Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Vikings Season 4, Episode 18.
As of Season 4, Episode 19 of Vikings, the History series finds itself in an unprecedented position. For the first time in Vikings‘ history, it will feature no redeemable, central characters as part of its canvas.
If you watched last week’s Vikings (Season 4, Episode 18), you know it was one of the most disturbing in the series’ already disquieting history. Back in Season 2, Episode 7, Vikings shocked, and appalled countless viewers with “Blood Eagle.” In that episode, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) executed his nemesis, Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr), via the titular, disgusting ritual.
It was a scene that was unrelentingly gruesome, and vile, and if you thought Vikings would let it stand as the height of its brutality, you were mistaken. Knowing the series’ history, this viewer used the fast forward button, hoping to avoid its effect in Episode 18. Nonetheless, the brutal images flicked across the screen with painful clarity as to what occurred, another scene portraying the “blood eagle,” an act of depraved violence.
Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), who had arguably maintained the highest moral ground throughout previous seasons, did not just lose it. He threw it into a blazing fire. There is no coming back from the atrocity he committed in Episode 18.
On a story level, Bjorn’s reason for perpetrating it was a blind fury, so incoherent in its logic that he can add the shameful embarrassment of pettiness to his growing list of sins. Ever since Ragnar’s death in Episode 15, Vikings had been gearing up to portray his sons’ revenge; a hollow battle cry, teeming with contrivance.
Ragnar’s sons and people, ignore the fact he went to England on his own accord with one goal in mind: his death. Ragnar could have lived out his remaining days as King of the Vikings, but he decided to fulfill his death wish instead. He willingly handed himself over to King Ecbert (Linus Roache), and then manipulated the unstable king into handing him over to Aelle (Ivan Kaye). Ragnar’s aim was to kill two birds with one stone. One last chess move by a calculating strategist.
Make no bones about it, Ragnar wanted to die. His sons’ crying and carrying on, about an event brought about by their own father is weak, albeit predictable. What is even more disturbing is that no character on Vikings has voiced any opposition to what Ragnar’s sons are up to. They all act as though his sons have a righteous cause, when theirs is anything but. Watching Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), a madman who has never entirely paid for murdering Athelstan (George Blagden) in cold blood, sneer as he readied to “avenge” Ragnar was repugnant, as was everything that came afterwards.
Vikings has a real problem on its hands. At this point in the season, there is no one worth continuing to watch for. Early in Season 4B, Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick), formerly one of the more sympathetic characters of the series, led a bloody coup to retake Kattegat, and murdered her nemesis by shooting her in the back, even though Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) had surrendered. While Aslaug forced her hand, Lagertha’s unsettling response remains. In Episode 18, Lagertha’s bloody reign continued as she committed a brutal human sacrifice with her own hands.
If you did not get the memo before, Vikings made it loud and clear in Episode 18; there are no “good” characters left, and while Vikings has never been about purely “good” people, it did have a character like Athelstan to balance it out. Now Vikings is devoid of any redeemable characters, and it is showing.
Even Helga (Maude Hirst), who had been one of Vikings‘ gentler souls, has taken a rapid detour into mania throughout the last several episodes. In Season 4, Episode 16 (“Crossings”), the Vikings attacked Spain.
After Helga saw her fellow Vikings murder a young civilian girl’s mother, she seized the opportunity to abscond with the girl, wanting to raise her as a replacement for hers and Floki’s deceased daughter. Helga’s callous act shows no care, or compassion, for the girl and her obvious trauma from being kidnapped. Sadly, Helga’s behavior is just par for the course on Vikings.
With no characters left to care about, Vikings is spiraling. One cannot help feel as though the depraved Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) has become the “moral compass” of the series. This, despite the fact he is a blood-thirsty sociopath. His behavior is repulsive, and as he continues to cast a larger shadow on the series, Vikings grows all the more troublesome.
The declining quality of Vikings in Season 4 lies in direct correlation with how Ivar the Boneless has been thrust front and center as Vikings‘ new lead. It is one thing to challenge viewers with a heavily featured villain, except it does not always feel like Season 4 has consistently cast him in that light.
At this point, it warrants asking: Has Vikings gone too far? What does this disturbing turning point for its characters mean for Vikings as a series? What is there left to see? Who is worth rooting for? So far, the answers to the latter two questions is nothing and no one. The Season 4 finale of Vikings airs Wednesday, February 2 at 9 p.m. EST on History.
[Featured Image by History]