Amazon UK TV review: Vikings Season 3, Episode 7 (Paris)
Floki and Ragnar8
Paris and England3
Ivan Radford | On 08, Apr 2015
Warning: This contains spoilers for anyone who has not seen Episodes 1 to 6 of Vikings Season 3. Read on at your peril.
So, Athelstan is dead – and with him goes one of Vikings’ most interesting characters. How will Michael Hirst fill such a gaping hole in the show? Episode 7 suggests with some difficulty.
Last week’s surprise slaughter of the monk appeared to mark the end of a chapter in which pagan and Christian mythologies co-existed in a fascinating harmony. The Viking settlement in England had been slaughtered. Athelstan had found peace with his God. The Norsemen were moving on to pasteurs verd.
The attack on Paris, then, is the start of a new chapter in the Viking tale, one of good old pillaging and conquering. It gives a much-needed sense of direction to the narrative, which has bumped along – albeit enjoyably so – this season. But what we soon find is that this new territory has its own, new stories to go with it.
There’s Emperor Charles, who is hardly the most inspiring of French leaders. There’s his daughter Gisla, who encourages him to stand up to the invaders. And there’s Count Odo, who has a thing for Gisla.
Hirst’s strength as a writer has always been to offer sympathy and understanding of unknown enemies. The programme itself is a revisionist study of The Other in English history: we, after all, know very little about Vikings. Without that willingness to consider a foreign perspective, we wouldn’t have fleshed-out characters such as Lagertha. We certainly wouldn’t have had Athelstan, who began as just another victim of a Viking raid abroad.
But that same attitude could be the show’s undoing: while we are getting to know our new French counterparts, we are still asked to engage with Ecbert and his messed up kingdom. Ecbert’s son, Aethelwulf, is sent to talk to his increasingly unbalanced sister about surrender – an encounter that is treated by her in typically titillating fashion, but one that feels far from urgent, especially when we know that it has little impact upon the Vikings, who have no more uneasy alliances to maintain with the English.
“Tell her we will destroy her, and her limbs being fastened to four horses, her body will be torn apart,” says Ecbert with relish, before finishing limply: “Or something.”
Far more pressing are the alliances within their own camp, as Ragnar deals with Floki’s killing of Athelstan. The opening shot, a close-up of Lothbrok’s piercing stare directed right at the joker, as both are sat in a rocking boat, literally wobbles with tension. Travis Fimmel is as ambiguous as ever, smirking and glaring to the point where you expect him to lash out. Instead, he goes to the other extreme and promotes Floki – a decision that sees Gustaf Skarsgård’s boat builder turn bad dictator, gleefully running to telling Helga of his deed, before ordering everyone about in panic.
“So, does anyone have a plan?” he asks, with a pang of tragic humour. Is this the start of Floki’s downfall too? If so, that could see the show without two of its strongest characters. While it is true that Linus Roache’s Ecbert is fun to watch, and that Paris is a thrilling new land to discover, Vikings needs to decide which direction its boats are pointing in; even with aquatic expert Floki in charge, it’s impossible to sail both ways.
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