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 2, “Kill the Queen.”
This week in Ragnar sass
Ragnar is in full enigmatic form this week with a trifecta of eye rolls, whisper-sneers, and sassy hand gestures. When a guard brings news of Floki’s escape, Ragnar says, “Of course he has,” with an eye roll. After waiting a beat while the guard does nothing, he whisper-sneers and hand-waves: “Well … go find him.” This proves to be the best part of this plodding episode.
This week in ass-kicking
Surprisingly, wimpy milquetoast Aethelwulf kicked the most ass this week, but this is not a good thing. We’ll get to that in a bit.
This week’s most interesting choice
As I said last week about Rollo’s wedding night, the one thing Vikings excels at is getting us to root for men we’d scorn if we encountered them in the modern world. With Rollo, the show has always taken an indecisive line about whether it looks upon his actions with a critical eye: We’re clearly meant to scorn his treatment of women in the first two seasons, but the show did an admirable job of turning him around in Seasons 3.
Ragnar, however, has always been trickier. The show has gotten away with having him shy away from rape or particularly egregious treatment of women because it fits his character: He’s a forward thinking guy who doesn’t have time for that. Unlike Rollo, we’ve never felt conflicted about rooting for Ragnar. Now, as we watch him beat Aslaug, we’re still unequivocally on his side, which could have been a bold choice.
When a show provokes us to root for a character who does something that counters our own morals (i.e., Jaime Lannister or Charles Vane) it’s an impressive feat of writing and characterization. Having Ragnar beat his wife would be a bold and ballsy choice if the writing trusted itself to spin moral conundrums for viewers, but it doesn’t. By having Aslaug be such a miserable shrew — outright saying Athelstan deserved to die — the show doesn’t give us chance to feel conflicted about rooting for Ragnar. Of course she deserves that slap.
Vikings likes to think it’s a complex show, but by staging this scene in such a way, it spoon-feeds the viewer with a tiresomely black-and-white outlook.
Worst person of the week
This episode was too plodding to even muster the energy for a worst person of the week; therefore, it’s the Vikings writers.
This week in “oh no”
There was a lot of “oh no” in the form of Vikings demonstrating it has not learned its lesson from Season 3. Aethelwulf, Judith, and Kwenthrith are not interesting characters. That’s not a personal opinion; it’s an objective fact because the writers haven’t bothered developing them. Therefore, it’s a complete mystery why Vikings thought they warranted half the episode’s screen time.
Vikings asks us to care about Princess Kwenthrith’s plight and the mission to save her, and yet prior to “Kill the Queen,” she has been an actual cartoon character: Kwenthrith the Zany Nymphomaniac. She needs all of Ecbert’s guards to gang bang her after she’s worn him out! She jumps Ragnar! She tries to seduce Aethelwulf! How crazy and fun!
There was nothing wrong with her being a cartoon character when she was relegated to the background, but this episode now assumes we’ll care whether she lives or dies despite the fact that her character development — or lack thereof — has in no way earned it. The same can be said for the plot lines of Aethelwulf, Judith, and Count Odo. Hirst had the same problem with sketching too-shallow characters on The Tudors. It’s becoming more apparent that Vikings initially seemed like a step up not because his writing improved at all, but purely through the luck of Travis Fimmel’s acting.
- Aethelwulf to Judith: “Now that I trust you again, parting feels less sorrowful.” Get the fuck out of here, Aethelwulf.
- Good to know that after a semi-promising start last week, Rollo is also being turned into a cartoon character buffoon this season.
- Ragnar says “Winter is coming.” Hasn’t Vikings learned by now that reminding everyone of the far better show it often garners comparisons to is doing itself no favors? Whether or not it was trying to evoke Game of Thrones, all of TV should know using that phrase is ill-advised.