Vikings Recaps, S4, E18: Revenge

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, talk about your game of two halves.

I still think Vikings is a great show. It’s just that it’s doing some major restructuring in the final quarter of this season, and sometimes I can see the dust and debris strewn about a little too obviously, you know?

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The first half of Revenge was really pretty poor- featuring such edifying scenes as a weird incestual wedding-night threesome between Ubbe, Brother Redshirt, and Margret, the most boring woman alive, a violent sacrifice scene that doubled as a metaphor for some steamy bonin’ between Bjorn and Astrid (prediction: in order to complete the whole massive sword/massive dick similie, Astrid will have gotten pregnant from this encounter, as the sword takes life while Bjorn’s penis instills it, or something), and an odd scene where Harald-better known as Oh Yeah, That One Who Wants to Be King of Norway- murmurs threateningly to a woman in a silly hat. It’s not awful, per se, but it’s not up to the standards I’ve come to expect from this show.

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But then…fuck. Just when I think Vikings has gone off the boil, it comes bursting to life with a brilliant scene that reminds me why this show is worth watching. This week, it was a phenomenal conversation between Ecbert and his son, Athelwulf- Athelfwulf, played by Moe Dunford, is one of those typical Vikings characters who’s been noodling about in the background feeling some sort of way, who’s actually had a whole bunch of sneaky development that you barely even notice happening. But this episode drew it all out, as Athelwulf prepares to fight the approaching Vikings army and confronts his father once and for all- does Ecbert love his son? He loved Ragnar, after all, and loved Athelstan- he even loves Athelwulf’s wife (quite vigorously, in fact). Ecbert can’t give him an answer, and it’s one of those scenes that you find yourself sitting completely silent through, enraptured by all the layers of emotion it reveals- recrimination, guilt, years of anger and manipulation. Moe Dunford ánd Linus Roache do an amazing job, and it’s so satisfying to see the show take on a plot that has mostly be happening on the sidelines of the show and give it some legitimacy. That, and the scene that follows between Ecbert and Judith where he urges her to go back to her husband, are some of the highlights of this season to date.

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Another background plot the show briefly brings to the forefront to great effect is that of Floki and his religiosity. Ever since seeing the worshippers in the Mosque, it’s clear that he’s begun to question his own religion; after all, what seemed to put him off Christianity was the materialism of it all. But now he’s encountered people willing to die for their religion, as he would, and their religion differs from his…where does that leave him? Gustaf Skarsgard, in the brief scene he gets with Helga and her stolen Spanish orphan, does great work in drawing all these little nuances to the forefront. Later in the show, he’s back to his manic, gurning, elemental self on the battlefield- but the weight of his doubt still hangs heavy over his character as he sets his sight on the English King.

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Speaking of English Kings, it’s a bad week for them overall- though I imagine King Aela would have settled quite happily for an awkward chat with his son over his eventual fate. Yes, the Vikings have arrived to wage war on the English once again to get revenge on the death of their father, and it’s once they arrive on English soil once more that the episode takes a notable uptick. We don’t get to see the battle where they take down Aela’s army, but it’s not important- what is important is the scene where they kill him, blood-eagling him in a memorably unpleasant sequence. Ivar crawls up to him as he dies and peers at him while his life leaks away- it’s a grotesque and fitting end for the King, especially when they string him up all torn apart like some sort of perverted angel. Most of the brothers seem somewhat vindicated by his murder, but Bjorn seems to realize that their orgy of revenge has only just begun- and will involve him murdering a man that his father considered a close ally.

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On the subject of Bjorn- what are you making of him in the post-Ragnar show? I’m not sure whether Alexander Ludwig is putting in one of the best performances of the show, or if he actually can’t act at all- and my opinion changes scene to scene, line to line. When he’s on, he’s tactically unreadable, reserved but with a strength of leadership and experience that none of his brothers yet have; when he’s not, he’s just shouty and with a constantly odd intonation. I think Bjorn is the natural next step for the show to take as a lead, but I’m not sure I want it, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, yes: a patchy episode, but one that was on when it was on. And I must admit, I’m thirsting for a good Vikings battle sequence- one that the next episode seems to promise at last.

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