Let’s say what all Vikings fans must be thinking: this should just be season five, not season four part two. It’s a valid complaint, after all, there was less of a wait between seasons of The Walking Dead, but The Outsider is a good chance to catch up with the Norsemen after a time jump of over a decade. When we last saw Ragnar and co the Vikings suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of the French, led by Ragnar’s traitorous brother Rollo. After the defeat Ragnar and his army returned to Kattegat, only for the show to jump forward in time as we find out that Ragnar left his kingdom in shame to go wandering in the wilderness. When we left the show Ragnar had returned, begging one of his sons, now young men, to kill him and become king. The Outsider brings us back to that moment. Just when you thought that the show would be brave enough to kill off its lead, and best character, it bottles it. Whether this development will help the show, which has had a shaky and bloated fourth year, find its feet again, only time will tell.
Despite the lack of fireworks, The Outsider serves as an effective introduction to the shows new status quo. Focusing on both Ragnar, and his crippled son Ivar, we get to see this new beginning for the show from two unique perspectives that share many similarities.
It’s Ragnar’s point of view that provides the most poignancy. Before we go any further it has to be stated that Travis Fimmel is truly extraordinary as Ragnar. His distinctive voice, and facial tics are designed to always keep the audience, and the characters at arm’s length, making him this mercurial figure, always seeming to be more of a walking, talking, myth than a man. Fimmel is the beating heart of the show and if his performance doesn’t gather awards attention soon then whoever runs said awards deserves a Blood Eagle. His performance in this episode is no different. Ragnar was always the glue holding Kattegat together, with his boldness as a character fuelling some of the series best storylines: his friendship with Athelstan coming to a murderous end at the hands of Floki (a crime committed by Floki in an act to save Ragnar from heresy), Rollo’s traitorous leanings due to being in his little brotyher’s shadow, and anything to do with Lagertha, because she’s awesome. So for him to come back years after his most dismal failure, to a place where he no longer fits, and people he left behind is an enticing prospect.
The Outsider treats his dealings with old friends, old flames, and his sons, as some kind of farewell tour. His sons turn him down when he asks them to go back to England to avenge the settlers King Eggbert murdered due to their loyalty to his oldest son Bjorn. If there is one complaint about Ragnar’s dealings with his son it’s that Bjorn doesn’t get the attention he deserves from Michael Hirst’s script. It’s understandable as Ivar is by far the more interesting son (more on him in a little bit) but we have been with Bjorn and Ragnar since the beginning. Maybe a proper confrontation between the two is still on the cards, but this feels like a missed opportunity. His reunion with Floki and Helga goes much smoother. Floki has already promised Bjorn that he will sail with him, something which Ragnar finds both fitting and annoying, and something which brings Floki’s prediction of Ragnar and Bjorn’s relationship from the first episode full circle. Ragnar leaves Floki with affection, admitting to his mad friend that he loves him in spite of the past wrongs they have committed against each other. The same goes for his reunion with Lagertha. All of these conversations show how much Ragnar’s world has moved on from him, something that he himself realises culminating in an attempt to hang himself. Yet the gods, much like the show, isn’t done with him yet.
Ivar is a dick, but a very watchable one. The other outsider of Kattegat is that way despite the affection of his family. All of Ragnar’s sons have echoes of him, but Ivar has the same cunning, the same ambition, but also a ferociousness that feels more like Floki’s influence. We are given a revealing insight into Ivar’s life. Despite the fact that he is the great Ragnar Lothbrok’s son, a boast that stops him from killing a servant girl he can’t please sexually, in the episodes most risky scene (Vikings generally doesn’t go down this ugly root in the same way that Game of Thrones does, but that scene was close). Ivar feels less of a man than everyone around him. Despite his considerable skills with all manner of weapons, he will always think of himself as a cripple, a monster who likes to kill things. At the root of it all is his fractured relationship with his father. In the episodes best scene Ivar shares with Ragnar (with the two of them on opposite thrones which was an ingenious touch) the pain that any son would feel after being abandoned: “I wanted to tell you how much I needed you, and how much I hated you”. This leads to Ragnar inviting Ivar to join him when he sails to England. Ragnar has always been a misfit, a man who searched for knowledge and received power instead. Now he and his own misfit son will be knocking on King Eggbert’s door, and they will be looking for blood.
8/10 The Outsider is a very thoughtful and intimate episode. It won’t please many who thought the first half of the season was too slow, but by focusing on the characters the show is in good shape to regain its form with the new generation learning from the old.