Vikings is a show filled with epic battles, sly Ragnar moments, quiet character beats, and copious ass-kicking. Each week, we’ll break down the epic, the weird, and the unintentionally goofy. Let’s dive into Season 4 Episode 1, “A Good Treason.”
This week in Ragnar Sass:
Ragnar’s patented eye rolls have been well-documented, yet still the legend grows. Almost as soon as he wakes up, when his son says, “I’m going to tell mother!,” his eye roll-bed-flop is his ill version of Season 3’s epic eye roll-backflip on the ship.
His crazy-eyed moments continued from there. First in reaction to Bjorn’s announcement that he arrested Floki, then on the porch when Bjorn tells him about his Thoreau quest. I’m not sure if Alexander Ludwig has improved as an actor or if he’s just been given more to work with, but he’s really gotten Ragnar’s quirky mannerisms down in a way that makes it truly believable that they’re father and son, despite the fact that the actors are only, like, 10 years apart.
When Ragnar asks him why he’s doing this and Bjorn says, “Because you don’t think I can,” his accompanying Ragnar-style eyebrow flip nicely hammers in that Bjorn is coming into his own as his father’s son.
Ragnar’s farwell eye-twitch to Bjorn in lieu of a hug is also patented Ragnar, conveying a mixture of pride, anxiety, love, and disappointment far more acutely than if he spelled it out. It underscores how Vikings is best at its slyest, when characters speak in expressions and gestures rather than words.
This week in ass-kicking:
Lagertha has always been a ball-buster, but this is the first time that’s been taken to a literal level. Watching her rip Einar’s balls off is disgustingly satisfying, as he’s more than had it coming by generally being the worst. But you’ve got to wonder how long she walked around with his dick-blood on her face.
Kalf, meanwhile, continues to give both the audience and Lagertha whiplash: First, he publicly declares his love for her, then he seemingly betrays her, then he double-crosses everyone. Damnit, Kalf, you’re making it hard not to like you. Time will tell whether he’s genuine or whether he plans to triple-cross Lagertha after his double-cross. But he better take note: If you fuck with Lagertha, expect to see your dick-blood splattered around.
This week’s most interesting choice
Rollo’s wedding night was always going to be a tough area to navigate. Although his new bride’s unwillingness was played for laughs with that “hello” at the end of Season 3, laughter turns uneasy if she’s still unwilling on the actual night.
Vikings has always had a tough job: It has to depict authentically a culture best known for two words (rape and pillage) and yet it also has to craft a show with protagonists for whom we actually want to root. It’s a Catch-22: have them behave too modern and viewers will storm away because it doesn’t seem authentic. But have them actually go around raping, and viewers will storm away because that’s not fun to watch.
Rollo has always been the viking-est viking. Back in Season 1, recall that he was shown casually raping someone. The show swept that under the rug and hastily showed him doing a bunch of cool battle feats to make us forget about that and like him. Aside from that one instance of violent sex with Siggy after he discovers she’s sleeping with Horik, his rapey tendencies have been conveniently discarded.
The wedding night, then, presents a writing dilemma, because if Rollo doesn’t push Gisla for sex, that’s totally out of character. He’s not going to pull a Tyrion and delay the wedding night sex out of the goodness of his heart. And yet, if he outright rapes her, he’s going to lose the audience fast. The show impressively navigates around it by having him pin her down and hover over her, insisting she’s his wife — we’d expect no less from him. But when she holds a knife to his throat, that’s the one thing that could deter him. Not because he fears death, but because he respects fierceness.
That respect is what causes him to roll over and sleep, shifting the tone of the scene from to comedy when she tries to stab him and he says, “Go to bed, you’re tickling me.” Only Rollo would act like his new bride trying to stab him is charming, and it’s an impressive feat of writing that Vikings skirts the rape issue without making him act out of character. Because Odin knows the show often has him act purely for the convenience of the plot.
It still does that later, when he nonsensically murders his men because Plot Reasons, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Worst person of the week
Einar. Fucking Einar and his inability to accept how awesome Lagertha is. He deserved his gruesome, ball-less death.
This week in “oh no”
Vikings sometimes make some head-scratching or face-palm choices. Though this week was mercifully focused on the Vikings — otherwise known as the characters we actually tune in for, not extraneous BDSM counts or medieval court scheming nobody cares about — there was one questionable part at the beginning.
Look, Vikings, I get that you like going for dramatic dream sequences, but come on: Having your protagonist shriek “noooo” in slow motion is never a good idea outside of soap operas. That pre-credits Ragnar dream sequence came off as goofier than intended, and it’s this week’s “oh no.”
- Lagertha’s “bitch, please” look when Kalf brags about he saved her life. He shows he’s a smart man when he hastily adds, “… and she saved mine too!”
- When the wanderer says, “You’d have to cut my feet off to get me to stay,” Rollo is so clearly thinking, “OK, hand me the knife.” Although the writing on his character is consistently inconsistent, Clive Standen’s performance and ability to convey Rollo’s thoughts through his facial expressions is consistently great.
- This show has an impressive track record with child actors. Even in the brief scenes they’re in, Ragnar’s sons are engaging and likable. Particularly Ivar, who might be one of the most adorable TV kids in the history of TV kids.
- Aslag and Ragnar’s relationship is downright contemptuous now, and it doesn’t look like it stands a chance of ever recovering. I think I speak for all viewers when I say, please never ever get back together.