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Vikings Season 5 Episode 17 recap: Blood runs deeper than ice in The Most Terrible Thing

Vikings 517 The Most Terrible Thing - Kjetill
Kjetill Flatnose (Adam Copeland) from HISTORY’s Vikings. Pic credit: HISTORY

Madness and maternal instincts were in abundance in the last episode of Vikings titled The Most Terrible Thing, as the Wessex and Iceland legs of this saga continue to take the center stage.

It kicked off with Aethelred’s funeral and Judith claiming unknown causes to Alfred when he busted in on it, only to break down publicly.

Eventually, in a private dinner between mother and son, Judith admitted to poisoning him because she feared Aethelred’s ambition and strong ties to the clergy men’s conspiracy would eventually kill Alfred and she could not have that, at all costs. 

Using Judith to not only snuff out Aethelred and his wife, and expose them for the creeps that they were, made good use for an underusing character. Judith has been around Ecbert, Aethelwulf while being there for every step of Alfred’s formative years.

She sacrificed everything (Athelstan) for Alfred’s importance, snapped him into shape and she’s had to make the hard choices, for Wessex. She continues to use her power and influence, even i it’s not public eye. 

Many attempted to put in her place, whether it was King Aelle or Aethelwulf, but when Aethelred tugged at her arm in the last episode, The Buddha, she felt that she would be made insignificant again.

So Aethelred’s poisoning was as much of a survival move for Judith as much as it was for Alfred. Judith’s not playing, and amongst the hundreds of concerns she has, “Mother of the Year” isn’t one of them.

For example, who does she have to influence in the church to get Alfred some instant support? The hanging of the traitors were step one, but she will continue to make moves while Alfred catches up.

Judith and Albert on Vikings
Judith and Alfred in Vikings’ The Most Terrible Thing. Pic credit: HISTORY

The most significant movement in any one story happened in Floki’s Iceland’s settlement as Kjetill slaughtered Eyvind’s family in the name of revenge.

He spared no one, not even Helgi, who begged to be spared as he remained in love with Aud. Even Floki pleaded for him but Kjetill was bloodthirsty and has been calculating this mass murder for a long time.

Kjetill knew Floki would be a witness everything, to stomach it all and to see more tragedy and force him to absorb it on his conscious. This after tricking Floki into thinking Eyvind deserved another chance. 

Notice how Floki lagged behind in the return trip back, and how it was him who had to break the news to Aud that Helgi was slain. While Floki himself has not gotten his hands bloody, his shoulders grow heavy with their deaths.

How long until he snaps? Aud’s suicide at the end of the episode may have been the thing to push him over the edge, and now extends the cycle of tragedy (and fallout) for at least one more turn. 

Perhaps the biggest horror that was going through, my mind was wondering what Kjetill was eating. We’ve not seen any kind of livestock on Iceland since they arrived.

You can imagine the lack of protein or any kind of food in those harsh conditions. The scene after they murder people, the biggest guy is scarfing down something. 

If you think about it, then it’s easy to come to grips with Vikings being cannibals in this moment. They were already detached enough to kill them, would it be that much of a leap to think they wouldn’t eat them too?

There is literally no food or agriculture except for what washes up on shore and last week we saw them eat Iceland’s fermented shark. Even Eyvind said it to Helgi before he was beheaded, “It doesn’t matter, we’re all just meat.”

Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) and King Harald Finehair (Peter Franzen) discuss attacking Kattegat. Photo by Jonathan Hession
Copyright 2019
Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) and King Harald Finehair (Peter Franzen) discuss attacking Kattegat. Pic credit: Jonathan Hession

In one of the slickest transitions, we go from seeing Kjetill singing to Eyvind before his beheading, to King Harald’s army getting riled up by Bjorn Ironside as they sing the same song.

That’s the state that Kjetill was in, he was ready to raze and there was nothing Floki or anyone else could do to stop him from carrying out his crimes of passion. But that transition dovetailed into another simmering story, what to make of Bjorn’s arc?

Now that Ubbe has won the heart of King Alfred (and is now his leader on the battlefield) Bjorn has felt like even more of an outsider.

The minimization of Bjorn has saddened me the most in this current season of Vikings. It seems like several years have passed when Bjorn and Halfdan were in the Middle East. I hoped we’d see more of Bjorn Ironside’s exploits rather than aiding his mother and retreating to England. 

Ivar left him no choice and there must have been a power struggle for sure, I only wished that Bjorn had more of a stake in it. Now he’s going to try and reclaim Kattegat, with King Harald of all people, and that seems like a dead end for him.

He has another new bride and has reconciled his relationship with Torvi and Ubbe for becoming Christians and protecting Ragnar’s dream, which he respects, but not the methods that obtained it.

Bjorn has steered rudderless for most of Season 5, both halves, and this new relationship with Gunnhild follows his pattern, but he did seem more vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him.

To be afraid to say he loved someone in fear of being alone is as real as it’s ever gotten with Bjorn, who has either lost everyone he care about or pushed them away without ever getting close to them, his kids included.

One small plot point that could blossom later was Ivar blackmailing Hvitserk to get out of Kattegat under the guise of a diplomatic journey to retrieve King Olaf the Stout, but how much of an impression did his meeting with a Buddhist make on him?

We’ve seen Ubbe come into his own and I would very much like to see Hvitserk emerge into his own identity and not see him so dependent of the Ivar arc or his other brothers.

Ivar is also changing the rules to go from king to dictator, announcing “People I trust will vote on land issues, matrimony and murder inquiries.”

Then he leads the chants for “Odin! Ivar!” as he embraces being seen as divine.

As for Lagertha, it’s another episode without her and it begs the question of how long can we go without the main woman in Vikings, and perhaps one of the fiercest woman on television, gone?

I don’t like to speculate too much about a character we didn’t see, but this will be the next big test for Vikings as it approaches the next inevitable transition of the series.

She will die at some point, possibly soon. She’s not immortal. Over the last season, Lagertha is shown to be aging, stressed, fighting less, running more and is nearly out of support.

Like the cruel game of professional sports, Ivar has time on his side, and she is near the end of the life expectancy back then if not already outlived it.

Vikings airs on Wednesdays at 9/8c on the HISTORY channel.

Ernie Estrella is a TV and film critic. He is also a contributing editor at SyfyWire (formerly Blastr) and has also written for USA Today.
Ernie Estrella

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