After about a year’s wait, it’s finally time to get caught up again with our trio of intrepid Vikings, Harald Sigurdsson – who believes he’s the rightful King of Norway; Leif Eriksson – a Greenlander looking to make his own name outside the shadow of his infamous father, Eric the Red; and Leif’s sister, Freydis Eriksdotter – another Greenlander seeking her place in the world. Over the course of the first season, the three became fast friends and war partners, and Freydis and Harald became lovers.
So, how was the first episode of this new season? Did it stand up to the story told in the first season? Well, read on if you’d like my opinion on that (and I certainly hope you do! 🙂 )
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
This was a pretty full episode, as we have plenty of characters to catch up with and stories to move along. If you need a refresher on this episode, I posted a detailed recap earlier this week describing what happened, so I’ll try to avoid repeating too much of that here.
Overall, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. I was surprised by how quickly the time watching it went. The “catching up” was done with a minimum of repetition from last season. For the most part, the stories just picked up from where we’d left off.
Leif, however, has changed. He seems more lost than he had before, and given that his entire crew – other than his sister – were killed, that makes sense. Early on, we see him talking to someone who isn’t there. The camera briefly shows us it’s Liv, a crew member he’d loved. Later, there’s another brief scene – so brief I missed it the first time through the episode – of him speaking to her, though we don’t get to see her this time. These moments are important because they lead to a critical admission later in the show. It would have been easy for them to hit us over the head with it, but they went for a much more subtle setup, which was very nice.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of times they were a bit more obvious in their foreshadowing. While arguing about whether to go back to Kattegat, Freydis talks about where it would be best to raise children – usually a pretty sure sign a character is pregnant, and in this case, she is, as is confirmed later on in the show. In London, Earl Godwin expresses concern about Queen Emma’s safety, and she pooh-poohs his qualms. Again, a conversation like that is typically a set-up for an attack, and staging an attack shortly thereafter (that he, of course, foils) is right up Earl Godwin’s tactical alley. So there’s little surprise when the next time we see Emma, a priest tries to kill her with a poisoned communion wafer that Edwin stops her from eating.
I thought that Johannes Johannesson, the actor portraying King Olaf, did a marvelous job at showing another side of his character. Usually, Olaf is more over-confident than anything, but during the scenes where he’s in captivity – first in the cage where he’s naked and being subjected to taunts from his former subjects and then in the cell where Forkbeard is telling him his plan – Johannesson show fear and shame at his situation, desperate anger when told to protect Svein who Forkbeard is placing on what had been his throne, and tenderness when his son is brought in. It makes him a much more interesting character than he was previously. Seeing the humanity in him makes it easier to be invested in Olaf instead of just wanting to see him dead.
Very little happened with the London characters, except for the “attempted assassination,” which I firmly believe will be shown to have been orchestrated by Earl Godwin with no intent for the Queen to be harmed in any way – just frightened enough to take his advice to add more security. King Canute is still off fighting in Denmark and Forkbeard has been in Norway hunting down Olaf and putting his grandson on the throne.
One big change in the show from last season is the introduction of the Jomsvikings from Jomsborg, a city called a “New Uppsala Across the Sea.” Heathen worship is still strong there, and the Jomsvikings are trying to help Pagans fleeing Norway escape to there where, hopefully, they can have safer lives. In addition, the Jomsvikings are specifically looking for Freydis, who is called by some the “Keeper of the Faith” or “The Last Daughter of Uppsala.”
I loved the conversations Freydis had with Leif and Harald while they’re hiding from bounty hunters in a rocky area just off a beach. They’re waiting for the Jomsviking boats to arrive, and Freydis has decided to go with them to Jomsborg. The conversations are clearly meant to be farewells, but – as is appropriate for the characters – there is little sentimentality.
These quiet moments, though, set up an epic ending. The bounty hunters, led by now-Jarl Olaf and the new King Svein, give the order to kill everyone on the beach, which including peasants who are also waiting for the boats. Just as the hunters begin rushing toward the unarmed refugees, huge balls of fire come arcing out of the sky, hitting the beach and creating a wall of fire.
Granted, the timing is that kind of “too-perfect” timing that never happens when you really need it, but in a show like this, it’s a lot of fun to see. Because the beach is so foggy, we can’t see the Jomsviking boats or warships, only the rain of fire they’re casting between the two groups. Those waiting to leave with the Jomsvikings quickly get in the boats and head out to the waiting warship. Freydis, Leif and Harald say their final goodbyes, and the two men watch as the ship – and Freydis – sails off into the fog.
Left alone in a small boat that had ferried them away from the beach, Leif and Harald decide to head out for Novgorod, where Harald has an uncle he believes will back his claim to Norway’s throne. It’s a good place to end the episode. The show felt like the main threads were brought to a good stopping point, but with more than enough intrigue about what will happen next to want to come back.
I hope the rest of the season can fulfill the promises this season opener has made!