Vikings set sail on many new journeys in this week’s episode “The Vision“. Björn is one league closer to his dream of sailing to the Mediterranean, and Ragnar managed to find a crew willing to sail and fight with him. We also got a better sense of the next generation of Viking warriors. Most importantly, we had another taste of Aslaug’s prophetic visions. But will her latest augury portend doom for the subjects?
~SHIELD WALL! Spoilers ahead~
The Gang’s All Here
When you want to take all of the nations of Europe’s lunch money, it’s easiest if you have friends. That’s why Björn and his father both spend this episode gathering the baddest bearded bullies they can find. Björn has much better success, attracting a massive flotilla that includes a who’s who of mighty warriors. Harald and his brother Halfdan have apparently been busy in the mid-season break. In a series of victories, Harald has amassed some sizeable territory in Norway, and we could be witnessing the rise of the next great Viking king. What remains to be seen is if Ivar, the other contender for acclaim (and a throne), will let this ambition go unchecked.
Ragnar has far less luck finding supporters. Through his conduct this episode, we see that he’s lost the pride that fueled some of his more foolish choices. He parts with his hoarded wealth in the hopes of winning others to his cause, which shames his sons. On the surface, it appears to be little more than the quixotic impulse of a suicidal man, but could it belie something more? Like many cultures of the time, Vikings believed that material goods could aid you in the afterlife, and Ragnar’s willingness to part with it is striking. Eschewing material wealth is a Christian tendency. Could the prodigal king be exploring a deeper relationship to the faith taught to him by his late friend, Athelstan? The Christians baptized him, after all.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Ragnar has spent nearly all of his time in Kattegat and Hedeby apologizing for past wrongs. Ragnar and Aslaug have their long-overdue heart-to-heart, and he fesses up to being a grade-A d-bag through much of their marriage. It might not be enough to make up for his conduct, but it is heartening to see him making real efforts to turn over a new leaf. Seeking and granting forgiveness is one of the central tenets of the Christian faith. Perhaps his agenda for his trip to Wessex is not one of vengeance after all.
Ivar is a menacing bundle of angst-ridden hormonal rage. Ragnar and Aslaug’s youngest son continues to prove himself to be impetuous, arrogant, and violent. It’s still very hard to like this new protagonist. His possessive fascination with Margrethe is disturbing and abusive. The other Ragnarssons fear him, and, to be fair, they are probably right to do so.
Like his Uncle Rollo in the earlier seasons, Ivar is quick to anger and easily manipulated. He is, however, keenly intelligent and a violent despot-in-training. He strikes one as a Hannibal Lecter-type figure (or, perhaps, a Robert Ford). Viking Age Scandinavia is a sociopath’s playground, especially if that sociopath is the scion of folk heroes.
Say what you will about Ivar, he’s making strides, in some cases literally, toward independence. His determination to accompany his father to Wessex fuels his desire to break from the protective umbrella his mother holds over him. Not even Aslaug’s vision of a tempestuous voyage can dissuade Ivar from leaving Kattegat. Like all of Aslaug’s visions, this sequence of events does indeed come to pass. History tells us (and so do the trailers) that Ivar must survive, but what will this symbolic death and rebirth mean for this aimless, violent young man?
A Blood Sacrifice
The show is already amping up the tension between its two matriarchs. Even though Lagertha suggests a sacrifice to the gods to bless their sons’ voyage, the gesture seems hollow. The pageantry and ritual make for a stunning backdrop to Lagertha’s confession of her lasting enmity. It also proves one thing for certain: Aslaug has real power. Kattegat has prospered under her rule, and the people have noticed.
What I find strange is that in the past, Aslaug and Lagertha buried the hatchet. A lot, of course, can change in ten years. More than anything this season, the show must justify its decision to pit two characters against one another who, by all appearances, seemed to be on good terms. The sagas are just as character-driven as they are about the deeds of the characters themselves. My hope is that both of these women make it out on the other end of this showdown.
The risk of pitting two of the most powerful female characters in this show against one another is that it weakens both of them. Vikings has no shortage of truly fascinating women. Helga remains one of my favorites, and Astrid is shaping up to be an impressive presence on the show. The difficulty is that when a woman disappears from this show, the void is much more noticeable. Siggy’s death was a remarkable shock, to be sure, as was Gyda’s at the end of season one. But Yidu’s death was tawdry and served only to demonstrate how off-the-rails Ragnar had become. All of the daughters are dead. Floki’s daughter, Björn’s daughter, Ragnar and Lagertha’s daughter. Sagas are meant to be about heroic families. Surely there is room for a story about women that doesn’t end tragically.
Hoard of Bonus Observations
- Aslaug’s vision, for which the episode is named, was truly spectacular. The water spout was a stunning effect. Continuing the show’s tradition of excellent parallel shots, watching Aslaug weep with agony as furious waves toss Ivar and Ragnar’s boat is well-choreographed and truly heartbreaking.
- The Seer’s gotta be getting up there in years, and the second half of season four seems to have forgotten about Floki’s arc as his heir apparent, at least for now.
- Rollo and Gisla’s reappearance next episode looks promising. I wonder what Björn will think of his wee cousin.