Vikings season 5 reached its half way point this week in its 5th episode, ‘The Prisoner’. In this episode, there are consequences to the Saxon’s attack on York, Ivar and Hvitserk make new plans, Floki returns to Kattegat and Björn finds his life under threat in Africa.
‘The Prisoner’ doesn’t pick up exactly where ‘The Plan’ left off. Instead, the Norse wait for King Æthelwulf and Bishop Heahmund to bring more of their forces into York before they pop up from the old Roman sewer tunnels and begin their ambush. Heahmund is still uneasy but it isn’t until he sees more rats above ground that he realises that the rats have been scared out of their nests. Too late he realises that the Heathen Army are luring them into York under false pretences by which point the attack is already underway.
The thread of hubris on the part of the Christians continues in this episode. Though Heahmund had wanted to wait, the siege had never succeeded in starving out the Norse anyway. The Saxon’s, believing that with God on their side, their plan can’t possibly fail march into the city and succumb to superior strategy and planning. Even once the ambush is underway Æthelwulf is reluctant to retreat, despite being unprepared and outnumbered. When he returns to camp he says to Judith ‘I thought at last God had seen fit to be merciful unto us’. The Christians believe to believe that victory will fall onto their laps because of their religious superiority whereas the Norse pagans are able to survive and win because of their shrewd military tactics.
The most important outcome of this ambush is that Bishop Heahmund is captured by Ivar. The two have a conversation about their religions, with Heahmund offering to bring Ivar to Christendom and Ivar deciding to bring Heahmund to Kattegat so that he can learn more of the pagans. I’ve been iffy on Heahmund thus far but I enjoyed the dynamic between Heahmund and Ivar. It harkens back to Ragnar and Æthelstan; a Viking sails to England and captures a religious figure and brings him back to his homeland and in doing so they learn more of each other, their cultures and their religions. The main difference being that Ragnar and Æthelstan were much more open to learn from each other than Ivar and Heahmund. There’s little chance of these two ending up as friends as Ragnar and Æthelstan did, but it wouldn’t be the strangest or most ahistorical thing to happen on Vikings.
As Ivar and Hvitserk head to Scandinavia to pledge their support to Harold Finehair, though they intend to double cross him later, Floki arrives in Kattegat. It’s nice that the writers are finally giving Gustaf Skarsgård more to do than run around an empty island. And it’s really starting to feel that everything is just falling apart for Lagertha. Despite having Ubbe at her side, she’s lost her closest adviser, men are rallying behind her enemies and now Floki has arrived to take away her warriors to settle in new lands. There’s a similarity here as well to season one where Ragnar wanted to sail for new lands against the wishes of Earl Haraldson. In this situation though Lagertha has become Earl Haraldson and we all know how that ended last time. Floki isn’t likely to challenge her but her fear of being deposed has caused her to become more and more insular.
Much further south, Björn and Halfdan meet with Emir Ziyadat Allah. Björn begins negotiations with Ziyadat for a trade deal while the Emir supplies them with women (sort of) and drugs. These things turn out to be a distraction while Euphemius is captured, butchered and served up for dinner. Sinric insinuates that Kassia is pulling the strings behind the Emir and that they’re to be next. Turns out that he’s right, as the three of them are captured and prepared to be executed, just as a sandstorm appears on the horizons.
While the story is engaging, largely through the charisma and presence of Alexander Lugwig and Jasper Pääkkönen, the cultures and people that they interact are largely underdeveloped and generic. With time, these characters and locations could be explored but the Africa plotline moves at such a fast pace, from meeting the Emir to being betrayed in the space of a couple of scenes, that audiences never really get a chance to become more invested. Remember Vikings spent four seasons allowing viewers to become acquainted with England and its characters. No way they can replicate that in Sicily and Africa in a few episodes.
The question is where does this storyline go from here. There’s no way the show is killing off Björn and Halfdan, who are too important narratively and historically. So, do Björn and company simply escape and never return? Will they come back for revenge? One thing of interest is that Kassia is from the Byzantine Empire and the Emir slaughtered Euphemius because of his supposed contact with the emperor. The Empire is this large, looming presence in the Mediterranean and Middle East and Vikings would be remiss not to explore it. Whether that means Björn and Halfdan working with or against the Byzantine Empire, I don’t know.
So, ends another solid episode of Vikings season 5. If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below of through social media. And if you hated it, let me hear it anyways. If you enjoyed this article, you can find my reviews of Vikings episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the archives. Or check out my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Furthermore, I have a review of Battle of the Sexes over on moviequotesandmore.com. Or if fiction is more your thing, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, to read for free over on swoonreads.com.