I’ve learned to expect a lot from Vikings. Violence, and lots of it – arguably, it would be somewhat ridiculous for a show named Vikings to be utterly devoid of even the most short-lived, lacklustre fight scene – Lagertha being all kinds of awesome, and Ragnar doing his level best to annoy everyone within a fifty mile radius, usually successfully. Episode 3×08, or “To the Gates,” delivered in fine style on all of the above, and much more besides.
In this episode, an attack is launched on Paris, and it fails. Despite the impressive size and tenacity of the attacking force, and the rumours that preceded it, the French, protected behind strong, high walls, in possession of the tools and the knowledge required to keep it that way, and, finally, given a standard to rally behind by the quick-thinking Princess Gisla, are victorious, exacting huge losses from the opposing force.
It was a strong episode, for a number of reasons. Principally, however, the episode comprised of a lengthy battle, and so it seems reasonable to discuss that first. The show has always benefitted from excellent choreography in its fight scenes, wherever and whenever they arise, and this was no exception. While an episode-long battle might, arguably, be in the hands of another show, rather tedious, watching “To the Gates” was an intense, engaging experience that I finished in a state of high tension. It was violent, brutal, exquisitely placed, and shot through with genuine, important emotion. It is clear to me, at least, that therein lays one of the great strengths of this show: its ability to combine the two to deliver an exceptionally good story.
This episode’s plot is, admittedly, somewhat sparse. Paris is attacked, the attack fails, it is revealed that Ragnar has not, in fact, forgiven Floki (I totally called it), but is, patiently, waiting to take full revenge on the man that killed his friend, and, additionally, that Ragnar himself believes he is dying, having sustained considerable injury during the attack. In comparison to other episodes, this is, arguably, minimal. On the other hand, ‘Paris is attacked’ paraphrases a great deal of important action, most of which will, most likely, have a significant influence on what is to happen next. Thus, this episode was far from irrelevant filler, and perhaps the only complaint is that it was less densely packed than previous episodes, and that’s not much of a complaint at all. Characters
I have to admit, hand on heart, that I’m a little tired of all this Ragnar/Floki tension. It’s lasted too long now. I miss the old days of the first season, actually, when they were friends in a particularly uncomplicated manner, each appreciating certain skills and talents in the other, ignoring what they didn’t like, and co-existing quite happily. Now, however, they are constantly at odds, and for me at least, it’s beginning to wear a little thin. Been there, done that, and I’ve unwillingly bought the rather unflattering t-shirt, thank-you very much.
Ragnar, however, was brilliant, even if there wasn’t quite enough of him fighting on top of the wall to sate my expectations, and so was Lagertha, especially in her dealings with Kalf. It found his attempt to take advantage of the opportunity seemingly provided to him by saving her utterly cringe-worthy (yes, that is the official term), and was extremely glad when she put him in his place. Lagertha will not let anyone control her, and I love her for it.
Floki and Helga were, in a word…heartbreaking. Ever since Ragnar and Lagertha’s relationship crashed and burned – understandably so, Ragnar you dolt – seeing Floki and Helga in unmarried, and, later, married bliss was balm to my soul. Now, as this episode concluded with them at odds, it’s awful. Give the man a friend!
Arguably, one of the most important themes of Vikings has always been family. Ragnar and Rollo, so often at odds in the first season, could not shake off those oh-so-important ties, drawing together even after experiencing a whole world of hurt while working for opposite sides, Björn, who left with Lagertha when she split with Ragnar always wished to return to his father, and Ragnar adores his children, whoever they were born to. This has continued into the third season, and was strongly emphasized in this episode, through Björn.
His injury worked as a kind of catalyst to bring the divided family together in one space for one reason. Needless to say, I adored the symbolism of that particular scene. By placing them not only together, but also inside a tent, to the exclusion of all others, really highlighted their importance to one another alongside similarities often concealed by their differences. They’re strong, competent people with stubborn opinions and ideas, but they’re a family, too, and in this episode, that latter fact was really hammered home. To finish: while I maintain that this episode was a little light in regards to plot content, it was enjoyable for all the right reasons. Bring on next week!