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Vikings 5 Recap, Episode 1: THE DEPARTED

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!)

Ivar the Boneless

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.

Ubba, Ivar’s older brother

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.

Lagertha in a quiet moment

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.

Floki in transit

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.

Bishop Heahmund the Belligerant

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.

The Wessex Royal Family in, unbelievably, Yorkshire. Left to right, Aethelred, Alfred, Aethelwulf, Judith. Actually, Aethelwulf had 4 sons & Judith wasn’t their mother, but never mind.

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


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5 Responses to Vikings 5 Recap, Episode 1: THE DEPARTED

  1. CDM says:

    Have they done anything to adjust their story to the discovery of the body of a female Viking warrior?

    • Patricia says:

      Hi there. Actually, it’s pretty clear that Hirst wrote his scripts with female viking warriors in mind. Lagertha, for example, has always been represented as a shieldmaiden. In the History Chennel’s episodes on Real Vikings they discuss the weapons found in the Birka grave and Anna Kjelstrom’s assertion that the woman who was buried with them was female.

  2. Susan E Johnson says:

    An excellent recap. I agree with you that they can’t build the series around Ivar. With Ragnar you could root for him because you knew how much depth he had. He had that intellectual curiousity and was so true to his moral code such as it was. There is nothing redeeming about Ivar and no way to root for him. I always thought him like Jax in Sons of Anarchy. A man who could be brutal to gain his objectives but wanting so much more in life.

  3. says:

    A brilliant, thought provoking review as ever. I’ve been out of circulation for a while due to family circumstances so am a little behind. I’ve only watched the first two episodes so far (which were shown on separate weeks over here)Yes, Ivar is a thoroughly unpleasant character and I can’t forgive him for killing his brother even though other characters seem to have done so. The other brothers seem to have a very dispassionate attitude towards him, I was intrigued by their reaction, the speculative and calculating way they watched him when he tried to stand. There’s something about those two, I particularly like them, especially Ubba although I try not to think about the older Ubba in the Last Kingdom as Rune Temte was so good. The direction in which Lagertha’s story is going is very interesting and I don’t know how that is going to develop especially with the offer Astrid received, which I found very surprising. What is the attraction? Why Astrid? The other shock was Lagertha and Harald, why on earth did she do that, what was she thinking?
    I’m not sure about the bishop yet and just how much I’m going to hate him.I need to see more of him but one character I don’t want to see more of is Alfred. I haven’t forgiven Michael Hirst for messing around with history the way he has done with Alfred. I know it is fiction but really….. I can’t help comparing it to The Last Kingdom, where the portrayal of Alfred is brilliant and quite accurate, in my opinion.

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Kirsten. I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Yes, Ivar is a piece of work. As for Astrid and Harald, don’t you think it was a deliberate attempt attempt to undermine Lagerthat by removing her strongest (in every way) supporter? And of course the best way to keep Astrid in his camp is to make her Lagertha’s equal by making Astrid his queen. I totally agree with you about Ubbe and Alfred. This show might as well make them as different as possible from their characters in TLK, because they can’t possibly measure up.

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