When I first started watching it, Vikings quickly became one of my favourite TV shows. An interesting premise – a filmic retelling of the Saga of Ragnar – was backed by absolutely superb writing, acting, and filmmaking. I didn’t quite marathon it (I almost never marathon things; I don’t have the attention span), but I did watch two to three episodes a night, often staying up far later than I should, until I’d worked my way through the first two seasons.
Needless to say, I was eagerly awaiting the the third season, which kicked off in February this year. However, it didn’t take long before that eagerness abated, and instead of frantically checking Hulu after a new episode had finished airing, I found myself not even thinking about the show until a few days later. At one point I had four unwatched episodes backed up.
Season 3 had gone in a weird direction – and sure, I was enjoying it, more or less, but I didn’t hook me the way the first two seasons did. I grew to hate characters that I once loved – Floki, Bjorn, Athelstan – while characters I already hated (King Egbert and Prince Ethelwulf, specifically) grew even more annoying due to plotlines putting them front and centre. As a side character, Athelstan was great, and the theological themes he adds to the show were some of the best parts of the first two seasons, but Season 3’s centring of him grew tiresome quickly. This was only made worse by a bizarre effort to sexualise Athelstan, a character who until then had been completely void of sexuality. Even Ragnar began to get on my nerves; by episode nine, Lagertha’s unwavering greatness was the only thing keeping the show from falling apart entirely.
But suddenly, with the third season’s finale, something clicked, and the show returned to the calibre of seasons one and two. Not only were Egbert, Ethelwulf, and Athelstan nowhere to be seen (or even mentioned), but more subtle changes in tone took the series back to its roots. Of course, Lagertha stole the episode, as is her wont, but Ragnar seemed to remember why it’s called “The Saga of Ragnar”. Even Floki and Bjorn managed to redeem themselves.
Is it too little too late, though? Thanks to the finale, I’m looking forward to Season 4 – but given the rest of this year’s effort, my excitement comes with reservations. Had Season 3 gotten back on track sooner – or, better yet, never faltered in the first place – I’d already be chomping at the bit for more.