Vikings Recaps, S4E14: Two Journeys
Who is Ragnar Lothbrok?
That’s the question this episode of Vikings, entitled, with the usual Vikings subtlety, Two Journeys, left me with more than anything. According to Authelweulf, when Ragnar’s banner is once again found on the shore’s of England, he’s part of Vikings history now; his father, the long-missed Linus Roach returning as King Ecbert, dismisses him with a sneer and calls him nothing more than a man. Even Ivar, his own son, in one of several great scenes featuring the two of them this episode,seems to know more about the legend of Ragnar than he does about the man himself. Vikings’ main character exists someone between myth and man-while we knew him when he was more the latter than the former, to many of the characters around in this half of the season, he’s risen to almost demi-God status, and the who Ragnar actually is becomes lost in the mix. I can’t think of another show that has done this sprawling history of one person, and the perception of them, with as much nuance and ambiguity as this. And that ever-intriguing question is only one of the things that made this episode the best of season four so far.
Of course, the return of Rollo and Ecbert and all they bring with them really helped pump this outing up- Clive Standen (Oh God, did you see the Taken TV series trailer? Don’t. No, really, don’t) is such a welcome return, especially in his current form. He’s another character who’s gone through this fascinating change, from fearsome and renowned Viking warrior to French nobleman, all in the pursuit of the same kind of power he felt as though his brother was simply handed. But he still lusts for the good ol’ days, so when Bjorn-oh, and Brother Red Shirt-rocks up asking him for safe passage through Francish shores, he says yes- as long as he gets to go with them. After some argy-bargy involving imprisonment and semi-drowning, Bjorn and his uncle seem to come to an uneasy understanding- though I believe this will be Rollo’s last season, and I’d be surprised to see him make it back to France.
Over in England, Ragnar ships wash up after a brutal storm battering, leaving only him, Ivar, and a handful of crew members alive. This father-and-son team are a poisonous pairing, with Ivar willing to do almost anything for his father’s approval-including dispatching the rest of the Viking survivors as they sleep- and Ragnar only acting to encourage, explicitly or not, his son’s basest and cruellest instincts thanks to his his own twisted sense of decency. We only caught a glimpse of Ecbert and his jolly family tree, but there’s tantalising promise of more next week. Also: where is Athelstan’s son? Will him and Ivar be mates now? I would love a Ragnar-and-Athelstan two-point-oh bromance, even if it is obvious and much less adorable than the first time round.
Aside from the literal returns, we saw a couple of return-to-forms for old favourite characters, too- most notably, of course, Lagertha, who took back Kattegat in brutal and cunning fashion in another one of those inimitable battle scenes. After having Kathryn Winnick sort of kicking about the background for the last season and a half, it’s almost cathartic to see her in full flow here, delivering on the promise she made to Aslaug last week. Sarah Harding’s direction turns this sequence into an awesomely powerful scene rivalling any of your Game of Thrones sword-swinging nonsense, and I’m intrigued to see how Slaugy and Lagertha thresh it out next episode.
Also returning to form, and worth mentioning, is Floki, who has once again taken up his rightful place as stealing the scene while the camera is barely even focused on him- his simultaneous delight and surprise when Rollo’s son stuck his tongue out at him was hilarious, and I’m still not sure whether it was relief or disappointment on his face when Bjorn spared his uncle. Gustaf Skarsgard brings so much to the awkward, unsettling Floki, and it’s nice to be reminded of that after a very, very serious eighteen months for him.
All in all, this is a return to form for Vikings on many fronts; exciting, frightening, and thoughtful all in the same breath, Two Journeys promises and tantalises with everything that this season has yet to deliver. And believe me when I say that that is a whole freaking lot.