Instead of wallowing in the death and misery of this past season, in the latest episode of Vikings the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok use Odin’s grave message as a rallying point call to arms to regroup and assemble the largest military strike Western Europe had seen to that point, “The Great Army”, also known by the Anglo Saxons as the Great Heathen Army.
As Lagertha continues to wisely outfit her trading post city of Kattegat with better defense, the sons of the late Queen Aslaug plan their revenge on Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) and King Ecbert (Linus Roache). Ditching the bowl cut do for a sportier coif, Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Anderson) takes it one step further, declaring war on the entire world.
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye (David Lindström) and Ivar finally bond over building a giant army, but fly in the ointment, Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) wants to wait for Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) to return from the Mediterranean on what their next move should be. Meanwhile, Ivar is hellbent still on punishing Lagertha for murdering their mother. As other armies begin to assemble in Kattegat, Ubbe and Ivar seize the moment to strike, but before a conflict arises, Bjorn barges in to put everyone back into their corners.
Bjorn is greatly respected amongst the Lothbrok boys, Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) even traveled to Spain with him, but Ivar is clearly angered by being thwarted. Ivar is still hungry and turns to Floki to regroup who in turn builds him a chariot to finally run his brand of crazy onto the battlefield. With Ivar now mobile, he becomes a dangerous player and that doesn’t escape Bjorn’s careful watch. He’ll need to look over his shoulder though as there are plenty within the Vikings ranks that want to seize this moment as the time to strike with everyone scrambling to wage war with the Saxons.
Speaking of the Saxons, King Ecbert has withdrawn from the spotlight, believing he will be safe from the Viking retaliation and concentrates on his grandson Alfred (Issac O’Sullivan), grooming him to become England’s next great king. Meanwhile, Judith (Jennie Jaques) has taken it upon herself to visit her wretched family to warn them of the impending Vikings’ response. When her parents try to drag her through the mud with her scandalous affairs, Judith stands her ground.
Other happenings behind closed doors include Rollo (Clive Standen) having nowhere to go but back to an enraged Gisla (Morgane Polanski), Ubbe undermines Lagertha to free oft-used slave Margrethe (Ida Nielsen) to form a Norwegian Breakfast Club, Bjorn looks ill-fit as family man, though Helga (Maude Hirst) has opened their family to orphan Tanaruz (Sinead Gormally) much to Floki’s (Gustaf Skarsgård) dismay. Just another packed dose of Vikings as we close on three more weeks worth of new episodes before the next break
Here TV critics April Neal and Ernie Estrella discuss the finer points of History’s Vikings, episode 417, The Great Army.
Ernie Estrella: We’ve got a powder keg of an opening scene with the sons Lothbroks sparring and beginning plans for the great Heathen Army. There’s a lot of really interesting pieces in play here.
April Neale: No lie! I keep thinking that every episode is the best and then … next week! I love how Sigurd and Ivar’s animus is alive and well. Rollo’s farewell, Ubbe’s huevos making an appearance, Gisla’s browbeating, Torvi and Bjorn’s domestic boredom, Astrid’s fluidity if you know what I mean, and THAT scene where Ivar nearly had Lagertha in his sights except…enter Bjorn stage left.
EE: Ubbe really doesn’t want to make a move without consulting Bjorn and despite the wants and desires of understandable revenge, Bjorn has become a savior for Lagertha in many ways. His return not only brings some interesting dynamics. Hvitserk has battled with Bjorn, so he is going to stand by Bjorn. Ubbe obviously defers to Bjorn, but even Hvitserk is not willing to give any of them a chance against Bjorn head-to-head. And as we later see when Bjorn storms the great hall in Kattegat, Ivar retreats.
AN: Hvitserk is the most mentally well of them all, next to Ubbe. Bjorn too. Sigurd is a piece of work and of course, Ivar…But one thing if for certain, the sons of Aslaug RESPECT Bjorn and will follow him too. Ivar is smart enough to know that many are loyal to Bjorn and he wil use this fact to his advantage. In the end, the women aside, there are strength in their numbers and able bodied strapping men are a valuable asset in the days of hand-to-hand combat.
EE: Sigurd makes some good points throughout this episode too. He dreams up the army and isn’t afraid to tell Ivar that he isn’t as bloodthirsty for Lagertha as he or Ubbe may be. And wow, he didn’t shy away from reminding him about the late breast feeding either. Could you imagine how many problems would have been solved if the Lothbroks just had a Playstation? I’m being funny but that’s how these Vikings become so good, they’re thinking about conquering, revenge, and fame, 24/7.
AN: Funny. I think Ivar woudl have still stabbed Sigurd with something in modern times. Sigurd just cannot help himself. Ivar’s only positive role model for a woman was his mother, and since sexually he is unable to get any release, there are deep, weird connectivity issues I am not licensed to discuss here! Sigurd keeps pushing that button. One of these days when Ubbe isn’t there to save him…and let’s face it, revenge WAS the Netflix binge watching of their time. What else was there to do except fish and sharpen swords?
EE: Well, Ivar liked axing other kids in the head, so there’s that… I underestimated Bjorn’s role in this episode because I truly didn’t think he’d be back in time (more on that later). It was reasonable to expect that Bjorn would continue on into the Mediterranean but Odin’s message was like a bat signal for all of the Lothrbok sons to converge and regroup.
AN: Yeah that scene had to happen as no one is prepared to lose Fimmel AND Winnick in the same season amIrightoramIright? Odin’s signal was a total bat signal and now the fans of this series will get a smorgasbord of Viking-English asswhoop. So there’s a lot to look forward to here.
EE: Yes, we’re getting pulled one way and then another. I really thought we wouldn’t see the assembly of the Heathen Army until Season 5 but here we are. Then of course, there’s Bjorn’s play for Astrid. I think their prior history was alluded to the first time we see them meet when Lagertha came by to see Bjorn off in the beginning of 4B. But as we see with all of the characters, Bjorn’s personal life is always a complicated thing, bonded by blood to his step brothers, than his loyalty to his women. He’ll gain little fans with that move, but we must remember different times, different cultures, and different moralities. Like father like son though, he’s not around to be there for his kids and you see the cycle turn. As much as Bjorn was his own man, you can see what might have been had he had the same bonding experience with Ragnar had with Ivar.
AN: I knew that was coming, it was foreshadowed the first time he met her and gave her the male handbook up and down once over. You caught it too. Bjorn and Ivar share that, but Ivar would never want to share anything so he will likely try to be the alpha in this Great Army – as witnessed by Bjorn spying on him as Floki created a victory chariot. Bjorn knows what time it is with Ivar. This season is badass all the way around.
EE: Every scene is like a puzzle piece in the bigger picture. Slowing things down a bit, Ubbe sets Margarethe free in front of Queen Lagertha, a move that’s reminds me of Bjorn and Porunn way back. I wonder if this is a theme that Michael Hirst likes, as opposed to trying to set them up with shield maidens, although we’ve seen many of the women take up the shield maiden role later like Torvi. There is something that Hirst is trying to do in humanizing the slave trade though, with Helga and her wanting to adopt the child and every season now it seems we’ve seen one slave featured whether it be Yidu, Magarethe, Porunn, or Athelstan.
AN: The slave woman issue is interesting and it makes me wonder how historically accurate Hirst is being here. As far as slaves go, these Viking slaves had it pretty good, you don’t see too much abuse in this teleplay. I am sure that is not 100% accurate. The good looking ones always got a leg up, they became concubines, wives and had an edge say a less attractive or desirable woman had. So it goes. Women in that time had little to offer other than producing healthy children and being able to help fight, farm and the other ‘f ‘word. I think one of the slaves from Spain will be a player here soon too. They sort of foreshadowed an interest for Bjorn there too.
EE: Judith heads back to Mercia to warn her family and to see Ragnar’s grave site. I love how spunky she is and how she doesn’t take any shit from her father King Aelle. I mean her life is not textbook Saxon living but she’s been empowered by King Ecbert for sure and I’m kind of greedy in hoping we see more of her, since the story in England is really Ecbert and Alfred now.
AN: I loved that scene! Judith kicked some Aelle ass and told her sister to learn to read. How amazing is Judith? I am really impressed with this character and what Jennie Jacques has done with a role that could have been as exciting as toast. She is a formidable presence.
EE: I agree, and say, “hear!” though I’d say hear-hear if Judith had another ear. Now, there’s a variety of scenes that I laughed at, which was a big change from the weight of this season. First, what did you think about Ecbert getting Alfred drunk while giving him a lesson in independence?
AN: Lesson learned! Alfred is being schooled by a masterful tutor who wants to groom him for greatness. If school had lessons like this we would benefit. Ecbert-played by Linus Roache-is one of the top characters in Hirst’s clever reimagined Norse epic. Judith’s scenes were funny too, and I love the exchange between Ivar and Floki, one of my favorites. Floki for all purposes now is Ivar’s paternal influence.
EE: Perhaps what’s why my favorite scene of “The Great Army” was Ivar inviting himself to Helga and Floki’s home. First, Ivar slinks into the scene, and really throughout the episode, like a serpent. But then to bust up the “party” by being insensitive to Helga’s new daughter was comedy, especially with Floki in the background cringing. Ivar can be really funny depending on who he interacts with and I wished Hirst would do that with Ragnar’s other boys. Bjorn had this with Rollo, but of course all of this is changed now. But these lighter moments, even in serious scenes, do become little treasures.
AN: We need more Floki and Ivar, I wonder if he will be part of Ivar’s army? Bjorn is certainly aware as I said before, this is a fact, he knows what Ivar is capable of to an extent, only Ragnar knew Ivar’s full potential.
EE: And the last one has to be Floki building Ivar his chariot. Just imagine what Ivar had going through his mind, to move like that and to be able to go into battle… you can start to see how he becomes feared. But in the distance, again, Bjorn is there to see it all play out and he’s taking notes.
AN: The relationship between Bjorn and Ivar is of great interest to me. I am still thinking and processing that moment. But I love that Ivar got a chariot and that Floki is looking out for him.
EE: Alright, what say you about Egil the Bastard? Guy rolls up to Halfdan and King Harald the Finehair looking like Porunn’s brother, post facial wound. These guys are certainly ready to be dealt with but I’ve got a bad feeling that they’re going to take someone out before all is said and done, otherwise it’s just a distraction to have more enemies within the ranks of the Vikings.
AN: Conniving untrustworthy climbers. They are the threat to Lagertha when the men and her sons leave to fight the English. That’s the weakness they discussed, and they will strike Kattegat at its most vulnerable time I am sure of it. I hope Lagertha and the maidens dispatch these guys.
EE: Good points, April. I think you’re onto something. Let’s close this episode off in Paris, where Rollo makes an offer to open up Frankia to them. Predictably, none of them takes him up on his offer, but I think it’s still a noble gesture on his part, and one that I think Bjorn will be glad to have on his next attempt at the Mediterranean. Gisla goes off on him and I think we can gather what she says, but how’s your French?
AN: Oh she called him all kinds of names for sure, my favorite is “canard” but we know they had great makeup sex.
Three more episodes remain in Season 4. Vikings airs on Wednesdays at 9/8c only on History.