After the events of season three, season four has now gone down the basic ‘US Cable Route” of having a ludicrously long 20 episode season, so just short of the standard twenty-three-episode season that so many US shows have. Season four starts with a barrage of ten episodes. Having seen the entire season, I can now say that Vikings hasn’t followed the tradition of American shows losing steam after the first ten episodes. It stays consistent through its twenty-episode run. The Norsemen are still on form, that much is certain.
After the bloody Siege of Paris, our pillaging Vikings are looking to commit more Vikingness, especially against Rollo (Clive Standen), who has betrayed his brother Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) yet again. Also, we are witness to an angry bear that looks like it was plucked from the set of The Revenant. Nonetheless, showrunner and creator Michael Hirst has shown why the Vikings fandom is a force to be reckoned with. In my view, along with Outlander and Black Sails, Vikings continues to be one of the best-made shows on popular television.
At the end of season three, Ragnar (Fimmel) was left mortally wounded but he’s unkillable, right? His temporary leave of absence left a power struggle among the rest of the main characters, including his slippery wife Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and his son Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig). In the first half, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) is exposed for the murder of Ragnar’s best friend and every fan’s favourite monk, Athelstan. If your favourite character is not Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), I will respect your choice but you are wrong!
We are also viewers of Rollo’s exploits in France who stayed behind to rule the roost but it’s hardly plain sailing. Finally, shield maiden and Ragnar’s ex, Lagertha faces threats to her earldom as well. Though, now we know she solved that issue with badassery and prowess. All these characters are great perspectives in exploring sex, violence and tragedy. Yet again, Hirst has pulled out all the stops. There’s no outright good or evil, as depicted in the love/hate relationship of Ragnar and King Ecbert (Linus Roache).
Again, Hirst, along with his crew, has balanced action with story. This goes from Bjorn trying to prove his Vikingness, to Rollo’s exploits in Paris, and how any person is capable of any act if their circumstances provoke them to do so. Bjorn does a Leonardo DiCaprio and goes on a little solo retreat to the woods, where he meets a big grizzly beast. One might call that unbearable. Vikings doesn’t glamorise violence at all. It represents the grim reality of the time and the circumstances our characters are thrust into on a daily basis. Their world is: brutal, barbaric and brutish yet there are elements of love, kindness and other things that we as viewers can relate to.
Not every instance in Vikings is a severed head or an act of violence. “Skol” translates as “cheers” in many Scandinavian languages. There are many times throughout the series when they ‘break bread’ with one another. It’s these scenes that make this show what it is. Sure, the history isn’t all there but I don’t think one could name a historical television show or film that is 100% historically accurate (Braveheart!). Vikings stands alone as a show in its own right. Hirst and his team have made a show that represents violence and acts of horribleness without making us feel sympathy for it. Even “bad people” like Ragnar are pushed to to “bad” things, but that doesn’t make them any less watchable.
Regardless of the graphic violence, Vikings has a sort of lovable nature to it. This may be the reason why we have Last Kingdom and Outlander, two other historical series with a romance to them. What Hirst has achieved with his cast and crew on the History Channel is astounding. It’s even more applaud-worthy since the channel is mainly renowned for conspiracy documentaries and features about serial killers, except for that marvellous Roots remake. With great performances and excellent production design, Season 4a of Vikings continues to increase on the quality delivered in previous seasons. My review for Season 4b will be up in due course.