You can be forgiven if you needed to take a breather after the climactic and dramatic events of the previous season of Vikings

We all assumed that everyone's favorite semi-legendary Viking, Ragnar Lothbrok, was soon to expire, having failed to breach the walls of Paris. 

Yet, with an almost biblical plot twist, Lothbrok rose, like a Viking Lazarus, to lead his brethren to storm the city and lay waste to it, giving the audience a great look at the events of 845.

Having cheated death – once again - and left his brother (and frenemy) Rollo in charge, Ragnar heads back to Kattegat feeling safe, secure, and smug. 

However, not everything is as it seems. 

Despite all his glory, Ragnar's life slowly seems to slip away, thanks, in part, to his introduction to opium, brought to Kattegat by an "eastern" slave. 

Much of this series sees Ragnar constantly dodging deadly power grabs, threats, and challenges both at home in Kattegat and abroad, especially in Francia and the British Isles. 

At the start of the series, we find Ragnar at the peak of his powers, but the wheel of fortune can quickly turn, and suddenly, he is down on his luck and struggling to keep his sanity, let alone his throne and fortune intact. 

Rollo's transition from a Viking warrior to the first Duke of Normandy is marked by his deep immersion into Frankish culture and his complex relationship with his Norse heritage. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Both sides of the English Channel 

The blending of fact and fiction, of saga and historical sources, is what makes Vikings such compelling viewing. 

Take, for instance, Ragnar's brother Rollo. 

Where we left off in the last series, Rollo was in the process of being married off to a Frankish princess and granted a section of land to defend (from his brother and other Vikings) by the Frankish emperor. 

Rollo soon learns the Frankish tongue and becomes so absorbed in his newly adopted culture that he goes about slaughtering the remaining Vikings encamped around Paris. 

Much of the story arc of Rollo seems to be ripped straight from the historical sources and chronicles, which means that the scriptwriters get a big tick of approval from us at The Viking Herald for this series. 

The granting of territory to the Viking leader by Frankish Emperor Charles the Bald in 911 marked a definitive turning point in the history of Europe, and this series of Vikings hones in on this important historical event. 

While the Vikings had established settlements in other areas of Europe – along the many rivers that snake through Eastern Europe, the British Isles, and Iceland – none would prove as significant as Normandy. 

Rollo is credited as being the first Duke of Normandy, and within a century and a half, his descendant mixed a Viking warrior ethos with Frankish military organization so effectively as to seize the English throne. 

Speaking of England, Ragnar seems haunted for much of the season. 

This is due, in part, to a shocking revelation: after leaving the Viking colony in Wessex for his Parisian adventures, we learn that the Anglo-Saxons, led by Ecbert, have mercilessly slaughtered all the Norse men, women, and children in the struggling "colony." 

There was undoubtedly bloody pushback, reprisals, and violence against the Norse settlers from the moment they stepped off their longboats and onto Anglo-Saxon soil. 

The most famous of these massacres was the St. Brice's Day Massacre, where King Aethelred the Unready (clearly not in this case) ordered a surprise mass killing of the "Danes" (i.e., Norse, people from Viking societies) in his kingdom. 

Unlike this bloody historical event, at least the "Viking settlers" massacred in this season of Vikings have Ragnar Lothbrok to defend them. 

Ragnar's sons, now mature and ambitious, embark on a daring journey through the Mediterranean, starting with a complex encounter with their uncle Rollo in Normandy. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Heading south for some sun... 

Having led the Vikings on many a famous raid and battle, it is in this season that Ragnar loses his ability to lead and inspire his men and disappears from the story for years. 

Following a bloody failed raid against his brother in Normandy, Ragnar discreetly departs. 

When he returns, his sons – Björn, Ubbe, and Hvitserk – are now grown men building a fleet to sail down to "the middle sea" (the Mediterranean) to plunder, pillage, and pirate.

The three brothers then sail first to Normandy for an awkward reunion with their uncle Rollo (sorry, Duke Rollo), who wants to join them on their southern expedition. 

Much of the color of this series comes from this jaunt along the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and into the Mediterranean and the shores of North Africa. 

Now, if we scour the sagas, the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, Björn Ironside, was said to have led a great Viking raid down into the Mediterranean around 859. 

Yet, this southern sojourn was not just the stuff of fiction. 

We have limited historical chronicles – though, to be fair, early medieval chronicles are not exactly renowned for their historical accuracy - that seem to back up this raid. 

Traveling down the Iberian Peninsula, they sacked towns and villages in what is now Portugal, burned a mosque near Cadiz, hopped to the Balearic Islands, enslaved people in North Africa, and then journeyed north to overwinter in Roussillon, France.

Yet, this was not the first time that Viking raids had taken place on the Iberian Peninsula. 

Contemporary accounts from Al-Andalus (as the Islamic-controlled portion of the peninsula was known) mention a previous raid as far inland as Sevilla in 844

However, the superior military and organizational skills of the ruler of Sevilla saw the Vikings violently rebuffed. 

Amidst a web of political intrigue and fierce power struggles, Lagertha emerges triumphant, reclaiming her position as Earl. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

His fate was sealed with a hiss 

This season, however, is most notable as it finally spells the end for Ragnar Lothbrok. 

Here, the writers of Vikings have ripped his death straight from the sagas

He meets his end in a pit full of snakes after enduring horrific torture, knowing that his life was the price to be paid for the safe passage of one of his sons back to Kattegat to fight another day. 

Following the sons' Mediterranean trip, they sail back to Northumbria to seek revenge against their father's murderer, King Aelle. 

Now, whether Ragnar Lothbrok was a historical figure, let alone whether he was thrown into a pit full of snakes by King Aella of Northumbria, is fiercely debated in historical circles. 

However, it is true that a generation or so after the first emergence of Ragnar Lothbrok in the sources and sagas, we find Viking invasions intensifying in Anglo-Saxon England. 

One of their keys to breaking the resistance of the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms was securing the kingdom of Northumbria. 

The Great Heathen Army, which was not that great in size, nor all heathen, and never a singular, unified force, invaded England in the mid-860s. 

Within a generation, they had secured a Viking settlement – a vast swathe of Anglo-Saxon England stretching from beyond the river Humber to the shores of the English Channel, a conquest that Ragnar could be proud of. 

In this season of Vikings, Ragnar transitions from a formidable leader to a solitary figure, contemplating his life's choices and the legacy he leaves behind. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Gone but not forgotten... 

Whilst the fourth season of Vikings may not offer the episodic intensity of the Siege of Paris seen in the previous season (rest assured, there is still plenty of brawling and battling on fields near and far), it unfolds as a psychologically engaging slow burner.

The ultimate demise of Ragnar is sealed with a hiss, while members of his family – from his son to ex-wife Lagertha – try to navigate safely in an increasingly dangerous and dark world. 

This season explores the origins of power struggles and their political, personal, and psychological effects on individuals – and how these struggles can often stem from family dynamics. 

While we witness the demise of Ragnar Lothbrok, the scourge of Paris, there is no demise in this series' quality of acting, plotlines, and battle scenes. 

Intrigue, family conflicts, and a fair amount of betrayal dominate this series, and we at The Viking Herald absolutely love it.

Season 4 of Vikings can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video. Available here.

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