Amazon UK TV review: Vikings Season 3, Episode 10 (The Dead)
50 Shades of WTF5
Ivan Radford | On 27, Apr 2015
Warning: This contains spoilers.
So, here we are. The end of Vikings’ third season. And, like a lot of this uneven run, it’s a mixed, but satisfying, bag.
Season 3 has often struggled for a sense of a direction, roaming all the way from settling down in England with King Ecbert and chums to fighting Mercia and, finally, breaching the gates of Paris. As Episode 10 arrives, though, the focus of the show is revealed to be Ragnar himself, as the king faces the consequences of trying to rule during periods of bold expansion and uneasy alliances.
After his friend, Athelstan, was bumped off by Floki, Ragnar has become increasingly unstable, both physically and mentally: hallucinations have been rife in the episodes since, with Travis Fimmel spending more and more time coughing up fluids and lying down wounded, a far cry from the confident, smirking leader of old. Last week’s unexpected baptism proved a fascinating twist in his personal journey – a move that seemed motivated by his desire to see his beloved monk once again in the afterlife. When he keels over, then, it’s less of a surprise that he should tell Bjorn his last request is to have a Christian funeral.
The French are only too happy to oblige – this kind of event, after all, marks a conquest of sorts over the foreign enemy, especially after the Vikings’ second attempt at an assault left them battered and bloodied. But it’s also a chance for Michael Hirst to re-conquer our attention after weeks of wandering focus: previously, Hirst has tried to introduce more and more enemies and back-stories, but here, his script wisely stops and lets us spend time with his existing characters. One by one, the lead Vikings pay tribute to their departed king. It’s telling that there’s no time for Ecbert in this hour: like the stunningly crafted coffin made by Floki, this episode feels like a more finely honed piece of television.
Lagertha (the always excellent Katheryn Winnick) gives us renewed hope for the couple’s eventual reunion, but it’s Rollo and Floki who plant the most fascinating seeds for the future: Gustaf Skarsgard’s joker embraces his tragic side by declaring his simultaneous love and hatred for his friend, a tirade that reminds us of his murder of the priest. Clive Standen’s brother, meanwhile, spits jealousy at his elder sibling, pleased with his improved fortune: “I always thought they favored you,” he says of the gods. “You thought so too.”
But, brilliantly, the funeral turns out to be a ruse, the coffin a trojan horse to get Ragnar into the city so he can let the rest of the Vikings in. Travis springs out of the coffin with the energy of Season 1’s Ragnar, grinning at the scared onlookers. “I win,” he declares, taking Princess Gisla hostage so that he can leave the church unscathed. For those who have read their history books, it’s an anticlimactic reveal – Ragnar, of course, was never meant to die here – but it’s a satisfying reminder of his intelligence and commitment to victory. Even the previous episodes, which saw the tribe’s assaults border on the repetitive, now seem calculated, as Ragnar tested the French defences and, perhaps, began punishing Floki for his deeds.
It’s not a perfect conclusion, though, as Hirst’s determination to drum up intrigue in enemy courts continues to bemuse: a sequence that sees Gisla “reward” Count Odo for his military prowess swiftly moves from period romance to an awkward 50 Shades of Grey sequence. As always, the tensions within the Viking group are more interesting than those on the outside: it’s no coincidence that the French story line only becomes interesting once more when Rollo (who stays to establish a Viking presence in Normandy) is asked by Charles to wed Gisla and become a ruler himself.
Standen grins, as the prophecy from Episode 1 (that the bear would marry the queen) comes true. Hirst has never relied upon supernatural foreshadowing before to give his show a narrative arc. Judging by the wayward nature of Season 3, it’s a trick that hopefully won’t be used for Season 4. With Rollo and Ragnar ready to square off again, you don’t need a seer to guess what’s going to happen: last time they fought in Season 2, it was a brutal piece of story-telling. With the series’ budget getting increasingly bigger, Vikings remains at its best when it thinks small, driving epic violence through close personal ties. The finale satisfies because it brings us back to those essential bonds. As the Vikings sail away to return next spring, Ragnar stares at Floki and says three simple words; “You killed Athelstan.” The past may be messy, but the future is looking very bloody indeed.
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