This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 5
Vikings turns even more introspective as surreptitious political machinations in both Rus and Norway gather steam, increasing the likelihood of an explosive series of events that promises to radically alter the Scandanavian and Asiatic ruling landscapes. And while Hvitserk continues to psychologically spiral out of control fighting his inner demons in Kattegat, “The Key” places a similar obstacle in front of Ivar just as his plan to overthrow Prince Oleg takes its first steps. Though light on action, this Vikings installment more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings with a series of intriguing building blocks sure to induce even more mayhem into an already chaotic world.
Throughout its six season run, Vikings generally plays on the narrative edges when it comes to the supernatural, and while the gods remain an integral part of Nowegian daily life, most mysterious occurrences eventually come with a reasonable explanation. Hvitserk’s battle with mental illness brought on by the death of Thora has been exacerbated by his excessive use of alcohol and now psychedelic mushrooms, and though his hallucinations and visions certainly contain mystical elements, they can all easily be explained. Such is not the case with the circumstances surrounding the return of actress Alicia Agneson.
Agneson first arrives on the Kattegat scene as Ivar’s slave girl Freydis and eventually wins over his heart and mind leading him to take her as his wife. Filling his head with prophecies she claims the gods send her, Freydis eventually sits next to him as queen consort and promises she’ll bear him an heir despite his obvious inability to father children. We watch her use a servant to get pregnant, and then when he’s no longer able to justify his wife’s betrayal, Ivar kills her baby ostensibly because of its deformities. After his defeat at Kattegat, he strangles Freydis to death on the floor of the great hall where her dead body is eventually discovered by Ubbe and the others.
Now, as Oleg’s intended wife Princess Katia, Agneson catches Ivar’s attention, and it’s immediately apparent he’s mesmerized by more than her obvious beauty and innate charisma. “Have we met?” he finally asks Katia before later confronting her about their past as husband and wife. Coming on the heels of Hvitserk’s apparitions, is it possible that the sociopathic Ivar suddenly develops a conscience even as he plots the overthrow and likely death of Prince Oleg? Still, she neither confirms nor denies his recollections leaving Ivar and the audience to wonder whether Freydis has magically risen from the dead to haunt her killer and former husband, or if Katia merely bears a remarkable resemblance to the woman who sat briefly on the throne next to Ivar. Regardless, it seems unlikely that Ivar will succumb to the same intense guilt his brother feels, and even though this turn of events feels as if it bears Oleg’s stamp, that too seems highly unlikely.
Never one to underestimate his adversary, Ivar continues to carefully cultivate his relationship with young Prince Igor who now sees the northman as his royal equal. “What are we going to do my fellow king?” the boy asks before they set out to free Oleg’s brother Dir and take the first step toward a royal coup. Though Oleg punishes the guards who allow the escape, it’s the ostentatious presentation of their severed heads at dinner that hints that the prince may have discovered Ivar’s plot to put Igor on the throne. It’s difficult to ignore the obvious glee the young prince derives from these gruesome displays as he observes and learns from the two men jockeying for control of Rus. However, the more the young prince understands about his place in the line of succession, the more volatile the situation becomes, and Ivar may simply be biding his time to step in and pick up the pieces.
Though the defensive preparations surrounding Lagertha’s village quickly take shape, it’s her admission to Gunnhild that casts a shadow over what should be a period of quiet confidence that they’ll be able to once again hold off the bandits. A comfortable retirement is simply not in the cards for Lagertha, and now with the death of her grandson, she tells Gunnhild that she “can never be the same.” She still has her granddaughter to protect, but Lagertha exudes a sense of resignation we’ve rarely witnessed. And despite the upbeat sense of belonging Gunnhild instills in the women, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they’re preparing for their last stand.
Nevertheless, the true focal point of “The Key” resides in King Olaf’s well meaning attempt to redefine the Norwegian political landscape, and when Bjorn proposes the benefits of fighting others rather than amongst themselves, most of the other kings and jarls understand that value of this plan. Most, but not all. King Harald Finehair finally sees an opening, and if knowing side-glances to some of the other noblemen and women mean anything, it’s that electing Bjorn Ironside as the first king of all Norway will not proceed as planned. Not unlike contemporary political elections, a certain amount of behind the scenes campaigning takes place, and though he’s made no secret of his desire to rule all of Norway, Harald begins to subtly finesse some of the others.
It’s still not clear whether Bjorn truly wants to take on the challenge of this throne, and when the kings, earls, and other noblemen move to the floating circular platform to cast their ballots, his quiet confidence seems to provide the answer. For all his amusing idiosyncrasies, Olaf gets to the heart of the problem when he chastises the others for the inability to see beyond their own self interests. And while his assessment is undoubtedly true, it also sets the stage for Harald to take what appears to be meant for Bjorn and subvert a process intended to establish a sense of democracy among the competing warlords.
There’s little question that Harald has his eyes on the throne, but getting Bjorn out of the picture also benefits Kjetill Flatnose whose return from Floki’s Iceland expedition raises questions Flatnose doesn’t want to answer. There’s enough subtext here to deduce that Harald has recruited Flatnose to take Bjorn out of the picture, and whether this tactical strike occurs before or after the election, the future for Ragnar’s eldest seems cloudy at best. The exchange between Torvi and the young woman in love with Bjorn underscores the menace he faces from those unwilling to allow the Lothbrok dynasty to continue. Torvi senses something’s wrong, and she’s waited on this dock before only to face the uncomfortable truth Kattegat’s families face. “Each time he came back, he was further away.”
Vikings has settled into a comfortable structural rhythm with its ten episode half-seasons, and “The Key” nicely addresses arcs for Lagertha, Bjorn, and Ivar that promise to deliver results that at this stage of the narrative may prove emotionally disappointing. Still, all great things come to an eventual end, and Vikings is no exception. I think we all need to brace ourselves; change is afoot.