Vikings, History Channel's semi-historical epic drama (a sort of Nordic Game of Thrones), returns for Season 5 at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Brace yourselves.
The fifth season will have 20 episodes and air in two parts, beginning with a two-hour premiere, followed by eight more episodes airing at the same time on subsequent Wednesdays. After a break, the remaining 10 episodes are scheduled for an unannounced date in 2018.
I've seen the new double episode, "The Departed," and can promise fans that Vikings still has all the elements we've come to love -- lusty warriors, fearless (and seemingly ageless) shield-maidens, blood and guts, intrigue, mysticism, valor, hubris, sacrifice, betrayal and gorgeous Irish scenery.
I was concerned that last season's death of our hero, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), would mean the series would lose focus. The first four seasons were essentially Ragnar's tale. We followed the visionary farmer/king as he rose to power and led the early raids on England and Normandy in hopes of finding new lands on which to settle his people.
Ah, but being tossed into a pit of vipers by the ruthless King Aelle of Northumbria was a tough way to go. Ragnar took it like a trouper and his sons exacted exceptionally sanguinary revenge on Aelle.
But Ragnar wasn't the only major character to leave us in Season 4. Also departing in graphic fashion were King Ecbert of Wessex; Ragnar's son, Sigurd; Queen Aslaug and Helga, beloved wife of Floki.
All this cast purging left us with bitter sibling rivalry and a looming civil war between the remaining sons of Ragnar and Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). Chief among them for Season 5 is their crippled bloodthirsty psychopath maniac fourth son, Ivar.
Ivar's goals are to prove himself equal to his noncrippled brothers, exact further revenge for his father's death and kill Lagertha for murdering his mother in cold blood (with an arrow in the back) and usurping the throne of Kattegat.
The English are well aware of all of this drama and go on high alert once the Northmen capture York as a home base on English soil. Bishop Heahmund quickly organized a defense of the realm.
If you have trouble following all these Norse names and relationships, you're not alone. I had to create a sort of family tree to keep the large ensemble straight. Here are a few characters to help you keep your bearings as the new season unfolds.
- Bishop Heahmund (new cast member Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors). Heahmund is a devout and passionate warrior bishop defending his faith and rallying the Saxons against the Norsemen.
- Queen Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). Lagertha was the first wife of Ragnar and now, having slain Ragnar's second wife, Aslaug, is queen of Kattegat, the village and its kingdom in southern Norway. She is a fierce shield-maiden and the teasers for Season 5 show her with a mighty army preparing to battle Ivar's forces.
- Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard). Floki is a religious zealot boatbuilding genius who designed the now-familiar Viking longship that can sail across the open ocean but also up shallow rivers. He embarks on his first solo journey this season.
- Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) -- Bjorn is the son of Ragnar and Lagertha. Following in his father's footsteps, Bjorn desires to test himself as an explorer and begins this season sailing off to adventure in the Mediterranean.
- • Sons of Ragnar and Aslaug:
Hvitserk (Marco Ilso), second son. Hvitserk and his older brother Ubbe have a special bond because of a near-death experience they shared as children. Hvitserk is darker and more complex than Ubbe.
Sigurd (David Lindstrom), third son. Known as "Snake in the Eye," Sigurd frequently taunted his younger brother, Ivar, and one day they got into a heated argument in which Ivar killed Sigurd with an ax. Ivar said he was really, really sorry and didn't mean to.
Ivar the Boneless (Alex Hogh Andersen), fourth son and perhaps the most famous real Viking in history. Ivar's pathological cruelty was notorious even during his own lifetime. He is deeply ambitious and will be a main protagonist this season.