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Finally, a good episode of Vikings this series! It sure took them long enough to get there. For a moment there I was worried that we were going back to Series 1 levels of awfulness and lack of inspiration. However this episode showed that this was not the case, that there actually can be some good episodes. It is still very much the case that these are the exception rather than the rule, but hopefully this series we can see more of these and less of the jumbled mess we got last week. Vikings can be good - we had a very good Series 2 and a good Series 3 - and it is capable of having decent ideas, even if the execution is sloppy. Comparatively, this would have been a decent episode during Series 3 and I found myself enjoying it and being invested in everything that was going on (yes even including Wessex).
I think the standout part of this episode were the scenes with Bjorn living in the wilderness. Here we have a character who is really trying to prove that he is every bit as tough as his parents. He chooses to risk mortal danger by fighting a bear, diving into an ice cold pool, and even burning his own wounds as a way of proving himself a man. In fact, there is quite a nice parallel between him and Ragnar when it comes to killing the bear, as Ragnar managed to win Lagertha's hand by defeating a bear. Furthermore, having seen The Revenant, the memory of how dangerous a bear can be was very present in my mind, meaning that Bjorn's attack really gave me a sense of suspense. Bjorn was very far away from home and that bear could easily have killed him. Furthermore, with that giant berserker on the way I was seriously worried that he would end up fighting two foes (looks like the big guy appears next week). The scene with him living on his own shows that he is beginning to emerge from beneath his parents' shadow and to become a seriously good character in his own right.
I also very much enjoyed the scenes with Rollo in Paris. Rollo has decided to abandon his people, but he is clearly not at home with the Franks. His wife hates him, he cannot speak the language, but he cannot leave either. Therefore he chooses to learn the language but does not have the patience to deal with his condescending teachers. It was quite funny watching him throw one of his teachers across the room. Rollo has always been a brash character: headstrong, occasionally willing to betray Ragnar, but then regretting his decision. His choice to slaughter all his men was another one of those brash decisions. Now that he has to live with that choice, he is bound to support the Franks. Furthermore, he is becoming a piece in the court intrigue. It is clear that Odo wants Rollo's support for whatever he intends to do, and Therese and that other guy who she loves also wants to use Rollo. However, despite how brash he is, Rollo is clever and I want to see whether he will start to turn the tables and actually end up being on top.
Finally, I really liked the return of Athelstan. He is a character who has had a huge impact on the series. Ragnar saw him as a friend, and Ecbert clearly looked up to him and loved him. He was the bridge between cultures (and probably the father of Alfred the Great) and him appearing in visions was a great touch. I am not sure how Ecbert figured that Athelstan was dead, but I am glad it did, as I suspect that is going to make him a lot closer to Albert. Furthermore, having Ragnar forgive Floki at Athelstan's request was also really nice. Despite Ragnar's anger, Athelstan would not have had any ill will towards Floki and would have wanted him to be forgiven. Floki is a great character and I figured he would not die in the cave, but it was good to have Athelstan, the man he killed and the very reason he is suffering, be the one to command his release. This demonstrates the almost holy piousness of one of the best characters of Vikings. I don't know if he will re-appear in visions, but if this was goodbye, it was a good one. If not, well I look forward to seeing him again.