This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 11
“The man who could not die is buried here.”
It’s been nearly eleven months since Vikings closed out the first half of its sixth and final season, but the Michael Hirst historical drama wastes no time seamlessly dropping viewers smack in the middle of the Rus effort to overtake Norway and further Prince Oleg’s ruthless power grab. Nevertheless, for a series that has often faced unrealistic fan expectations, there’s no way to ignore the realization that with the death of Lagertha, Vikings has finally become, for better or worse, the story of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.
The decision to initially bypass longtime partner History in favor of an all-at-once release on Amazon Prime Video undoubtedly creates a bit of fan resentment, but being able to experience the series’ conclusion in a matter of days rather than months does have its benefits. That said, “King of Kings” closes the book on the only son of Ragnar and Lagertha as Bjorn Ironside rises from the dead in a move that can be understandably viewed as a narrative cheat after experiencing the poignant scenes on the beach with Ivar. Still, once the camera peers down from the heavens onto Bjorn’s supine, seemingly lifeless body, the decision to take this route ends up setting the stage for Ironside’s final heroic act.
It’s far too easy, and a bit lazy, to continually measure Bjorn against his charismatic father only to then focus on the son’s storytelling shortcomings. Bjorn was never Ragnar 2.0, nor would his father have ever wanted him to take that path. We don’t see much of Ironside here, but what we do see quietly lays the foundation for the coming battle against Ivar and the invading Rus army. Too often shows overuse voiceovers, but here Gunnhild deftly employs this device to keep her husband’s name and exploits alive in the people’s hearts and reminds us not only how important he’s been to Norway but how active a leadership role she’s taken. The image of her sitting on Bjorn’s throne as King Hakon offers his support drives home the impact Ragnar’s oldest son has had in the country.
While there’s no questioning the impact of Bjorn’s solo ride onto the battlefield and the ensuing Rus retreat this move triggers, it’s the relationship between his wife Gunnhild and mistress Ingrid that speaks to his often overlooked charismatic energy. Ingrid occupies Gunnhild’s throne during Hakon’s audience before the two women, and it’s the shieldmaiden’s willingness to provide a guiding hand for the younger woman who’s most recently captured her husband’s affections that offers a glimpse of what the future might hold for Kattegat. Gunnhild’s gentle reprimand as Ingrid’s despair rises on the eve of the Rus invasion suggests their connection might, in fact, outlive the man they both love.
And while there’s little question the situation in Kattegat provides a high level of interest, Ivar’s alliance with the Rus prince Oleg continues to intrigue and delivers the most complex narrative plot point as we head toward the series’ end. We certainly sense Oleg’s suspicions as he watches Ivar grow closer to young prince Igor, and it seems impossible to believe he hasn’t examined Ivar’s potential end game. Interestingly, Ivar doesn’t attempt to hide his affection for the young boy, and while most of his actions likely constitute personal ulterior motives, there does appear to be a burgeoning relationship between the two. When Oleg forces the young prince to set King Olaf ablaze, Ivar’s compassion toward the boy feels genuine, and the hug he offers Igor pairs nicely with the embrace Gunnhild engages in with Ingrid.
Even though Ivar appears outraged when he discovers King Harald’s escape, it’s more likely that the Boneless plays a role here and will later align himself with his fellow Viking as the next stage of his plan goes into motion. It’s also refreshing to see Hvitserk return to a level of normalcy that enables him to stand with his brother in their quest to rule Kattegat. Ivar’s comment to Igor crystallizes what we suspect has been true for some time. “What is real today may not be real tomorrow.” It’s also fascinating to witness the faith Ivar places in the young prince. It makes perfect sense, of course, to align themselves with Prince Dir in their attempt to oust Oleg, but it could be a mistake to trust the boy with this knowledge.
Of course, this battle merely constitutes the initial salvo, and as both sides regroup, old allegiances will be tested and new ones explored. Though Ivar and Hvitserk face obstacles from all sides, their older brother Ubbe may have unwittingly entered a buzzsaw with the Icelandic settlers and his desire to find the “golden land.” In many ways Ubbe has been the most difficult Lothbrok son to read. Addressed periodically throughout the series, the clash between belief in the Norse gods and the Christian God appears once again as Ubbe and Othere play what appears to be chess and discuss their impending voyage of discovery. Perhaps overlooked as an intellectual, Ubbe considers the possibility that the Christian God and the All Father are one and the same. And not to be ignored is King Olaf’s apparent religious conversion as he burns at the stake, not unlike many accused heretics both before and after.
However, like Oleg, he suspects there’s more going on than meets the eye, and Ubbe prods his companion for the truth about what really happened on Iceland. From one perspective, it’s difficult to believe Kjetill has been able to hide the truth about Floki and the settlement’s demise for this long, but now that he’s aware, Ubbe has a big decision to make. Faced with the fact that the man who admits he aspires to become king of Iceland is, for all intents and purposes, a sociopathic monster, Ubbe must confront Kjetill with the truth. The Icelandic tale remains on the periphery, and whether it eventually ties into the greater narrative may not be known for a time.
“KIng of KIngs” brings with its return a subtle revision to the opening credit sequence both visually and musically, a move that addresses not only the shift to Amazon but the narrative focus shift to Ivar and his brothers. While all eyes now naturally train on Ivar and his Rus pals, the lack of true closure to Floki’s saga still haunts the overall arc. With the series spinoff Valhalla looming in the distance, we now sit back and observe whether Ivar the Boneless and his brothers’ exploits are enough to bring a satisfying end to Hirst’s Vikings tale.