After seeing the breath-taking ending to Part 1 on the beaches of Kattegat in early 2020, I must have googled ‘Vikings season 6 Part 2 release’ every single day. Finally, on a holiday with my family in Lanzarote over Christmas, I was given an answer. It was being aired on Prime on the 30th December! These ten episodes of History channel’s ‘Vikings’were the best Christmas present I could have hoped for.
I have seen many reviewers suggest this series hasn’t been the same since the death of it’s flagship man Ragnar, but I would wholeheartedly disagree. The death of Ragnar was the spark that lit the fuse on the fate of the Vikings and their way of life. Christianity versus paganism; the old way versus the new. Questions at the root of the changing world from late antiquity through the middle ages. I believe this was Michael Hirst’s (writer of The Tudors) intention, and he carried the show through the loss of its main man on the back of these huge historical questions. Other historical themes are also present, such as the meaning of Kingship, what it meant to actually be Viking, and the idea of legacy itself. Much like the Norse poems and Icelandic Sagas that it is based on, this series’ historical accuracy is deliberately dubious and embellished, but the notions it examines are real, and they are fascinating. The question of the legacy of the Vikings and their Gods has been a central theme since the show’s beginnings and this season brings the exploration to a- with no other way to describe it- awe-inspiring climax.
These 10 episodes are beautifully mired in a sense of impending doom, with many of the characters giving the feeling that their purpose is coming to an end.
“For us, death is bliss… and I rush to bleed.”- King Harald.
This line is from the first episode (6×11) where we find King Harald, a man defined by his ambitions, on his knees, welcoming the end. The feeling of inevitable change and the end is so intense, the first few episodes can actually be quite difficult to get through. They are also quite slow, with most of the scenes being build-up and tone-setting for what is to come. I found one or two of the plotlines to be a bit unnecessary and filler-y. For example, I got the sense that they didn’t really know what to do with Gunnhild’s (Ragga Ragnars- aptly named) character, so she is just given a couple of commentary monologues that felt quite forced and artificial. Or Eric, who served his purpose in saving Bjorn and is now essentially a kingmaker of the now irrelevant Kattegat. This irrelevancy is double-edged, though, adding to the ethos of the end being nigh.
Ultimately, these episodes do their job well and in keeping with the series since the start, are rich in deep metaphor and symbolism. Watching Gunnhild swimming out into the open ocean to “join Bjorn in Valhalla” inspired me to contemplate the legacy of the Vikings and what it truly means. Are they just floating through the vast nothingness of the past, or do they live on in our memory? This question was supported by a talk between Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) and Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) where Ivar says, “it feels as if I’m in an open boat, lost at sea.” I found myself sympathising with these Vikings living in a world that was passing them by. The show has done extremely well to bring such huge notions to a TV series, and make them feel just that, huge. The creators go as far as to shatter their own realism by showing us the Jorgmandr (6×13), the Midgard serpent and son of Loki from Norse mythology. This scene conjures the feeling that one is watching an ancient Saga as oppose to a TV series- and the production team did a fantastic job. It reminded me of the scenes in Fargo when the fishes fall from the sky or the UFO appears.
At first glance it would seem the show takes the definitive stance that Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) was the last true Viking. But as the events unfold, I started to feel otherwise. King Olaf (Steven Berkoff) is burnt alive in silence, after quoting the bible, having embraced Jesus Christ in his final moments. He was certainly not Viking. Ketill Flatnose’s (Adam Copeland) arc ends with him proclaiming himself King of Greenland. This scene is another rich metaphor, asking of the viewer; what is worth giving to be a King? As well as this, it is one of many times the series examines the struggles of the Old Gods vs the new- and man’s relationship with them. Ketill proclaims that the beached whale was given to him by ‘God’ in the singular, only to use ‘Gods’ in the plural, directly after. The idea is clearly that the struggle between Gods has always been used by man for personal gain and perhaps that is the reason it existed to begin with. This absurdity is displayed in a beautiful way, with Ketill standing alone on top of his whale, surrounded by corpses and laughing maniacally. Anyway, I got the sense that Ketill too, was not a Viking. Which brings us to, who I felt, were the last Vikings (at least in this show’s history). There is a scene where Ivar, Hvitserk and Harald are sailing down a Wessex river in their longboats with eerie music playing as King Alfred’s (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) bishop recites the ‘Our Father’. Not only is it a beautiful piece of cinematography, but it also screamed in my face that THESE are the last Vikings. And their end is nigh.
Some, when reviewing this series, have compared it to Game Of Thrones. I was going to refrain from doing so because I think its extraneous. But for those left with an unsatisfied itch after GoT’s- *ahem*- disappointing, resolution and you want to watch a show with a good ending. Then watch Vikings. Michael Hirst and the creators of this series should give seminars on how to resolve things. Outside of maybe Gunnhild, every character’s story and every plotline end in a deeply satisfying and climatic fashion- and my expectations didn’t need that much subverting. I don’t want to go too much into the final couple of episodes as not to spoil such fantastic storytelling, but I will say this. The Vikings appropriately come to an end in Wessex, crushed by the unstoppable wall of Christendom. It is fitting and, again, awe-inspriring . Though, for the most sentimental of us, we do have Ubbe (John Patrick Smith), whose soul is the most Ragnar of Ragnar’s sons, bring the old way- supplemented by Othere’s (Ray Stevenson) new way- to the Americas and the New World.