There was a time when Vikings could make the inevitable thrilling. Rollo’s dalliances with betraying his brother and his people were always leading to choices he couldn’t come back from. Ragnar, once a farmer with a thirst for knowledge inevitably received adulation and then disgrace for his ambitions. King Eggbert would stab anyone, including his own son, frequently, in order to realise his dreams for Wessex and Mercia. All of these character and story beats were predictable, but that didn’t stop views from being enthralled by the motivations behind these choices. A Simple Story aims for this balance between predictability and intriguing motivation, but like most of season five it misses the target by a mile.
A Simple Story is a slight improvement over the last few weeks, as major changes occur in the four main plots. The inevitable point of no return in all four has been reached: Alfred is the King, someone finally realised that Rollo could be called on for help, and the Land of the Gods has been besmirched beyond repair by non-believers, and Heahmund switches sides; also, Margrethe is a terrible babysitter, but who cares about that. What stops this progression from being interesting is just how sloppy the show has become at conveying both its characters and its stories. So, lets take them one at a time.
Lagertha and Heahmund
First things first, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is an awful actor. In the York episodes the former Tudor coasted by due to his physicality in battle and his unpredictability from the fact that he was new. Suffice to say, Heahmund is not very interesting. His psychological battle between Ivar was a non-starter so he has switched sides. Part of his reasoning is that Lagertha saved his life when she had no good reason to o so, except maybe because of the gods. Doing his best Batman impression, Heahmund spends most of the episode trying to woo Lagertha, who seems surprisingly open to his advances. He argues that they are of a similar nature, there is no evidence of this apart from the fact that they are both easy on the eyes. Nevertheless, Bishop (the sword is my penis) Heahmund pledges fealty to Lagertha, assuring her that the gods want them to unite. There is one major flaw in this from Lagertha’s standpoint. She has only seen Heahmund fight in one battle, and he got his ass handed to him.
I’m still struggling to find the point of Hvitserk, even though it was he who suggested that Harald and Ivar request Rollo’s help. What’s worse that Hvitserk continued presence is that Vikings just screwed me. Don’t say you’re giving me Rollo then not deliver. I know Clive Standen is utilising his very special set of skills elsewhere, but a Rollo appearance during the war of Ragnar’s sons could have been the very thing that sparked it to life. Instead, Hvitserk returns with some French soldiers and a promise that Ivar let Bjorn live. This leads to yet another meeting between Bjorn, Ivar, and Harald where absolutely nothing new occurs.
Ivar isn’t exactly reeling after last week’s defeat, and he’s even more of a cocky bastard when Rollo’s forces arrive, enough to order the capture of Bjorn, much to Harald’s chagrin., Bjorn is allowed to leave by Harald, who still respects the old ways, but this highlights just how Ivar could be used by the show. Out of all of Ragnar’s sons, Ivar has been given the most screen-time, and by now it should be obvious what he wants. Bjorn is fighting to keep his mother in power, but it’s still a little vague when it comes to what Ivar wants. Power, obviously, and to hell with Harald but what would he do with that power? There is one interesting way that this plot could go. Of all of Ragnar’s sons, Rollo loves Bjorn the most, so it makes little sense that he would fall in with Ivar. My prediction, though it probably won’t happen, is that the French soldiers with turn on Ivar and Harald’s army.
Floki on tour
There is nothing more inevitable than unrest in Floki’s new world. The last few episodes have been painfully slow in building tension, and as predictably dull as the breakdown of this society has been, the nature of that breakdown is interesting. While I’m not overly impressed by the show at the moment, that doesn’t mean I can’t recognise a big deal when I see it. Floki’s sacred society literally burns down, but what this means is huge. Vikings are incredibly spiritual people, so it would take a lot for them to destroy a temple made for Thor, and to disrespect the ritual sacrifice in service of that temple.
Aethelwulf may be one of the unluckiest characters of any piece of media I’ve experienced, and his death, stupid as it was, has sealed this impression permanently. What this means is that, due to some prime Judith machinations, that Alfred is the new king of Wessex and Mercia. This caps off the main purpose of A Simple Story. While the episode isn’t much, its final montage is suitably symbolic. Shown by the varied fortunes of the show’s premiere holy men, and by the dying bee writhing on its back after delivering the killing blow to a king, the world as we know it on Vikings has been completely destroyed. For the English this could mean something new and exciting. For Floki, it means utter despair. For the rest? We’ll find out next week.
5/10 – A slight improvement on recent weeks, but this is still a once brilliant show running on fumes.