When the fifth season of Vikings aired (or became streamable) in late 2017, the (Western) world had seen a revolution: the #MeToo movement. 

Following the horrific events – years of systematic sexual harassment, assault, and violence – that led to Jeffrey Weinstein's demise, the head of a major Hollywood film studio, much of the Western media was plunged into a discussion. 

Sadly, some six years later, little actual societal progress has been made other than Weinstein rotting in jail. 

This discussion focused on gender relations and the all too frequent power imbalance between men and women. 

Now, there is nothing worse, in a historian's opinion, than projecting contemporary values and attitudes back to eras where they do not belong. 

The early medieval period was an era where women were treated as second-class citizens, if not worse, throughout the Viking world. 

However, the writers of Vikings sought to correct this in the fifth season, with the rise of Lagertha reigning as monarch of Kattegat... at least for the first half of the season. 

Throughout this particular season, you can see how the writers kept one eye on present events in Hollywood whilst the other eye was firmly back in early medieval society.

What is refreshing, though, is to see how the writers have developed the character of Lagertha throughout the entire show and to see her ascend to the throne of Kattegat after the demise of her ex-husband. 

Whilst some may dismiss this as mere tokenism, since we only have incomplete records of women in power in medieval Scandinavia and little, if any, in the earlier medieval period, it is good to see a contemporary power imbalance slightly corrected on the smaller screen. 

Lagertha's narrative in this season is marked by significant trials, including the loss of loved ones and enduring injuries, which test and ultimately strengthen her character. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Death of a king, introduction of another one 

The death of a ruler can be a time of great political uncertainty and violence. During the Viking Age, no guaranteed law or custom of succession existed. 

Primogeniture, the passing of royal power to the firstborn son of a monarch (and it was only to a son during medieval times), would only evolve in the later medieval period. 

The fallout from the death of a ruler and how succession was often resolved on a battlefield is marvelously teased out and illustrated throughout this series. 

With Björn gone, Lagertha's grip on the throne of Kattegat seems tenuous, with many claimants to the seat of royal power challenging her throughout the series.

One of these challengers to the throne of Kattegat is Harald – based on the late 9th and early 10th-century king who "united" Norway under his rule. 

There is much academic debate surrounding the historicity of Harald Fairhair and how much he actually united all of the petty kingdoms of Norway under his rule (the Earls of Lade may, at best, have paid lip service to his rule). 

However, he appears to have done his best to subjugate many of the southern and eastern Norwegian petty kingdoms under his iron grip. 

This grip, which featured high taxation, led to (if we believe the sagas) many people fleeing this new "united" kingdom of Norway to set sail westward and establish a new life on the recently discovered island of Iceland. 

In this season, Floki's journey takes a mystical turn as he discovers Iceland, mistaking it for Asgard, and leads a group of settlers to what he believes is a divine land, only to face disillusionment and conflict. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Settlers, temples, and feuds 

The Norse settlement of Iceland – the second-last island to see human habitation – is discussed throughout this series, again weaving fact and fiction. 

If we are to believe the show, Floki awakens in Iceland and believes it is Asgard, the realm of the Norse Gods. 

Delirious, he makes his way back to Kattegat and enlists a boat full of would-be settlers against the wishes of Lagertha. 

Eventually landing on the island, the settlers are less than impressed with their new surroundings. Tensions come to a head over the construction of a temple to the Norse gods.

Whilst we know for sure that the settlement of Iceland was not part of a delirious dream, there was a large part of tall tales, legend, and saga associated with finding this brave new world. 

In fact, a whole sub-genre of Norse sagas, collectively called the Icelandic Sagas, was composed throughout the early medieval period, dealing with the initial "period of settlement" (c. 870–930).

Perhaps the best known are the Íslendingasögur and Egils Saga

What is also interesting is the fight over the construction of a temple to the Norse Gods. 

Frustratingly, we have only dubious chronicles of temples – the greatest said to be at Uppsala in modern-day Sweden – and there have been few archaeological discoveries of any temples. 

The concept of feuding – so important in medieval Icelandic society – is also touched upon in several episodes after a familial dispute spirals out of control. 

Season 5 depicts the early struggles and eventual rise of Alfred the Great, highlighting his pivotal battles against Viking forces and his strategic prowess in reclaiming English territories. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Alfred the Average? 

Dynastic concerns and political machinations also play out across the North Sea in the British Isles. 

Here, we see the second son of a king, Alfred, succeed while his older brother, Aethelred, misses out as ruler of Wessex. 

While many English historians paint Alfred as the golden boy of early medieval England, his first few appearances in Vikings are less than glorious. 

However, his introduction as an important character foreshadows the beginning of the end for the Viking colony in Anglo-Saxon England... even if this looks a long way off.

We know that before Alfred the Great earned his nickname, he almost spent a lifetime battling and brawling against Viking armies, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. 

In fact, at one point in his reign, he barely escaped a battle with his life and was forced into hiding amongst the swampy marshlands of southern England. 

Yet, like all great leaders, he hit rock bottom and then started climbing back up, resulting in, according to the chronicles, a resounding Viking defeat at Edington

More than any other Anglo-Saxon (or English) ruler, he was responsible for slowly chipping away at Norse supremacy in much of England

Season 5 of Vikings sees Björn Ironside stepping out of his father's shadow, displaying resilience and tactical prowess as he battles for, and eventually claims, the throne of Kattegat. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

How secure is his grip? 

Following Ivar's seizure of Kattegat, all hope seems lost for the plucky band of followers of the fallen Ragnar

However, the way in which the throne of Kattegat is seized by the blood of Ragnar (go Björn go) bookends the season nicely. 

While Ivar's reign was horrible, the ending of the season, like the beginning, sees a sensible and wise rule on the throne. 

However, if there is one thing we know and love about Vikings, it's that new threats and challenges appear all the time, so we will have to wait and see just how secure Björn's reign will be.

Season 5 of Vikings can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video. Available here.

We get to provide readers with original coverage thanks to our loyal supporters. Do you enjoy our work? You can become a PATRON here or via our Patreon page. You'll get access to exclusive content and early access.

Do you have a tip that you would like to share with The Viking Herald?
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at hello@thevikingherald.com with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.