It’s back! Finally, History’s Vikings returns to the smallscreen and we see how things have played out with Ragnar on his little wound-licking sabbatical.
This History channel drama has it all, revenge served cold and hot, familial infighting, open sea calamities and warfare, with a healthy dose of unexpected deaths with a semi-historical backdrop that uses actual events as inspiration.
The cast is led by Travis Fimmel as the patriarch Ragnar Lothbrok, a Kattegat village farmer who became king, with the historically based drama moving to Wednesday nights for part two of Season 4.
Also returning are his first wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), their son Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) and his four from second wife Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sunderland): Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) and Sigurd (David Lindstron).
In the new run, we pick up after Ragnar was trounced in an epic battle in Paris against his brother Rollo (Clive Standen). After this humiliation, Ragnar took off on a sabbatical of sorts. Now he’s back in Kattegat and challenges anyone who wishes to be king, even his own sons.
For part two of Season 4, the writers have jumped the action ahead nearly a decade as the time leap is evident with Ragnar’s boys nearly all men. Lagertha is older too, as well as his closest friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and his wife Helga (Maude Hirst).
In the midseason premiere, Ragnar’s reappearance in Kattegat has the Seer (John Kavanagh) warning Bjorn of what is to come and we see Ivar’s leadership emerge among the Aslaug brood.
With unfinished business in Wessex with King Ecbert (Linus Roache) and another son (Magnus) who he learns of, Ragnar is beset by doubt and a desire to right the wrongs of his legacy.
Lagertha has a younger female lover (Astrid, played by Josefin Asplund) and she plans a power play in Kattegat against Aslaug, while Bjorn pines for travel and adventure in sunnier climes like the Mediterranean in a cutting edge new boat built for him by Floki.
The story is now much more than the Ragnar-Lagertha wheel, with Bjorn exploring and Ivar the Boneless becoming the most feared Viking of all. The series has matured into a densely layered affair that has everyone guessing as to what is to become of the Lothbroks, and their closest allies and enemies.
Production note: Season 5 of Vikings is filming in Ireland with Jonathan Rhys Myers joining the cast. Myers played Henry VIII in Vikings creator Michael Hirst’s excellent Showtime drama, The Tudors.
Expert analysis: What we made of Vikings Season 4, Episode 11, The Outsider
As Vikings continues, TV critics Ernie Estrella and April Neale hash over the intricate exchanges in the first episode, The Outsiders.
Ernie Estrella: April, it hasn’t been that long of a wait, but boy is it great to have Vikings back on the air with new episodes!
We were left with that nail-biter of a cliffhanger where Ragnar returns to Kattegat many years later still licking his wounds from his defeat in Paris.
Looking like he hasn’t had a good sleep in months and his beard thicker and wilder, he issues a challenge to his sons to see if any is willing to take the throne.
I was surprised to see who eventually came forward because I was expecting Ivar the Boneless to. What struck you early on?
April Neale: After the initial shock, how quickly Ragnar was accepted back into Kattegat’s fold. It was great to have the “family” all back together! Ragnar and his sons, man.
All have daddy issues, starting with the runner of the family, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), the true berserker Viking Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), the traditionalist Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), the quiet one Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) and the simpler soul, the watchful Sigurd (David Lindstron) each dealing with “daddy” back home.
I loved Ragnar’s reaction when he learned of yet another boy child, Magnus, left in Wessex, and then his plans are revealed to go back to England — this is not good!
The Seer is still with uss and seeing very portentous things for Ragnar. Bjorn is convinced he needs to head to the Mediterranean.
I am curious about how his fate will be resolved in this season. Ragnar’s opening edict, “Who wants to be King?” is still resonating for me. But the Seer prophecies nothing good, saying: “Calamity, Disorder, Chaos and Death.” We are in for it, Ernie!
EE: Also in that mid-season finale, we watched Ragnar’s grown-up sons in a pow-wow over Ragnar’s illegitimate son Magnus and the fate of that first settlement in Wessex.
Each of their unique personalities come through the screen and Ragnar’s absence has certainly shaped their dispositions towards him.
AN: Yes, Ivar is clearly the superior intellect with a huge chip on his shoulder. Nothing more dangerous than a fiercely sadistic megalomaniac whose Johnson isn’t working right.
He is obviously the one to watch as the other boys all sort of blend in together. Ragnar’s sons that interest me the most are bookended: Ivar and Bjorn — with the wildcard of Magnus who we haven’t met.
He’s only half a Viking…so meh. But his mother was that crazy Kwenthrith of Mercia, and my other favorite character in the series, King Ecbert, is mentoring him so perhaps he will have something interesting to offer.
EE: I’m coming to realize that we are going to have to get used to writing the names Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø), Sigurd (David Lindström), and Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), as well as utilize all the special characters on my keyboard to credit these fine young Danish and Swedish actors. Which ones stick out to you?
AN: Totally Ivar! Perfectly cast with Icelandic cheekbones that can cut glass and a fierce gaze that inspires fear and confirms his pragmatic and cruel cunning!
Ubbe and Hvitserk are a bit of a blonde blur to me. Bjorn is imposing but then he is also Lagertha’s child — a double whammy of kick-ass Viking DNA.
Alex Høgh Andersen is Yahtzee this season for the younger, newer cast. He is really taking to this role and giving it his all.
EE: Obviously, I am drawn to Ivar too, I mean, how can you not be? Ivar has made a huge impression on me, to think about his birth and how Ragnar wanted to get rid of him, to some of his psychotic upbringing, it’s created a complete wild card.
Andersen’s got this incredible physical role to play but has a lot on his shoulders knowing his historic legacy. I don’t know if he has special contacts to make his eyes glow or if that’s just done in post-production but they creep the hell out of me.
Also Ubbe interested me since he was a teenager, and I’d like to think he is complex too since he was probably groomed to do great things before Ivar begins his ascension.
AN: Right? I think that’s some digital f***ery going on there. If not, Good lord! I mean Travis Fimmel has the bluest eyes on planet earth, but Ivar’s glow!
Ubbe has to prove himself more to me. So far I am not pulled into the other brothers’ stories yet. The oldest of Aslaug’s sons is the kindest and most egalitarian — he did lecture them about the slave Margaret, that she had to agree to service them all, not…you know, just rape her which was Ivar’s plan.
EE: The main plot in the premiere was seeing Ragnar hit dead end after dead end as he looked to his old circle to see who would travel to Wessex with him. But sadly, he realizes there’s no longer a place for him.
Were you saddened to see that no one would come to his side?
AN: I had a feeling that Ivar would present himself as a viable combatant in some way to Ragnar, after all that processing and crying he did with Margaret in the sack — then the last scene where he told Ragnar his honest feelings.
Ragnar’s suicide attempt was also a poignant scene, and Fimmel played it perfectly, as Ragnar even rolled his eyes at the Gods when he realized he could not manage to kill himself. Like the Gods don’t even want his sorry defeated ass yet!
But at this point in the series, Ragnar’s overarching intentions are wrong, and when intentions are wrong, things go south.
It was Lagertha’s reunion that drove home his regrets and his sadness, and hers too.
That moment and those feelings were the toughest for me as a longtime watcher of this series from inception. Their complex story. I almost felt the sons took up too much time and not enough was given to her and Ragnar.
Astrid is just a place holder. Lagertha still loves Ragnar; that was her man.
EE: I had that sinking feeling about the foreshadowing of Ragnar’s fate when he went to Floki to see if he could borrow some boats.
To see him talking to Floki as if it would be their last meeting was just terrible to watch as a longtime fan of both characters.
The friendship between the two men is something this show does well even if it’s full of conflict.
Ragnar’s relationships with Rollo, Athelstan, Bjorn and Floki have all been complex but we’ve seen all of those relationships wither and dissolve.
This one is cruel because it doesn’t need to happen, but it does, right?
Floki’s always kept his word and I think it would be a great thing to see him fight beside Bjorn, but part of me would like to see him accompany Ragnar too, if just to make sure he is not alone in this downward spiral.
AN: I cried when Ragnar said goodbye to him, and then said that he loved him.
He doesn’t believe he will be reunited like Floki believes — in Valhalla — and his resignation to this bleak nothingness freaked out Floki as well.
Will Floki go at the last minute? We will see. It seems so very odd that he would remain in Kattegat.
In my heart I always felt Floki, like Ragnar and Bjorn, were all runners too. Like Rollo. Every family has a runner or two, but theirs has many.
EE: That brings us to Ragnar’s visit to Lagertha (and Astrid).
If Lagertha’s going to have her own settlement and fleet of shield maidens then it would make sense that she would find partnership with one of them.
Having Astrid as a placeholder is very logical considering how much she’s been betrayed by men in her life.
I don’t believe it’s about lifestyle for her as much as it is feeling safe. But here we see she always has a spot in her heart burning for Ragnar.
I am sure leaving the door cracked open for him will leave shippers unsatisfied but still hopeful. I respect Michael Hirst’s restraint to connect them together after so many opportunities.
Clearly she still loves him and to be asked to be a part of Ragnar’s armada, we had our hearts broken again. His certainly was as he nearly ended his life by his own hands.
AN: The Lagertha-Ragnar story will be interesting, to see how they resolve it. Astrid is most definitely a place holder, Lagertha is not a true lesbian, this is just sex for sex’s sake.
I also think no other man would do for her. So if she can’t have him…
But their scene showed her vulnerability to him and her feelings, tears, and her hearing his confession “I wish I never left the farm” said everything!
“No regrets,” he said, but they live with them daily. Lagertha replies: “And yet I feel them daily.” She says to Astrid: “I’m never totally sure about my feelings for Ragnar.” True dat!
EE: Absolutely, I think the series spoked off in so many directions when he got together with Aslaug, that we never really had that moment between them that I think they needed, to mend and figure out those feelings.
Life moved very fast for both of them once he became King Ragnar, and I too am torn to see two successful people look fondly back on their simpler life.
Now, we need to close on Ivar the Boneless, who I picked up early on was feeling slighted, having never been asked by Ragnar to join him at Wessex.
It’s confirmed when the sex slave had her way with all of his brothers but slights him until their arranged…um. Date?
It’s all about inclusion with him. He has done as well as anyone in his condition could do but when it comes down to those landmark moments, being with a woman, being asked to join in a raid, he has been left out.
I think we have this sinking feeling with Ragnar but he might be able to reinvent himself as an inspiration to Ivar, and actually be a father to one of his sons. If this is Ragnar’s lasting moment, it is quite a beautiful journey for one character.
AN: It will mold Ivar as the leader we know he becomes. I have mixed feelings for this character and that is a testament to the skill actor Alex Høgh Andersen has — he is both sympathetic and repulsive!
Hard to do that, but he really outshines the others when he is in scene.
I feel Aslaug is but inebriated embittered window dressing in this first episode. I wonder how the indulgent Viking mother will deal with Ragnar, or if she is now a minor player that the boys are men.
I wonder too if Ivar will marry Margaret the slave who bucked him up and kept alive. I was certain she was a goner.
When Vikings’ next episode airs, I guess we’ll find out!
Vikings Season 4, Episode 12, The Vision, airs Wednesday, December 7, at 9/8c on History.