Vikings "The Choice" Review: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

By Tim Surette

Apr 25, 2014

Vikings S02E09: "The Choice"

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. 


– 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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  • christopherdo13 May 07, 2014

    I love this show massively, but yea I have no idea where Floki's confliction has come from. It's just like one day about episode 3 the writers decided to make an enemy close at home. Before that Floki was Ragnars best pal. It's the only thing I can't get my head round which leads me to believe is he a plant to try and keep ahead of Horrick? It's a shame now I actively dislike Floki's character yet season 1 and early season 2 he was one of my favourites. Will just have to wait for the finale and then sit there praying that season 3 comes round quicker than the wait we had for season 2!!

  • PauletteHamil May 01, 2014

    time for king Horrik to die if he thinks Lockie or seig for that matter will betray Ragnar then Gods of Odin trully don't shine on Ragnars family.. Pricess Ausulag bores me and I will never accept her with Ragnar but he made his choice and Lagetha I hope will find a better husband than dearly departed Earl. Althelsten belong with Ragnar and not king Ecobert.. How long will Rollo be conveseling in the new season? Bjorn will only marry for love .

  • beeMikeB Apr 27, 2014

    * King Horik is only acting stupidly because the Vikings didn't actually come with a force large and strong enough to conquer England.

    - Killing an English King could be a huge deal and would result in the other Kings banding together against the Vikings.

    * Ekbert obviously wants to rule all of England and is trying to achieve that goal.

    * Ragnar mostly agreed with the terms because he knew he currently had a losing hand and he wanted Rollo and Atheson back. The Vikings could obviously come back with a larger force.

    * I consider this show is trying to set up that Bjorn is going to marry Princess Kwenthirth and therefore the Vikings will control Mercia. Ragnar likes Ekbert and so Wessex may simply be forced to give money and some land to the Vikings.

    * Floki seems to think that Ragnar doesn't appreciate him enough. Floki built Ragnar's ships but Floki is clearly beneath several people in Ragnar's life: his wife and children, his brother, his ex-wife, his son by his ex-wife, perhaps Atheson, etc. Floki would be second only to King Horik's son.

    - Floki openly complained that Ragnar was taking risks to get his brother back and to try to get "the priest" back.

  • KayWatkins Apr 27, 2014

    FINALLY! it's about time someone reviewed this show! now, will someone please review Bates Motel??? anyway, great episode! the actor playing ragnar barely has to speak. he does incredible eye acting! just his facial expressions alone tell what he's feeling and thinking! love this guy! i think floki never really forgave him for being so close with athelston. that alone seemed to be some type of betrayal to the gods in his eyes. apparently horick seems more 'religious' to him and he respects him for it. that's the only thing i can think is upsetting him but to go so far as to plot to killl ragnar's son??? that's way too far floki. no longer a fan:-( ugh! typing on this sucky tablet is kiling me! sorry for the grammar issues!

  • flintslady Apr 27, 2014

    Has everyone seen the promo for this season. The one that shows each of the characters with Lorde's Glory and Gore playing over it? I ask because there seems to be a big spoiler regarding Athelstan in it that hasn't happened yet, and I'm wondering if it's going to happen in the finale, or if it's supposed to be a metaphor?

  • Hellspirit87 Apr 27, 2014

    I think you're right, and they're not very secretive about it since the possible spoiler is also on another promotional material:

    btw I'm sure that the season 2 teaser (which I LOVE!) is full of possible major spoilers for the whole series. The characters are compared to the Norse gods, along with their attributes: Ragnar/Odin (the eye, Yggdrasill's roots, the spear), Floki/Loki (but also Heimdallr cause of the golden teeth), Lagertha/Frigg (also Freyja cause of the falcon's feathers and the goddess of war), Athelstan/Tyr (his hand), Siggy/Sigyn (the bowl of poison), King Horik/Jormungand (his serpentine eyes), Aslaug/Freyja (falcon wings, red tears), Rollo/Fenrir (breaking his bounds)...

  • Hellspirit87 Apr 27, 2014

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  • Hellspirit87 Apr 27, 2014

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  • AllordWatson Apr 27, 2014

    I Really Think Floki is working for Ragnar to get near King Horik they plan this when Ragnar Plan to kill Jarl Borg, The reason this happen is because Ragnar Realize King Horik Lied about Athelstan, Ragnar Never trust the King Horik and the only way to get closed and know what he is up to is by Infiltrating Floki. How it's possible that from one day to another Floki part ways with Ragnar

  • ChrisODriscol Mar 26, 2015

    Good call!

  • borgsblueyes Apr 28, 2014

    This is what I am hoping. It does seem odd that someone as close and trusted as Floki was to Ragnar would turn so quickly and easily.

  • KayWatkins Apr 27, 2014

    i hope this is true because i really want to like floki again but i'm not so sure. he had a private moment with his woman about ragnar and not inviting him to the wedding. he seemed pretty sincere.

  • borgsblueyes Apr 28, 2014

    He did have a private moment with her, but then she went and told that private moment to Siggy who relayed it to Horik, this made the connection of Horik to Floki. All the while Ragnar was watching in the shadows. Rollo was also aware of Siggy sleeping with Horik, so if they wanted to feed information to Horik, Siggy would be a good choice.

  • AllordWatson Apr 28, 2014

    Yes that's why I have this theory ragnar was watching everthing in the shadow.

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 26, 2014

    I am one of those who missed season one and only recently binge watch and caught up with season two. I find season one better.

    This battle was probably the first I saw of Ragnar losing.

    I have two questions

    1) Why are Ragnar and company speaking in English and The English are also speaking English? Then when they meet, they speak in a strange language. Are they depicting two different languages even though we hear the same thing? What is that strange language? Latin? I rather they all speak English even though it is not accurate.

    2) Is it true that the woman in that part of the world then are fighting like man? And woman can become Earl? Than the Scandinavians are very forward thinking because in the rest of the world during those days, woman are still very domestic.

  • borgsblueyes Apr 28, 2014

    The Priest can speak both Old English and Old Norse, he also thought Ragnar Old English, and King Egbert a smattering of Old Norse, as the King explained in the ep. So that's why the Priest was doing the talking, he was the translator. I think Ragnar normally does the talking to the English because he has the language. I guess the show takes a liberty and defaults to everyone speaking todays English for our ease of viewing.

  • Tapponen Apr 26, 2014

    on 1) They speak diffrent language but we just hear them in English so we wont hear there original language beacuse many Viewers would not Watch if you hear it in "strange" original language, so they just show the original language when they meet to show that all the World don´t speak English. so we allways hear it in English but they dont "speak English"

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 27, 2014

    I just find it very funny that they end up speaking a foreign language when they meet up.

  • NormaRijker Apr 26, 2014

    I always found the relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan the most interesting one. I'm not buying this they're 'friends or 'brothers' thing. You don't invite a friend or a brother to your bed. I also noticed some sort of Dominant/submissive vibe going one between them. Athelstan calms Ragnar down by being humble and sometimes literally by showing him his throat (like when they were sparring). Ragnar touches Athelstan a lot in a fond way and gave him a bracelet. Athelstan obviously loves him a lot. Since, at some point, he didn't seem to adhere to his vow of chastity anymore it makes me wonder if he eventually did join Ragnar and Lagartha in the marriagebed. Anyway, this could just all be my wicked perverted imagination and not the intention of the scriptwriters at all :-).

  • borgsblueyes Apr 28, 2014

    There clearly is something about Athelstan because King Egbert seems to have a man crush too. I don't think it goes beyond a bromance though. Both Egbert and Ragnar are similar, they are more intelligent than their local counterparts, and Athelstan is the closest thing to they have to a scholar. Athelstan can speak multiple languages, he can read and write, and has a deeper understanding of things.

  • flintslady Apr 27, 2014

    Yes, I think it is your wicked perverted imagination* and not the intention of the writers. :) However, you are not alone in thinking this way, I've seen a lot of uh… stuff around the internet from people who would agree with you.

    I do think it's a brother/friend relationship though. If you look at what Ragnar has been through over the last 5 years, he's lost his brother, his wife, daughter and son and now his best friend. I think he is desperate to hold onto Athelstan because he can not bear to lose another family member. I don't think it was a coincidence that the scene where he asked him to stay mirrored the one with Legartha in the opener. In his eyes, everyone who he was loved has at some point betrayed him except Athelstan. He is the only person who does not look at Ragnar with anger or jealousy or wanting. It is probably the only healthy un-ruined relationship he has left.

    Also, I thought about the scene where they invite him to sleep with them, and I'm curious if it was an honest ask? Part of me thinks it was teasing/testing. Something Legartha may have brought up that Ragnar was curious about. Monks I'm sure were a strange concept to Northmen.

    *A wicked perverted imagination is the best kind to have.

  • NDHaslett Apr 26, 2014

    You realize that bracelet is what in their culture signifies a male as a man and a warrior. Like when in the first episode Bjorn got his from the old Jarl.

  • OdinsSon Apr 26, 2014

    Athelstan will save Ragnar again and King Horik will die in the Finale. Rollo will be left in charge of Kattegat when Ragnar decides to raid Paris in season 3. By the end of season 3 Ragnar will be stranded in Northumbria and King Ella will put him in the snake pits to die. Bjorn, Sigurd snake in the eye, Ubbe and Ivar the boneless finds out their father have been slain by King Ella and comes forth the Great Heathen Army invasion of England. Then season 3 ends...

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Apr 26, 2014

    It was good seeing Athelstan with Ragnar again!

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