Vikings Season 2 Review “Brother’s War”

Vikings Season 2 Episode 1 Brother's War (7)

Vikings season two premiered last night, and it looks like this season is going to be even better than the first. Let’s dive in.

At the end of season one, Rollo accepted the invitation from Jarl Borg to join him in battle against Ragnar and King Horik. Part of me hoped that Rollo’s assent was a double-cross and that he would ultimately betray Jarl Borg to Ragnar. We quickly learn, though, that this is not the case. Rollo meets Ragnar on the field of battle and the results are devastating.

Even faced with his brother’s army, Ragnar is in disbelief and can’t understand why Rollo would betray him. But, as Floki asks, “Who needs a reason for betrayal?” Floki cautions Ragnar that he should always expect the worst and then he will never be disappointed. It almost feels like this is a warning that Floki may one day betray Ragnar, but, ironically, I can’t picture Floki ever doing that. He cautions against expecting loyalty, but appears himself to be completely loyal to Ragnar.

In a final attempt to avoid a fight, a one-eyed boy goes to meet Rollo and asks him to stand down. The boy reminds Rollo that they used to fight together and he thought of Rollo as his brother. Rollo is unmoved, but it is apparent some inner conflict is brewing.

When the battle begins, Rollo unleashes all his pent up fury and frustration at being the less appreciated brother. Together with Jarl Borg, he turns on Floki and nearly kills him. Rollo’s attack on Floki feels personal. He knows that Floki and Ragnar are close, and possibly lashes out from jealousy. Rollo certainly doesn’t seem too remorseful when Floki lays there, near death. This battle with Floki was briefly shown in the trailers for this season and I worried he might not survive. Fortunately, he does and this is the right decision creatively for the show. In some ways, with his odd mannerisms, giggle, and unstable temperament, Floki is the jester or fool of the group. But, as with the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Floki offers up pearls of wisdom that are unexpectedly insightful. As we see in later episodes this season in his interactions with Athelstan, Floki doesn’t miss much.

Rollo’s next target is the one-eyed boy. His slaughter of the boy is particularly violent, but also shows Rollo’s inner conflict. He anger waivers when he impales the boy, but it quickly returns and he foists him into the air. Then when the boy falls back down to the ground, Rollo looks horrified at what he’s done. Ragnar confronts Rollo and seems to give him the opportunity to kill him. At that moment, Rollo knows it’s over. He can’t fight his brother. When Rollo drops to his knees, the look on Ragnar’s face is heartbreaking. He looks like he is about to cry. This is part of the complexity of Ragnar’s character that makes him interesting. He can be cruel in many ways, but in these scenes, you see how much his family means to him.

The theme of family is actually what dominates this episode. The first thing Ragnar tells Rollo at the end of the battle is that Gyda has died. With all that has happened between these two men, it’s telling that Ragnar’s first words are to share the loss of his child with his brother. He doesn’t fully appreciate, though, the effects that his actions will have on his own family.

Ragnar returns home and finds Lagertha to be less than sympathetic to the conflict with Rollo. We quickly learn why – Lagertha asks him who Aslaug is. Ragnar assures Lagertha that he doesn’t love Aslaug and that he won’t see her again. No doubt, Lagertha probably could have moved past his infidelity if Aslaug didn’t then land on their shore, heavily pregnant.

The most touching scene of the episode precedes Aslaug’s arrival. Ragnar sits on the beach, surrounded by a hazy fog that creates a dreamlike or supernatural feeling. Fimmel’s delivery of Ragnar’s goodbye speech to Gyda is understated and powerful. The way that writer Michael Hirst structures this story with the scene being immediately followed by the arrival of Aslaug is highly effective. Ragnar says goodbye to one child just as another arrives. It feels like a goodbye to his old life and the beginning of a new one.

Needless to say, Lagertha is not pleased by the uninvited arrival of the princess. Who could blame her? Not only has her husband fathered a child with another woman, this woman now seeks a place in Lagertha’s home. Plus, have you seen Aslaug? I have to say that the Viking men are making out pretty well with all the beautiful women on this show. Besides just Lagertha and Aslaug, Helga and Siggy look very pretty this season.

Ragnar doesn’t exactly look pleased when Aslaug arrives. In fact, he kind of hides behind a post with an “oh shit” look on his face. He also rushes to assure Lagertha that he didn’t ask Aslaug to come. But, he quickly books a ticket to fantasy land and suggests that they could all live happily together. He knows Lagertha better than that. Lagertha is humiliated and heartbroken. I also think that Aslaug knows this and acts the part of an accommodating mistress because she knows Lagertha will leave. I really hope Aslaug gets her comeuppance.

While little Bjorn could be beyond irritating in the first season, he steps up by remaining loyal to his mother. When Lagertha decides to leave Ragnar, Bjorn chooses to go with her, despite Ragnar telling him to stay. This gained Bjorn major points in my book. He should go and keep his mother safe.

When Ragnar asks Lagertha to stay, she says that she can’t because he’s humiliated her. He takes no responsibility for that, so you can’t feel too sorry for him. His comment to Bjorn earlier in the episode, “Who told you you should be happy?” is more prophetic for his own problems.

Ragnar has a lot of relationships that have deteriorated, so he will no doubt cling to Aslaug. Blech. As for Rollo, he has similarly lost a lot. The one person he has to cling to is Siggy, who clearly loves him. As low as he has sunk, she has not abandoned him. He doesn’t know it, but neither has Ragnar. Rollo is spared from execution because Ragnar bribes the law man. Reconciliation between the brothers may still be possible.

One of the things I love most about Vikings is how visually arresting it is. It has one of the most haunting opening credit sequences that I’ve ever seen. The landscape is gorgeous with its stunning contrast of the gray sky, black sea and green hillsides. The opening battle sequence in this episode had a cinematic quality that was unlike anything you see on other shows. There is a moment during the battle when Ragnar stops and watches as Rollo leaps over the shield wall with his weapon drawn. Ragnar stands apart from the dingy background, his blue eyes shining against the scarlet blood that covers his entire face. It is a gorgeous shot.

This is truly one of the best shows on television right now. I’ve screened the next couple of episodes and can just say – they do not disappoint.