Vengeance is about to set sail. In this week’s episode, the sons of Ragnar plot a conquest to end all conquests, and Lagertha faces further challenges to her throne. Read on for our recap of the 17th episode of Vikings’ fourth season, “The Great Army.”
~Shield Wall! Spoilers incoming~
It’s a Jolly Holiday with Judith
England braces itself for a storm. With Ragnar dead, and no Viking certain of the terms he brokered with King Ecbert, the whole of the land is in trouble. At long last, we get some quality time with Judith. She returns home to Northumbria to warn her father, King Aelle, that Ragnar’s sons will come, and soon, to seek revenge for their father’s death. Instead of heeding her words, Aelle displays classic “god is on my side” hubris. This season won’t end well for him.
The dinner table scene with her mother and sister (whom we’re meeting for the first time) is a delight. Judith’s royal parents let on that they know about her illicit relationship with Ecbert. Caitlin Scott made an excellent little sister, reveling in the bickering between her parents and Judith. I hope that she is not subjected to Ivar’s cruel attentions.
In Wessex, Ecbert conducts a bizarre tutoring session with Alfred. Linus Roache also delights this episode. He makes a smooth transition from power-mad king to crazy grandfather. He goads Alfred, a boy in his pre-teen years, into downing several cups of wine while he drinks only water. All of this is meant to teach the young prince to never let anyone convince him to do something he does not wish to do. It’s a strange lesson, especially coming from Ecbert, who is a master manipulator. Ecbert wishes with all of his heart that Alfred will become king someday. We know from history that it is indeed Alfred’s destiny to become the first king of a united England. Perhaps it is because the Great Army of the Vikings will give him the impetus to unite everyone.
Winning Is Easy, Governing’s Harder
The fortifications around Kattegat grow as a manifestation of Lagertha’s protectionist ambitions. Watching her it’s easy to think of Claudius or Macbeth, those great opportunists of Shakespeare. She seized power that she craved for so long, and she firmly believes that she is working for the good of the people. But like the tragic figures of those plays, she must be wary of the many poisoned foils and the many MacDuffs lurking about.
Ivar and Ubbe are keeping an interesting scoreboard. They have tried and failed twice to exact their vengeance on Lagertha. Their failed coup at the feast really highlights the dissension in the ranks of Ragnar’s offspring. I doubt that Sigurd will so easily forgive Ivar for being held at knife point, or for being almost axed in the head. All of the players in the confrontation during dinner amped up the tension quite well. Katheryn Winnick, especially, moved with a slow, sorrowful, confident grace, that made you think that maybe none of her assailants stand a chance. Odin knows she’s proved to be the toughest in the past. Now, though, she knows that she is fated to die, and fear may get the better of her yet. If it weren’t for Björn’s timely arrival, the show might have lost more central characters.
The Ragnarssons aren’t the only adversaries for Lagertha to fear. Harald and Halfdan have a new ally in Egil the Bastard. He’s the scarred son of an earl who has a very high estimation of his own cleverness and about as many scruples as other medieval bastards. While England will certainly be the main battleground, there will be more bloodshed in Kattegat.
The Great Army
Ivar’s got new wheels. After a much-needed and humanizing reunion with Floki, Ivar asks the master shipwright to help him find his own footing. Floki has just the thing for him – a beautifully crafted war chariot. It was hard to understand the timeline of this sequence. Did we jump forward in time several weeks, or did Floki just happen to have a chariot lying around? We know from “The Outsider” that Ivar is a pretty mean shot with a bow, an ideal weapon for a charioteer. Often Floki is like a Q-style mad genius, developing technologies to give the Vikings an advantage over their enemies. In this case, he may well have created the first tank.
The title of the episode feels a bit like a misnomer – there’s not a Great Army to be seen. By episode’s end, there are a good many ships in the harbor, and we’ve met a few more Viking nobles, but there’s no satisfying thousands-of-Clone-Troopers-boarding-Venator-Class-Star-Destroyers-type shot of the assembled masses. One can only hope we will be treated to that in the next episode.
Where this episode truly excelled was in upping the stakes for the armies’ individual warriors. Each of Ragnar’s sons has his own motives beyond simple vengeance. Lagertha faces manifold threats to her new throne. The Seer’s assertion that Ragnar’s return heralded ruin for all is looking more and more likely. Surely, too, Björn’s surprising dalliance with Astrid is yet another line in this sorrowful poem.
A Hoard of Bonus Observations
- The owl that often perches near Lagertha brings to mind Athena, the warrior goddess of the Greek pantheon.
- In addition to scamming on his mom’s girlfriend, Björn’s intercession in the showdown at the great hall lends some narrative weight to the idea that he will be the one who brings about Lagertha’s death. If we’ve learned anything in the past few years watching this show, it’s that fate can be horribly cruel.
- Björn quotes one of Ragnar’s speeches verbatim. It’s strange that Ragnar’s sons could hear their father’s dying words, which was implied by Travis Fimmel’s voiceover in the previous episode. We are being led to believe that the figure who appeared to each of them in “Crossings” really was the Norse god Odin.
- Michael Hirst seems to be running into problems with Rollo’s story. Will he make an anachronistic appearance on the battlefields in Northumbria? Will any of the series’ central characters take him up on his offer of land? I hope there is more meaningful work cut for Rollo in the weeks to come.
- We don’t know much about Floki and Helga’s new ward, Tanaruz, yet, and this episode didn’t change that much. We learned her name, at least. I’m hoping for more about her in the near future.
Check out our recap of “Revenge” next!