‘Vikings’ Final Season Ends With Bloody Battles and Major Conversions
By Odin “Vikings” has reached its end with merry slaughter and grand speeches. Like the Nordic heroes who begin converting to that intrusive new faith, Christianity, its finale is also defying its original TV gods. This final batch of episodes is the second half of the final season, which first premiered on the show’s original home, the History Channel, earlier this year. The 10 that conclude the saga are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video before airing weekly on the History Channel in a yet-to-be-determined date. The decision reportedly caught creator Michael Hirst by surprise. Yet fans eagerly waiting for the conclusion while drinking from curved horns and chomping on beef haunches will likely not complain. These episodes land with the fury of Thor’s hammer.
As always, Fever Ray’s eerie “If I Had a Heart” opens the proceedings with crashing waves before initiating the last round of twists and legend-spinning. As with most final seasons, characters get their final bows. But in this season it also means the very end of the old Viking world. What’s left of the original pagan culture is being pushed out by the Vikings who have converted to Christianity. On his deathbed Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig), run-through by his brother Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) last season, last season, refuses to believe the gods will allow the Christian forces led by Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky) and his Rus army. But it’s nearly too late for Bjorn and he goes out in a blaze of glory. The rest of the season deals with much court intrigue and our heroes spread out to different lands. Essentially the key settings become Wessex and the far away “Golden Land”. For those who haven’t been following the show, “The Golden Land” means Hirst more than indulges in the history of Vikings landing on what will later become America.
The Wessex scenes are really where “Vikings” finds a melancholy conclusion. Ivar becomes the key Viking leader and tries to make a final truce with Alfred of Wessex (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). They try to offer exchanging hostages for a territory where they can simply settle and end hostilities. But Alfred represents the new Christian order imposing itself and he snarls that the Vikings’ pagan ways must be wiped out. And so the old way Vikings engage in a grand final battle with the Saxons. It’s a visceral, well-written crescendo where Ivar meets his end with his crippled leg becoming a powerful motif for his sense of being an outsider. He also has a mystical moment, chanting that he will live forever, while then carrying out battle moves that seem to guide the other warriors. Faring better over at the Viking spiritual homeland of Kattegat is Ingrid (Lucy Martin), she of the Valkyrie looks, who assumes the throne as queen after outflanking other pretenders. She becomes the real master of Norway when word arrives that everyone else has been wiped out in Saxon land.
Hirst has announced a spin-off of “Vikings” which will premiere at Netflix (of course). Titled “Valhalla,” one can only guess what it will be about. But going by the final episode of this season, it might be in the Golden Land, where Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) has settled with Torvi (Georgia Hirst) and tries to adjust to local Native American ways. Yet he is still forced to make harsh decisions, as when one of his men is caught stealing. With Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) essentially handing authority to Ubbe, Ubbe decides to condemn the man to have the blood eagle carved on his chest. But at the last minute he decides to cut his throat and send him to Valhalla. Thus Ubbe decides to make it known he is willing to do what is necessary to live in peace with the locals.
Two final images seal the history of the offspring of the show’s original hero, Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel before leaving the show in 2017). Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) surrenders to the Saxons after watching Ivar die, and converts to Christianity, while Ubbe and Floki sit staring at the Golden Land’s seashores, hoping they can build a good and better life here. It’s a fittingly serene ending to a show that combined history with gritty, at times even hallucinatory visuals. Even the finale has a rather haunting image of a Native American being entombed with bands dipped in sap. “Vikings” is almost experimental TV, combining classic swords and horses action with a dreamlike aesthetic. It’s the kind of show where great shots outdo standard battle dialogue.
Showrunner Michael Hirst has always made historical dramas both sexy and intellectual. In 1998 he wrote the great film “Elizabeth,” and in 2007 first made a mark on prestige TV with “The Tudors.” “Vikings” was his contribution to the History Channel as a player in the new network-as-studio era. It was always an underdog, never gaining the massive renown of other shows, but grabbing enough of a loyal fan base. Now coming to its end, maybe it will find new audiences who will discover it via streaming who can devour the entire saga in several binges. For the devoted the ending comes with bloodshed and prayers, as well as the hint that there’s more to the story yet to come.
“Vikings” final season begins streaming Dec. 30 on Amazon Prime Video.