First look UK TV review: Vikings Season 6
Ivan | On 08, Dec 2019
Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 1 to 5 of Vikings.
It’s not easy being a viking – especially if you’ve lived to see the age of the civilisation post-Ragnar Lothbrok. As his family and descendants have descended into chaotic feuding, Vikings the TV show has similarly lost focus since his departure, with Season 5 entertaining in fits and bursts but frequently losing its momentum and drive. Just look at the way they treated Lagertha, who disappeared and reappeared when required, or Bishop Heahmund (remember him?), who was introduced as the next big thing, until he suddenly wasn’t and got killed in battle.
Alex Høgh Andersen’s Ivar proved the unlikely saviour of the fifth season, providing a central lightning rod for events through the sheer force of his violent arrogance. It’s unfortunate, then, that Season 6 – the show’s final run – may end up suffering for its continuing emphasis on him.
We pick up events several months after the battle of Kattegat, with Bjorn now King. Alexander Ludwig remains a brilliantly compelling presence, and he and Ivar have helped to move the show on from Ragnar’s generation to the new generation of vikings inheriting his legacy. They represent the two opposite sides of their father, one the mad and ambitious, the other the thoughtful and practical. Divided, neither is likely to find success or peace, but we’ve seen what happened last time they were together: a really, really messy war.
Ludwig brings a wonderful sense of confusion and inhibition to Bjorn, who is wrestling with the demands of being ruler of Kattegat – chief of all the decision of whether to help King Harald or not with being captive to King Olaf. Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) naturally counsels not to trust him, while Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) remains the smartest, sanest of the bunch, as he and Torvi (Georgia Hirst) caution Bjorn not to sail off and leave Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) in charge. (Their plans to go to Iceland, find Floki and go searching for farther-flung shores are put on hold to watch the homestead.)
Marco Ilsø promises to cause havoc as the PTSD-stricken brother, but Ludwig teases even more destruction to come, as he starts talking to The Seer – despite the fact that Ivar killed The Seer last season, which suggests that he’s having a nervous breakdown.
Ivar, meanwhile, is also undergoing a transformation, as he finds himself in the hands of the Kievan Rus – Russian vikings. He’s taken under the wing of Prince Oleg, who tells Ivar that he’ll help him go back to Kattegat and reclaim what’s his. Oleg, tellingly, has his own family conflicts to navigate, and he does it with the kind of ruthless brutality that made Ivar such an intimidating villain. He claims to be a prophet, which is almost definitely a pretence, but nonetheless finds a way to make sure he comes out of every scenario on top – right down to positioning himself as the mentor to the heir to the Russian viking throne, the naive Prince Igor.
There’s one surprising moment when Ivar shows a sign of a conscience and humanity, as someone is killed for their unwavering belief in Ivar as a god. But while there’s some intrigue in this new world, Vikings’ sixth season struggles to balance its yearning for new territory and its need to cling to familiar pastures. The notion of Ivar eventually coming back to Kattegat for yet another brotherly battle doesn’t have the intoxicating threat it once did, while the introduction of the Russian empire leave us wondering why exactly Ivar is being featured almost as a sidekick for the new characters. Season 6’s opening double-bill suggests the show is still struggling to find its way to fresh ground, but the more we move away from Kattegat, the more promise there is for this final season to pull something interesting and unexpected off. With the cast as strong as ever, there’s still reason to tune in to found out whether it can.
Vikings Season 6 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.