Vikings ‘A Good Treason’ Episode 1 in focus

Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) is facing new problems this season, mainly from his wife Aslaug.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains general information and speculation about Season 4 of Vikings

This week we sail back to History Channel’s Vikings season 4 with several intriguing story lines revolving around the women in the show.

Princess Aslaug’s (Alyssa Sutherland) antipathy towards Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) knowns no bounds, as the bloom is off their relationship rose. Rollo (Clive Standen) is hanging in with his royal French princess Gisla (Morgane Polanski) who is furious that her father, Emperor Charles, married her off to this hulking and barely literate Viking.

Our favorite shield maiden Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) is still kicking ass and has charmed Kalf to her bed and her cause, helming her deal with any dissension in her Earldom.

Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) has a fantastic storyline this season as we see him come into his full manhood and face the elements in breathtaking turn, no spoilers here but just remember the word “Berserker.”

Across The Channel in Wessex Princess Judith (Jeannie Jacques) is working her feminine wiles as she cleaves further to her father-in-law King Ecbert (Linus Roache) and less to her husband Aethelwolf (Moe Dunford).

He has his eye on the reintroduced Kwenthrith of Mercia (Amy Bailey). How she comes back to the cast is a thrill in itself for fans of action scenes.

Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Helga are put to the test and we see how deep Helga’s love is for her afflicted shipbuilder. He, like Aslaug, is a Norse traditionalist and not at all open to new outside ideas like Ragnar.

Floki’s mind is pretty closed to outside ideas, philosophy and religion

Even the black-lipped Seer (John Kavanagh) has more influence this season, as we see him counsel Aslaug and draw Floki to him for as yet unknown reasons.

And the new wildcard to the cast? Somehow someway, a Chinese woman named Yidu (Dianne Doan) is sold to Aslaug and by a series of unfortunate turns she ends up in Kattegat. Aslaug sees her delicate beauty and cooks up a plan.

How will the men of Vikings react to such an exotic addition to the cast? Ragnar’s reactions are priceless.

Are you psyched? Monsters and Critics’ managing editor and TV critic April Neale and TV Critic Ernie Estrella are huge fans of the series and hash all things Vikings – without having to have their palms licked.

April Neale: Ernie, did you feel the first four episodes were just so richly front-loaded with the women of Vikings? It seems Lagertha has always dominated the female POV for this series after Siggy was eliminated, but how do you feel about Aslaug throwing her Queenly weight around? She and Ragnar seem to hit the wall in their marriage big time.

Ernie Estrella: It is front-loaded as you say, and that’s a great thing. Aslaug seems to be cooking up something this season. Ragnar has always had his ideal companion in many people. His best friend was Athelstan, Lagertha was his equal on the battlefield, but Aslaug gave him the sons he wanted to carry on his legacy.

Queen Aslaug has always been the caretaker of Ragnar’s brood, (now, Bjorn’s as well) but I’ve always found to be just as interesting as Lagertha, but you do have to go deeper than the shipper’s concerns.

AN: Good point, in these modern times we forget a women’s worth was also determined by the sons she produced. Aslaug is a royal in that realm too whereas Lagertha was one of the people. The ego and regal pride Aslaug carries always was off putting to me but I see your point regarding her character’s intriguing layers that are unfolding.

I relate to Lagertha more, and the hopeless romantic part of my brain always had hoped Ragnar would reclaim her – and she reclaim him. Doesn’t look like that’s happening in the for-Seer-able future (I had to).

Ragnar's Boys
Ragnar’s Boys are growing up fast but his thirst for knowledge and treasure drives him on

EE: I’m every bit the cheerleader for Team Lagertha, completely, but love is something that’s been hard to maintain on Vikings and Aslaug can sense it’s lost with Ragnar. They don’t even have sex anymore, which along with her child-bearing ways, was the one thing she had going for her.

I do feel she’s more complex than what she’s made out to be. I think normally if Lagertha wasn’t in the equation, we’d be commending her for her caring of all of those children and shaping them into future kings, and also sticking up for their youngest and physically disabled son, Ivar when Ragnar was ready to kill him. But then she had that affair with Harbard so she’s up s**t creek if things remain the same.

AN: Ah the Harbard affair! Isn’t it funny how Ragnar divines truth from people? And what’s the deal with his eyes, Fimmel does this thing with his expressions where you KNOW the person he is talking to is busted on some level.

And after viewing the early screeners for Season 4 of Vikings, I feel Michael Hirst’s (creator and writer for Vikings) historically accurate mantle is being toyed with, but I’m really am enjoying the mystical aspects, Ragnar’s premonitions and his eye thing he does, Floki’s hallucinations and Runes carvings and the introduction of The Seer as more than a just a character prop.

EE: Aslaug disapproves of how Ragnar is running the show (even while ill); she’s not the farmer like the Lothbroks, she cannot help in battle but she does come from a great lineage and is a fundamentalist like Floki. We saw her mowing down Christians last season and she continues to harbor strong feelings about Athelstan’s influence over her husband.

The oracle, the Seer, tells her that a woman will one day rule over the Vikings, but she doesn’t even consider Lagertha, or maybe she does and we’ve yet to see her plot against her too. Obviously, her quickest route to being the ruler is to get rid of Ragnar, or accelerate his illness, which we can assume is slowly killing him.

Previous seasons have shown that Lagertha is not a women to underestimate

This may not sit well with Ragnar fans, but I don’t think he escapes this season, because if we trust in Michael Hirst following history, (mild spoiler alert) we know he’ll die at some point while his sons go on to do greater things.

Whenever the Seer shows up, though, that’s where I feel like there wasn’t enough written in the history books and that’s just some of the play room Hirst has to take the story in a logical place. The Vikings’ devotion to the gods is integral in understanding their culture but in general, I prefer seeing a character take accountability for their actions instead of leaving fate to the gods, or self-prophesying.

AN: This is the turning point season for fans for sure, with regards to Ragnar. The Vikings slowly and eventually did embrace Christianity and that was the end of Vikings as we knew them and see it. An aside, all seafaring people are deeply superstitious and religious, whatever the religion is.

Aslaug is managing Ragnar at this point and he knows it. Now, the unfolding of just how bad their domestic arrangement gets will be interesting to see. Aslaug is far more political than Lagertha, a different kind of intelligence.

EE: From the moment they met, Aslaug has understood the bigger game and also knows her husband likes to learn about other cultures and other parts of the world that are foreign to him. So this plot further into the series with the slave, Yidu, isn’t a stretch. I think she knows exactly what is her husband’s weakness, and that’s the thirst for knowledge.

Chinese woman Yidu, played by Dianne Doan, will no doubt be a magnet to Ragnar’s magpie mind

This first episode leads me to believe we’ll see Ragnar and Aslaug play mind games with each other for most of this season. We’ve seen Ragnar play tricks on all of his people (see Paris), he’s always a wild card, so Aslaug would be wise to remember that. Yidu (Dianne Doan

AN: Ragnar’s laid quite low right now, he looks heavier, he is injured, and he is thinking constantly, as is Aslaug. The premiere is a worrisome setup, portentous of what is to come.

EE: I hadn’t noticed that until now; he really does look like he’s been stuck in bed than a king out with his people. He’s not fit to pour his own ale, much less perform a blood eagle ritual. What’s your take on Ragnar’s fever dream? The doors of Valhalla close before him, there is a wolf at the doors.

He sees glimpses of the deaths of that messenger he murdered last season, Floki killing Athelstan, then Bjorn fallen in what appears to be the battle at Paris, Rollo bloody, and Aslaug stricken down. Valhalla didn’t want him yet and pushed him back into the living.

AN: I think the wolf might symbolize King Ecbert and his forces, or of Europe in general. The dream seemed a blending of his fears and his visions of the future trying to reconcile with the slow decimation of his core family from his youth. Also, of Christian values he wears from Athelstan’s tutelage, and his instinct as a Viking to kill what obstacle is in front of him, regardless of the notion of an afterlife, where these things Athelstan taught to him have repercussions.

EE: Not seeing Odin’s raven gave it this ominous feeling that he wasn’t getting what he wished. Also, what do you make of all of the fire that shows up in the slightly modified opening credits. There are flames burning within the images of each of the Lothbroks, Ragnar, Lagertha, and Bjorn. Perhaps it’s symbolic of the spirit in this family? Or does it mean that something bad is coming their way?

AN: You nailed both I think. This is a transitional and deeply transformative season, which fire represents beautifully…and for those who are new to the series, please watch from the beginning so you can see how this was arrived at, Ragnar’s education and eyes opened to other ways, cultures, and ideas.

Life was hard, not all the locals friendly and that’s a big bear!

The fear of the unknown, of change and of anything different is a universal human thing. Look what immigrants are dealing with as they try to assimilate (or not) into other cultures! Ragnar has elicited a violent reaction in many of his peer Vikings who equate his curiosity and open mind with a reckless danger. I have a theory about all people, that there are runners in families and those who stay behind. Ragnar is and always will be a runner.

EE: I couldn’t have described Ragnar any better and he’s a runner with his personal relationships too.

AN: Also, what do you make of the drafting of a Norse berserker as Kalf and his cohorts are trying to manage Ragnar’s base of power. Do you think Lagertha will discover Kalf’s treachery with regards to his being complicit in the Bjorn situation?

EE: I felt the best moment of the Season 4 premiere had to be the election to strip Lagertha of her Earldom, and Kalf set up that absolutely gruesome ending for Einar. I can’t imagine a more humiliating way to go for a man than that. He won back some confidence from Lagertha, but I just can’t see her being reduced to Kalf’s sidekick and thriving in a reactionary role.

At some point, viewers will want to see her go on the offensive and look deeper into Kalf, who, let’s face it, is as shady as the cold side of a mountain. Lagertha has subsequently been pushed back in terms of development, but in this extended fourth season, I have to trust the deeper Lagertha stories are being saved for down the road. Also, the crossbow proved to be a game changer in two battles in this episode.

AN: Great scene! And great description of Kalf too! Lagertha has been compartmentalized and that won’t do. She’s a leader and there are too many clauses and obstacles around her who wish her ill. I am shocked she cannot see Kalf’s nature more clearly. We must talk quickly about Bjorn’s spirit quest. That’s the Ragnar in him coming out.

EE: Bjorn’s out looking to be the man he needs to be, without his mother nearby and to once and for all prove to Ragnar he is fit to take over the throne. Personally, I find this the most compelling story for this season. We also saw the seeds of Bjorn and Ubbe beginning to sprout as they have the stuff to lead and rule.

I know so much of the show is Ragnar and Lagertha, but they’re but a tiny bit of what Ragnar’s sons grow up to do. All of the plundering and berserker rage people want to see in their Vikings, it’s Bjorn (and Rollo) that are the most frightening on the battlefield. Speaking of Rollo…

AN: Well, let’s save that juicy story to hash over for next week! Fans of Rollo take note, he is tenacious!

EE: And we haven’t even begun to talk about Floki and Helga either. So yes, we will wait until next week when we’ll have much more to talk about all three.

Vikings return with an extended season 4 to History Channel on Thursday, February 18, at 10 p.m. ET.

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