UK TV review: Vikings Season 4, Episode 10
Unexpected time passing5
Ivan Radford | On 30, Nov 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
“The dead will conquer Paris and The Bear will be crowned by a princess.” Those were the words of the Seer in Kattegat all those episodes ago. And, sure enough, that’s where the Season 4 midseason finale leaves us: with Rollo, in Paris, being crowned. Not as a king, but as Caesar. Why? Because he just successfully defended Francia from the Viking hordes. Again.
It’s not the ending you’d expect for the tale of Ragnar Lothbrok and his kin – but that’s because this isn’t just Ragnar’s tale. Season 4 has made that increasingly apparent, as creator Michael Hirst has brought the Viking leader closer and closer to his death bed, to the point where he even wanted to die himself, but was refused entry to Valhalla by the gods. Now, he’s a shadow of his former self, living mostly off Yidu’s mushrooms, hoping they will give the strength to face off with his brother, Rollo.
We already know that Rollo outfoxed his brother once, prompting Ragnar’s grand plan to hike all the bikes over the mountains to get past his defence. But Rollo and his fleet sail out to meet them head-on, and they clash in the middle of the river. It’s a battle even more ferocious than the one in Episode 7, as brother becomes obsessed with one thing: killing their sibling. It’s the same seed of animosity that gave Vikings’ second season such a powerful spark, and here, it blossoms into a gripping piece of television.
Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar is an unsettling sight, as he pushes his body beyond its limits just to get through their battle. Clive Standen, though, really shines as Rollo. “Gather all your strength and all your sweetness into an iron ball!” he tells his men, ordering them not to retreat but to end the conflict there and then. He’s never been more emotional, courageous or intimidating. When he and Ragnar do collide, Lothbrok mocks him for his French armour and carefully pruned hair, but Rollo’s the one who looks like a ruler.
Hirst choreographs their collision superbly, boiling the political down to the personal – King Harald’s brother dying keeps the focus on meaningful casualties, while it’s no coincidence that he makes sure we see Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick, under-used after an excellent season) and Bjorn both watching them fight. When Lagertha is stabbed, though, Bjorn rushes to help; given a choice between all the members of his family, he picks her. And she would probably pick him too. It’s that kind of tiny character moment that makes Vikings’ pay-off so satisfying – that and the fact that it can still surprise us, even after all this build-up.
Because yes, Rollo returns home, after Ragnar’s troops ferry him back in a boat. And he is adored, praised and welcomed by crowds of French people, chanting his name. He practically weeps with joy, as his wife stands with him and the king crowns this bear of a man. “God bless Paris!” he manages between his bloodied lips – a cry that firmly takes him away from the Viking gods of old. In case we have any doubt of Rollo’s established place, the Emperor even kills Roland and Therese, to make sure that Rollo is his real heir.
Rollo has never been a winner; he’s always been a loser. So it’s a genuine thrill, even if you know the history books, to see him come out on top – not just because it’s a surprise, but because we’ve seen him earn it over four long, hard seasons.
That’s when Michael Hirst really delivers his big surprise: before we can see what happens to Ragnar, we jump forward in time by somewhere around six years. It turns out, though, that nobody knows what happened to Ragnar: he disappeared after his Paris defeat, leaving Kattegat to grow in his absence. Now, as we return to it, it’s much bigger, almost a city, with Bjorn and Aslaug both in prominent place – it’s to them that a messenger arrives, informing them that Ragnar has a son in Wessex, named Magnus, and that their settlement was destroyed by King Eckbert, something that Ragnar had kept secret from them.
Alexander Ludwig has grown to look more and more like his father’s son over the last three seasons – he was introduced after a similar time jump in Season 2. Here, his beard’s more impressive than ever, but he also carries a calm maturity that he has inherited from his farming father, as well as a respect for a man whom he knows was no flawless hero. Thank goodness he’s here, then, because after the second season’s time jump, it’s hard not to feel a tad cheated by this one; doing us out of a resolution to the story’s bloody climax, it’s as frustrating as it is ambitious.
But it’s reminder that Hirst has bigger ideas than you might expect, ideas that earned him the double order of 20 episodes for this season. Leaping forwards at its halfway point, he demonstrates that he’s not just telling Ragnar’s story: this is the story of Ragnar’s sons, who, eventually, go on to become more famous than him.
Bjorn plans to sail around the Mediterranean, inheriting his dad’s wanderlust that will seal his place in the history books. The others? Well, that’s harder to say – and it doesn’t help that we get such short time with them to get to know them. Ubbe isn’t keen on his dad returning. The more vengeful and resentful Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Hvitserk want to bump him off. Ivar, meanwhile, seems to understand his dad’s ambition to become famous – but after seeing his nasty behaviour in the past, we know that’s not love talking, just the fact that he shares and admires some of his father’s flawed tendencies.
The actors aren’t great here, with Ivar particularly seeming a tad over-the-top, but it’s far too soon to judge these additions to the cast – not least because who should bowl into town other than Ragnar Lothbrok himself? Returning out of the blue, he screams at them all: “Who’s going to kill me? Who wants to be king?”
It seems a tad anti-climactic, but the difference between Ragnar and the last time we saw Rollo couldn’t more be striking, as Fimmel’s face has more lines carved into it than normal, making him look older and more haggard than ever. Throughout the episode, Hirst keeps cutting back to Kattegat’s Seer, who cries out and wails in pain at the suffering that is taking place, as the prophecies come true. What will happen in Season 4 Part 2? It’s anybody’s guess – but Ragnar’s time is running out fast.
Vikings: Season 4 Part 2 premieres on Thursday 1st December on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 3, plus Season 4 Part 1, are also available.