Thursday, February 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ragnar Returns to Wessex to Settle But King Ecbert Proposes a Different Plan in 'Mercenary'

History's Vikings - Episode 3.01 "Mercenary"

Ragnar and Lagertha's fleets depart Kattegat once more for Wessex, but this time they bring settlers. King Ecbert hosts the Vikings and proposes a deal.

The vikings are warriors. They have been for generations. Their society has always focused on pillaging and reaping the rewards. Ragnar was the first viking to have a vision about what their lives could become. He lowered himself down to grab power and to change the way they conducted business. Not everyone has agreed with his strategy. He's had several people stand in his way of achieving success - Earl Haraldson, Jarl Borg and King Horik. But he's always been able to come out on top because his way of thinking has always been the right approach. Everyone else is too focused on doing things the way that they always have and not looking at the bigger picture.

First, Ragnar sailed west for the first time and found new land. He rose to power quickly after that and didn't let his partnership amongst equals with Horik and Lagertha get in the way of his vision. And now, Lagertha is fighting alongside him again and Horik is no longer in the picture. Ragnar is king of the vikings now. His new authority hasn't changed him at all. He's still living in Kattegat and looking forward to settling in Wessex and honoring the deal he made with King Ecbert. Ecbert is a fascinating character because he's the first one who seems to be Ragnar's equal. The show can only be so interesting if Ragnar's way of thinking is the right way all the time. He needs a worthy opponent to face. Ecbert presents that option even though the two are somewhat allies right now.

The vikings are preparing for their journey to Wessex. It seems like the various regulars are looking forward to this journey to bring change to their lives. The warriors are looking forward to battle again even though this mission isn't about fighting but settling on the new land. For Ragnar and Lagertha, it's a chance to continue this legacy of success. They are making roots that everyone else isn't thinking about. Bjorn is happily in love with Thorunn, who may be pregnant with his child. He's overprotective of her and doesn't want her to join the voyage. They really are becoming the next generation of Ragnar and Lagertha. Bjorn even points out to his mother just how similar Thorunn is to her. And yet, Bjorn isn't as wise to the world as his father is. He's fighting for his community but he's anxious to fight. He's not looking to settle and farm once again. That's the lifestyle that his father lived and this is his vision coming to fruition. And yet, Ragnar needs to explain the perils of having power to his son.

People are always going to try to wrestle away power from those who have it. Ragnar has had to fight in order to protect his family and Kattegat from those who want to hurt him. He sees England as the future but Kattegat is his home. He may be growing distant from Aslaug following the birth of their crippled son. But this is the land he always wants to return to. Similarly, Lagertha is more than willing to help Ragnar achieve his vision of conquering land in England. The land that she governs as Earl wasn't explored that much last season but this year hopes to change that. She has a trusted second in command, Kalf (new series regular Ben Robson), who she trusts governing the land in her absence. The families in her land are bitter about the way she became Earl and how she's risking their lives just to become farmers. That stands in opposition to the values the viking community hold dear. So of course, there are people plotting to oust her from power in Hedeby.

But the journey right now is looking ahead to the future in England. The viking forces land on the shores of Wessex and are greeted by King Ecbert and Princess Kwenthrith right away. The language barrier still exists between the two civilizations but that only serves to help illuminate both sides fears of what the other might do. Neither side fully trusts the other one. Ecbert is changing the terms of the deal by asking more vikings to fight for Kwenthrith to regain control of her portion of England. Kwenthrith and Mercia must be important for Ecbert's future plans, but they haven't fully presented themselves yet.

So, the vikings get the fight that they so desperately wanted. The show shines in these elaborate battle sequences. Each one is distinct. The episode is building up to the grand confrontation between the vikings and the army of Kwenthrith's uncle and brother. It's a great set piece where the location design helps establish the stakes of the battle. Both the uncle and the brother's armies stand on opposite sides of a lake. Ragnar has to quickly choose which side he wishes to fight against. He choses the uncle's which means the brother just has to watch helplessly on the sidelines where his family is being killed right in front of him. Kwenthrith has the same experience. She stays back on the ship while Ragnar and company storm the beach. She is excited by how savage the vikings are. And yet, she wasn't expecting how simple it would be for them to kill her uncle. She wants to regain her land from her family, but he is still her family. It's brutal to her as she lashes out those desperate cries in the end. It's what was to be expected of this battle. When the vikings fight, they fight to kill. And now, she has seen that firsthand.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mercenary" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Ken Girotti.
  • The seer has a pretty grim proclamation for Lagertha's future. She will have no more children and destruction will soon envelop its way around her. He may not know when and how she dies but it definitely offers foreshadowing that her death could possibly happen this season. With the people conspiring against her in Hedeby, that could easily occur.
  • Floki is unhappy because his life is too happy right now. That's such a Floki reaction to have even though it doesn't make much sense at all. He was a great character in Season 1 who lost his way a bit in Season 2. So I'm really hoping he gets some redemption soon.
  • Things don't appear to be that good between Rollo and Siggy, but they don't receive a lot of focus in the premiere.
  • Torstein got two women pregnant and has no clue what to do. That's hilarious because the two women also hate each other.
  • Athelstan frequently serves as a translator for both sides. It's especially intriguing once he's on the road with Ecbert and Lagertha. Both rulers respect the other but there's also a fun playfulness between the two that makes the language barrier awkward for Athelstan.
  • Ragnar is learning more about Christianity saying that Athelstan will be his John the Baptist on this upcoming journey.
  • Lagertha complains that no man of stature has proposed marriage to her who she would actually enjoy being married to. And then, Ecbert is just so taken by her later in the hour.