Wednesday, December 14, 2016

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - Ragnar & Ivar Travel Through Wessex While Lagertha Returns to Kattegat in 'Two Journeys'

History's Vikings - Episode 4.13 "Two Journeys"

Ragnar's fleet is shipwrecked and washes up on the Wessex coast, but without enough survivors to form a credible force, Ragnar and Ivar have a difficult decision to make. Rollo meets his Viking comrades again and can't resist the urge to join Bjorn's voyage, risking his marriage and his new Frankish identity.

"Two Journeys" builds to the first major battle of the new season. And yet, it doesn't come from either of the two voyages that have been teased so much up to this point. Ragnar has sailed to England for personal vengeance while Bjorn has led a mission to the Mediterranean to discover new lands. But the battle of the hour comes from Lagertha leading her army to take over Kattegat. It's a truly thrilling action set piece. This show knows how to do action well. They are some of the best and most exciting moments of the series. But this battle is different from previous ones. It's happening in Kattegat. That's the home for so many of the characters. It's the heart of the viking kingdom. It's the center where the vikings gather before going on any raid. It's been an important city for the entire run of the show. It's had plenty of violence over the years. But now, Lagertha is trying to rise up and take what she believes she deserves. She is finally prepared to challenge Aslaug for this kingdom. The violence of this battle means something. Kattegat has changed over the years. And now, it's about to undergo even more. But this story is just getting started as well.

This story has been something hinted at several times in these opening episodes. It was just something cryptically teased. Lagertha was preparing to do something big. It was noticeable that she and her warriors didn't go with either Ragnar or Bjorn. She was determined to stay behind and carry out her vision for the future. Her taunts of Aslaug last week basically guaranteed she was planning a takeover of Kattegat. But those precise words weren't mentioned until this episode. Lagertha has assembled her army and is ready to strike. She has clearly been thinking about this. Sure, part of this story is just plot setup. It hasn't had the kind of focus Ragnar or Bjorn's journeys have had this season. But this story is important as well. It's Lagertha carving her own destiny and legacy amongst the viking people. She's not content with just being the earl of one community and always following someone else into battle. She's now stepping up as her own woman to conquer this land and become the new queen. It should be an easy fight in the end as well if Lagertha and Aslaug are to do battle as is customary. Lagertha is a trained warrior and Aslaug is not. Though the time jump probably means the audience shouldn't underestimate Aslaug either - even though her time on the show seems to be coming to a close. She built Kattegat into an even better city. And now, Lagertha will take it all for herself. That's a fantastic tease for an epic confrontation in next week's episode.

Things are largely going according to plan for Bjorn as well. He has reached the coast of France. He is once again face-to-face with his uncle, Rollo. Bjorn needs to sail along the coast in order to get to the Mediterranean. It's the only way to these new lands to conquer. It's fascinating watching Bjorn lead the mission. He's the man in charge now. It's no longer Ragnar at the helm. Bjorn has stepped up. He's the one with the vision and the plan. He's the one with the look of calm uncertainty and mystery in his eyes. The rest of the vikings are the ones asking for his thoughts and his plans. Meanwhile, he just sits back and has a civil conversation with the opposing side. Rollo chose to stand with the French. He made that decision and was victorious in Paris. The fall of Ragnar meant the rise of Rollo. That victory marked his full transformation into the leader of the French army. All throughout this season so far, it was hard to tell if Rollo was actually committed to that path. Was he genuinely interested in his new life? Or was it simply the latest way for him to stand opposed to his brother and try to defeat him in battle? That's ultimately what that story was about. It was the end of the war between Ragnar and Rollo. Rollo emerged victorious while Ragnar was destroyed as a man and leader of the vikings. That would have been a satisfying ending for Rollo.

But now, things are getting murky for Rollo once more. He has lived in prosperity for many years. He is happily married and has built a new kingdom along the coast. He has three children now. But once again, the audience is suppose to question where his loyalties truly lie. He committed to the French very suddenly last season. It was an important arc but corners were cut in order to keep things as tense as possible. The audience was led to believe that he truly was a Frenchman now. It's easy to see that in "Two Journeys" because it's a life he has lived for a number of years now. He has built his own life far removed from his brother's shadow. Once Bjorn appears with his new mission though, Rollo is back to being a viking with a lust for adventure. He claims he has committed to christianity but still hears the reminders of the life he left behind. He wants to sail with Bjorn to the Mediterranean. He wants to align himself with the vikings once more. It's something Bjorn is willing to do because he thinks it will be necessary to have a Frenchman aboard. And yet, it's awkward because the vikings will want to punish Rollo for his betrayal. That does happen. But almost drowning hardly seems like the end of that particular road. Gisla says Rollo won't have a family to come back to. But that's if he comes back from this mission at all. The only question is who will ultimately get to kill him?

Meanwhile, Ragnar's voyage to England is in disarray. The storm has destroyed his ships and taken away many of his warriors. Only a small group survive the journey. But Ragnar makes it clear that this journey is about his unfinished business with King Ecbert. He doesn't want to sail back home after this destruction. The raiding party has no hopes of surviving under these conditions. They want to steal a boat and return to Kattegat. Ragnar tells Ivar that he had no intention of ever returning to Kattegat and his family. He had decided that his journey to England would be to his death. He sees this as the end of his life. He makes it so for the rest of the vikings. Ragnar and Ivar kill the rest of the survivors. It's an absolutely brutal sequence. It shows that Ragnar is still vicious and will eliminate anything that threatens his plans. But it's also notable that Ivar does a lot of the killing. It becomes more difficult for him once some of the vikings start waking up. It shows just how skilled a warrior he is. But it also highlights his newfound understanding of his father. He knows this is a personal suicide mission for Ragnar. Ivar understands this could be the end for him as well. But he has accepted that because he'll get to spend this time with his father.

Ragnar and Ivar learn so much about each other during this journey to King Ecbert. Ragnar has to carry Ivar on his back. That makes the walk much more difficult for him. And yet, he also realizes that Ivar is a strong man. His disability doesn't make him weak. It instead has made him strong. He has a unique perspective that is different from the rest of his brothers. That makes him a valuable addition on this voyage. Meanwhile, this is a time where Ivar gets to see the man behind the legend that is Ragnar. He has grown up listening to stories of his celebrated father. He knows of the lands Ragnar has conquered and the ingenuous battle strategies he has used. But now, Ivar is seeing the broken and beaten down man. Ragnar is a man close to death who is just trying to do one last thing in this world. Ragnar no longer believes the gods have a plan for him. He no longer believes that there is anything beyond this world waiting for him upon death. Ivar believed in the gods as well. He believed that they favored his father and led him to all of this greatness. But now, he sees that his father crafted his own legacy. He was a smart man who knew what to do and wasn't afraid to do whatever it took to succeed. And yet, that now leads the two of them to the heart of Wessex. They'll still be able to surprise Ecbert and his men. But it should be interesting to see what this journey ultimately becomes for both of them.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Two Journeys" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by Sarah Harding.
  • Of course, Ecbert and Aethelwulf know that Ragnar has come to Wessex once more. They discover the wreckage of his ships. They find the bodies of the vikings Ragnar and Ivar kill. Ecbert doesn't see Ragnar as a serious threat. He's just one man. But Ragnar just shows up to be captured. He's not being hunted by the English army.
  • Moe Dunford has been promoted to series regular as of this episode. So, that probably means Aethelwulf will be taking on even more importance during this season. Just like Ragnar, Ecbert has become an old man. So, this may be the final story for him as well which would signal the rise of Aethelwulf.
  • Torvi is helping Lagertha with her takeover of Kattegat. She's the one providing inside knowledge. Does that mean Bjorn is aware of what his mother is planning? He's always been closer to her than Aslaug. But he did help lead Kattegat and the vikings alongside Aslaug in his father's absence.
  • Lagertha is also aware of Margrethe and how she can be used to distract Ubbe and Sigurd. It's a little clunky when she brings up that they'll have to choose who can be with her or learn to share. But it's all just a ruse to capture them while Lagertha leads her coup.
  • However, could it be a mistake for Lagertha to leave Ubbe and Sigurd alive? If she is successful in this venture, that means killing their mother. That could make them potential enemies for her to deal with.