This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 9
“Words cannot wish this away. The Rus are coming.”
Though it may appear Vikings spins its narrative wheels in “Resurrection,” the multiple storylines involving the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok grow in intensity as the threat from the Rus becomes the focal point of Harald’s kingdom. Setting up a thrilling mid-season finale, the inevitable showdowns here and abroad should provide a clearer picture of the power dynamics moving forward. And while Bjorn and the other kings have their hands full preparing for the imminent invasion from the east, the Icelandic thread finally returns with some meaningful thematic movement despite Floki’s continued absence. Still, it may be wise to consider Shakespeare’s words from The Tempest as new alliances are formed and prior animus shunted off to the side. “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” In simpler terms, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
After an extended absence from any reasonably significant action, the Icelandic arc suddenly turns interesting despite the fact that Floki remains missing and seems unlikely to return. We’ve already accepted the resurrection of Freydis in the guise of Princess Katia, and whether Ivar’s continued belief that she is the woman he married and then murdered proves true doesn’t really matter at this point. What now becomes important is that Michael Hirst resorts to the same device once again when the mysterious wanderer Othere tells Ubbe and the others that his true identity is that of the Christian monk Athelstan. Of course the irony here lies in the fact that the missing and possibly dead Floki bashes the praying Athelstan’s brains in during the season three episode “Born Again.” So who is this man claiming to be Athelstan, and does Ubbe buy into his story that the man Ragnar once loved as his closest friend has returned from the dead?
Though the settlers appear to have weathered Iceland’s harsh conditions fairly well, and the community seems to be thriving, Athelstan’s claim that he’s found a “Golden Land” teeming with majestic mountains, marvelous forests, and fertile land looks to set Ubbe and Torvi up for yet another adventure in their quest to establish their own identities. But Ubbe hasn’t forgotten the question that continues to hover over the settlement – “and what of Floki?” Perhaps Kjetill hoped the subject would remain unspoken, but he tells Othere that “he does not need to know everything,” a comment that instantly puts Ubbe, Torvi, and their new son, Ragnar, in imminent danger. Athlestan gives Ubbe Floki’s wedding ring and explains the boat builder’s disappearance by telling him that “Floki left because he had no hope left for humanity.” On the surface, that seems to coincide with the Floki we last see before he wanders off, but there’s clearly more going on here than is conveyed to the wisely suspicious Ubbe. “Is your name really Athelstan?”
While it’s certainly dubious that Athelstan survives Floki’s blow to his head and repurposes the Othere identity, it does appear that Hvitserk’s unexpected reunion with Ivar brings him back from the depths of despair and gives Ivar another ally in the plot to unseat Oleg. Ivar accompanies Oleg’s scouting party in Norway, and though Erik’s men manage to force a Rus retreat, the first salvo has been fired. Humor in Vikings rarely finds its way into the story, but Hvitserk’s reproach of his brother’s unfamiliar attire is perfectly placed. “What are you wearing?” But the real key here lies in Hvitserk’s opportunity to rehabilitate not only his image but his spirit as well, and who better to help him with that than Ivar who claims to be happy to see the brother that once chose Bjorn over him. Still, the political landscape has radically changed, and forgiveness the order of the day.
Once Ivar and Hvitserk return to Kiev, the unspoken yet growing rift between Ivar and Oleg manifests itself in the prince’s massing armies he plans to send into Norway. Obviously, we know that Katia’s played by the same actress who portrayed Freydis, and when Hvitserk claims to see no resemblance between the two, perhaps we need to let go of the premise that the princess arose from Freydis’ death. “You’re still crazy, Ivar,” his brother tells him. But it’s the final sequence that presages the clash between Oleg’s armies and whatever forces Harald manages to muster. Watching a stunned Ivar look on as Oleg’s forces march out of the city walls sets the tone for the coming test whose result will either dethrone Harald or ensconce him even more deeply as ruler of all Norway.
Caught in the middle of the impending power struggle between Harald and Oleg, Bjorn finds himself more concerned with his marriage to Ingrid than what he needs to do to reclaim the crown Harald conspired to take from him. With Queen Gunnhild pregnant and seemingly willing to accept a third party into her relationship with Bjorn, her statements and actions may not represent her true feelings in these matters. “I am with child, and I am married to a demigod,” she explains to Ingrid, “as are you,” before consenting to the marriage. Hirst presents the events leading up to the wedding night out of order leaving us to piece together Gunnhild’s plan once Bjorn’s hurtful decision reaches its culmination. It’s an effective technique that underscores Bjorn’s wavering attention to what’s really important at the moment.
While Oleg rules with an iron fist and sends his well drilled troops on their way to Scandinavia, Harald and Bjorn prove they simply aren’t up to the task of protecting Norway during this chaotic period in history. Though he knows Harald will come for him, Bjorn asks Erik to lead the defense when Harald’s attack occurs and seems more concerned about his wedding to Ingrid than the well being of his people. Even though he’s presented the Rus battle flag Oleg’s men leave behind, Bjorn’s convinced he has until spring to worry about any real danger. If not for Gunnhild’s urging that he contact Harald to arrange for a united front, there’s a good chance Bjorn would still be in his honeymoon bed with his new bride.
Reluctantly, Harald listens to Olaf’s advice. Instead of executing Erik and ignoring the news he brings of the possible Rus invasion, Harald agrees to Bjorn’s suggestion. It’s clear he doesn’t possess the foresight or political acumen to successful navigate the change that appears poised to take hold, but he sidesteps his inherent hubris and consents to band together with the other kings. Fear and intimidation certainly have their places as tools with which to govern, and while it might be too soon to conclude that Harald and Bjorn fail their first significant tests as kings, we’re not ready to place them on the honor roll either.
“Resurrection” successfully does what most penultimate episodes look to do – set the narrative up for a flurry of activity that will give fans something to discuss during the inevitable dark period to follow. Knowing this is its final season, Vikings can take off the gloves and leave us with whatever level cliffhanger Hirst chooses. Though there are other stories still in play, the focus on the current triumvirate of Harald, Bjorn, and Oleg still plays nicely into the overall arc that finds Ivar biding his time waiting for an opportunity to regain control. Now we wait to see who falters first.