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Vikings is back!
The hit television show, Vikings, returns to the History Channel Wednesday, November 28 with the final five episodes of Season 5. For many of us, this will end what seems like an eternity of angst-ridden suspense. The first 10 episodes of Season 5 was a roller coaster of mounting tensions and sudden plunges, and when it reached the mid-season climax earlier this year, many of our favorite characters died (we won’t tell you which ones, in case you haven’t caught up yet).
Recap of first 10 episodes
To recap, Season 5 opened with the Great Heathen Army carving up Britain as the sons of Ragnar began to turn on each other. Bjorn explored the Mediterranean and Floki lead a settlement of Iceland. Ivar remained intent on avenging the death of his mother, Aslaug, and fulfilling his vow to kill Lagertha. Harald Fairhair mounted his plans to become King of all Norway. So, Ivar (accompanied by his prisoner, Bishop Heahmund) and Harald return to Scandinavia to battle Lagertha. Heahmund falls in love with Lagertha and joins her fight against Ivar. The mid-season finale saw Harald and Ivar (with the help of Rollo's Normans) fighting Lagertha and Bjorn for Kattegat and dominion in Scandinavia.
Clues and Predictions from the Mid-Season Trailers
The last five episodes of Season 5 Vikings will premier November 28 and will only raise the stakes. After many teasers, the History Channel released trailers offering some clues for the plot arc. From the two and a half minutes they give us, we can see that Harald and Ivar complete their conquest of Scandinavia. Ivar rules with an iron hand in Kattegat, killing his enemies outright or sacrificing them.
Lagertha, Bjorn, Ubba, and Torvi escape to Britain. It is unclear if the tormented paladin, Heahmund, betrays them, but they wind up prisoners to the Saxons. The new King, Alfred, makes them an offer they cannot refuse, and they join forces with him to fight Harald’s Vikings in Britain.
Alfred faces betrayal, possibly from his brother. It may be that Ubba and Lagertha fight to defend the Saxon King from his own people, for Ubba is shown hemmed in on all sides and taking all comers in a ritualized duel. Heahmund, meanwhile, is perhaps torn between his people and God, and his love for Lagertha.
The Seer, who seems close to death, says, “All is coming to darkness, and we must go into the dark.” Floki’s experiment of a democracy based on faith on the old gods races towards anarchy. Floki, who said that he would sacrifice himself to the gods at the mid-season finale, seems to feel abandoned by the gods in the trailer. Many fans have speculated that Floki will eventually replace the Seer, and this may happen soon.
Hvitserk abandons his increasingly-psychotic brother, Ivar, and joins his brother Bjorn in an attempt to re-conquer Kattegat. But Ivar is ready for them, and an epic battle will ensue for control of the Vikings' homeland. Brother will fight brother, with the future of the Vikings hanging in the balance.
Themes from History and the Sagas
With the scale and complexity of the Viking Age, it would be impossible for any television show to be fully historically accurate. Vikings has always been more interested in thematic accuracy and giving us an emotional understanding of the men and women of this time, rather than checking off dates and chronologies. There are some specific historical events and Norse sagas that inspired Season 5 of the show, and we will touch on those here. Warning: while this is history, not the television show, it may contain some spoilers.
The Great Heathen Army, Alfred, and Heahmund
As recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bishop Asser’s Life of Alfred and the Norse Saga of Ragnar Lothbrock, the sons of Ragnar invaded Britain in 865 with a “Great Heathen Army” and quickly conquered most of the Saxon kingdoms. Only Wessex remained, and in 871 this last kingdom was left in the hands of a 20-year-old King Alfred. Alfred was not just a warrior king, he was a political genius, and he would somehow manage to push the Vikings back from Wessex and into their own dominion in Britain, known as the Danelaw.
Heahmund was a bishop who is mentioned in the English sources. All we really know about him was that he fell in a great battle with the Vikings (this may have already been depicted in one of Season 5’s earlier episodes, where he is presumed dead). Because the Vikings targeted the Church (because that was where Medieval wealth aggregated, not really for religious reasons) and because many high-ranking churchmen were from noble families and thus had military training, there was a phenomenon of Viking-fighting bishops and priests in the 9th and 10th centuries. Heahmund was one of these, though his character development in the series is artistic license.
Harald Fairhair and the Battle of Hafrsford
Similar to what is depicted in the show, the Norse sagas collected in the Heimskringla tell the story of Harald Fairhair, a king who endeavors to rule all of Norway after a Swedish princess shamed him for having no ambition. Throughout the Early Middle Ages, most of Europe was divided into small kingdoms, not the nations we think of today. Harald was part of a movement to change this, and to seize powers under larger monarchies.
But democratic principles and localized rule was a deep part of Norse culture, and many people resisted Harald and those like him. At the Battle of Hafrsford, sometime late in the 9th century, Harald fought a fierce battle against these jarls and petty kings, and he crushed opposition to his rule. The bloody struggle in the Vikings mid-season finale depicts this type of conflict, where the old regimes (represented by Lagertha) were swept away by Harald’s new feudal powers. In history, many of these deposed jarls and kings escaped, just as Lagertha and her followers do in the Season 5 trailer. Many of the people who fled Harald Fairhair’s autocracy settled in Iceland and intended to make a society there based on the old ways.
Floki and the Colonization of Iceland
As described in the Icelandic Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), the real Floki led the first colony in Iceland. As the series also portrays, this colony struggled with the perils of beginning life anew in a wild and untamed land. Floki’s settlement failed, though it did not resort to violence as is being portrayed in the series. But several other Viking colonies, such as the first colonies in Greenland (before Erik the Red) and some of the ones in the Americas did fall into murderous anarchy. The founding of Iceland was full of adventure and conflict, though, and for a while, it was the wild west (literally) of the Viking world. A strong Norse culture based on democracy and old ideals was founded there, and it has stood the test of time. Most of what we know about the Viking culture, faith, and lore comes to us through Iceland, where these stories were preserved and passed on.
Only one thing is sure from the trailers – the new episodes of Vikings will be bigger, darker, and tenser than ever. We hope you are as excited about the premier as we are. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Vikings, check back soon for articles of our forthcoming book, Ragnar’s Raven, a Legendary History of the Vikings.
Below are four mid-season trailers ...listed in order of their release dates:
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