Ivar, You Are Crazy
Do you remember the first episode of the first season of VIKINGS? Essentially, it was about two brothers, one of whom, Ragnar, was ambitious and eager for adventure, enthralled by the prospect of discovering new worlds and cultures even if only to plunder them for his own gain. (After all, he was a VIKING!)
Through four seasons we followed the trajectory of this curious, intelligent, cunning and sometimes, it must be said, brutal man who became a little strange as the final season unfolded. Yet, because we were grounded in who he was at the beginning, we could even accept the bizarre aspects of his personality that developed in Season Four. Or so it seemed to me.
The first four seasons explored numerous themes: rivalry for sure; but also family, teamwork, loyalty, justice, religion and, in a big way, war.
But back to that very first episode: one reviewer claimed that there was nothing in VIKINGS as grim or gory as on GAME OF THRONES. Another wrote that there was probably less raping and pillaging than in the historical record but then, who wants to watch that much raping and pillaging anyway?
Well, baby, we’ve come a long way. Now, in Season 5, we’ve got rape, slaughter and pillaging galore. Mostly just for fun. That curious, intelligent man is gone and in his place writer Michael Hirst has burdened us with IVAR (Alex Høgh Andersen) – cruel, vengeful, spiteful, mean, and pitiless when he isn’t whining. (Add your own negative descriptive adjective here if you’d like.) He’s a liar with a warped sense of his own abilities and destiny, and a blood lust that drives him to do unspeakable things that would have made an actual Viking weep. (Murder someone by pouring molten gold down his throat? Really? What a waste of loot!)
Season 5’s two hour opening, The Departed, re-introduced the major characters we’ve come to know, adding a few more and setting up enough conflicts among this bunch to drive another 30 episodes. The themes? So far: rivalry, vengeance and war. You want grim and gory? You got it.
As for me, I’m hoping that crazy Ivar doesn’t continue to take the central role. There is a great risk in building any kind of story around someone so horrible. There is no depth to the character and there is nothing likeable about him. How do we root for someone like that? I can barely stomach him and have already seen enough of him to last me all season.
Thankfully, it appears that upcoming episodes will not necessarily focus on Ivar. The sons of Ragnar, who once ran in a pack, are growing into their own personalities. In this first episode Ubba, in particular, (Jordan Patrick Smith) seems to be having some kind of epiphany in the midst of the Viking mayhem at York. I’ll be interested to see where that leads.
Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), still protective of his mother and with much of his father’s adventurous spirit, has set out for the Mediterranean in search of loot and fame. One has to question, though, his decision to send messages to Lagertha via the villainous Jarl Harald (Peter Franzén). What was he thinking?
Lagertha,(Katheryn Winnick) always a strong character, is pitted against the historical figure Harald Finehair and his ambition to become king of all Norway. She has an odd way of expressing her contempt for him. I thought he was a goner, but Michael Hirst needs him alive to add to Lagertha’s problems and anyway, Harald Finehair didn’t die in Lagertha’s barn, as far as I know. She is also likely to have to deal with Ivar at some point, (the Seer told her that she would die at the hands of one of Ragnar’s sons) as well as some internal dissension in Kattegat.
Floki’s conflict, refreshingly, is not against other men, but against Nature itself as he lands on the coast of a very forbidding Iceland. Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) travels with Odin’s bird, the raven. I always enjoy those visual mythological references that Hirst tosses in. Thank you for the raven, Michael.
Over on the island of Britain the historical Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Bishop of Sherborne – a charming, self-flagellating chap who yearns to slaughter all pagans – has teamed up with King Æthelwulf of Wessex to take on the Danes in York where, probably, neither man ever set foot. The see of Sherborne was on the southern coast, and Æthelwulf (Moe Dunford) was never king of Mercia. Indeed, by the time Heahmund was made a bishop, Æthelwulf was in his grave and his son Æthelred I was king of Wessex. But we are in historical fantasy land these days. Don’t expect much that reflects actual historical events.
Having just written that I have to report that a Viking army did, in fact, capture York in 866, and for 50 years the city remained under Danish control. So yes, that bit was based on a real event. If you’ve seen or read THE LAST KINGDOM you already know what happened when the Saxons tried to take back York. It’s not looking good for Æthelwulf and Heahmund.
I applauded Hirst’s brilliant decision to have the adolescent Alfred the Great (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and his family hanging out in what looked like the watery marshlands of Somerset – setting up the concept that, years later, when Alfred needed a hideout from the Danes, he knew exactly where to go.
It is clever writing like that, along with surprising plot twists, character interactions, personal internal conflicts, and the struggle against the terrifying immensity of Nature, that will keep me watching.
Not the blood and the gore, and certainly not Crazy Ivar.
Photos of VIKINGS © The History Channel