Like any series that is making the jump from “good” to “great,” it’s not just an increased investment in the characters and plots that has elevated this season of Vikings. Along with that, the production values have really stood out in a positive way, and it seems like each episode–and especially “Boneless”–has upped its game because of how well the tech. crews have crafted certain scenes. There are two sequences in “Boneless” that manage to evoke the quality of being epic, both in the traditional and slang senses of that word. While something like Sons of Anarchy might use a music montage to help survey its host of characters and how their lives might be intersecting in specific ways, Vikings goes full-on in using similar montages to establish tone. As Ragnar and co. prepare to sail over to Wessex, we’re treated to one of these, which works much better now that we care more about the characters and what they’re going through. The sequence that closes the episode isn’t as strong as this one, but it’s still a great example of how this series has been able to rely on its aesthetics to do world-building and storytelling without having to force these things through dialog.
In that montage sequence, we also get a good deal of focus on some of the more engaging relationships in the show at this point. Although I’m not particularly drawn to the pair as a romantic couple, it is still satisfying to see Rollo make up for his jealousy and how he treated Siggy in last week’s episode by extending his hand to her after she puts the ball in his court regarding their status once (and if) he returns. Rollo, probably more than any other character in the series, has benefited from a Michael Hirst who has a clearer understanding of what he wants Vikings to be doing this year, so to see a more humanized version of Rollo make this decision helps ensure that we’re not just being frugal or wasteful with our sympathies. Rollo is flawed–absolutely. But he is also worth investing in because of his potential to become a better man. We see more shades of this as he’s teaching his nephew, Bjorn, about how easily the fight can overcome the warrior. Not unlike the Bronn and Jaime pairing in the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, having Rollo be Bjorn’s instructor makes the most sense to me.
And at the risk of giving Vikings a little too much credit by association, there is another scene in “Boneless” that immediately brought Game of Thrones into my thoughts. We see that when Lagertha returns home and is bathing, she knows her companion is outside the room, watching her. In a scene executed almost exactly like the one between Daenerys and Daario, Lagertha steps out of the bath and makes sure that her friend (ally? co-conspirator?) sees her naked. In both cases, that move is used as a power play to show that the character is not shy or timid in any way. It emphasizes Lagertha’s confidence and, as we see shortly after, proves that she is in control of the situation where a lesser character or personality might not be. Massive credit goes to Katheryn Winnick, of course, but Hirst has done an excellent job in guiding that character so that she genuinely feels like anyone’s equal, including Ragnar’s.
Where the episode gets its title, though, might be of more concern, since Ragnar’s new son–Ivar the Boneless–is another interesting device used to show some of the viking attitudes and principles. Ragnar nearly kills Ivar because of his physical deficiencies, but Aslaug shows a thorough and convincing mother’s care, going as far to say that she would rather lay down her own life than lose that of her newborn’s. I still think, if we’re keeping track of these things, Aslaug continues to be the weak link of the season, but I’m wondering if that has more to do with how little time has been spent in a relatively peaceful Kattegat (which is really the only place Aslaug can get material) than any inadequacies with the character. This season has been mostly focused on things outside of the viking homestead, so it would be natural for her character to get lost among people who have more things to do. That said, “Boneless” is about as good as anything has been for that side of Vikings this season, and joins an already lengthy list of episodes that tackle issues of motherhood in an emotionally engaging way.
The rest of “Boneless” is actually just as interesting, but it’s easy to feel so spoiled by certain parts of the stories taking place in Kattegat or elsewhere in Scandinavia that the Wessex side of things winds up not being enough (not in the sense that it’s not good enough, just that there isn’t enough time spent with those characters). Princess Kwenthrith, for instance, is a superb addition based on what we get of her, and I would have liked to have seen more interaction between her and Athelstan, since they each represent this strange amalgamation of Christian and pagan characteristics, values and interests. I suppose it could be easy to say that something like that will be interesting to see develop over the course of the rest of the season, but as there are only two episodes left, I suspect that there won’t be a whole lot of time that can be devoted to her character when people like Ecbert are going to have a lot more to do. Coupling that with Horik appealing to Floki’s distance from Ragnar, and Vikings is finding itself in the fortunate predicament of having almost too many intriguing threads running at this time, whereas many series often find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. We’ll hopefully be seeing some of those threads tied up–and whatever comes with the big payoff from the Ragnar-Athelstan reunion–as we wrap up the season in the next two weeks.
[Photo via Jonathan Hession/History]