So, here I was, watching the penultimate episode of Vikings when a serious thought hits me: how much am I supposed to like the Vikings?
I’ve probably wondered about this before. Even as the ostensible protagonists of the series, the Vikings do engage in a lot of violence and activities that, quite frankly, are horrifying. Yes, we’ve seen they are more forward thinking in, say, their attitudes towards women than the Christians, and they know how to celebrate life in more jubilant ways. But then we see the raiding scenes. By this point, the main cast is down to Ubbe, Hvitserk, and Ivar. Ivar is the most colorful, but he has until this last batch of episodes often been portrayed as a psychotic madman, and now that he’s using his strategic mind to once again harass innocent Christians for the crime of…being Christians in another country that has wealth the Vikings would like to steal I suppose, he’s setting some rather impressive booby traps for Alfred’s men. The Vikings here are the invaders. No one attacked them. They wanted to go raiding again. How should I feel about that?
As for Hvitserk, he’s never really had a personality, and the show seems to tip its hat in that direction once in a while.
Ubbe at least laid aside his weapons as he prefers exploring, finding the natives of the Golden Land are rather friendly and even know some Old Norse, allowing for communication between people. That just means they met another Viking at some point, and the crazy fellow lives nearby. Sure, not everything involving Ubbe’s group is without concern (the one guy asking about gold is bound to be a problem), but it’s quite, peaceful, and shows another side to these people.
But it’s not one that gets as much screentime and attention as Ivar’s giant raiding party. Again, how am I supposed to feel here? When this show was in its earliest episodes, it may have show Ragnar as a violent man when he went raiding, but he also showed a lot of curiosity. His desire to raid Paris was less about killing the Franks or stealing as much of their wealth as he could as it was challenging himself by getting past the walls of what he was told was an impenetrable city. And in earlier episodes, we never really saw Ragnar engage in torturing bishops or raping anyone. He observed those things, even shushed a hidden child here and there to keep them calm and safe, but he didn’t personally engage in that sort of behavior. It made it easier for the audience to root for him. There were limits to his behavior.
It’s also why I made it a point to nickname Floki “That Asshole Floki” because he clearly had no problem torturing Christian priests and nuns. Heck, he saw it as a duty. As charismatic and distinctive as the character was, he was also an religious extremist for the run of the series.
It’s why I was shocked by an episode that implied Bjorn (among others) raped some women in a Muslim harem. It seemed a step too far.
However, with Ivar, there never was a step too far because he had already hobbled over it by the time he got to his first battlefield. He had no reason to suggest Wessex needed a good raiding for some made-up crimes (which I don’t believe the series ever showed as being true or not, just something Ivar said to rile up the crowd) and to follow whatever vague history there is around the historic Ivar the Boneless, King Harald, and King Alfred the Great.
By the by, Harald died in this episode at the sword point of a bishop who then decided to stick around and taunt the dying Norseman enough to get his own throat slit. That was dumb, but Harald was a conniving guy who thought he was the gods’ gift to whatever woman caught his eye. How am I supposed to feel about him even if he was one of the more charismatic figures left on the show?
Then again, much of this clever strategy stuff comes when Ivar sets up an elaborate ambush for Alfred’s army that includes a final touch of “kidnap the queen”. It turns out stealing his wife is one of Alfred’s berserk buttons. She does actually manage to rescue herself, but not before Alfred takes a sword through the shoulder and then kills the Norseman who did it. He also saw a vision of Jesus, so he figures he’s gonna win this one in the end.
Considering how much this show treats religious visions as true portents, he’s probably right about that.
Oh, and then at the end of the episode, we see who the crazy old man who taught the Native Americans Old Norse is: That Asshole Floki.
I suppose leaving him buried alive in a cave with a Christian cross under a mountain wasn’t an appropriate enough death for a show like this…