The Vikings have returned to plunder, burn, rage, and wage war on familiar lands as the newly appointed king Ragnar Lodbrok takes his people back to Wessex, but this time as allies to King Ecbert. We left off at a new beginning for the people of Kattegat with Ragnar looking on from his glacial precipice. Now he intends on returning to Wessex and claiming the land Ecbert had promised him back when they made their fragile alliance. Ecbert convinces Ragnar to fight with his men against the self-appointed king of Mercia who is still in civil war with Princess Kwenthrith.
It’s hard not to compare this premiere with the capitalizing mayhem that was the premiere of season 2. While we weren’t given the bloodthirsty carnage of a fevered battle, instead we’re given the perception of normal life of Ragnar and his family as they wait for the snows to melt so they may return to the seas and raid. We’re given an informal passage of time, which was easier to discern once we saw Ragnar’s youngest son and Floki’s daughter at least two years, maybe three. Ragnar shed his long lock of hair, which no doubt will have some shaking their fists while Bjorn attempts to grow his. It was a pleasant beginning as characters we’ve known for the last two years are more or less handling their lives as expected. Even Floki manages to capture his neurotic attitude within moments of entering the screen. All is well except for Lagertha who doesn’t realize her closest consort back home is already plotting a coup against her.
Viking relationships shows that the men long for battle and forward momentum with their raids while the women align on both sides of that mentality. Some are eager to join the raids, while others take care of their children. There’s a balance that continues to show that these characters are passionate and full of life, even Rollo, who is shown relatively reserved for the most part.
While not everything is as it seems, the alliance with King Ecbert appears genuine, with him showing Lagertha the lands in Wessex that will be her people’s once the lands of Mercia are in his control. Is it too early to tell if there’s a double-cross in the works? Maybe not from Ecbert himself, but surely from others in his stead. Those seeds have already been planted Judith’s husband, Aethelwulf consorts with Bishop Edmund about his misgivings over trusting the Vikings. There won’t be an episode where someone isn’t plotting such betrayal. It’s the formula of the show and they like to move quickly on these matters, so I expect dissention in the ranks very soon.
The meat of battle comes with the crew traveling by boat to the lands of Mercia and finding two armies on opposite sides. Ragnar opts to go after the side with less men, where King Brihtwulf stands. Kwenthrith’s brother is forced to watch as Ragnar and the team dispatch all of Brihtwulf’s men including the man himself, by Floki’s hand. It was a bludgeoned and bloody one-sided battle, likely a warm up to the some truly epic encounters we’re likely to see down the road. I have to admit, I was imagining Brihtwulf’s forces to act a bit smarter, such as deceiving the sizes of the arms and fooling Ragnar to choose the wrong side, or even a hidden bridge that allowed the sides to join. Alas, it was about Ragnar’s quick thinking that led to an easy victory with no casualties of anyone notable.
We end with Kwenthirth looking on in both shock and awe as her uncle has now been slain. From our knowledge of her personality, you can tell there’s a deeper sense of strangeness going on with her and whether she’s truly enjoying the moment or is horrified, we’re not completely sure yet. One thing is certain, Ragnar is Ragnar, and he relishes the victory in his own passive way.
As much as I enjoyed the battle I actually thought Flocki’s opening scene to be my favored moment. I haven’t been very supportive of his character mainly because his attitude toward Athelstan last season, but his worry about being happy and right with the world bothers him beyond normal and he continues to showcase his peculiar ways with cryptic words and a sense of gloom on the horizon. I also liked how he both praised and harped on Helga for being such a good and endearing wife.
Ragnar has to start out strong on his own show. While other characters are showing their temperaments and fixations, Ragnar remains stalwart and true to his senses. He had a lingering moment of doubt when Aslaug asked if he loved her while holding their youngest son, who unfortunately still suffers the burden of misshapen legs. We’re not given an answer by Ragnar which suggests that after several children, his mindset may already be moving on to other possibilities. What those are, we’re not quite certain. Could it be leading back to Lagertha or even toward Kwenthirth? His heart can be of the moment when he lets it. Something his son, Bjorn has yet to elicit.
LONG TERM THOUGHTS
Is Porunn with child? Even more so, will there be an unfortunate tragedy striking Bjorn’s love before they return to Kattegat? I like her character and hope she’s a mainstay of the season, but if there’s one thing the show has taught us is that like GOT, they’re not afraid to end a character’s run no matter how popular they are.
The Seer remains to be the only element on the show that suggests actual magic or “sorcery” takes place. Lagertha asks when she’ll die and the Seer offers a few cryptic responses, none of which she understands with any clarity. We should be paying attention because those signs are likely to happen in rapid fire if they occur this season.
In some ways Athelstan never catches a break. Judith shows an innocent affection to the man who still elicits signs of the stigmata and Aethelwulf is quick to realize it. It could spell a bit of trouble, some of which even coming from Ecbert himself, who subtly tempts Athelstan by returning an old cross necklace he once carried.
Will Lagertha be the one to tend the lands and rule while her own lands back home remain in the hands of her trusted second, Kalf? Tough to say, but at some point she’ll have to confront what’s being plotted under her knowledge.
Let’s hope nothing happens to Torstein this season. He’s one of the few crew left that’s lasted as long as he has and is remarkably staying fresh among the crew. Maybe we’ll get to know him a bit more.
While not as blood-soaked as last season’s premiere, it was an enjoyable return to the gritty and cold franchise. 7 out of 10. While Ragnar’s passive style continues to shield him against threats on all sides, his supporting cast are really coming into their own. Bjorn is showing his worth as the growing son, Lagertha maintains her status as a powerful woman, and Floki remains uncertain about his future and where he stands with the gods. This show is about deceit, betrayal, and the ability to rise above the odds, and I expect much more murder and chaos to form before we realize who Ragnar’s true enemies are this time. Good start. Let’s see where it goes.
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