This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 3
“Together we will make Kattegat one of the greatest cities in the world.”
“Ghosts, Gods, and Running Dogs” features at least four active plot threads as Vikings looks to ramp up its sixth and final season. Unfortunately, few garner much interest, and the follow up to the two hour season premiere falls a bit flat. Bjorn’s off to rescue King Harald, Ivar furthers his relationship with Prince Oleg, Lagertha opens her village to a group of desperate widows, and Ubbe and Torvi plan a seafaring adventure. On the surface all appear to have some appeal, but taken together it may be time to admit that Vikings is simply running out of steam.
It’s true, most of the characters feel a renewed sense of purpose, and when we watch Hvitserk fall deeper into the dark abyss, our first inclination is to feel sorry for a desperate man who feels responsible for the death of the woman he loved. Hvitserk looks terrible, and if there’s a saving grace to this mini-arc, it’s the powerful performance of Marco Ilsø as Ragnar Lothbrok’s son struggles with the ghosts of Thora and his brother Ivar. He’s completely unhinged, and at this point there seems little to motivate him to return from his “walk between the places.” However, considering the violent and savage lifestyle he’s led to this point, there’s also little to motivate the viewer to truly engage with his suffering.
As a couple, Ubbe and Torvi resonate because they truly love, honor, and respect one another, and while others around them lie, cheat, steal, and kill to amass power, these two merely want to raise their children to honor and respect the gods. While going “to look for some undiscovered land in the middle of the ocean” sounds exciting, it’s the fate of their two children that grabs our attention. We’ve watched Lagertha transition from a farmer’s wife to a queen, and now that she’s retired to a little hamlet she wishes to nurture, it’s a total delight to listen to her try to convince Ubbe and Torvi that their children should stay with their grandmother when the parents leave to search for new lands.
However, there’s more to this scene than simply a grandmother lobbying for time with her grandkids. Though they’re one of the more solid couples in Kattegat, like most men, Ubbe doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, and when he further suggests that the pregnant Torvi should stay behind with Lagertha and the kids, the look on her face lets him know he’s made a critical misjudgement. Torvi’s been through a lot with the men in her life, and even though she retains a cordial relationship with her ex-husband Bjorn, this shieldmaiden is not about to be patronized by a man no matter how much he loves her. “I will not be left behind,” she tells Ubbe who timidly looks to Lagertha for support even though she’s the one who murdered his mother in cold blood. Leave the past in the past I suppose. Still, it’s a wonderful scene, and when they walk away, the camera presents Lagertha flanked by the two children, perhaps implying that this is the last time the entire family will be together.
In the meantime, however, Ubbe fills in for King Bjorn, and with Torvi and Gunnhild at his side makes an impassioned speech that displays a wide reaching vision that Bjorn seems less concerned to explore. Offering to settle any local disputes, he establishes himself as a reasonable, albeit temporary ruler, and while Bjorn’s intentions for his people are pure, he’s an adventurer at heart. Ubbe speaks eloquently of organizing trade missions which he explains Hvitserk will lead. Of course, Hvitserk is absent, and since he’s often out and about, it seems impossible that the townspeople are unaware of his developing madness and persistent drunkeness. Still, Ubbe regales the crowd with tales of a journey along the Silk Road which may even lead them to China. It seems unlikely that he’s trying to usurp Bjorn’s throne, but like his older half-brother, he’s clearly a man of the people. “Remember, we are Viking,” and someone has to take charge.
Part of being Viking means a man’s word is his bond, but Bjorn’s arduous journey and ill conceived plan to rescue King Harald from the clutches of the mercurial King Oleg seem terribly misplaced. Any new king is going to make mistakes, but Harald has never made a secret of his desire to rule all of Norway. So why does Bjorn feel the need to rescue a man who will likely turn around and try to take Kattegat from him? On the one hand, it’s not completely out of Bjorn’s character to do something like this, but as a story arc these two become increasingly less dynamic with each passing year.
The most intriguing thread in “Ghosts, Gods and Running Dogs” centers on Ivar and his stagnating relationship with Prince Oleg in Kiev. As we watch Oleg and Ivar ride out of Prince Dir’s kingdom on horse drawn sleighs, it’s difficult to miss the contrast to the Viking ships we’re accustomed to watching pierce the rough seas on the way to the next raiding party. Curious about how Oleg knew the details of his brother’s secret wedding, Ivar seems as unimpressed as we are by his new friend’s answer. As a military strategist, Ivar has shown a willingness for patience, but he’s beginning to sense that Oleg may not be as interested in helping him retake Kattegat as previously stated. Having been through similar struggles with his own brothers, Ivar bides his time playing with the young prince Igor, fostering a relationship that could prove fruitful once the boy comes into his own power.
The most fascinating aspect of this relationship, however, rests in Ivar’s sudden aversion to the intense cruelty Oleg’s inflicts on those around him whether they present a real and present danger or not. Apparently a promise of safe passage on the return trip to Kiev isn’t enough for Oleg who now decides to exert a horrific level of control over his brother Dir. It turns out Dir knows his brother better than he’s let on previously and begins begging for his life even though he has little idea the lengths to which Oleg plans to go. We’ve seen the inside of Oleg’s torture room before, and though we don’t witness the process, the end result ranks among the most gruesome and sadistic acts ever performed on Vikings. Even Ivar appears stunned by Oleg’s monstrous inhumanity. From the little we’ve seen, the young prince appears headed down that same path, and it will be interesting to watch whether Ivar makes any attempts to shield the boy.
I suppose it was too good to be true to expect Lagertha would be able to spend her twilight years tending to the small, agrarian community she built, leaving the politics and fighting to the younger generation. When the widows she welcomes into her little village return later with news they’d been attacked, raped, and pillaged, Lagertha has no choice but to reclaim her sword and apprise the women of the reality of their situation. “Oh they will come back, of that I am certain.” The question now is whether the former shieldmaiden is up to the task.
Though it’s not the most exciting chapter in the Vikings saga, “Ghosts, Gods, and Running Dogs” does place key characters in potentially life altering situations. Bjorn must face the disaster of the failed attack on Olaf, and Ubbe and Torvi leave their children behind as they set out on their adventure. Ivar’s relationship with Oleg, however, proves most compelling since it pits one psychopath against another. Are they friends or is it a forgone conclusion that the two will come to blows? Ivar may have finally met his match.