After six seasons and eight years, Vikings, the History Channel’s first original drama series, finally draws to a close. Though it’s due to have a spin off in Vikings: Valhalla next year, this will reportedly be set 200 years later, following an entirely different set of events and characters. Therefore, from the start, the focus of this last half-season is on wrapping up the different story and characters arcs developed over the course of the series. Already, by this point in the series, virtually none of the original cast are left standing, after the storyline shifting from the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok to his sons – and this half-season now focuses on dispatching most of this newer generation in turn.
The first episode focuses on giving a proper send off for the character of Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), following his mortal injury in the previous episode. The moment where the supposedly-dead Bjorn single-handedly faces off against the entire invading Christian army, remaining standing (despite being riddled with arrows) and inspiring the rest of his people to fight, is very much Vikings at its best – this fist-pumping set piece and the ever powerful soundtrack by Wardruna more than rivals dozens of similar set pieces from cinema. But as powerful a moment as this is, it also sees the loss not only of one of the last characters who’s been around since the start of the series, but also leaves us with even fewer capable of really carrying the show. Ever since season four and the death of Ragnar (brilliantly played by Travis Fimmel), Vikings has felt like it’s lacked any real central characters. This needn’t be an issue as such; Game of Thrones, for example, was a similar series that made a name for itself by killing off its leads.
Vikings, however, largely failed to ever introduce new characters that were quite as compelling as those they replaced. Whereas characters like Ragnar, through both writing and performance, were given far more depth than might be expected in this kind of genre, most newer characters often seemed more like lazy archetypes of the culture and period. You could often find them constantly mentioning stock tropes of Norse society, such as Valhalla or the Gods, with little else to distinguish them. Therefore, there’s often little to keep the viewer invested in many of the plotlines that develop further in the season. The series even seems to recognise this, with several plot points being pretty quickly dropped, or seeming to go simply nowhere.
Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky), the figure in charge of the invasion that ended the first part of season six, and who’d been built up throughout as someone you do not want to mess with, ends up being dispatched with the utmost ease, in a manner that feels almost perfunctory after so much set up. It’s a similar issue with the storyline for the character of Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), brother to Bjorn and perhaps the most natural replacement for him. While the series ends on a nice beat with him being the one to discover the Americas, the whole of the season up till this point has him literally just stuck on a boat – and for a bit, fighting over whale meat, all of which gets old very fast.
“The series seems to be trying for this final epic showdown, but it ends up all feeling a tad anti-climactic, with several deaths, and other character resolutions, feeling out of the blue – a way to end the story, rather than any kind of natural progression.”
Ultimately, it’s other brother, Ivar (Alex Andersen), who’s given the most to do for the rest of this season, and who gets perhaps the most development. Being both crippled and, simultaneously, an utterly bloodthirsty strategic genius, it was always Ivar who’s been the character with the most potential amongst the newer generation of the cast, and Andersen’s continually been amongst the more charismatic leads – even if throughout he’s more often than not been stuck as the same one-note, glowering psycho. Here however, he’s comes off as a lot more human, developing relationships with some of the other characters that go beyond just plotting death and destruction, while also losing his god-delusion. All the same, it’s never quite enough to make the character much more likeable after everything we’ve seen him to do at this point, nor is he ever really convincing as the misunderstood genius the series plays him up as.
The decision to end the series on a final confrontation between him and Alfred the Great (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) works well; the Vikings returning to England is an effective way of bringing the story full-circle, providing a return to what’s been the main conflict and secondary setting throughout most of the series. It’s just a shame that after so long trudging through these other storylines that went nowhere, we’re only left with three episodes to play around with this setting and characters. The series seems to be trying for this final epic showdown, but it ends up all feeling a tad anti-climactic, with several deaths, and other character resolutions, feeling out of the blue – a way to end the story, rather than any kind of natural progression.
All in all, the final season does still hit on lots of the same strengths present throughout the show’s run; in particular, the excellent casting and production values, as well as an utterly unique and distinctive soundtrack utilising Nordic folk bands like Wardruna and Heilung, really helps to sell the environment and sense of place the series crafts for itself. Though at the same time, it also shares a lot of the same issues the series has had in more recent years – with frequently slow-paced plot lines and characterisation that leans much more into cliché. Nevertheless, it remains an entertaining watch, and fans will no doubt be eagerly anticipating the coming spin-off.
Words by Daniel Goldstraw
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.