Vikings, S4E19: On the Eve
I went into this week’s episode, On the Eve, with something close to trepidation; a number of reviews had been pretty dismissive of the episode, and, after a wobbly few weeks for the show, I was seriously worried that this would be the one where it lost it’s way. After all, the show has a lot of work to do to get things back on track after Ragnar’s death, and it seemed like his presence haunted Vikings in a way that seemed to hold it back from fully escaping his shadow-maybe this, the second-last episode of the season, would prove to be a cracking point as the show buckled under the weight of the loss of it’s lead character?
Quite to the contrary though, I found On the Eve probably the most effective post-Ragnar episode- purely on the basis that I got through forty minutes without once missing the show’s original leading man. There are plenty of reasons for this which I’ll get into in a minute, but I just want to get it out right here and now and say that I think Vikings will recover from the loss of both Ragnar and Travis Fimmel. These last few episodes have been baby steps (with some notable problems), but there has been a slow but steady climb in quality as the season edges towards it’s finale. I’m not convinced the show will ever be quite as good as the heights it reached back when it was at peak Fimmel, but I think there’s plenty still left for it to explore.
I mean, this episode alone seemed intent on exploring the nuanced shades of Lagertha’s badassery. As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced Katheryn Winnick is the greatest actress ever, but man, can she do a fight scene. Kattegat came under attack (from who, I’ll get to) and Lagertha had to rally the troops to keep ahold of her hard-earned kingdom- and Vikings reminded me just how well it can string together an action sequence when it wants to. Not to mention the fact that it was beyond awesome to see this thrilling defense mounted by three women (Lagertha, Tove, and Astrid), with Lagertha delivering the straight-up sickest sucker punch that you just can’t resist applauding. It’s an exhilarating five minutes of action- brutal, brief, and brilliant, and a reminder that shows don’t have to go to Game-of-Thrones level enormity to impress with fight scenes. Just watching Astrid cut through the invaders in messy hand-to-hand combat was eons cooler than anything Battle of the Bastards did (not least because they could easily have killed off Jon Snow in that episode and didn’t, grumble grumble).
And finally, the show is doing something with King Harald; not only is it revealed that he was the one to fund the attack on Kattegat, but he murders the husband of the woman he wanted to marry and actually seems to finally be doing something even halfway relevant to the plot for a change. Vikings plays a good long game so I was always willing to see where they were going with his plot, but I’m glad something-anything- has actually happened to justify the brothers’ continuing presence in the opening credits.
Also in England, the Lothbrok brothers attempt to plan their attack on the English army (led by Athelwulf, with another great performance by Moe Dunford that makes me sad these are almost certainly his last episodes with us). The tension as Bjorn’s experienced but narrow-minded battle plans are challenged by Ivar’s cunning-yet-crazy arrogance in the face of all reason makes for a few good scenes, but it’s the sequence in which the armies clash for the first time that really takes the cake here. Well, they don’t even clash- Ivar seems to have come up with a superb plan that basically involves confusing the English into their trap, and it works (Floki calls Ivar a “mad genius”, which is a bit rich coming from him, but I digress). I love the way this scene unfolds, with stunning tracking shots as the Viking army ploughs through the woods, not to mention the way the script leaves you guessing at their plan right up until the last moment.
Yes, this is an action-heavy episode, and maybe that’s why I didn’t find my mind drifting to Ragnar during On the Eve. But dammit, action is one of the things Vikings does best- and when it continues to prove that no-one else does it quite like they do, I will always find justification for their thrilling, innovative fight scenes. Join me next week for the finale- who do you think will live, and who will bite the bullet? Will brother Redshirt somehow survive into season five? And, on the eve (heh) of the last episode of this tumultuous season- what do you think of Vikings series four?