There are many moving pieces around a still wounded Ragnar as a new king enters Kattegat on the latest episode of Vikings.
We begin with the pagan and Christian holidays of Christmas Yule as “Yol” rips the gauze off of whatever civility was left between King Ragnar and Queen Aslaug, and as Bjorn survives unimaginable obstacles in his spirit quest to return and bear witness to Lagertha and the men surrounding her that he knows had set out to destroy him.
Rollo hangs in down in Paris and makes a fan out of Gisla in an 11th-hour play for her affections. The ailing Seer anoints Loki as his possible successor.
The fiery Winter Solstice is juxtaposed with the French gilded glory of Noel as we witness the transformative powers of Duke Rollo (Clive Standen) and his mastery of language. Women are all about what they hear and less of what they see, unlike men. Gisla (Morgane Polanski) is shocked and suddenly realizes she has quite a manly specimen she can freely conjugate with, and boy does she make up for lost time.
Aslaug has given the green light to Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) to “be” with Yidu (Dianne Doan). Together they go on a Chinese drug-fueled trip in the animal house nature cabin and Ragnar lets loose, but he returns to problems, as Norwegian King, Harald Finehair (Peter Franzén)has taken his chair in the Kattegat court next to Aslaug. Awkward.
Our big old Berserker was not such a match for Bjorn, as witnessed by his entrails decorating the snow. Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) returns to Hedeby and gives the “I know what you’re up to” side eyes to Erlendur and Kalf. Then he cuckolds Erlendur by taking Torvi (Georgia Hirst) by invitation, she waivers over a child, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) talks some Viking Foster mom sense into her, and off Torvi goes.
The ending sees Bjorn and Ragnar back in Kattegat, but they find Harald sitting in his chair, and that Ragnar bemused smile is followed by “And you are?”
What will become of Harald? We will find out perhaps in next week’s episode five, “Promised.”
TV Critics April Neale and Ernie Estrella break down Yol.
Ernie Estrella: We’ll have time to get into a deep discussion about Viking culture but let’s dive in with Bjorn’s battle with the Berserker.
There’s been some scenes that have been shot throughout this series but that wintry dusted forest made for a great battleground, the silhouette of the trees… the disemboweled carcass of a Berserker…
April Neale: Yes, the entire fight scene between the two men was mystical, shrouded in a fog, cold and I was shocked at how quickly Bjorn dispatched the Berserker.
I mean, how did these guys even have the strength to fight in that environment anyway?
EE: Bjorn goes for it, and then goes straight into Hedeby for Erlender’s wife Torvi, in being ruthless, taking what isn’t his but also showing his power in knowing he can get away with it.
AN: Bjorn is emboldened, he killed a freaking bear and a Berserker! He had some serious swag going into Hedeby. They were shitting in their pants when he walked in…
EE: When he enters that scene, did you catch him calling Lagertha by her name, not by his mother. I think we will see a different Bjorn this season, one that is aware of who he is and who he will be.
AN: Yes, the Viking son has matured. She is forever Lagertha now to him. All the markers of manhood – having a child, bear killing, Berserker besting…Bjorn is ready to stand with Ragnar on an even plane. He’s got some ambitious brothers too that he will have to deal with…
EE: Now another Viking living up to new potential is Rollo who can speak English with the Franks, which means he has learned their language which draws Princess Gisla to him and drops the attempt to annul the marriage.
What do you think is the attraction there? Being able to relate to her?
The effort to learn her language? Or denouncing his Viking heritage to fight for Francia?
AN: I said it above in the intro, we women like what we hear from you men, we are always listening and remembering.
Men can look like a bridge troll but if they are smart, kind (make her feel secure) and can make a woman laugh, panty dropper time!
Women have to look good to a man, visuals are big with your gender, what women say is less important or at the very least secondary.
EE: Men are easily motivated by their smaller brain. We’ll see how long and how well he keeps this up.
For me, it was a sudden change but I’m glad for a shift because we’ve seen him put forth the effort, and I think he’s suffered enough.
King Aella comes back and is creepier than ever. Now it’s not every day you find out your daughter is messing around with another man, namely King Ecbert. But telling his daughter how he’s beat her–those British kingdoms were all kinds of messed up.
AN: Yes, her dad is a vileness. Do not forget that domestic abuse, sexual abuse, incest and outright gender warfare were the norm in those times and beyond, and in certain cultures, religions and countries today, it still exists.
EE: One of the smaller gestures in this episode that could come to swell later is Aslaug bringing Ivar to Floki to teach him how to be a Viking. Do you think Ragnar will consider that a betrayal or some sort of disloyal act?
AN: I think she will manage to conceal it but Ivar, as we know, becomes a great leader. Ivar is her kid and Ragnar still seems to have pangs of guilt for trying to leave him to the grim reaper in the woods.
At this point, Ragnar has bigger fish to fry and worry about than Floki teaching Ivar some Odin and Thor stories.
EE: The Seer seemingly wakes Floki from his brooding slumber, so much that we get Floki’s trademark giggle. What do you get out of this visit?
AN: I think the Seer is pooped and wants to find a successor who has visions like he does, and he senses that Floki has a gift of sorts.
EE: Ahhh, I hadn’t thought of that angle. Floki suddenly has a lot on his table.
I keep wondering if Michael Hirst plans to make this Floki be the great Viking who sailed to what would eventually be Iceland.
Aslaug approaches Ragnar to give him permission to spend time with Yidu if he pleases.
One of the thing that I see people react so strongly to is comparing the culture and multiple partners Vikings have though we have modern culture frowning on these characters, judging them by today’s standards.
AN: I feel there are greater things ahead for Floki! And Aslaug is so over Ragnar, sleeping with Yidu is being engineered by her, it is one less wifely thing she has to do! Her slave can be ordered to become a concubine for a King she has no sexual attraction to anymore so it’s a win for both.
Modern culture may frown on the help shtupping the boss, but it happens all the time, just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mildred Baena!
EE: There’s a great exchange at the beginning of the episode where Ragnar is bathing.
Ragnar: In my world I am constantly torn between killing myself or everyone around me
Yidu: I am a slave, so I have the same feelings
I think this was a really lovely scene and shows how Ragnar tried to break down the walls between classes and roles amongst his people.
We know ho much he loves other cultures but to tell a slave that he is not unlike her…
AN: Yes, she busted some ancient Chinese wisdom on him in that scene and it was a great turn of dialogue – good work writers!
I adore Travis Fimmel’s facial expressions as we see Ragnar mulling, and absorbing information..
EE: Yidu shares her story with Ragnar about Pirates taking her away from her family and brought her into the slave trade. Are you intrigued by Yidu or annoyed by her introduction?
AN: Not intrigued at all by Yidu, she is a detour in this story I hope.
I think she will be a lesser character to an extent but we needed to see the lengths of Aslaug’s antipathy, basically delegating the sex part of her marriage to someone inconsequential to keep Ragnar distracted…
EE: She does seem like a distraction for him and given what’s on his table, perhaps he needs that. Still, for Ragnar, travelers and visitors influence him and pique his interest. So I think we’ll see more of the two of them conversing.
What did you think about Ragnar’s private barnyard full of animals?
It seems like a place that he and Athelstan would use but this is the first we’re seeing it. That drug-trip, does it open his mind or does it cloud it?
AN: He needed that trip-tastic party! He has a lot of stress and she helped him open his mind a bit.
The animals made sense as Ragnar is very tuned into nature and comfortable with it- getting back to a primal feeling and state of being without the guile of humanity…
EE: Finally, we see the arrival of King Harald. This freaking guy, coming in, causing tension and sitting in Ragnar’s throne, insinuating that he may have known Aslaug when they were younger, perhaps, and how he intends to take the throne away from Aslaug.
In one sense we see Aslaug stand by Ragnar, or do we?
AN: Yes, old friends reconnecting, hmmm?
Right now Aslaug appears to be keeping Ragnar off balance as her sons gain in age, skill and knowledge of how to rule, she is biding her time, protecting her sons and keeping her King guessing. And busy!