This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 4 Episode 4
One thing that Vikings has always done well is to avoid resorting to shocking plot twists, instead opting to introduce subtle complications that while unexpected, open fresh avenues for characters to scheme against one another. Set against the backdrop of the Yule/Christmas season, “Yol” intensifies the rift that’s developed between King Ragnar and Queen Aslaug, and as the other kingdoms prepare for a seemingly inevitable war, whether or not Ragnar will be able to channel his inner warrior becomes the show’s central focus.
That he possesses a wandering eye continues to complicate things for Ragnar, and now it’s his wife’s slave girl Yidu that captivates him enough that he frees her without Aslaug’s knowledge and sets her up in a secret bachelor pad only he has occupied. To ease the emotional pain she senses still plagues Ragnar, Yidu shares a medicinal concoction, and the two experience a hallucinogenic trip replete with fire and dancing. There’s little doubt that he finds her alluring, but is Ragnar using Yidu to force the issue with Aslaug? How to get rid of a wife he no longer trusts nor apparently loves becomes a difficulty that may be easier said than done. Dianne Doan as Yidu is truly engaging, stealing each scene in which she appears, and it’s completely understandable why Ragnar is drawn to her. But more to the point, why does he find it so difficult to remain faithful first to Lagertha and now Aslaug.
As Ragnar’s internal struggles continue, his opponents line up against him, and when King Harald Finehair sails into town, he makes it abundantly clear to Aslaug that he means to overthrow Ragnar. Of course, it would be a huge mistake to overlook the queen’s previous duplicitous actions, and we’re left to wonder whether or not she’ll align herself with the newcomer. Will Ragnar’s attraction to Yidu blind him to the reality of this situation. Has he lost his edge?
Interestingly, Erlendur and Kalf’s plot to assassinate Bjorn fails, and we’re less than horrified when Bjorn literally guts the assassin. Though the man does not reveal who hired him, Bjorn returns to his mother, and with Erlendur and Kalf in attendance, it seems likely that he has a fairly good idea who to blame. Then, when he openly humiliates Erlendur by asking his wife Torvi (Georgia Hirst) to leave with him, the son of King Horik tries to save face by refusing to allow her to take her daughter. Does Lagertha sense something’s amiss? She tells Torvi to go with her son, that she’ll care for the child, but it seems to be more than that. Is it mother’s intuition? Does this set up a Ragnar, Lagertha, and Bjorn reunion?
Now that Bjorn has survived his soul searching trial, he seems more than ready to succeed his father when the time comes, but taking another man’s wife, especially one that’s already tried to have you killed once, undoubtedly means the timetable to eliminate the Lothbroks will be expedited.
Again, though, the wild card in all of the political and personal machinations remains Rollo, whose revelation that he’s learned Princess Gisla’s language provides the most significant plot point. We’re all caught off guard at the annulment ceremony when Rollo’s impassioned plea to Gisla actually melts her heretofore icy heart. When she later enters the guest filled dinner hall, her radiance is immediately apparent, and when she summons Rollo our suspicions prove correct as she initiates a sexual encounter loud enough for the guests to hear. She makes it clear there’s a new queen in town, and while that might bode well for the Franks, Gisla’s dominant spirit won’t be controlled by Rollo no matter how much she’s softened towards him.
Though he’s seemingly unaware, as Ragnar’s world closes in around him, we’re left to wonder whether or not Rollo will add insult to injury by attacking his brother. Has Rollo assimilated himself into high culture never to return to his Viking ways? It seems so, and now that he’s won over Gisla, can the crown be far behind?
Coming on the heels of last week’s appearance of Athelstan, Floki’s consult with The Seer clouds the religious issue even further. Telling the once eccentric ship builder that he’s waited “hundreds of years” for him, The Seer catches Floki and the viewer somewhat off guard commanding him to “show me who you are.” Is Floki a god in disguise waiting to reveal himself to those who’ve remained steadfast in their beliefs? Will he finally reveal himself to Ragnar, or is the king too far gone?
Given everything we’ve seen of Ragnar thus far we might be inclined to believe that he plans to live out his rule comfortably in Kattegat, but when he enters the great hall with Bjorn and finds Harald sitting in his chair, that sly not quite a grin appears on Ragnar’s face as he asks “And you are?” just as the screen goes black. Will this be the impetus that pushes Ragnar to action? That Bjorn is by his side bodes ill for Harald as does the fact that Lagertha waits in the wings suspicious of what Bjorn has left unsaid.
“Yol” somehow manages to deftly address five storylines fated to converge sooner or later, but at the end of the day, all roads lead to Ragnar Lothbrok. How long he can withstand the coming onslaught continues to be the fundamental uncertainty of Vikings.