Vikings Season 5: Sifting through the corpses of the mid-season finale

Ivar the Boneless played by Alex Høgh Andersen
Alex Høgh Andersen as Ivar the Boneless in the Vikings Season 5 mid-season finale

Season 5 of Vikings on History reached its midpoint with less bloodshed than we expected.

Here TV critics Ernie Estrella and April Neale resume their discussion about this beloved dramatic series created by Michael Hirst and starring Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha, who appears to have numbered days left thanks to the insane, youngest son of Queen Aslaug, Ivar the Boneless played by Alex Høgh Andersen.

Ivar is hellbent on avenging his mother’s murder by killing Ragnar’s first and favored wife, now Queen Lagertha of Kattegat. Blood was spilled in the fields as Vikings clashed through the entire episode.

Casualties were plenty, but only a handful to the featured ensemble cast. If there were a victor this round, it would soundly go to Ivar, who forced Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Lagertha to retreat.

As we wait for the second half of the season, we will have much to mull over as the surviving characters lick their wounds.

But we must also consider an unexpected wildcard. Which way will the returning Viking, Rollo go? Now a Christian with an enormous Franc army at his command, his allegiance to Ivar instead of Bjorn on this Viking divide has us wondering what Hirst has up his sleeve for the return of History’s epic series that vexingly seems to be ignored at TV award times. But not by us:

Ernie Estrella: What did you think of the method at which Michael Hirst decided to tell this story with the flashbacks and disorienting the viewer with what they saw in their minds as they wandered off vs. what was really happening? I loved the war drums, and the rhythmic beat in the first half of the episode which also served as the time stamp to show who was doing what prior to battle.

I think Hirst may have dipped into the well a bit too much here though as with each character I felt I was so hyper-focused, thinking I may be seeing them for the last time, then distinguishing are they seeing this or dreaming this and if they’ve been killed, is it for real?

I think there was one time where I thought I saw Torvi dead on the battlefield, and was so relieved to see she wasn’t. It’s a bold choice though, and on subsequent viewings, I could see myself liking it more and more.

April Neale: Hirst did an excellent job here giving us the psychological prep the key characters underwent prior to setting out in battle, which was so personal, not at all like how humanity wars anymore, at least the most developed countries.

It kept us guessing on who’s time was up. My favorite moment was Margrethe and the Seer who saw right through her avarice and ambitious nature to be a queen.

I had one question though, it appeared to be the long dead Gyda, Ragnar and Lagertha’s daughter who appeared to her on the field. Who was the man speaking with her? Was that supposed to be Ragnar?

EE: So I first thought that was Gyda too, but that’s actually young Lagertha running to her father. Makes you think about where your head goes in the heat of battle with death just one strike away.

Last year we were talking about the loss of Ragnar and King Ecbert, the big boys and how were we going to move on without them. But credit to Hirst for building all of the ensemble up to the point where there were too many likable characters, at least for me.

I knew there would be a culling of sorts soon though because they were starting to resemble super heroes. They avoided it all season, but this episode more than made up for the lack of death to the central cast when the civil war broke out.

AN: Early in the season I spoke with Jordan Patrick Smith and my question for him was about the Ivar-Ubbe dynamic. Of all his brothers, I thought Ivar was bonded to him but we learned that was fleeting.

It really became Bjorn verus the sons of Aslaug at a certain point, and with Hvitserk, my 2nd least favorite character (Sigurd was slain last season by Ivar) I am hoping the remaining three – Ubbe, Hvitserk and Bjorn – can somehow regroup.

I was shocked at how much I came to care for Halfdan. His character was a suprise and he transcended the initial impression he gave as Harald’s scheming side kick brother. His death made me sad. But to your point the central cast really escaped without significant losses save for Astrid.

EE: That’s great stuff between Ubbe and Ivar. It’s not so funny how those bonds between siblings can either survive or erode over time. Now, we also see a really, hot, steamy passionate kiss shared between Lagertha and Heahmund before battle, with her fearing she may die on the battlefield. Then after the kiss saying she’s ready to die.

First off, that was a really great onscreen kiss. Secondly, Katheryn Winnick first shared that awesome facepaint on her social networks back in October of 2016 and finally we see it on screen nearly 16 months later. It was worth the wait.

AN: Lagertha is so central to this story, and when and if she goes, I will not be happy. Her chemistry is real with Jonathan Rhys Myers! Heahmund has gone to the Scandinavian side here with her magic chocha.   Ecbert was dotty for her after one night with her as well.

That scene underscored the belief systems between Christians and the Vikings, that death and fate and resignation to it, and the lack of fear or guilt the Vikings had embracing death.

She looked as if she had bne crying prior to their kiss, which I agree was an epic on screen moment. Acting schmacting, if I were Mrs. Rhys Myers I would have flipped out watching that!

EE: The first major casualty was Halfdan, slain by his own brother King Harald. I have to admit, I thought these two were very one-dimensional headed into this season and there was no trusting either one of them but by the end, I was really sad to see either one of them go. They really grew on me.

Halfdan for seeing that there was no fame he needed to achieve, not with an ambitious brother like Harald and everyone else in front of him. Bjorn really did allow Halfdan to see life was more than fighting over land. Harald and his caveman marriage with Astrid, (which, we still don’t know if she ever truly let herself go to him, given her final scene) really endeared himself to me.

I loved that clip we shared on the site yesterday, that had Halfdan and Harald singing to each other. I thought it was a montage, but they were actually doing it across the battlefield.

The theme this season seemed to be “brothers at war” which made me uncomfortable but boy, I loved that scene as a result, just a beautiful reprieve in an inevitable end to an ugly conflict. Unfortunately, King Harald Finehair is probably written about more than Halfdan.

AN: Yes! Halfdan became a fully realized and interesting character sans Harald! Their singing was such a powerful moment prior to the warfare. Harald loved Halfdan but his desire to reign as King and be the leader won out, and they were put into that position. Halfdan proved to be a decent loyal and worthy peer to Bjorn, who’s act of saving him and showing him the world edged out any family responsibility.

Initially when these two – Harald and Halfdan – were written into the cast as we joked about their lack of depth, intelligence and buffoonish ways, observing them cobble those loyal to them by their side. The haircut on Halfdan! Jasper Pääkkönen knocked that difficult and what could have been very unmemorable character out of the park.

EE: It’s a great contrast to Ubbe and Hvitserk being unable strike each other down. Ubbe had not only the guts to swing, but come to an inch of killing Hvitserk. That’s strength right there, that’s love. Then Hirst draws another comparison to the way Ivar drew a knife on Hvitserk to intimidate, but holding back as if he’s giving mercy. That’s not love.

AN:  No true filial love, you are right. Ivar as we all know is a psychopath, and pyschopaths use false loving gestures and words to get what they want. Ivar demands complete fealty from all his brothers but is smart and observant enough to see he does not have it in Hvitserk, he’s got the sense of shark smell and detects his trepidation.

Ubbe is not as smart as Ivar, hence being joined at the hip with Margrethe. He is also not afflicted with a psychopathic nature. It feels like the brothers sans Ivar will band together against Ivar when we return.

EE: Speaking of another loving act, Astrid confronts Lagertha and chooses not to raise her sword to her, which may be an act of defiance to Harald. But instead she just wants to escape her messy situation with Harald, avoiding his affection, and not wanting to raise a child that may have resulted from her rape, which by the way, as a reminder, happened because she wanted to warn Lagertha.

It’s been a very complex season for Astrid indeed, somewhat frustrating for those fans who were invested in her story and emotionally confusing for the character to sort out. Besides Lagertha, Astrid interested me the most as far as the other women on the show. I’m going to miss Josefin Ashland.

AN: Astrid suffered, she couldn’t win. That boneheaded move felt misplaced as she asks some shirtless fisherman commoner in the village to betray Harald to get word to Lagertha.  I felt she was done a disservice this season overall. Her character was fodder for this run’s cannon.

I’m quite angry that her arc played out the way it did. Josefin Asplund deserved a better and more interesting storyline.This story does better when there are more female characters worked into the fray, not less.

EE: Those are good points. She was always in service of Lagertha, Harald, etc. and she felt forever imprisoned be her lack of choices. The way the two sides were split up, there was going to be moments where we’d be uncomfortable seeing who slaughtered who.

Even though we’re far removed from Torvi’s oldest son, whom she had with Jarl Borg, Hvitserk kills him in the field of battle. The scene pivots wonderfully from looking at Hvitserk to Torvi.

April, in the opening of that third segment, Margrethe, looked like she would be pulling the bodies of those kids out of the water but it was just her going off the deep end.

I’m not always in love with what Hirst did with Margrethe but I liked that she was a woman who said, wait, Lagertha is as great a leader as she thinks she is, which may be true, but she certainly went about it all wrong at the wrong time.

I still don’t trust her but she may have had one of the best scenes ever with the Seer, who’s like, ‘By the gods, get this mad woman out of my room. I can’t unsee her!’

AN: That was another gut punch. Torvi having to war against her own son Guthrum. It was bad enough she was torn from him when she went to be Bjorn’s wife. Hvitserk appears to be having major remorse being on that Ivar side, am I imagining this?

Anyway, back to Margrethe. She drove my favorite character The Seer into an early retirement!  Talk about wearisome company… it’s all, “Will I be Queen of Kattegat, will I?”

Meanwhile the remaining chldren of Torvi and Bjorn are wandering around unsupervised where open flames and sharp objects are everywhere! Her coveting Lagertha’s role is, was and will always be a laugh…unless Ivar takes her from Ubbe next season and the two mad people of the cast somehow work it out to have children. I have a slight suspicion Ivar may reclaim her somehow.

EE: Oooh. now that’s a good idea! What’s your take on how brave Ivar appears to be, screaming stuff on top of a hill, sending troops at his enemies, yelling at Bjorn and Lagertha, “Come and fight me, Lagertha” but is comfortable and clean staying away from the physical fight?

AN: He’s a mental case! War and wartime and all the adrenaline that flows in those moments exacerbate the mental instability he has. He is true Viking, not afraid to die, his lack of fear of death is what emboldens him every time he cheats the arrows or whatever…and his men respond by being even more loyal because of his bravery (which is really his crazy) on the edges of the battlefield.

He is close enough to the front lines that he gives the appearance he is fully immersed. We are constantly reminded by the writers that Ivar will not be appeased until Lagertha’s head is on a spike. Revenge for his mother Aslaug is what is driving this whole bloody skirmish.

EE: How fascinating it is to see the settlement in Iceland play out like a biblical story. Floki trying to stop the cycle of killing and summed it up perfectly when Eyvid got revenge for his son’s murder. I loved his line, something to the effect of the gods gave us these gifts, but “We behaved like humans.”

It seemed like a natural path for Folk to sacrifice himself but I’ll be honest, I’m willing to see everyone go on that settlement before Floki takes another step towards death. That’s an unsettle taste I’m going to have to bear the entire off-season and second half of the Season 5.

AN: That was another great Floki line, agreed. I’m struggling with this storyline, albeit an important one for Floki does in reality set sail to Iceland – but its an unremarkable to me and as you say biblical themed, Floki the sacrificial lamb.

Something far more interesting has to happen with this branch of the story tree. I’m not liking it at all. Gustaf Skarsgård deserves better from all the incredible work he has turned in for the series.

EE: Okay, let’s close this with our thoughts on the last segment. Again, most of the lead characters are intact. Bjorn has lost yet another wife, this time on the battle field (I mean, c’mon, she had a knife, a rope and a rock) but he and Torvi’s children are safe (for now).

Lagertha is also safe but is visibly shaken, killing Astrid was a huge dose of reality but the thought of defeat and knowing that her time is near. She may not be able to stave off Ivar for much longer and that’s where Vikings fans really need to hold their breath.

As for that final scene, Rollo’s is f***ing back and I love it. I didn’t think he’d get involved but let’s remember that he loves his nephews, all of them, Bjorn the most. He asked that he be spared by Ivar should it come down to it. He didn’t ask for Lagertha to be spared, though, so I find it interesting that his troops swung the tide in Ivar’s favor but perhaps seals the fate of the older Lothbrok family.

AN: The female cast suffered too much in the mid-season finale. I was hopeful we would learn more about the Sammi people (Bjorn’s new wife) but nope. Astrid could have been played into a much more interesting fierce character, but nope. Torvi is feeling like a side note still, not happy about that. And it feels like Lagertha is the big get when the show returns, based on the previews. Not happy about that either.

Clive Standen as Rollo returning is f****** awesome, but the why’s of his allegiance to me are still not sorted. Has he met Ivar? He knows Lagertha and Bjorn. And the Christian warrior Heahmund is on their side, so I have questions about all of that.

EE: Well, Bjorn also told Rollo that he’s not a Viking anymore when they dragged him to the Mediterranean, so maybe he would side with whomever remembered him.

Finally, I don’t know if you caught the teaser for the second half of the season, but it looks like white face paint will be in abundance, but there’s that night scene, and Ivar in front of a crowd, face completely caked of the face paint, calling for the sacrifice of Lagertha. I really fear for what that means if we remember the last time we saw a set look like that.

AN: The tease for the next season is giving me the chills. I feel like Lagertha is being set up as the next big death for sure. The makeup and hair on this show deserves all the damned awards! But if – like you say- the Runes are turning up the hanging man card for Lagertha, I will have a hard time with just Torvi and Margrethe being the main female character left in the central cast.

Those are our thoughts, what were yours after that triumphant finale? Share your thoughts below.

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