This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 2
It appears someone forgot to relay Michael Hirst’s message for the History network to change the name of its popular series from Vikings to “Russians.” And while that sentiment might be a bit unfair, “The Prophet” focuses as much on the devious machinations of Prince Oleg and his brothers as it does on the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. Convenient parallels aside, Vikings enters uncharted and narratively dangerous waters as it continues to set up its sixth and final season.
There’s no question that the burgeoning relationship between Ivar and Oleg drives the Russing story arc, and it’s impossible to ignore the familial parallels as the Russian prince proves even more ruthless than Ragnar’s youngest. Borrowing from the “play within the play” device employed to great effect in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, our first glimpse of these two occurs as they watch an Eastern puppet play that seems to mirror the story of Oleg’s unfaithful wife and her subsequent murder at his hand. Perhaps he’s preparing Ivar for the savage events about to unfold, but he also tells the Norseman that he fully intends to raise an army and build a fleet for their enterprise to reclaim Ivar’s throne. It’s still too early to understand Oleg’s true intentions related to Kattegat, but we must remember his assertion that he too has Viking blood running through his veins.
Steeped in Norse mythology and the role of the seer in their culture, it’s natural that Ivar asks about the circumstances that led to Oleg gaining the moniker “the prophet.” While we understand there’s likely nothing supernatural involved, Ivar is astute enough to acknowledge multiple possibilities for his new friend’s abilities. His story of the poison win leads neatly into the later scene in which he kills his brother and takes charge of the one true heir to the Russian throne, the young boy Igor.
The tension between Oleg and Askold appears immediately, and Oleg’s declaration that he merely wants to “take back what rightly ours,” seems to appease his brother who agrees to support the campaign to take back Kattegat for Ivar. From the start, there’s little question that Oleg holds the upper hand in the clash with his brother, and when he begins dancing as a disturbance outside the walls commences, it comes as no surprise that Oleg has poisoned his brother in a coup that places the young Prince Igor on the throne. It may be convenient to expect a comfortable alliance between two psychopaths, but both possess too much intellect to ever completely trust the other. And so it begins.
Though Ivar suddenly has purpose, he’s smart enough to know he can’t trust Oleg who now faces another of his brothers after executing the early stages of his coup. Ivar typically finds himself in the middle of these kind of squabbles, but here he gets to sit back and watch with amusement as Dir gives Oleg an ultimatum. Perhaps remembering his own aborted childhood, Ivar’s attempt to connect with Igor merely serves as a placeholder until Oleg takes on Dir. Not a prophet in the mythic sense, Oleg simply owns an extensive information network and calls his brother’s bluff, naming Dir’s secret bride and the circumstances surrounding the wedding. However, it’s Ivar’s reaction that punctuates the scene as Dir disappointedly leaves the hall without Igor. “You forgot to say goodbye to the cripple,” and then waves to the departing Rus.
Perhaps the most unforeseen development occurs when Flatnose sails Floki’s boat alone into Kattegat and gives Ubbe a quick assessment of the situation in this new land they’ve dubbed Iceland. We know he’s withholding a certain measure of the truth, and while his assertion that he’s returned to recruit more settlers rings true, there’s clearly more to the dark story than he’s letting on. Though he has more pressing problems of his own, Bjorn nonetheless presses Flatnose for more information about Floki’s fate and that of the settlers. “I have a feeling you know a lot more than you admit.” That Floki is dead seems unlikely, but still, the fact that Flatnose sails to Kattegat alone should set off a cacophony of alarm bells.
Still, Bjorn has bigger issues with which to deal, and unlike Ivar and Prince Oleg, he finds the burdens of leadership a bit overwhelming. His inability or reluctance to make decisions sharply contrasts with the other leaders against whom he will soon find himself clashing does not bode well for Bjorn Ironside. Of course, there’s something to be said for a king who solicits the advice of others, but his most pressing concern is whether or not to come to King Harald’s aid. In a brief moment of lucidity, Hvitserk rightly tells him that “only Ivar matters,” and while we can initially interpret that stance as that of a jealous, drunken brother out for revenge, we know there’s also a certain prophetic connection as well. However, doing the right thing morally isn’t always the right thing logically, and Bjorn learns this hard truth at the beginning of his reign.
It’s understandable that Bjorn consult his brothers regarding Harald’s request, and given his mother’s vast experience it makes sense that he learn her opinion as well, but his conversation with The Seer presents a problem we’ve not seen before with Lagertha’s son. Ivar murdered The Seer, so the only reasonable explanation forces us to consider that Bjorn’s mental state has deteriorated to a point at which his ability to lead must be questioned. Clearly this doesn’t bode well for him and the people of Kattegat, but the advice he hears The Seer give makes sense within the context of the religion still practiced by his subjects. Morally, he knows he should help Harald, but intellectually he’s wracked with doubt because he knows of Harald’s desire to rule over all of Norway.
Bjorn’s meeting with his mother doesn’t sway him, but it’s his initial decision to leave Hvitserk in charge of Kattegat while he’s away helping Harald that proves most troubling. How he fails to see the downward spiral his younger brother has fallen into seems impossible. Fortunately, he has others around him and asks Ubbe and Torvi to watch over Kattegat in his stead. Nevertheless, Hvitserk’s declaration that Bjorn is crazy to honor the debt he feels toward Harald may be the wisest thing anyone’s said to the new king.
“The Prophet” lays the groundwork for battles on multiple fronts, including King Bjorn’s wandering eye for a pretty young girl. However, at this point we’re most intrigued by Bjorn’s indecision and Prince Oleg’s willingness to help Ivar storm the shores of Kattegat. And now we’ve got The Wanderer to consider. There’s a lot going on in Vikings, but for now, the geographic splits remain a problem. That looks to change. The Russians are coming.