69.8 F
Washington D.C.
Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The ‘Vikings’ Series Finale Was Better Than I Expected (Review)

Must Read

When Vikings is at its best, the show is more like poetry than prose. There’s a certain strange beauty about it that few other TV shows capture. In the final three episodes of the series, Michael Hirst and his team offer up some of the most beautiful moments we’ve ever seen in Vikings.

This is especially true of the New World—Ubbe’s “Golden Land” where he and Torvi and the rest of the refugees from Greenland strike out to explore. Majestic aerial shots of slow, wide rivers and endless forest play out over lush strings, the music and the visuals weaving together, vast and breathtaking.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think that Vikings wasted an awful lot of time getting here. I’ve been mostly unhappy with this show since the death of Ragnar, not because Vikings needed Ragnar to tell a quality story, but because it spent so much time not going anywhere for the past . . . . 40 episodes? Ragnar died in Season 4, Episode 15 but it was really even before his death that Vikings started to flounder.

Maybe it was Paris. When Ragnar inexplicably just gave up on the English settlements and then started doing drugs and acting ridiculous. By the time he went back to England he could barely raise an army, so tarnished was his legacy. And while that might have been an interesting thing to explore, it felt like the show was simply writing him off to make room for all his sons—all grown up after a jarring (but necessary) time jump.

The constant fighting and warring between brothers following Ragnar’s death was exhausting. Season 5’s two 10-episode halves was dominated by this, and much of Season 6. Diversions like the ridiculous bishop or the weird Rus storyline felt exactly like that: diversions from a meatier, more interesting story.

I have so many questions. Why rush the Great Army storyline and then spend so much time on battles between brothers in Norway? I understand not wanting to tell the same Vikings-invade-England storyline that’s so predominant in this mythos, but I also think the show was at its best when Ragnar and King Ecbert and Athelstan were all around.

So many strange choices over the past 40 or so episodes. Bjorn’s voyage to the East was weirdly truncated and ultimately pointless. Lagertha’s romance with Bishop Heahmund was just . . . weird. Hvitserk’s constant battle with addiction and madness was compelling at times, but it felt like something that was never truly examined in interesting ways. Story threads just drop off. Far too many new characters were introduced only to be killed off right away. It became hard to keep track of all the different minor characters. Like so many shows, even with plenty of death the cast felt bloated by the end.

Then there were the battles.

These have been consistently terrible since the early days of Vikings when war was much smaller scale than it’s become, maybe simply due to budget limitations. Maybe because the show’s creators thought battles were cool and what audiences wanted to see. We all love some the ultra-violence, sure, but we also want the fighting to make sense.

A shield wall and a small, brutal clash of arms is more interesting than these massive charges. Over and over again two huge forces rush toward one another across a field. No shield walls. No strategy (except the odd brilliant plan from Ivar) and very little seafaring combat, raids and so forth. Norsemen spoofs this type of battle scene rather perfectly:

Norsemen is an absolutely brilliant, hilarious take on this genre. Watch it if you haven’t yet. Beyond the “I can’t hear you” gag in the above video, the way they’ve staged the battle on a huge, perfectly rectangular field surrounded by forest is on point.


In Vikings, the melee always devolves into pockets of fighting where we see the prowess of our heroes shine. Behold: King Alfred, despite his constant illness which has been on bleak display even one episode earlier, is now a sword master, cleaving through his foes. I’ll admit that I’ve really enjoyed watching Hvitserk fight in these last few episodes. He’s a mad demon on the battlefield now, plunging from one foe to the next with joyful abandon.

But mostly these battles are tiresome affairs. I’m sure they cost a lot to film but they’re not particularly creative and once you’ve seen one grand charge between Vikings and Saxons, or Vikings and Rus, or Vikings and Vikings, you’ve seen them all. Shield walls may not be as dramatic, but they’re far more sensible. Abandoning shield walls for mad charges strikes me as arrogant and sloppy.

If anything, I wish they’d simply make these fights more creative. Historically, this kind of open warfare was pretty rare. Sieges were far more common. Small-scale skirmishes were far more likely than massive gatherings of troops (a phenomenon you start seeing more of when governments start keeping standing armies). Vikings has sacrificed not just realism for style and scale, but logic as well.

Ivar The Boneless

So I’m sad to say that the final battle in Vikings between Alfred and Ivar was just incredibly disappointing. The traps Ivar came up with were kind of cool, but his ability to place them exactly where the battle would take place is another Magic Ivar moment. Even if they had a rough idea of where the Saxons would be, to place all these traps just so is a stretch. Magic Ivar strikes again.

The show has, thankfully, nerfed Ivar’s super powers a lot this season, but they still come through from time to time. Ivar, I should add, has become a far, far better character ever since the Rus storyline (the only redeeming aspect of that subplot). Making him so evil and crazy was a big mistake from the start. I wish he’d been more complex from the start. He always was a complex character, but Vikings leaned so heavily into his twisted side while also making him far more clever than anyone else (sometimes by having other characters do stupid things to make him look smart). Shockingly, complex characters are more interesting than purely evil and sadistic ones.

After Ivar and Harald soundly beat the Saxons, Harald finds himself alone and lost and a Saxon lord somehow notices him, sneaks up out of nowhere and skewers him with his sword. Harald, dying, is visited by his dead brother Halfdan the Black. It’s a nice moment, to be sure, especially given the fact that Harald killed his brother in battle years earlier. He also manages to stab his killer in the neck for good measure.

But it’s kind of a disappointing way to see one of the best characters in Vikings go. If anything, he should have been killed by a woman. He never had much luck with the ladies, after all. Oh well.

Harald’s death shouldn’t alter what came next. Ivar tries to broker a deal with Alfred but the Saxon king, shamed by his wife who (rightfully) pointed out how the Vikings constantly make peace deals they intend to break, refuses the offer. And then we get another big battle with both sides charging aimlessly at one another as though warriors in that time period had literally no understanding of tactics or strategy. Line up, charge aimlessly, and then thwack at one another.

Here’s where it gets murky. Alfred, whilst hewing through his foes, looks to god for guidance. He doesn’t know what to do! Has Jesus abandoned them? Alfred saw a vision of Christ earlier but now he’s nowhere to be seen.

So the English must be losing right?

But wait! There’s Ivar watching from the sidelines with his little crew of bodyguards. He seems worried. He’s watching Hvitserk and he seems worried about him even though Hvitserk seems to be doing a pretty good job of staying alive under the circumstances.

So Ivar, who has been in terrible pain from his bone disease which we know has flared up thanks to his eyes turning blue, shambles out onto the battlefield. He tells Hvitserk to go, get to safety. He gives a rousing speech to his fellow warriors. His bodyguards seem to move like puppets, striking enemies with the exact motions Ivar makes. Not even remotely realistic but kind of a cool gimmick.

All this seems to suggest that the Vikings were losing and Ivar’s going to turn the tide of battle through sheer force of will.

Then a Saxon soldier walks up with a tiny little knife and stands quaking before Ivar. Ivar nods and tells him he doesn’t have to be afraid. And then the soldier shanks him, stabbing him a dozen times in the gut before rushing off like a hit job in a prison yard. I’m not sure where Ivar’s bodyguards were at this point, or why he didn’t kill the little guy, or why he sent Hvitserk to safety and Hvitserk just hung out twenty feet away watching all of this unfold.

Is this once again a failed attempt by this show to make something appear grand and poetic and deep and instead it just comes off as confusing and pointless? I think so.

Earlier in the episode, Ivar tells Hvitserk how he wants to be the most famous Viking to ever live—unlike Ragnar who everyone’s already forgotten. It’s an ambition in line with Ivar’s various grandiose ideas about himself (though the show has never done a great job of establishing the children of Ragnar’s fame outside of repeating the fact). I don’t quite understand how getting stabbed to death with a little knife helps Ivar achieve this goal. How this will cement his legacy. I don’t understand how this battle will, either. Ivar the Boneless, the man who lost a battle for no reason and let himself get killed by a nobody with a little knife—clearly the most famous Viking ever!

Maybe I’m missing something. But if Ivar went into the fray to save Hvitserk or turn the tide, he sure didn’t achieve those goals. Alfred ultimately saves Hvitserk by calling for a ceasefire when he sees Ivar fall. And I guess all the Vikings just listen to the Saxon king and stop. I don’t quite follow, but I suppose now that they’re leaderless—Hvitserk too distraught to rally the troops—the fight is out of the invaders.


Hvitserk is either captured at this point or simply chooses to go with Alfred back to Wessex. They bury Ivar which is also kind of odd. Wouldn’t he get a proper Viking funeral among his own people?

Hvitserk and Ivar’s relationship was always fraught, and in many ways—despite all their weird animosity—they were the closest of any of Ragnar’s sons. Ubbe and Hvitserk were close for a spell, but never as close as Ivar and Hvitserk. Bjorn was always a lone wolf. But the closeness was always destructive to some degree, up until this final season.

Even when Ivar was off in Kiev, Hvitserk was haunted by his ghost. The specter of Ivar returning and exacting revenge on his brother tormented him, leading him down a dark path of alcoholism and mental illness that ultimately resulted in Lagertha’s death.

When the two reunited and Hvitserk went back to Kiev with him, the relationship took new twists and turns. Hvitserk was outright hostile to his brother, but ended up helping him free the prince nonetheless. Oleg’s attempts to drive a rift between the two brothers almost worked simply because that rift was already there. It was at this point that we really knew that Ivar actually cared about his brother, that he was not being duplicitous or manipulative at all.

When they leave Kiev, Hvitserk says to Ivar, “You’ve changed.”

In Kattegat, Hvitserk’s encounter with a goddess is the tipping point, renewing his faith in the world and in himself. The newly “baptized” Hvitserk is brimming with confidence and good humor. And for the first time, the two brothers treat one another like equals and friends. Hvitserk is no longer afraid of Ivar or angry at him. Ivar accepts this new version of Hvitserk with open arms.

I really wish this new chapter in their relationship had more room to breathe and that their final parting made more sense. The emotional performances by both Alex Høgh Andersen (Ivar) and Marco Ilsø (Hvitserk) are outstanding. Both actors really shined this season. But I wish we’d followed this last leg of their journey a bit longer. And I wish Ivar had a better death.

Hvitserk ultimately renounces his people and faith and is baptized as a Christian. He also grows a rad beard that makes him look older and more distinguished. And Alfred, his godfather, gives him a new Christian name: Athelstan, after Ragnar’s old friend (and Alfred’s true father).

Back in Kattegat, Ingrid has finally gone about the bloody business of deposing the false king Erik (by having a slave pitchfork him to death) and taken power. When she learns that Harald and Ivar are dead, she takes the throne for herself and everyone seems pretty fine with this, chanting “long live the queen!”

I’m . . . fine with it? I guess? I have nothing against Ingrid, but she’s just not a terribly well-established character. She follows a long line of matriarchs ruling Kattegat (in-between various warlike men) but she sort of still feels shoehorned into the story, whereas her predecessors all had more of an established role, whether that’s likable rulers like Gunnhild or Lagertha, or less likable ones like Auslag.

Oh well. It’s a rags-to-riches story if ever there was one, and now Kattegat has a witch for a queen, and one willing to send assassins to take down Christian converts. I like Ingrid, but this story—like almost all of these—feels too rushed. Too much time was spent on repetitive battles. Too little time was spent establishing interesting characters that persist for longer than one or two seasons.


Ivar never abandoned his Viking path, dying a proud pagan, content in the knowledge that he’d soon be in Valhalla with his father.

Hvitserk fought against the Christians until the old adage “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” reared its ugly head. He’ll live out his years as a Saxon prince and a Christian, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Rollo, Duke of Normandy.

The third brother, fittingly enough, took a different path altogether.

Ubbe, out of all the sons of Ragnar, walked the closest in his father’s footsteps, including Bjorn Ironsides (whose only real similarity with his father was his penchant for womanizing and fighting prowess). Ubbe even looks the most like him, as Floki reminds us in the show’s final moments.

Which brings me to Floki. What a pleasant surprise it was to come across him in the forest. Perhaps a little far-fetched, but who cares? Vikings gave up any semblance of realism long ago, and if they want to stretch believability this is the way to do it.

Floki left his failures behind him, abandoning his old beliefs and came to the New World where he’s lived in a ship-turned-treehouse alone, with some help from the local tribe, for however many years it’s been. I can’t keep track. The show doesn’t really say, or offer us many signposts. How old is Torvi? How old is Floki? We rarely see children grow up (they mostly just die) and characters age unevenly.

But here’s Floki at long last, looking older and wiser than ever. Most of the original characters have been lost. Before Floki’s return, I think Torvi was the oldest remaining character, having been introduced originally as Jarl Borg’s wife. (Seriously, how old is Torvi???) So it’s nice and fitting that the final scene in this show is between Ubbe and Floki—the closest thing to having Ragnar himself sitting with his old friend.

This would have been a fun reveal to write about if the final season had been released like all the rest, one episode per week, instead of all at once. The problem with dumping an entire season, other than the headache it requires to review/recap episodically, is that we aren’t all coming to these big moments at the same time. A big reveal like this could have been a high-point in other seasons. It was just part of the episode dump instead. Oh well. People want to binge their shows. So much for the collective experience, the water cooler talk.

Floki is as lovable as ever, but older now and less sure of himself. Not that he’s lost confidence—if anything, he seems more content and wise than ever. But now he’s not interested in having all the answers. “The world is more important than us,” he says at one point. “We should take care of it.” So much for old gods and fanaticism, then, this new Floki has embraced a gentler way. It’s a good look for Floki. More on that in a second.

Ubbe and company only find Floki because they run into the native tribe that lives near where they set up their new settlement. At first, they’re fearful—and rightfully so—but they leave gifts for the natives and gifts are left in return, and eventually they seek out their village and strike up a friendship. They’re startled that the natives know their language, which we later discover is Floki’s doing.

This friendship is put to the test when one of the Vikings, Naad, hungry for the gold he sees in the village, tries to go and steal it. When he’s confronted, he kills one of the sons of the village’s chief, Pekitaulet.

The tribe agrees to release Naad back to Ubbe and face judgement, and Ubbe decides that the blood eagle is the only just course of action. But here is where he and his father differ. Whereas Ragnar cut Jarl Borg’s back open, breaking his ribs and splaying them out in a grotesque imitation of wings, Ubbe shows Naad mercy. “Valhalla is not for you, my friend,” he says, and cuts the man’s throat.

This entire storyline felt too brief. Naad has barely been established as a character so we don’t feel really one way or another about him until he tries to steal the gold and kills an innocent. Why not give the character more depth before this?

I really like Ubbe, though. I think he’s the best of Ragnar’s children. The most compassionate, the most level-headed. He treats people with respect, doesn’t sleep around, tries to always be fair and just. He’s a better man than Ragnar, also, for all those reasons.

And like his father, he’s the one to venture forth, leave battle and war behind, and seek out a new way in a new world for his people. “This is what Ragnar wanted,” he says, looking out over the unspoiled country. And it is. Ragnar wanted new land and new opportunity for his people. He was never enamored with the old ways.

Othere asks what Ubbe intends to do with his newfound paradise, and Ubbe describes all the industry he hopes to set in motion. Othere asks him what’s the point of finding a new world if you don’t find a new way to live in it.

It’s a good question, and something Floki echoes when he and Ubbe sit on the beach together at the end, watching the sunset. “I’m not sure about anything, not anymore,” Floki tells Ubbe.

“Are the gods here? Have you seen them?” Ubbe asks.

“Don’t bother me with that,” Floki says. “What business of that is mine?” The zealot is long gone, and in his place is just Floki.

“Are you happy?” Ubbe asks. Floki just cackles. “There are so many things I need to know,” Ubbe says.

“You don’t need to know anything,” Floki says. “It’s not important. Let the past go.”

“Do you remember Ragnar?” Ubbe asks.

“Of course I do!” Floki replies, scowling. “He disturbs my nights. He’s always hanging around. I can’t get rid of him. He keeps asking me to build him a new boat, and I say ‘What the hell do you need a new boat for, Ragnar? You’re dead!’”

“You look like him,” Floki says (and it’s true).

“I don’t care what you say, I love you Floki,” Ubbe replies, giving Floki the love and acknowledgement that his father never could after the murder of Athelstan.

“If you don’t care what I say, I won’t say anything,” Floki says. “In any case, I’ll be dead soon.”

“Is that the end?” Ubbe replies. Floki gives him a sly look, and says nothing.

The seagulls cry and the waves crash on the shore and the Vikings theme-song starts to play. The camera rolls back, panning out on these two men of peace. Ragnar’s son and his best friend, sitting quietly on a far shore.


It took me a while to get through this final season, partly because the change to a full season drop instead of weekly episodic releases threw me off and partly because I’ve been so burned out on the show. I suppose there was also part of me that was sad to see it end, and worried that the ending would be terrible.

It wasn’t terrible, though. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t at all bad either. Ivar became a far better character this season and though his death (and that whole battle scene) weren’t great, his and Hvitserk’s brotherly arc was actually quite good. I think we needed more time with it, and maybe more time with Hvitserk converting to Christianity, but I’m okay with it for the most part.

Ubbe’s storyline definitely needed more time and I would have loved to see more of the New World and its people, but maybe that’s what we’ll get in Valhalla when that comes out—not Ubbe, but the Vikings in the New World. The reunion with Floki was really wonderful, and I can’t really imagine a better final scene than those two on the beach.

I’m still a little miffed that Ingrid of all people became Queen of Kattegat (though thankfully Erik didn’t become king, that guy was such a prick) but maybe that’s also the point. Kattegat has changed since this show began. Ragnar and his family rose to power for a little while, but now they’re all dead or on far off shores. That dynasty has fallen and a new regime is here. Another rags-to-riches story. And Ingrid is capable enough and plenty ruthless. She’ll probably do just fine.

I wish Vikings had been a more consistent show. I wish the last 40 or so episodes were better and the story wasn’t so muddled and the characters were given more interesting stories. But I’m glad it ended as well as it did. Unlike Game Of Thrones, I can walk away from this show feeling mostly satisfied rather than seething rage and crushing disappointment.

What did you think of the finale / final few episodes of Vikings?

You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube

Follow me on my Forbes blog as well and check out my new newsletter.

- Advertisement -spot_img


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest News

Tuesday’s Workwear Report: Wool Sheath Dress

Our daily workwear reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.Over the last year,...
- Advertisement -spot_img

More Articles Like This

- Advertisement -spot_img
Translate »