Ragnar Lothbrok is bad at family reunions. Admittedly, it could be a little culturally insensitive to say that taunting your sons and daring them to kill you is a little over the line, I’ve never been king of anything, so my standards are different. The Vikings are finally back in the continuation of season four “The Outsider”.
~SHIELD WALL! Spoilers incoming~
Ten years after vanishing without notice, Ragnar is back in Kattegat. The episode picks up right where “The Last Ship” ended, and relief and wonder at the prodigal monarch’s return win out over the rage Ragnar’s sons feel toward him. Vikings never shies away from using time jumps as a device to advance the narrative. The first two episodes of the second season are set several years apart. Episodes featuring raids on England and France are also at least several months apart.
The episode devotes much of its time to developing the Ragnarssons. Ubbe, Hvitserk, Sigurd, and Ivar are, as adults, lacking focus. The scene where they train in the woods shows that they at least share their father’s martial skill. It has the frantic pacing of a Justin Lin-esque action sequence.
The brothers prove themselves to be the typical children of a renowned military leader (think Genghis Khan), letting their desire to prove themselves manifest as in-fighting and violent sibling rivalry. It was certainly well-choreographed, especially with Hvitserk and Ivar dueling with swords. Or was it Ivar and Sigurd? I can’t tell the two of them apart yet. That gets to the heart of a major difficulty with this episode. At the moment, two of Ragnar’s five sons are essentially interchangeable. Ubbe, Ivar, and Björn have gotten enough airtime to develop a recognizable personality. Hopefully, future episodes will give Sigurd and Hvitserk the development they need to become distinct characters.
Heading to Hedeby
Playing wargames isn’t just for the boys in this episode. In our first glimpse of her since the season returned, Lagertha is busy practicing her Viking jujutsu techniques with her new lover, Astrid. Katheryn Winnick and Josefin Asplund deliver performances that sell a lasting and meaningful bond between the two women.
Complicating this relationship, of course, is Ragnar. It’s refreshing to see his fame live on in Astrid’s fascination with him. When Ragnar finally gets some time alone with Lagertha, we’re treated to a sincere glimpse of just how much they regret the way things turned out between them. It was heartbreaking to see them go through the loss of separation all over again, but I for one am glad they shared what may very well be one final kiss. Ragnar’s goodbyes this episode have an unsettling air of finality to them.
Just as Kattegat has prospered in Ragnar’s absence, so, too, Hedeby has seen stability. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in this saga is that Vikings at rest hatch dangerous plans. Lagertha is planning something big, and it’s likely an assault on Kattegat. Lagertha knows her son is planning to sail to the Mediterranean, taking many fighting men and women with him, leaving her with a perfect opportunity to strike.
Stranger in a Familiar Land
The title, “The Outsider,” could refer to either Ragnar or to Ivar. Ragnar floats through a kingdom that has thrived without him, becoming a major center for trade and exploding in size. Lagertha has her Earldom, Björn plans to sail with his brothers and Floki to the Mediterranean, and Aslaug wants nothing to do with him. (It seemed that the whole episode would go by without any reference to their relationship, but Ivar calls him out for not speaking to her in the final scene.) Ragnar seems totally bored with life, and despite all he’s done, it’s completely heartbreaking. His failed self-strangulation demonstrates, in terms the Seer might use, that the gods are not done with him yet.
Ivar is probably the better contender for being the true “outsider.” Aslaug shows him open favoritism during the dinner scene, which would set him apart from his brothers. He also spends a creepy amount of time spying on Margrethe, the servant girl he lusts after, as she engages in three separate trysts with each of his brothers. Ivar comes across as a young man who, despite having much, never seems to get what he wants.
There’s no room for sympathy for Ivar, though, when he turns that violent angst against Margrethe. Much like the troubling use of sexual violence to establish Lagertha as a capable warrior, this instance of sexual violence was a clumsy way to air Ivar’s frustrations. We didn’t need to know about his impotence to justify his jealousy, and we definitely didn’t need to see him threaten to kill a woman to understand his feelings of fear and inadequacy. He did, after all, kill a kid with an ax over a game of catch. Despite the occasional tonal miss, by the end of the episode, I was convinced that Ivar would choose to go with Ragnar to Wessex. Let’s hope at least one of them makes it out alive.
Highlights, Lowlights, Questions, and Other Observations
- Where was Ragnar all this time? I hope we get some sense of where his wanderings have taken him. Did he pair up with Sinric? Find a monastery somewhere and keep chasing the Christian faith of Athelstan? Inquiring minds want to know.
- Ragnar’s sons are all grown. That means so is Alfred, the bastard son of Athelstan and Judith. Just like Ivar, Alfred was a real historical figure of immense importance. With a new generation of heroes on both sides, we are in for a crazy ride this season.
- Floki and Ragnar openly saying “I love you” to one another hit me right in the feels. It was a nice counterpoint to the more troubling behavior of Ragnar’s sons, and it shows that the writers know what they’re doing.