Review by C.J. Bunce
Deceit, betrayal, glory, destiny.
At one level the back half of the 89 hours of History Channel’s Vikings series had two key components that kept viewers coming back week after week: the next scene always was completely and terrifically unpredictable, and each increase in stakes for your favorite character was just plain nail-biting. Like walking a tightrope, at any point every character–no matter how great or small–might get wiped away. Creator and writer Michael Hirst plucked cultural bits of Norse history and intertwined them with the written histories and mythology of historical figures to make something riveting, compelling, and permanent–the spirit of a historical saga that Viking descendants can be proud of, while also meeting the needs of fantasy viewers for the next swordplay action-adventure. Primarily a denouement for the long six season run, the final ten episodes have arrived on Amazon Prime, with History Channel to air them at a later date.
The reach of the Norse influence, the survival of the Lothbrok line, the direction of early England and Russia. It all intersects here. Does the end measure up to the rest of the series?
The story of Travis Fimmell’s Ragnar Lothbrok, Katheryn Winnick’s Lagertha, and their sons is a glimpse at the pinnacle of Viking rule in eighth and ninth century Norway and beyond. Brutal, honest, hard, spiritual–from 2013 to 2021 viewers have been able to know and cheer on, love and hate, some incredible characters, not the least of which was Gustaf Skarsgård’s Floki, a fictional character drawn from other people and ideas from history and lore. After the deaths of Ragnar, Floki, and Lagertha, it may seem like nothing would be left for the series, and then four sons stepped forward to take the reins: Alexander Ludwig’s Bjorn Ironside, believed dead in battle at the beginning of these final episodes, Jordan Patrick Smith’s Ubbe, taking his loyal wife Torvi (Georgia Hirst) and children on a grueling voyage beyond Iceland to finally make his mark as explorer, and the two exiled sons: Alex Høgh Andersen’s Ivar the Boneless, forced to become a pawn of a Rus pretender to the throne who wisely befriends the young true king, and Marco Ilsø’s Hvitserk, now left to tag along with Ivar after killing perhaps the greatest of all shield-maidens, Lagertha.
The most interesting and compelling character arcs were also surprising, from Ivar the Boneless, who turned from villain to almost-hero in a role on par with Shakespeare’s Henry V or Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, and Lagertha, who had her rise and fall before this season. Two more women saw their spotlight this season: Ragga Ragnars’ Gunnhild, the second most powerful of the shield-maidens, whose story took over much of the final 20 episodes. And then there’s Torvi, who provides an air of wisdom and resolve over the final episodes. Viewers will be happy to find more than a few characters from the past make a return as well as some entirely new peoples and locations–and satisfying ends await those you probably have been cheering against. In only ten episodes, many rulers from past seasons will fall, and the ruler at the end makes sense, but it will surprise you.
History and myth and what is left out of the written record provided that uncertainty along the way. Michael Hirst uses this gap of information to create what made for good storytelling. So along with the great battles, the great character conflicts, the manipulation, the battle between old gods and the new, the incredible re-creations of costumes and weapons, a gripping soundtrack, and fantastic ships, it really comes back to the story that makes the series among TV’s best to date.
For fans of the television series–our favorite historical, fantasy-infused series of the past decade–this is the end of a great ride, a television adventure like nothing else. The final ten episodes of Vikings provides the final fate of hundreds of incredible characters winnowed down into the last men and women standing as the curtain closes. The Viking era ends, and 1,250 years later this series makes sure we still remember the names of a few of them. Will you learn why Alicia Agneson’s Katia looks so much like Freydis? Who will rule back home–Peter Franzén’s King Harald, Eric Johnson’s Erik, Danila Kozlovsky’s Oleg? Someone we haven’t met yet? Wil Ray Stevenson’s Othere lead them all to a death at sea, or will Adam Copeland’s crazy Kjetill finally just kill everyone?
Worth the 89 hours to watch it, Vikings is now on Amazon Prime, or keep a look out for the air dates for the weekly History Channel re-broadcast. This series is done, so now the franchise flips once more to Netflix, where Hirst will take a back seat, and a new crew and actors will tell the story 100 years later of historical figures including Leif Erikson, Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Harald Hardrada, and William the Conqueror. Titled Vikings: Valhalla, that series does not have a fixed release date yet.