunity. The revelation here, though, is that Ivar not only laments his father’s fading legacy, but sees this as a golden opportunity to solidify his standing among the great leaders of the European theater. Bringing his experiences in Kiev into the discussion makes perfect sense, and the speculation that his bloodline will endure owing to Katia’s pregnancy presents an insight into his future endeavors.
It can certainly be argued that bringing back The Seer feels like a cheat, but Vikings has always employed the supernatural judiciously, whether it’s the spectre of a ghostly figure or an enigmatic fortuneteller. Ivar’s desperation to learn his fate plays well here, and we can overlook The Seer’s appearances because of the deep introspection that accompanies them.
And what of Kattegat? It’s no surprise that Ivar looks to supplant Harald, but in the king’s absence, Ingrid takes matters into her own hands and initiates what amounts to a coup. Having learned his history as a slaver, it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for Erik and his blindness, but it’s the shrewd path to power Ingrid takes that dominates this arc. Coming on the heels of Alfred’s motivational speech to his troops, Ingrid’s forceful domination of the earls and lords certainly infers she’s paid attention to the controlling men in her life. The case she makes for higher taxes is deftly delivered, and in the end, she stands as the leader in the fight to rid Norway of the Christian missionaries intent on disrupting their way of life.
“It’s Only Magic” does a solid job setting up the final two episodes of Vikings, but it’s the unexpected rise to power Ingrid displays that might be the most intriguing of the lot moving forward. Once the fighting begins, some will live and some will die, but for now, all eyes now look to Ivar, Ingrid, and Ubbe.