‘Vikings’ Season 5 Premiere: Valhalla, I am Coming

After the bloodbath that was Season Four, which saw several major characters killed, it was a given that some reshuffling would be in order going into Season Five of “Vikings,” and that’s exactly what we got here, in the two-part premiere, “The Departed.” As befitting the episode title, those left behind continued to mourn those who passed, while others sought to move on into the next phase of their lives.

Notably, there is Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), master boat builder, and among those who suffered the most jarring losses last season. As such, he opts to build himself a boat for once and sail off “where the Gods may take him,” much to the chagrin of Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), who actually sheds tears over his decision to leave. But given who we’re talking about, one has to wonder if they are of the crocodile variety- after all, losing Floki is losing a great asset to the ongoing war.

Whatever the case, Floki receives a hero’s dismissal, as all concerned line the shores as he leaves, cheering him on. It’s a touching scene, but one wonders if the right decision was made, as Floki’s voyage isn’t exactly the golden one he was hoping for- at least at first. Storms befall his ship, a pesky black raven he brought keeps pestering him- no doubt waiting for him to expire so that it can grab a snack- his food supply runs out, and his decision to toss out the compass and sunstone Ivar gave him is looking mighty dubious.

When it seems all hope is lost, he wakes up to find himself on dry land, at long last. But where has he landed? A look around the area shows a land of great beauty, and this time, the reappearance of the raven he set free at sea to bother him no more seems to serve as a good omen, not one of despair. He climbs up a mountain, spotting a volcano erupting in the distance, and later comes across a waterfall- whose water flows upward.

As he spots a rainbow, Floki also sees a figure seem to emerge from the waterfall. Is it one of the Gods? Whether dehydrated and hallucinating, or possibly even dead, as the case may be, he takes it as precisely that, and calls out to the Gods in joy, thinking himself to be in Asgard. But is it Asgard, or might it be Iceland instead? We’ll just have to wait and see, but Floki’s leaving, his journey and the end result are easily the premiere’s most moving sequences.

Of course, it wouldn’t be “Vikings” without a battle or two, and we get a bloody one in the siege of York. At first, his brothers, Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) are dubious of the action, but whether out of fear that the tempestuous Ivar might toss an axe in their direction next, as he did with Sigurd (David Lindström) last season- albeit mostly in anger, rather than malice, as he states early on in the episode- or because they genuinely realize it is the right move to make is up for debate.

It would seem that Ubbe is more of a believer in Ivar than Hvitserk, who would rather kill first and take names later, but we also see, in the siege itself, a certain reticence on Ubbe’s end as well. Note the scene in which the dead nun falls into his arms. While others around him kill men and women alike with gleeful abandon, Ubbe seems affected by it more, as evidenced by him gently placing her on the ground rather than tossing her aside.

Mind you, it doesn’t stop him from doing his fair share of killing, but it does seem like it affects him more than the others. Could this be a turning point for him? We shall see, but I do think all the bloodshed is taking its toll on him, more so than his brothers, certainly.

Of course, Ivar is right in opting to take York rather than the town Hvitserk suggests, which, as Ivar points out is in an area which could be easily surrounded, giving them no out to retreat, should they fall on the losing end of things. York, instead, is near water and has plenty of areas in which to make a getaway, should the need arise.

Of course, as Bishop Heahmund (relative newcomer to the show Jonathan Rhys Meyers) points out later on, those outs may also serve as a weakness for the enemy to get in. In war, there are no givens, but Ivar is smarter than most in terms of strategizing. But will it matter when the full wrath of the Christian army comes down upon him?

Speaking of Heahmund, Meyers is clearly having a field day as the renegade warrior priest, who is as religious as he is bloodthirsty, though it doesn’t stop him from the occasional flirting, which may well get him into hot water at some point. Apparently, chastity is not one of the vows he adheres to, from the looks of things.

Either way, he is determined to avenge the death of the kings left dead in Ivar and company’s wake, and wastes no time in assembling an army to do so, with the help of King Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford), who arrives on the scene after his wife’s child, Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peedo), has a vision that their help is needed after a near-death experience. Wife Judith (Jennie Jacques) is in tow, no doubt still wanting revenge for her father’s death at the hands of Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig).

She’s going to come up disappointed in the short term, at least, as Bjorn has gone off to explore, after refusing to take up his father’s mantle and lead his people. He does so at the expense of his wife and child, I might add. Interestingly, he goes with King Harald’s brother, Halfdan (Jasper Pääkkönen), who opts not to go with his brother, though he swears to “always have his back.” But might Halfdan still harbor some issues towards Bjorn, given their past?

Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite Queen, Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) gets a decidedly unexpected visitor in the form of King Harald (Peter Franzén), who arrives to inform her of Sigurd’s passing, but also with a hidden agenda: he wishes for the two of them to align forces and marry and rule Norway together. Her reaction to this? She has him bound, beaten, and then… has sex with him? Um, okay. Not sure what she was going for there. Maybe she was just horny? Lol.

Either way, his reaction is to escape and kidnap the Queen’s right-hand woman and lover, Astrid (Josefin Asplund) and instead try and convince her to marry him! Any port in the storm, I guess. Not sure if she’ll take him up on it, given her tendencies, but then again, Lagertha’s court was starting to question her actions more, so you never know. It could genuinely go either way. Whatever the case, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens there.

This was a compelling enough premiere, which, thanks to its extended running time, managed to make time for both vicious battles- that church attack scene in which nutbar Ivar tortures and pours a melted-down cross into a priest’s mouth was something- and surprisingly contemplative moments, particularly Floki’s voyage and arrival at “Asgard,” which is actually likely Iceland- maybe.

I liked that the show slowed its roll a bit at times, while still delivering the goods in key places. While its sprawling cast of characters could be a chore to keep up with in the past- see also similarly-minded “Game of Thrones”- by taking out a number of key players last season, the show has managed to strip things down just enough to make them every slightly more manageable.

What’s more, the power vacuum left by the deaths of Ragnar and Kings Ecbert and Aelle should make for some interesting situations moving forward, as everyone scrambles to fill the empty spaces left behind. I also found it fascinating that some weren’t particularly interested in filling that void whatsoever, opting instead to sail the seas and go exploring for other worlds to conquer or what have you. But I don’t doubt that those individuals will get into their own entertaining adventures, as already evidenced by Floki.

While Lagertha’s actions were decidedly confusing, I don’t doubt that there is a method to her madness, even if it backfired in this case, what with Harald absconding with Astrid and all. If she thought she was horny before…lol. But really, that was the only major semi-misstep in an otherwise engaging premiere, I’d have to say, and honestly, I was more confused by it than anything else.

I continue to love the way the show both draws from actual history and plays fast and loose with it, especially in terms of aging and the like. Has Winnick’s character aged a day since the beginning, for instance? Meanwhile, her sons are massive and look to be around her age, as are her ex-husband’s sons with his second wife, Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland, late of “The Mist,” which didn’t last long). Of course, IRL, they probably aren’t far off. That’s TV logic for you.

But if you can get past such incongruities- and most do- “Vikings” is one of the better shows of its kind to surface in the wake of the massive success of “Game of Thrones.” While it may lack the budget or the big names of that show, “Vikings” nonetheless still engages, entertains and enthralls, thanks to a winning cast, grounded-in-history plotlines and bloody battles and sexy moments that push the boundaries of what one can get away with on basic cable, much like FX is doing on a regular basis. That breathtaking cinematography doesn’t hurt matters, either.

All in all, a solid premiere, I thought. What did you think? Any predictions on what will go down this season? Be sure to sound off down below in the comments section and join me for another look at the show in a few weeks!