Powerfully laced and loaded, this mid-season finale of Vikings time travelled a bit and took us back to Kattegat, with 10 more episodes to air later this year.
The elapsing of time between the last Francia routing and the return to Kattegat sees Ragnar MIA until the end of the episode, and his sons now men. But prior to this, it was the Ragnar vs. Rollo river fight that saw the brothers each bloodied and bruised but not able to kill each other.
Lagertha is a question mark. She is wounded in battle, but we do not see her in the end when Aslaug is (still day drinking) entertaining a visitor who spills the beans on the intel Ragnar kept from the all, the Wessex slaughter of their kin and the illegitimate child named Magnus he bore with the deceased Kwenthrith.
Of note is the almost Ramsay Bolton-esque evil foreshadowing of Ivar, who history bears out to be a real motherf-cker.
The finale ends with the eldest son Bjorn now with grey hair in his shaggy beard and Floki too, older, and still eager for an adventure.
Rollo’s victory on the river seals his place in French history and King Charles’ heart. Especially after the brother/sister duo in the court were fatally dispatched in an epic garrotting scene.
Physically the river battle was a brutal head-on collision. The first pass a drumming and victory by the Vikings, then Rollo kills an officer who urges him to retreat and return to Paris in what we like to call a Vikings teachable moment for the rest of the infantry. Rollo is now fired up to face and beat his former brethren Vikings despite the awful first pass. This scene underscores the difference between Viking Valhalla mentality and approach to mortality versus the Francia soldiers who because of their faith, feared death.
It was important to the evolution of this story that Rollo is feted, survives and will become even loftier in historical annals than Ragnar to an extent, lived. How actor Clive Standen will balance any further work on this Michael Hirst History series remains to be seen as he is the lead for NBC’s new Taken prequel series. Standen deserves many accolades for his run as Rollo in this series regardless.
The Seer’s scenes were telling too, in that he was feeling and “seeing” this clash within Ragnar’s family come to be and perhaps the fear of the outcome. Either way, he was as disturbed and vocal as we have ever seen him over his watch in Kattegat.
Rollo survives -albeit battered and bloody- and is welcomed as Caesar in the Charles’ court. Ragnar, whose arc this season has been fraught with weakness, murder, addiction and pathological lying, is now MIA and disappears for years as a wanderer of sorts while everyone is left to their day-to-day in Kattegat. The performance turned in by Travis Fimmel this entire season, of the flawed and frailer Ragnar, is deserving of Emmy, Golden Globes, and Critics’ Choice award consideration.
“The Last Ship” was a transitioning finale preparing us for the mature offspring of Ragnar and the eventual ending of his importance in the series, and the weakening of the Viking stranglehold on the Northern European lands where they normally dipped into for plunder.
TV Critics April Neale and Ernie Estrella discuss the episode:
April Neale: The slaughter of Roland and Therese was coming, each had too much information on the King and he knew of their shenanigans with the late Odo. They had to be killed, although I am not sure why they weren’t really fleshed out more than just the lame incestuous scheming siblings that they were. Their roles seemed like sexy set dressing and not impactful to the story in any way. What did you make of their demise?
Ernie Estrella: They gave Prince Charles something to do other than day drink, for one. But I agree, Roland and Therese were nothing but eye candy and a device to take Count Odo out. Not that I really wanted there to be much focus on Francia though. I think we just got enough although it would have been nice to see what their motivation was to try and organize a coup.
They were merely there to serve the larger than life characters, much like Harald and Halfdan are in the Vikings camp.
AN: Harald and Halfdan, I wonder how they will be played or if they are even in the picture upon the series return. It appears they were less important than originally presented. I do like how Floki rose to the occasion in battle. He’s mental and you really want him on your team.
EE: Our minds and hearts were in the battle at sea and the most interesting thing here is Rollo, how he’s able to eclipse his brother and climb up to his place in history as the Duke of Normandy as well as begin a bloodline that will feed into English royalty. Duke Rollo was too big a player to alter his history and Roland and Therese were just speed bumps along the way. But this was a storyline that had been plotted out since the very beginning and took a long and winding road to get here.
I think it was especially unique because it put our initial lead character in a position where he’s not celebrated at the end. Ragnar tries to defeat his brother on a few occasions but is unable to. Rollo came a long way from being unable to fight his brother on the battlefield.
AN: Rollo is a ‘late in life’ bloomer for sure. His need to be and feel important is fed by the Frankish court and he delivers for them, I love how Bjorn and Floki are bonded still and plan on heading out to explore the Mediterranean.
EE: This is about Legacy and Bjorn respecting his father, his friends and how much he valued what he did as a man. I adored this scene. Floki looks like Ragnar with his straight cone beard and continues to push his engineering for a new regime.
Bjorn asks Helga with courtesy if she’d join them to which she obliges. You could feel like this new era beginning but there’s enough of the old cast on board. Again, when you see where these relationships started with Floki being the twisted uncle, to Bjorn indicting him publicly, and now asking him to join him on an unknown journey…
AN: Totally, I think that Floki will help Bjorn as his brothers, Ubbe, Hvitserk, Sigurd, and Ivar, are of age. I do not think they are bonded to their half brother and it was evident in their scenes. Ivar strikes me as the smartest and most cunning to watch, where the others operate on a lower intellectual plane. What brother of Bjorn worries you?
EE: First off, I want to say how cool it was to see Bjorn drop the information and then let all of the personalities of the brothers process it. Ivar definitely has the pedigree to do the ruthless things to not only take the throne but also ward off those who might want it. Ubbe looks like more of an ally for Bjorn while the one that worries me the most is Hvitserk because he’s all mouth and no action. Sigurd just needs a bottle of conditioner. I also loved how Bjorn reminded his step-brothers how great their father was, but he was no god, he was just a man, with success and failure.
AN: Funny! Yes, the hair sitch in the Viking camp is all over the damned place. Best to braid it and forget it. Bjorn is the most pragmatic and don’t forget, he bested a bear and a Berserker! Have they done anything near as ballsy? No. So the final moments let us know what the upcoming back half of Season 4 – what are you expecting to see unfold, and how important are you thinking Ragnar will be in the future episodes?
EE: I’ve been counting down to Ragnar’s death for some time. I don’t think we’ll get past the next episode. I wondered where he landed in that final act. I wondered if he has arrived in England to try and get back revenge on Ecbert for what he did to that Wessex settlement. I wondered too if he was in China, looking for more drugs, but that was quickly shot down once you saw his surroundings. Then, we finally see how big Kattegat has grown, so that was amazing.
Life did not stop with Ragnar out of the picture. But I think he is inspiring Kattegat and his sons to rise up and take their civilization to a new height. They can’t do that by waiting around so Ragnar is purposely trying to inspire the people to get behind a new king. That’s just my take. What about you?
AN: Yes at first I was like, where is this village? Life goes on without us all and Ragnar too. It took me a moment to realize that it WAS Kattegat. And Aslaug really remodeled her shack, that chandelier was pretty cool. I loved how she was all liquored up by noon. Interesting in that scene with Ragnar that Bjorn was MIA too.
EE: Great points, April and this battle took up a majority of the episode, nearly 75% of it, really. And then that final 25% was loaded with so much information. We have a time jump. People are missing. Ragnar has a final play and then there’s one person who we’ve yet to see since that loss on the river.
AN: Ugh. Our Lagertha is an unknown. I can not imagine that Katheryn Winnick’s character ends without any fanfare and she was certainly injured in the French river skirmish.
EE: Also, Ragnar couldn’t have decided to throw himself to the wolves without discussing it with her. Because to me, Bjorn should be the next in line, but perhaps by allowing Bjorn to remain a warrior, that takes the target off of him. Perhaps that alleviates the weight that Ragnar dealt with in these final years. Perhaps Lagertha was part of that decision. I’d like to think so anyway. Either that or she’s with the Seer, Odin knows, she’s not under Aslaug’s care.
AN: Where do you think Lagertha wound up?
EE: We have to see her fate resolved as the first teaser out of the hiatus. Michael Hirst would not take her away so quickly without a proper spotlight, so I don’t think she’s that badly hurt. She took it all in the shoulder and it was a ghastly wound for sure, but she’s too good a character to be dismissed unceremoniously.
Maybe we’ll start with a flashback where Ragnar and Lagertha are taking care of each other. That seems like a shipper’s dream, and I tend not to let my mind go there, but he definitely withdrew his forces once Lagertha got injured. There’s a reason why he disappeared and why we experience a time jump. What do you think are the reasons?
AN: Maybe he has her set up somewhere, maybe he created a residence outside of the area for safety reasons? I feel like Aslaug is a dangerous entity now that she has been reigning Queen for so long and her sons are who she wants to see in power, not Bjorn. Also, there is residual jealousy of Lagertha overall I believe.
EE: For me, had there not been the jump in time, we’d see a lot of Vikings angry at Ragnar. We might even see some Vikings jumping ship so to speak to join Rollo in Normandy. Christianity continues to move but we’ve yet to see anyone but Ragnar be willing to embrace it. History seekers know what the supposed fate of King Ragnar was, and all of those parts are still in play but I’m unconvinced that Hirst will take his fate there, given how much more he could do by remaining in Kattegat.
AN: Ragnar’s story I hope ends with some small victory for him. And overall, religious movements can operate at glacial paces with regards to changing a way of thinking. Islam seemingly went backwards, Orthodox Jews are as isolationist as ever. The Catholic purists are squawking over Pope Francis’ minor decrees about divorce and gays, and Evangelicals hold tight to their flavor of Koolaid.
The Vikings had physical remoteness and their tough climate also buffering them from Christianity. But it eventually crept in didn’t it? I think Ragnar’s losing his fear of the Christians helped it for sure. All I know is I cannot wait for the story to begin again.