This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 4
“I will stay and defend the dead.”
After a less than inspired season opening, Vikings returns to form with an episode that hones in on many of the narrative details that made the series great. Despite a focus on the political intrigue surrounding King Olaf’s suggestion that Bjorn rule all of Norway and the inevitable bloodshed Ivar’s decision to oust Prince Oleg will produce, “All the Prisoners” still manages to find room to incorporate a tightly controlled action sequence and the associated heartbreak a tragic death invariably produces. With multiple story arcs solidly back on track, Vikings has righted the ship and stands ready to forge ahead with a renewed sense of purpose.
Endeavoring to predict King Olaf’s mood swings generally turns into an exercise in futility, and when he explains to King Harald and Bjorn Ironside that their situations are hopeless, what emerges from this triumvirate catches both men off guard. The visual of Olaf sitting inside a ring of burning candles sets the stage for his startling suggestion that the Nordic kings and queens need to rethink the existing power structure that’s been in place for centuries. “Sometimes the real truth is hidden from all of us, beyond the accidents of time and space,” he cryptically tells Harald and Bjorn and then unveils a plan he claims the gods revealed to him. The nobles should elect and annoint one king for all of Norway, and he suggests that Bjorn sit on that throne.
While it may be difficult to get an accurate read on King Olaf’s true intentions, there’s no mistaking Harald’s aversion to this groundbreaking proposal. It’s clear Finehair has other ideas, and since it’s always been his desire to rule all of Norway, it seems unlikely he’s going to sit back and give Bjorn this new throne without a fight. At some point Bjorn is going to have to decide whether he wants to establish himself as a powerful statesman or travel the world in search of new adventures. Ragnar Lothbrok’s oldest son and the newly released and outfitted Harald Finehair inform Olaf that they’re prepared to put this proposition before the other kings and queens, but the wild card here will be Harald. After all he’s endured since crossing paths with the Lothbrok clan, it seems unlikely he’ll abandon his dream now that this new opportunity presents itself.
As much as we all love Floki, if there’s any plot thread that series creator Michael Hirst should just let go, it’s the Icelandic story. Whenever addressed, it feels terribly out of place and attached simply so we remember it’s out there waiting for a development that never seems to come. Tonight, Bjorn confronts Kjetill Flatnose (Adam Copeland) about the truth surrounding the fall of Floki’s community, and while he initially omits some of the more incriminating details, the fact that he eventually admits his own culpability should send up a red flag for Bjorn. “In the end, I am Viking; it was a matter of honor,” he admits, but Bjorn’s more concerned about Floki than the demise of Eyvind’s family. “You better pray to the gods that one day Floki returns to verify your story,” Bjorn warns Flatnose who clearly already has Ironside in his sights. “Each man must die someday.”
The interconnectedness of Lagertha’s attempt to forge a new community and Ubbe and Torvi’s decision to explore the unknown set up one of the most heartbreaking scenes Vikings has ever presented. Lagertha’s pragmatic speech to the women, children, and older men of the village lays out her methodical plan to defend the land they’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Everyone has a job, and as she assigns lookout positions to the children, the thought that one of them might die during the ensuing fight doesn’t seem a real concern. Once the attack begins, the young boys and girls complete their tasks flawlessly, and though we do witness some of them fall in battle, these deaths at least have meaning.
The bandits descend on the village as Lagertha predicts, and everything goes according to plan as the raiders are funneled into killing zones making them easy prey for the out-of-retirement shieldmaidens and former warriors. But once the retreat begins and Bjorn and Torvi’s son Hali (Ryan Henson) walks triumphantly into the open space, the sense that something bad is about to occur hangs heavily over a scene that should be filled with pride and joy. Hali falls because it isn’t over until it’s over, and he’s too young to understand the hidden dangers of battle. We’ve certainly witnessed a number of emotional deaths over the course of five plus seasons, but none as poignant as the death scene played so powerfully by Henson. “I don’t know if I did enough. I’m sorry,” he tells his grandmother who cradles his body and assures him Odin will take him to Valhalla to live with the other heroes.
All deaths are painful to watch, but Hali’s is simply excruciating when we also consider Lagertha will later have to face Bjorn and Torvi with the news of their child’s death. Whether they hold her responsible and allow this tragic event to drive a wedge into their relationship remains to be seen, but to think it will have no effect seems extremely short sighted. However, as Bjorn sets his sights on Norway’s throne, and Torvi prepares to sail away with Ubbe, Lagertha knows this is only the beginning and further defensive preparations must be made if they are to survive. Surrender is not an option.
While young Hali’s life is heroically cut short, his uncle Hvitserk continues the downward spiral that ultimately leads Ubbe to throw up his hands in disgust at the betrayal he feels as a result of Hvitserk’s perceived failings as a man and a Viking. Something has snapped inside Hvitserk, and despite the best intentions of those around him, the spectre of death looms large. It appears he’s had his last chance to reclaim his status as a son of Ragnar Lothbrok, and like the Icelandic story, this one needs a resolution, sooner rather than later.
Nevertheless, it’s Ivar’s experiences in Kiev that continue to drive the heart of the story. It’s been fascinating to watch Ivar work his magic in the background, and the relationship he cultivates with young Prince igor hearkens back to the life lessons Ragnar taught to the crippled son he was once prepared to let die in the wilderness. Of course, Ivar has more than just Igor’s interests at heart here, and even though Prince Oleg announces he’s begun preparations for an invasion of Kattegat, Ivar correctly doubts the sincerity of this offer. That said, it’s evident Ivar has other plans and begins to lay the groundwork with Igor who clearly doesn’t understand the big picture in Rus and his place in its power structure. Telling the boy he’s been betrayed by his uncle, Ivar adds the reality that “everything here belongs to you; remember that.”
What’s interesting here is that Ivar merely tells Igor the truth, an act that piques the prince’s interest, but it’s when Ivar meets with Oleg and refuses to act as his puppet once they retake Kattegat that the Boneless’ plan begins to take shape. Oleg’s anger boils to the surface, and whether he truly believes he can intimidate Ivar isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that, as usual, Ivar has been thinking one and two steps ahead, so when he approaches the caged Prince Dir and offers to help Oleg’s brother, everything begins to make sense. Like all of Ragnar’s sons, Ivar is not tempted by Dir’s offers of women, riches, and castles; he desires something else. So while Bjorn, Harald, and Olaf consider the ramifications of one king to rule all of Norway, Ivar sets his sights on something far grander. This is definitely one to watch.
Ubbe tells Torvi that “I am trapped here by responsibility, and so are you,” and while this declaration doesn’t resonate with the same power of Ivar’s situation in Russia or the demons that have taken control of Hvitserk, it speaks plainly to the obligations most of the principals feel. “All the Prisoners” puts Vikings back on the map, and lays the groundwork for several intriguing threads moving forward.