“These are interesting times. The world is changing and we must change with it.”
That’s Ragnar as he addresses the villagers at Kattegat. It’s a speech that Vikings takes to heart with the second episode of Season 2. Set four years after the events of Episode 1, it’s an unexpected step for the show. Normally, time gaps would occur between series, not between weekly chapters. But Vikings, with its un-helmeted, neatly-haired heroes, isn’t afraid to buck trends now and then.
We catch up with Travis Fimmel’s tidily-shaven leader in his home town, where he is now shacked up properly with Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and his child. But some things never change: even with his lover established as his wife, his womanising ways are still in his system. Meanwhile, he is still ambitious, itching to go overseas again and raid and pillage.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is Rollo. Cast out from the group, Clive Standen’s hairy rival to Ragnar has resigned himself to being the also-ran brute in the barn out back. His wife Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), though, is having none of it: the former partner of Earl Haraldson, she wants back in the spotlight of power. She nudges Rollo back into the fold, forcing him to make an uneasy truce.
Truces are increasingly the name of the game for Ragnar, who must balance friendships with King Horik and Jarl Borg to keep their armies on his side – and make sure is home is safe while he’s away.
The most effective soldier of the bunch, though, turns out to be Athelstan. George Blagden’s monk, once a timid Christian, continues his fascinating path towards Vikingdom. Getting his hands wet (in the red stuff) and wielding a sword, his counter-cultural arc makes him the most interesting person on the screen, and demonstrates again that creator Michael Hirst isn’t afraid to go against expectations.
The show’s lingering tension, though, comes from using that time jump to set up several unanswered questions. Where is Lagertha and his other son? How will Bjorn, now that he’s grown up, react to his dad’s new family lifestyle? And with Rollo on the cusp of being welcomed back, which path will he choose?
In the short-term, the introduction of a new villain in the land of Wessex adds a promising cliffhanger for more carnage – an immediate onslaught of action that wouldn’t have been possible if we saw those interim four years play out in realtime. Times have changed and, with its stalwart cast still as engaging as ever, Vikings has proven that it’s willing to change with them to make sure things stay interesting. This is a promising start to what could be a much stronger second season.
Want more Vikings? Read our interview with creator Michael Hirst.
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