Vikings: Has It Lost Its Heart?

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Vikings is on the verge of the unknown. The death of Ragnar Lothbrok has left a void that his sons have not yet been able to fill. Certainly, Ragnar’s death was inevitable. There had to be a moment when the mantle passed to the next generation. But can the show flourish on the backs of his dysfunctional sons and power hungry ex-wife?

This season has gone at a rapid fire pace. There was a significant time jump, and then massive journeys to far flung places that happen within the blink of an eye. Bjorn’s journey to the Mediterranean felt like a brief vacation, while the journey to England felt as rapid as a trip through the Chunnel. With this abbreviated story telling, events move quickly, but also feel less satisfying somehow. For example, in this last episode, we saw the mighty Viking army descend on Mercia, but we did not get to see any of the actual fighting. If we’re going to have that kind of build up for an event, we should at least get to see some swords cross. When we see Ragnar’s sons dragging the king through the forest, it felt like that moment from The Princess Bride, “Skip to the end.”

Is it just the fast pace or something else that is making Vikings feel different this season? Without Ragnar and Athelstan, we’ve lost the heart of the show. Their conversations about religion and their diverse cultures humanized the Vikings in a way that is no longer there. What is left for future seasons? Bjorn takes another trip to the Mediterranean? Ivar goes back to England and kills more people? That is interesting and definitely part of the fabric of the show. But the action and violence still needs to be knit together with the personal relationships of the characters. So far, most of Ragnar’s sons are kind of boring (excepting Ivar and Bjorn).

Lagertha, of course, is still the lynchpin of the series. She’s been a fan favorite since the beginning and is finally coming into her own as Queen of Kattegat. But the Seer’s prophecy that she will be killed by a son of Ragnar makes it feel as though the Sword of Damocles hangs over her. I worry that there will be a cheap twist and the son who kills her will be her own. Without Lagertha, there wouldn’t be much left from the show’s origins.

At the moment, Vikings is missing the poignancy that went along with Ragnar and his rise from farmer to King. His love for Lagertha, friendship with Athelstan, struggle with the responsibilities and corrupting influence of power, conflict with his brother, and relationship with his children gave the show its heart. The battles, rituals, and conquests gave a historical richness and excitement, but it was really all about the family. Some of the best moments of the season so far were the ones that involved Ragnar reaching back to what he lost – his wife, his simple life, and his sense of self.

All of our main characters are now isolated from one another. Lagertha’s lover has betrayed her by sleeping with Bjorn. We don’t have the same emotional insight to Bjorn and Torvi’s relationship that we once had with Ragnar and Lagertha, so their relationship feels closed off. Bjorn does not even hug Torvi when he says his goodbyes before leaving for England. Helga and Floki occupy tangential roles, while Rollo fades further into the mists of Frankia. Who can we emotionally connect to? While I have a certain amount of sympathy for Ivar, he is a psychopath, so I cannot get behind him 100 percent.

I have not given up on Vikings in any way. But I am feeling like it has lost some of its emotional resonance. Perhaps we are in an era of “taking care of business” and will return to the family as a core storyline. I hope so.