‘Vikings: Valhalla’ Season 2 Is a Violent, Mystical Delight
5/5 raiding ships
Last year, Vikings: Valhalla season 1 wowed critics, and now the series is back for more medieval adventures in the cutthroat lands of the far north. Set 200 years after its predecessor, Vikings, the series focuses on a fictionalized Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett) and his sister Freydis (Frida Gustavsson), who journey from Greenland to Norway and fall in with Prince Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), heir to the Norwegian throne. If you loved the first season, the second season doesn’t disappoint.
The season starts off with the characters reeling from the fall of Kattegat and the destruction of Uppsala in season one. Harald and Freydis are in hiding while Harald tries to figure out how to take back his throne. Leif mourns the death of his lover Liv, but soon meets a sweet, gentle scholar from Aleppo named Mariam (Hayat Kamille). Emma of Normandy (Laura Berlin) rules England while Ælfgifu (Pollyanna McIntosh) is banished to occupied Kattegat, which she sees as an intolerable backwater.
There’s lots of political maneuvering at first, which is a competent enough plot device to get all the chess pieces moving, but the season really picks up once all the various quests and conflicts are underway. The lethal mystic Freydis’s storyline is by far the most compelling, as she follows a sign given to her by the otherworldly Seer and travels to Jomsburg, a hidden enclave for followers of the old religion. There, she’s offered a promotion from shield maiden to temple priestess. But—surprise, surprise—any arrangement that seems too good to be true usually is, and she soon discovers that she’s made a dark bargain with a sinister leader (Bradley James). Out of all the characters in the series, Freydis’s stakes are the highest, and it’s viscerally satisfying to see her find new reservoirs of strength and wisdom as she fights to protect herself, her followers, and her newborn child.
Meanwhile, Leif and Harald travel first to the Rus, and then along a trade route to Constantinople so that Harald can raise money for an army to take back Norway. Their journey is filled with drama and danger, and on the trip, Mariam teaches Leif the wonders of reading and mathematics. (It never occurred to me that an explanation of how an astrolabe works could be a love language, but now I’m convinced.) On the journey, the motley group of Vikings, merchants, and slaves bond into a makeshift family, and Harald learns some humility. Their trip ends with a twist that will make you impatient for season 3.
Most of the characters aren’t tremendously deep or complex. These Vikings want what they want and do what they do! Leif mourns Liv and then falls for Mariam. Harald has a singular talent for making terrible decisions. Freydis’s faith in the old gods distracts her from the treachery under her nose, until she has to fight her way out of trouble. And the calculating Emma falls into a morass of paranoia and suspicion as she tries to get to the bottom of an assassination attempt.
The characters’ simple motives won’t stop you from rooting for them, though. And, come on—you’re not watching Vikings: Valhalla for dainty character studies. You want to see Vikings being Vikings! You want to see pagan temples and lush nordic forests and raiders on ships! You want to see stolen birthrights and rune-inscribed swords! The gorgeous sets and costumes alone are enough to warrant watching this show, and the likable characters and entertaining storylines almost feel like icing on the cake. The original Vikings ran for six seasons, and I hope we get even more of the masterful Valhalla.
(featured image: Netflix)
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