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Another year, another season down for the History channel TV show Vikings. Season 4 of the show was probably one of the most ambitious season of the show’s run, not only in story narrative arcs and character development, but rather in scale and scope, with a lofty total of 20 episodes that divided the season into a first half and second half. As a warning note, I will be taking a bit more about the second half of the season that I’ve covered here. In addition, there will be plenty of spoilers below. Thus, if you don’t want to know some key moments of season 4, don’t read any further. You’ve been warned.
The first half of the season was probably a bit more set in a similar fashion of the past two seasons of Vikings and (if I’m being honest) I liked a bit better than the second half. Don’t worry, I still liked the second half of the season, but here are some reasons why I liked the first half. It felt more organic as the narrative of the show flowed much easier, with the main focus placed on Ragnar Lothbrok (the series’ main protagonist) as he returns to France (Frankia) and does battle with Franks there as well as trying to seek revenge for his brother Rollo for betraying him and his people. In truth, the show placed a lot of emphasis on Rollo as he (still a Viking) must come to terms with his new alliance with Emperor Charles of Frankia, his betrothed wife Princess Gisla, and all the underlings that encircle Frankia’s throne. Of course, these storylines (Ragnar and Rollo) do collided every now and again, and culminated in a great battle towards the end of the first half, with Rollo being the somewhat victor of the two. In addition to Rollo’s story, a lot of the side characters in his storyline were given enough time to develop and become important characters with their own sub plots fully realized and fulfilled.
In Ragnar’s storyline, he faced conflicts all around. For starters, still reeling from the death of Athelstan, Ragnar publicly shamed (and tortured) his once good friend Floki (Athelstan’s murderer), who despite being freed of the crimes by Ragnar, resents him for most of the episode, finding new friendship with King Harald Finehair and his brother Half-Dan (two new characters to the show). In addition, Lagertha’s story, involving her ambiguous and traitorous arrangement with Kalf came to a satisfying ending (with her murdering him on their wedding day), making her claim over her earldom of Hedeby. Also, Queen Aslaug had a second chance encounter with the mysterious Harbard (and sort of gets over him), but still have marital problems with Ragnar. Lastly, Bjorn finally becomes a man in his own right, proving to many that he’s the mighty Bjorn Ironside, firstborn son of Ragnar Lothbrok, and becomes more of a Viking warrior throughout the course of the first half.
Over in Wessex, King Ecbert faced his own problems, dealing with Quuen Kwenthrith of Mercia, (and her son Magnus, the supposedly bastard son of Ragnar Lothbrok), sending his son (Aethelwulf), and his grandson (Alfred) away on journey to Rome, so he could find some “alone time” with his son’s wife (Judith), who becomes his mistress companion (yeah, a bit unsettling on that last part). In the end, however, Ecbert came out on top, seizing Mercia’s crown from underneath Kwenthrith and become powerful ruler as the first half drew to an end.
As a whole, the first half of the season was good, feeling connected and contained and ended in a climactic battle between not just Vikings and Frenchmen, but rather brother vs. brother, something that had been boiling throughout the course of the past seasons. The story was well-balanced, with plenty of action scenes, equally measures of the various storylines, and even ends on really surprising way by time jumping some years later for the final episode of the first half. This, of course, led into the second half.
The second half of the season was a bit of a departure for the series, but it was also a sort of a big “game changer” in its story, characters, and overall key elements of the show. However, these changing winds blew across the second half of the season and made the back half story arc feel a bit uneven at times and not as focused as it was in the first half of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I did love the second half of the season, but it just wasn’t as “cohesive” as it was in the first half.
Of course, the big thing that was brought into focus (during the second half) was the four children by Ragnar and Queen Aslaug (i.e. Ubbe, Ivar, Sigurd, and Hvitserk), with Ivar being the spotlight character that show primarily focused on. Actor Alex Høgh Andersen was excellent as the character, showing as the closet progeny to Ragnar Lothbrok, despite him being crippled, ruthless, nasty, and clever. Ivar was quite a memorable character in the second half of the season (I can’t wait to see where the character goes in the season 5). As for the other brothers, it was kind of a mixed bag. Ubbe, played by Jordan Patrick Smith, was the second most memorable character of the four (almost playing the parental / big brother of the foursome), but Sigurd and Hvitserk (played by David Lindstrom and Marco Ilsø) got the short end of the stick as their characters were pretty bland and underdeveloped. However, following Sigurd’s death at the end of the second half (by Ivar’s hand or axe if you prefer), that’s one less character to develop and will probably give Hvitserk more room develop in the coming season.
The next big thing in the second half was the deaths that occurred, with the most important one being the death of Ragnar Lothbrok. Of course, I was upset by this (like many out there), but how they were setting up the character of Ragnar in the second half (i.e. him making amends with everyone around him), you kind of feared that he was going to die by the end of this season, which he unfortunately did. Naturally, he couldn’t die in such a bland way as the show had him die in spectacular fashion (a bit gruesome) by the hands of King Aelle. Fimmel was truly fantastic as Ragnar and I really do hate to see him (and the character) go. I do worry that the show (without him) might falter in the next season due to his character’s absence. All in all, Ragnar’s death died a true Viking warrior’s death and will definitely be welcomed in Valhalla.
Like fans of the show, the death of Ragnar Lothbrok spread far and wide as many characters were affected by his death, rallying the sons of Ragnar together to create the “great heathen army” to avenge their father’s death. Thus, King Aelle met his hand in a very, very horrific way by being “blood eagled” (it was pretty intense and a bit graphic to watch). After deposing of Aelle, the sons of Ragnar (and their army) turning towards Wessex and King Ecbert, who met his demise in the final episode of the season, but on his terms. Ecbert was just a great character for Linus Roache to play and he will be missed. However, his character did get the “last laugh” at the Vikings, which setup events for season 5.
Another major death in the show was the first casualty of the second half with Queen Aslaug, who was shot in the back by an arrow from Lagertha. The two wives of Ragnar Lothbrok have never seen eye to eye and tempers did flare up between the two in the second half. This, of course, culminated in Lagertha overtaking Kattegat and exacting her revenge on Aslaug for taking her place as ruler of her kingdom. In hindsight, Aslaug wasn’t as an important character as the people around her (i.e. Ragnar, Bjorn, Lagertha, etc.), but she will definitely be missed on the show. In addition, her death does fuel Ivar to take revenge on Lagertha throughout the course of the season, which seems to be hinted in the upcoming season.
I do have to say that the battles in season 4, while great, well-executed, and staged, felt a bit in short supply in comparison to the rest of series, especially after the multiple episode of the siege of Paris in season 3. They were mostly in the final episode and were big and grandiose (in scale and scope), but the show didn’t show many lengthy action scenes, despite some battles being extremely important ones. Whether it was for creative decisions or money reasons (I’m sure it cost a pretty penny for battle scenes), it’s just something I took note of while I watched the show. On the other hand, there was still plenty of action (just not long and lengthy battles) as well as violence in both battle combat and some Norse cultural traditions. Maybe I was expecting something bit more after seeing season 3’s battles.
The main problem with the second half of the season was that there were too many storylines going on in different places (i.e. the show spreading itself too thin). This meant that some storylines got shortchanged, including Bjorn’s journey to the Mediterranean. It was very interesting for the show to talk about this as we saw Bjorn become more of a leader figure (trying to break away from Ragnar’s shadow) and exploring new lands, but it just felt pretty uninteresting compared to the other storylines playing out with more time devoted to them. If more time was allowed, it could’ve been more intriguing, but sort of it came off as an afterthought. This tied into Rollo’s appearance in the second half, which was severely shrunk down to a fraction of his part in the first half. Basically, he goes with Bjorn to the Mediterranean, feels the joy of raiding as a Viking again, and then returns home. That’s about it. I was disappointed that there wasn’t anymore to his character’s story in the second half as it was kind of a letdown. The same goes for some other side stories that didn’t quite pan out.
I know I sound like I didn’t like the second half, but it did have a lot of redeeming qualities. It introduced new characters, new motivations, a new land to raid (the Mediterranean), plenty of major deaths from important characters, and brought aboard Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in the last two minutes of the final episode of the season, setting him up to be one of the main antagonists in the next season. In addition, the show is still well made (even for a lesser known TV channel of producing hour long TV dramas). Plus, I still love the show and season 4 was great in enhancing and evolving the show.
In the end, despite the misgivings of the second half of the season (character development, narrative jumps, and unfocused side stories), season 4 of Vikings was entertaining as well as satisfying as it was full of action, violence, and plenty of Norse cultural WTF moments. The series has already been greenlit for season 5 (presumably the final season of the show), with the same length as season 4 (a total of 20 episodes), so I assume it’s going to be presented in a similar fashion (i.e. season 5 part 1 and 2). Where that season will take us (the viewers) and its characters still remains unclear. Perhaps only the gods truly know (or maybe The Seer?). For now, season 4 is completed and done; an end of era for some of some of the older characters (the old-guard) to make way for the next generation of warriors, schemers, and rulers.
Score: 8.0 / 10
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