Wednesday, January 30, 2019

REVIEW: 'Vikings' - The Battle for Kattegat Is Fought Once More by the Sons of Ragnar in 'Ragnarok'

History's Vikings - Episode 5.20 "Ragnarok"

A new battle for Kattegat is on and only the gods know who will emerge victorious.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season finale of History's Vikings.

"Ragnarok" was written by Michael Hirst and directed by David Wellington

This season has followed the dual journeys of Ivar and Bjorn rising to power. Sure, there were many other narratives also going on that have complicated the overall series extensively. And yet, the focus remains squarely on Ivar and Bjorn in this finale. No time is spent in England or Iceland with the respective viking settlements. That means there is no clarity given as to what happened to Floki in that cave. He could have died because of the collapse which would result in an ambiguous ending for a memorable and vital character. Or his ongoing struggle for his faith could remain a significant story in the sixth and final season of the drama. Meanwhile, Lagertha is only seen very briefly alongside Ubbe and Torvi. They are no longer settling the land given to them by King Alfred. They too have decided to return to their homes in Kattegat. That is a huge move as well. This batch of episodes opened with the viking forces led by Lagertha, Bjorn and Ubbe defeated by Ivar and Harald. They were forced to join the English in fighting against their fellow vikings once more. It was a deal that enriched them so much. However, a new group of vikings is achieving Ragnar's dreams of living a peaceful coexistence with the English. The Danish army is now living on that land. It ensures that things will remain open between the vikings and English moving forward. They may no longer have to fear each other despite the ideological differences especially when it pertains to faith. However, Ubbe also made it clear that he hasn't converted to Christianity. He still prayed to the Norse gods for strength. He believes he is still alive because of that devout faith. As such, it's meaningful that he has returned to Kattegat with Lagertha and Torvi. However, Lagertha doesn't return to her home with the hopes of being its ruler once more. She died on the battlefield in England. And now, she has been reborn with a different identity. She has more clarity on the purpose of life. She believes it may all be suffering and humanity is asked to find the best reaction to the worst circumstances. That's bleak. However, it's freeing for her because she understands that now. She knows that she no longer has to be the queen of her people. She can pass the sword down to her son. Bjorn is the rightful ruler of Kattegat. The return of Lagertha, Ubbe and Torvi is only celebrated because Bjorn and his forces emerge victorious against Ivar in this battle. That's not a certainty for a long time though. Lagertha has that faith in her son. However, the show keeps things very intense until the last moment for the audience. It wants the viewer to believe that any outcome is possible simply because both sides have smart strategies. This isn't some surprise attack that Ivar wasn't expecting. He knew that his brothers were coming to kill him. In the end, they don't succeed in that endeavor. However, the power dynamics have shifted once more.

Bjorn has been a legendary warrior amongst the vikings for awhile now. He has led his own raiding parties that explored parts of the world Ragnar never even dreamed of seeing. That may still be his grand ambition as well. He may want to return to that sense of adventure and exploration. The vikings have been feuding for so long though. He doesn't see a good reason for why the family squabble amongst the sons of Ragnar has to extend to the entire viking community though. Sure, all of the vikings understand that the sons of Ragnar have to be elevated to God-like status simply because of their own legends throughout the world. Ragnar changed everything for them. And now, the sons of Ragnar continue to do that exact same thing. They have improved the status of Kattegat in the world. The Scandinavian region is now on the world map. The English and French have a relationship with the norse people. Those are relationships that are beneficial to many different sides of this conflict. Right now though, it's all about the latest conflict amongst the vikings. Again, it seems like Bjorn and his forces are defeated in battle. They figured it would be a smart idea to divide their forces into two in order to attack the wall fortresses in different spots. It's a strategy that doesn't work. Ivar still has a sneak attack that leaves Bjorn cornered and close to death. Of course, he still survives. He's a legendary warrior after all. His recognition is enough to create doubt in the minds of Ivar's soldiers though. That's the most critical aspect of this story. Yes, it's an episode full of bloody action that claims even more lives. And yet, Magnus is the only character of importance who dies here. He dies immediately after embracing his identity as the son of Ragnar. And yet, he is easily killed which may prove that he wasn't destined to accomplish many things like his more famous siblings. His death isn't even important in the grand scheme of things. No one mourns his loss. Instead, the narrative has to keep moving forward with Bjorn making his plea to the people of Kattegat that they need to rise up against the tyrant who currently rules them. Ivar has become such a despicable and cruel figure as king. He believes himself to be a god who must be followed at all times. He expects absolute loyalty from his people because he claims to be the one person who knows how to best protect them during these trying times. And yet, he is a selfish and impulsive man who will always protect himself first. He expects to be forgiven by Freydis for killing their son even though he shows no remorse whatsoever. He is so distraught over having to kill her for betraying him. He can't believe that so many people refuse to see what he perceives to be genuine kindness. He doesn't realize the full extent of his own destructive impulses. He is a monster who must be stopped. And yet, he escapes here. The war amongst the sons of Ragnar isn't over with even though Bjorn has risen as the new king of Kattegat. That's a significant shakeup to the power structure of the show. Ivar may be on the run now. However, it's still unclear if he actually learns anything from this loss considering he still has allies who are willing to protect him. He could remain just as delusional during the final season as well.