Amazon Prime UK TV review: Vikings Season 3, Episode 1 (Mercenary)
Ivan Radford | On 20, Feb 2015Reading time: 4 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 1 and 2 of Vikings.
“When will I die?” asks Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) at the start of Season 3 of Vikings.
It’s an ominous question for any main character to ask, especially in the opening scene of a TV show’s new run. She gets a typically ominous reply that makes little sense to anyone. “It is the way of a prophecy,” babbles The Seer, ominously, “only to be understood when it has happened and it is too late to be changed.”
Over the years, Lagertha has emerged as one of Viking’ strongest assets. From the gutsy shield maiden at the side of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), she went off to find her own path in Season 2, a decision that sadly left her fairly absent from the screen and schackled to a second, unappreciative, bullying husband – until she stabbed him in the eye and became an Earl in her own right. That’s just how Lagertha rolls. Hell, they should rename the series Viqueens.
Now, she stands again by Ragnar’s side, but as an Earl in her own right – Earl Ingstad, as she dubbed herself. It’s a formidabble sight, one that her legendary ex-husband clearly enjoys. Fimmel has always specialised in delivering sideways grins as he talks and listens, suggesting cunning thoughts or private amusement. Here, though, he just looks happy: a farmer with his son, a horde of invaders and an ambition to, well, do some farming.
To get their hands on that treasured piece of England’s green and pleasant land, though, they have to enter into an agreement with King Ecbert: mercenaries to help his own political plotting. The mission? Sail off and help Princess Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey) of neighbouring Mercia take out her uncle and brother to claim the land for herself (and, by extension, Ecbert).
So far, so Vikings. History’s programme has always excelled at its battles – and Season 3 is no exception, packing the 40 odd minutes with carnage galore. With a bigger budget to back its buckets of blood, it’s a satisfying statement of intent: action. And lots of it. Season 2 opened with the same idea, pitching Ragnar against his rebellious brother, Rollo. While that conflict carried some character-driven clout, though, this feels slightly less engaging.
Splitting up the party into two, with Ragnar and co heading into the fray and Athelstan (the always fascinating Charles Blagden) and Lagertha heading for the farm, leaves the battling team without its best players. But it doesn’t help that our soldiers seem of less substance than usual. Sitting around Kattegat for the first act, they lament about their women troubles or having to commit to partners. Floki virtually flees from his child, as soon as he gets the chance, while even Bjorn is reluctant to bring Porunn with him, albeit for slightly different reasons. Their relationship reached a satisfying union last season, while Alexander Ludwig’s performance is uncannily like his father, full of Fimmel’s awkward glances and knowing confidence. But here, Michael Hirst’s script unusually delves into blokey stereotype. Marauding! Swords! Boats! Men!
That manly atmosphere lingers, with the continued presence of Amy Bailey’s alluring Princess Kwenthrith seeming to indicate that Season 3 is headed in a steamy direction. Ecbert’s son, Aethelwulf, heads out to battle, leaving behind his wife, who starts hitting on Athelstan. Kwenthrith starts making inevitable eyes at Ragnar, who is guaranteed to get his kit off for any woman who comes his way. Back in Lagertha’s home town, meanwhile, loyalty and lust raise their heads, as plots thicken with her handsome subject Kalf (Ben Robson). It’s hard to think of someone who isn’t bonking someone else. It all climaxes in an orgasmic cry from Kwenthrith – one of shock? One of pleasure? It’s hard to tell. But you get the impression that it will soon lead to more sex. And that the princess will enjoy the heck of it.
The resulting hour looks great and is performed brilliantly by the cast, but Episode 1 of Season 3 is not quite as compelling or tightly knit as the series’ best. Nonetheless, the opener skips along at a typically enjoyable pace, while the prospect of future raids on Paris promises satisfying skirmishes and shaky alliances on a larger scale by the season’s end. For all its testosterone-fuelled leanings, though, Vikings’ strength remains its female characters, led by Lagertha. Katheryn Winnick proves endlessly watchable whatever she’s wielding. You can’t blame Linus Roache’s slithering King Ecbert for finding himself under her spell. “Shield maiden. Farmer. Warrior. Mother,” he breathlessly sighs. When will she die? Hopefully not any time soon.
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