This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 8
“You aren’t fit to be called a son of Ragnar.”
With the death of Lagertha, attention now turns toward Bjorn Ironside, and Vikings appears ready to step up the pace of Ivar’s story in Rus and finally return to Floki’s settlement in Iceland. “Valhalla Can Wait” addresses each in some measure of detail, but it’s still too early to tell whether any contain enough compelling details to carry the series to a successful conclusion.
Wisely, the writers leave neither the audience nor Hvitserk twisting in the wind for too long as Kattegat awaits King Bjorn’s reaction to the news that his younger brother killed Lagertha. As those around him stand in stunned silence, Bjorn berates the psychologically beaten young man, and Hvitserk heartbreakingly acknowledges he’s the only Lothbrok son who’s done nothing to make his father proud. If he thought that admission might garner a bit of understanding from his older brother, he was dead wrong, and Bjorn tells him he will never forgive him. Watching Ubbe and Torvi standing helplessly by underscores the pain they all feel as their world appears to be crumbling around them.
Hvitserk’s deterioration throughout the season forces us to consider the human cost the Viking lifestyle takes on families and individuals, and for the most part, we’re presented only the warrior spirit able to put physical and emotional pain aside in favor of participation in the next raiding party. Even though he’s distinguished himself in battle on more than one occasion, Hvitserk has always been seen as the weak link in the Lothbrok chain. Loss is an integral aspect of the Viking way of life, and though most manage to cope, Hvitserk appears unable.
This is Bjorn’s first real test as Kattegat’s king, and it seems a foregone conclusion that in the end he’ll show mercy on his younger brother. Ubbe urges Hvitserk to beg Bjorn’s forgiveness which seems the prudent approach, but Hvitserk sees things in another light. He can’t forget that Lagertha murdered their mother and now admits that “I was an instrument of the gods” in exacting vengeance for this never forgotten act. We’re treated to some nice flashbacks during which Bjorn remembers advice his father gave him. “Lead with your head, not with your heart,” and as loathe he is to give in to the urge to forgive Hvitserk, Bjorn manages to find a balance in his imposed justice.
However, this is Vikings, and we’ve endured the deaths of Ragnar, Lagertha, and Sigurd, so when Hvitserk is led to the pile of wood for his execution by fire, it seems entirely possible that Bjorn will go through with this act of retribution. Throughout this ordeal, both Ubbe and Torvi seem to understand Bjorn’s need to follow through with this course, though they probably don’t think it’s the right thing to do. That said, one of the most fascinating exchanges occurs as flames begin to surround the bound Hvitserk, and Bjorn nods subtly to Ubbe who flings his ax, severing the ropes which sends their younger brother safely into the water. Bjorn’s message is clear, but somewhat surprisingly he banishes Hvitserk, and as Ubbe notes, “he won’t survive the winter.” A victim of cruel circumstances from his youth, the heart wrenching visual of Hvitserk alone outside Kattegat’s walls will not be easily forgotten.
The situation in Kattegat feels bleak, and when Bjorn asks the people for their support of him as their king, he doesn’t receive the expected response. This has been a difficult time for Bjorn having lost a crown, his son, and his mother, and when Gunnhild steps forward to make an impassioned plea to the crowd, it’s easy to overlook their reluctance to buy into another son of Ragnar as their leader. Is this lack of total commitment the reason Ubbe and Torvi decide to journey to Iceland? Bjorn lets Kjetill know he’s still suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Floki’s fate, but Ubbe has displayed no such concern. It feels out of character for him to leave Kattegat at such a time even though getting away might be the best thing for the grieving Torvi.
But let’s be honest, it’s not all darkness in Bjorn’s world. We knew it was only a matter of time before Gunnhild discovers her husband’s affair with the young and beautiful Ingrid; we just don’t expect the reaction Bjorn’s shieldmaiden wife displays when she finds them in bed together. It’s not clear what Gunnhild’s intentions really are because just after she suggests the three live together, she lets Bjorn know that his foibles are not as hidden as he might think. “You’re a great man, but even great men make mistakes.” And it’s about time someone tells him that the men who attacked Lagertha’s village were the same men he earlier banished when the situation truly called for their execution. Along with Gunnhild, we naturally question whether Bjorn has what it takes to be a successful king.
Now that Lagertha’s story enjoys a measure of resolution, we return to Kiev and witness the psychological warfare engaged in by Ivar and Prince Oleg as it begins to heat up. Though we haven’t spent a lot of time with the Russian story of late, it does appear that Ivar has gotten past Katia and her uncanny resemblance to Freydis. At this point Ivar’s greatest concern revolves around the unpredictable Oleg, and the fact that neither man truly knows the mind of the other. Whether Oleg knows about Ivar’s private mentoring sessions with Igor isn’t clear, but it seems only a matter of time until the young prince slips up and reveals Ivar’s role in the plot to depose Oleg. “He’s a good boy; he just needs to be controlled,” Oleg tells Ivar after Igor makes an ill advised attempt to assert what he perceives to be his rightful place in the power structure. It’s a jarring scene for sure when Oleg literally slaps the boy into submission, an act also meant to send a message to Ivar about who’s really in control here.
Nevertheless, Oleg’s foot dragging appears to be over, and we see one of his riders plant a flag at Istrehagan near Vestfold just before a horde on horseback attacks the village killing men, women, and children. Facing his first test as king of all Norway, Harald immediately displays his shortcomings when he’s forced to enlist the wisdom of the man he recently imprisoned. “These are alien people who have staked a claim to our land,” Olaf tells Harald who now must decide how to respond. Does this give Bjorn the opening he needs to take the crown from the man who took it from him?
With each man heading separately into the unknown, things don’t look good for the sons of Ragnar. Now a wandering exile, Hvitserk faces a likely death either at the hands of the elements, or perhaps, at the hands of Norway’s newest invaders should he not prove a source of military intelligence. Ubbe and Torvi unknowingly place themselves in the middle of a power struggle powder keg about to erupt in Iceland, and his parentage may be a detriment to his safety rather than an asset. Harald has once again made clear that he plans to kill Bjorn, and Ivar continues to match wits with a man who seemingly holds all the cards.
As Vikings closes in on its mid-season finale, “Valhalla Can Wait” lays the groundwork for the Lothbrok sons to face down their personal enemies. Whether that’s compelling enough television remains to be seen. For now, my money’s on Ivar. Will The Boneless return to save Kattegat from Oleg’s sociopathic hand or simply give the people more of the same? It’s possible he’s changed during this long journey, but only time will tell.