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Vikings - Series 1.09 - "All Change" - Review (Spoilers)

It’s hard to believe but we are at the end of the first season of Vikings. It’s been a pretty great ride so far, and one of the things I really enjoyed about this season was the build up. Each episode managed to address one issue while also expanding upon or making other story lines more complex.

Given the amount of time that’s passed since the episode aired, it makes little sense to do a full recap. But I can’t let the episode go by without some comments and thoughts on the journey so far, especially with an episode that left so many things in question.

One of the fascinating things about Vikings has been its ability to present a world that is so foreign to the viewer, and so misinterpreted by popular culture, in a way that the viewer can not only relate to but become invested in. Way back during episode 1 I said that this is a show built on themes and it remained true to that as the seasoned progressed. And although the themes themselves were basic – power, religion, fidelity, family – the show attached to them a certain complexity.

As we move into the finale we see Ragnar away from his family again, off to negotiate with Jarl Borg on behalf of King Horik but we quickly learn that this storyline is not necessarily the one that matters, at least not as much as the appearance of the beautiful Aslaug. Played by Alyssa Sutherland, Aslaug herself is enrapturing and mysterious and intelligent, everything we’ve been shown so far that a Viking woman should be. She gladly warms Ragnar’s bed, a betrayal that is made all the more disheartening as Lagertha is back home dealing with a plague that sweeps the village, taking the life of many, including Gyda.

Aslaug has a mystical sense about her and maybe that is why Ragnar is drawn to her in the first place? Perhaps we are meant to believe that Ragnar is so dissatisfied with his marriage and the death of his son that that is his sole purpose for infidelity but I think it’s more than that. This is a man who believes his destiny to be controlled by the gods, and believes that the things that happen to him are the result of the gods’ pleasure or displeasure with him.

One of the great themes of this season has been faith, and I think it’s a reason why so many people can connect with the show. We have seen faith presented in so many ways.

Ragnar’s faith lies in the gods and their plans for him, and his faith that his journey west will prove to not have been in vain.

Rollo’s faith lies in himself, that he is a great warrior, destined for many things. In a way it also lies in Ragnar, at least in the beginning. The trust he has in the beginning that Ragnar will treat him as an equal, and share the spoils and the power and the glory with him.

We see faith between the Vikings themselves. Faith that the warrior next to you will not break. That you can trust the man or woman you fight with to stand and fight with you. This is a culture built on bravery, and acceptance of death, and their faith also lies in that acceptance, that almost blind faith of knowing that glory awaits you in death.

Lagertha’s faith resides in her children and her family and her notion of what it means to be a strong woman in this society. Her faith lies also in her husband’s ability to treat her as an equal.
And of course there is Athelstan, who has such faith in his God and religion, who develops a faith in Ragnar and his family. Athelstan almost embodies all these different aspects of faith, because he comes to have faith in so many different things.

And in using faith as a common theme among all these characters the show has done something really incredible. It has made the viewer be able to connect with these characters in a way they shouldn’t. This world is so different from ours, but we are able to connect, because everyone can understand this idea. Whether it’s faith in a religion or a person or an idea, faith is something that can guide us, so as we see these characters being guided and motivated by their faith, their actions are something that make sense to us, on a basic level.

But what the show has really done this season is show how difficult it is when your faith is tested, and when you lose your faith, another concept that almost everyone can relate to. And that I think is one of the biggest strengths of the show. As the season has progressed we’ve seen each character lose faith in the thing that he or she believed in the most. And in losing faith, they lose confidence, which creates more complex and more diverse characters.

That loss of faith has pushed character development throughout season 1, and as we end the season what strikes me is the juxtaposition of the characters from where they were at the season’s beginning to where they stand now.

It seems as if almost every character is in a different position than where they started. You have Lagertha, who we are introduced to as a strong warrior woman, who ends to season with the loss of her daughter, the infidelity of her husband, the uncertainty of where she will end up on this journey. Katheryn Winnick should be commended for the scene on the beach at Gyda’s funeral. The expression she wore was fraught with emotion, uncertainty and determination, and that determination is something we’ve been able to associate with Lagertha all season no matter what has come her way.

We see Bjorn grow up. He’s no longer the child questioning customs and cultures, or throwing a fit because his father won’t treat him like an adult and puts a slave in charge over him. No, Bjorn is now the voice of reason, telling his father he better not cheat on Lagertha again. Bjorn has grown so much from the character we first met, and it’s one of the best things to see because without that growth, for me the character of Bjorn was a hard one to get on board with.

We’ve seen Rollo go from being willing to follow his brother and his foolhardy mission to explore the west, to betraying his brother over and over. One of the consistent things about Rollo has been his instinctual nature. He is Ragnar’s opposite: instead of mapping out each thought, he reacts. He does. He acts. I’ve enjoyed his arc over the season and I think he remains one of the more complicated characters on the show, just because it’s so hard to predict what he might do at any given movement.

Athelstan’s transformation is one of the most dramatic of the season, going from the by-the-book Anglo Saxon monk we met in season two, to someone who has continually had to adapt and have his faith tested. His journey from monk to someone who is attempting to fit into this Viking culture is one of the most relatable on the show, and I think causes the viewers to question themselves. What would you do if your faith was tested? If your very survival required you to put away beliefs that were so strong to you. It raises questions in ourselves that may be difficult questions to answer.

And so we come to the end of the season with our characters questioning their faith and adapting and developing into new versions of themselves. And this is why the show works and I will continue to watch next season. I want to see how much further these characters can go, and if they retain any part of themselves that we saw at the beginning of season 1.

Stray Thoughts:
 - I personally loved the addition of Aslaug; even thought she disrupts the reign of our resident power couple, she offers a totally new dynamic. I was incredibly captivated by Alyssa Sutherland’s performance, and I would love to see some interaction between her and Lagertha at some point as well.

- The death of Gyda hit me on an emotional level I wasn’t expecting. It’s always sad when a character dies, and as an avid TV viewer, I’m used to such things, but the situation surrounding Gyda’s death made it even more painful to watch. Stellar performances by all in the plague scenes, and the funeral scene. Katheryn Winnick and George Blagden really got across to the viewer how emotional that death is.

 - We did get some slightly comedic moments in such a serious episode with Ragnar’s men coming upon Aslaug bathing. I always enjoy these moments of brevity during such a serious episode. - The addition of King Horik was a great one, and I think he will prove to be a much more interesting adversary than Earl Haraldson ever was. It also shows how much to show is really expanding in scope.

- The score again this week was just phenomenal. Can we petition to get a soundtrack released?

 - I know I haven’t had much to say that’s negative this season and that’s because Vikings has proved each week that it does what it says. Vikings set out to tell a story, and it’s very possible to just watch the show to see the battles, to learn a little bit about the culture and not look much deeper into that. The other side of it, however, is that if you want a deeper show it’s there. And that’s why I haven’t had too many complaints this season, because it has hit all the right marks. It has done what it’s set out to do. 

It’s been an emotional and intriguing season. And now it comes to an end. What did you think of the finale and of the season as a whole? Did it live up to your expectations and will you be watching season 2? We’ll be back for season 2, with more thoughts and I look forward to hearing from you all again.

And if you missed it this week, check out our exclusive interview with actor George Blagden, who talks about Athelstan’s tumultuous journey this season. You can check it out here! 

Thanks, Vikings fans, and enjoy the break!