Full SPOILERS for the first two season of Vikings ahead! You have been warned!!!
The second season of Vikings is a true exception to the time-tested rule of a sequel never being as good as the original. While not a sequel in the strictest of senses, it is somewhat common for “epic” show such as these to have an incredible first season and then fizzle out faster than fans would like. Luckily for myself, and fellow Vikings fans, this was not an issue for History Channel’s only scripted drama. Season two had more action, great new characters, and juggled several more story threads than the first season, with much more success.
We pick up soon after the events of season one’s finale, and jump right into the action as Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and King Horik (Donal Logue) prepare for battle against Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) and the newly recruited Rollo (Clive Standen). I was surprised to see this take place so quickly in the season, originally assuming that it would be a main focus of a larger portion of the second season. But Michael Hirst had other plans, as I soon found out, and for good reason as well. We see quickly that Rollo is unable to fight against his brother Ragnar, and a shaky alliance between all parties is soon formed. This setup, in the season’s first episode, is what allows for the many interweaving story lines that make up season two to work.
I want to break drown the season into the many character interactions and their contributions to the season overall. Probably the best new addition to the cast this year is Linus Roache as King Ecbert. Ecbert is the unfortunate king that Ragnar Lothbrok and King Horik happen upon, as they set out to pillage England, and the dynamic between the two is really great. Roache plays a wonderfully egotistical and conniving king, and Fimmel matches him, stride for stride, proving once again that he’s as solid an actor as any you’ll see on HBO or Showtime. Initially underestimating the vikings and their fierceness, Ecbert eventually uses King Horik’s aggressiveness and ego against him, luring the vikings into a battle they simply cannot win. This particular scene leads to one of the best moments in the season as the viking clans fall deeper and deeper into dismay, and Rollo is so close to death, I was convinced for about 30 second they really had killed the character. In the end Ecbert, Ragnar, and the vikings reach an agreement, but whether that agreement will hold is something we’ll have to wait until 2015 to find out.
Even while bust pillaging and plundering, viking must also deal with issues at home. In Ragnar Lothbrok’s case, these issue come from his interactions with Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) in season one. Aslaug now comes to find Ragnar, and as one could imagine, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is not all that happy about discovering her husband’s mistress is with child. This results in another brilliant turn of events as Lagertha and Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) leave Ragnar entirely. This is also where the series surprisingly jumps forward 4 years, putting Lagertha with an abusive and rather stupid Earl, and allowing the re-casting of Bjorn. Alexander Ludwig is a welcome addition to the cast and is a vast improvement over the young and sadly mediocre Nathan O’Toole. Katheryn Winnick also continues to be stunning in her performance as Lagertha, making for a wonderful addition to the list of strong female characters on television today, especially towards the season end as she disposes of her terrible husband and takes over both his lands and people.
Athelstan (George Blagden) continues to be an integral and extremely intriguing character in the show, just as he was in season one. His relationship with Ragnar Lothbrok continues to grow in season two, but much more importantly is how the character himself grows this year. Athelstan takes up residence, midway through the season, with King Ecbert, after the Ragnar is forced to abandon the fight to attend to matter at home. While staying with the Christian king, Athelstan turns back to the God he originally worshiped, and then ultimately realized that he actually believes in both that God and the nordic gods of the vikings. His stubble to reconcile these two important parts of his life and come to grips with his scattered faith is fascinating to watch. And there are several hints that this will be discussed in more detail with Ragnar in the forthcoming season three.
As previously mentioned, the first viking skirmish with King Ecbert is postponed rather quickly, as Ragnar and Horik are informed that while away, their new ally, Jarl Borg, has decided to help himself to Ragnar’s lands and people. This, as one could imagine, does not a happy Ragnar make. When he returns home, he partners with the estranged Rollo, Horik, and Lagertha, to take back his lands. After successfully doing so, Ragnar executes Jarl Borg by means off the “Blood Eagle”. This is one of my favorite moments in all of season two, not because of the brutality of the execution (though it is quite brutal), but because it exemplifies what Vikings does better than almost any show. It slows things down, and allows you to really connect with some of the important scenes. In other words, it allows you time to take it all in, and that’s something few shows are smart enough to do.
Lastly, the season finishes out with an epic betrayal of Ragnar Lothbrok but King Horik. In the last half of the season, a good chunk of time is devoted to truly making you believe that Ragnar’s trusted friend, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), has sided with the frustrated Horik and joined him in his plot to assassinate Ragnar. In the finale, we find out, in an amazing twist, that Ragnar has known of the betrayal all along, and that Floki has been with him the whole time. Horik is killed and Ragnar becomes king of all the vikings. It makes for an incredible finale, and I was truly impressed with how convinced I had become of Floki’s turn.
Overall, the second season of Vikings is better in almost ever way from its freshman counterpart. While all the moving parts could spell disaster for some shows, Vikings has an incredible ability to juggle these moving parts and intricate relationships, slowing down when it needs to, while also delivering on the promise of brutal viking action, to satisfy the masochist inside us all. The show will never have the budget of something like Game of Thrones, but the performances are wonderful and the story thought-provoking. For a network known for documentaries and reality shows, I don’t think you can ask for too much more.