Vikings "The Choice" Review: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer
Hey everybody, I'm reviewing Vikings for the last two episodes of the season! After catching up on Season 1 in the offseason, trying to convince those who don't watch this quiet gem to check it out, and fielding several requests to review Season 2, I'm finally doing it! My schedule cleared up a bit, and then History sent me a screener, so the Gods are apparently looking down on me in favor.
Since it's been a while, I'll start off with a few thoughts on the season so far. The show was obviously looking to make a big splash with its return; it was clear that a lot of money and attention went into the Season 2 premiere, probably in hopes of hooking some new viewers. "Brother's War" featured one hell of a battle scene with music-video production values that seemed to go on forever, as well as some interesting—and somewhat out-of-place—soapy plots centered on the Lagertha-Aslaug-Ragnar love triangle. But the love triangle has been a necessary evil in the Season 2 trajectory, as it was the catalyst for dismantling the core of the show by sending Lagertha off on her own and creating a rift between Ragnar and Rollo.
After that, Vikings did what it has always done best: stomped on some English pig-dogs. I've really enjoyed the King Ecbert storyline because Vikings excels when Ragnar and his buddies play diplomacy games with the English. And Season 2 has added threats from the flank, courtesy of Earl Borg. The mix of the Vikings' ruthless violence and surprisingly well-thought-out strategy that was great in Season 1 is also what's making Season 2 so strong.
I don't think Season 2 has been as capable in other plots, though. Princess Aslaug hasn't panned out as an interesting character, or even as a woman I'd like to see Ragnar end up with (I'm totally Team Lagertha, obviously). And the prophecy of Ragnar's son has been mostly dreary, except for Ragnar's excellent internal debate in "Boneless," over whether or not he should kill his crippled son. That scene by the river when he had an axe to his baby's throat was a heart-stopper, and it provided even more fodder for the argument that Travis Fimmel deserves recognition for more than just his pretty and often bloodied face. The dude has nailed the subtlety of Ragnar ever since the pilot; he's fantastic. Bjorn's love story has been okay, but I'm having trouble getting invested in any of the new romantic relationships that Season 2 is pushing.
That brings us to "The Choice," which may as well have been called "The Choices" because just about every character was either in the middle of or had just resolved a quandary of some sort. Political machinations were churning! Ragnar's biggest threat some pasty, porky English king, it's the pasty, porky King Horik. Ever since Horik was introduced, he's been teased as more of an enemy than a friend, and their alliance has only been as strong as the results of their partnership. "The Choice" presented the first major bump in their team-up, when Horik pushed the troops forward into an ambush by Ecbert and King Aelle's combined forces. It was a bonehead move by Horik, but Horik was still incensed by Ragnar's decision to try to negotiate with Ecbert without consulting Horik (or Lagertha) first, so half of that decision came out of spite, I'm sure. (Although, given that Ragnar's attempt at a peaceful negotiation was undermined by Horik's decision to slaughter the diplomatic envoy Ragnar had just promised safe passage, running something by Horik wasn't an entirely bad idea.)
Regardless, it cost them. Our plundering pals have never taken as big a beatdown as they did in this episode, the hills littered with the bodies of their fallen and Ragnar forced to say something that we thought we'd never hear him say: "Run!" Battles are usually a highlight of Vikings, but this ass-kicking was a brutal watch. Now we know how Patriots fans felt when the Giants beat them in the Super Bowl. And yeah, I'll admit that I thought Rollo was dead. But the tough S.O.B. survived a slash to the gut and a trampling by a horse because he's made out of concrete.
Ecbert constantly let grain fall through his hands in the latter part of last week's episode, and it was clear then that he had a plan. We saw it come to fruition in "The Choice," as he didn't completely annihilate the Northmen like he could have, but instead sent a strong message that said, "I can beat you." With that leverage, he met with Ragnar, Legartha, and Horik to initiate Phase 2 of his plan, which was to... offer peace? Ecbert is smarter than we thought, and by defeating Ragnar (well, let's call it like it is, he beat Horik) in battle and then offering them peace AND gold and land, he was treating and baiting them like savages. It was all to convince them to help Princess Complicated Lisp Name (Kwenthirth) win her family feud for Mercia—which would strengthen Ecbert's hold on the land—by signing up for mercenary duty. And it worked; several men showed up to fight for Kwenthirth (seriously, who names their kid Kwenthirth?).
But I have a bad feeling that this deal, which seems like a win-win for most of the parties involved, will turn out to be a raw deal for someone, and because I have trust issues with English kings, it has to be Ragnar & Co. on the losing end, right? The land and riches promised to Ragnar if he stops raiding probably won't ever materialize, and the pennies thrown at the mercenaries won't be enough. But by the time all that happens, Ecbert's Wessex and Kwenthirth's Mercia will have enough power to repel Ragnar.
"The Choice" was a fantastic set-up episode for what looks like an eventful season finale. Our heroes were backed into a corner and had no choice but to take a deal that actually helped their enemy.
NOTES FROM THE GODS
– Horik's wooing of Floki continues, and I wonder what he has up his sleeve. Part of me thinks that Horik made some kind of deal with Ecbert to betray Ragnar, and he wants Floki to come with him. After all, we never saw him agree to Ecbert's deals like Ragnar and Lagertha, and there had to be a reason for that. I know Horik wants revenge on Ecbert to avenge his son, but at this point, nothing Horik could do would surprise me. And what was with Horik talking about killing Bjorn? Will that come into play with whatever Horik has planned? Donal Logue is headed to Gotham next year, so I'm guessing Horik dies in the season finale.
– What is the root of Floki's distaste for Ragnar, anyway?
– The music continues to be the unsung hero of this show. It propels everything forward with strength.
– So great to have Athelstan back with Ragnar and the rest of the Vikings. I loved what he said about his conflict of faith: "In the gentle fall of rain from heaven I hear my god,
but in the thunder I still hear Thor. That is my agony." And of course Ragnar's response: "I hope someday our Gods can be friends." Athelstan is such a cool character.
– Bjorn Ironside is a pretty cool nickname to have, and Bjorn earned it in battle. He looked like a natural out there.
– It looks like Princess Kwenthirth will pay some of the men in more than money.
What'd you think of "The Choice"? What do you think is in store for the finale?
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