Nothing irritates your casual viewer and writer at The Viking Herald more than when the creators of the thrilling finale of a popular show decide to divide the final season into two parts. 

For many of us who have fallen in love with Vikings over the course of the previous six seasons, who were intoxicated by the heady mix of fact and fiction, of Viking mythology and historical realism, this decision had us wanting to grab a battle axe, hop on a longship, and raid the offices of the series creators. 

Having taken a deep, calm breath, the decision – though frustrating as it draws out the drama and suspense – is not a problem should you be lucky enough to be discovering Vikings now when all the seasons are available to stream. 

The finale of Season 5 saw, not for the first time, a new king crowned as ruler of KattegatBjörn, one of the sons of a previous ruler (and main character of the earlier seasons), Ragnar Lothbrok.

Having dethroned the tyrant Ivar, Björn sets about trying to establish a wise – and gender-balanced – council of advisors with Ubbe, Lagertha, Gunnhild, and Torvi all brought in to guide the new king. 

However, only Gunnhild is keen, as the others have adventures awaiting or, in the case of Lagertha, just want to spend her days away peacefully on a farm. 

No more fierce fighting days for the legendary shield maiden as she swaps her sword for a plow. 

It appears that Björn has no time to rest on his laurels (crown) as King Harald, his neighbor, is captured and seeks aid from the new king. 

Here, this capture is a constant reminder of the political machinations and structure of much of Viking Age Scandinavia – with Harald's kingdom of Vestfold in the show mirroring a real-life Viking era petty kingdom in Norway. 

Season 6 sees Björn Ironside ascend to the throne of Kattegat, where his leadership is tested by both domestic political strife and the lure of new expeditions. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Eastward adventures 

Like the season split into two itself, much of the action in this final part of Vikings is also divided between eastward and westward adventures. 

Following his deposition as the ruler of Kattegat, Ivar snakes off eastward, traipsing along the trading networks that dominated much of Eastern Europe and were the western end of the famous Silk Roads. 

He is captured and brought before the ruler, Prince Oleg the Prophet, and the two soon become useful to each other – Oleg wants to try and recapture the ancestral lands of the Rus (i.e., Scandinavia) whilst Ivar, a dethroned king, is in need of a powerful friend and ally.

Like the show itself, the foundation of the early medieval state known as the Kievan Rus is shrouded in fact and fiction. 

We know for certain that people from Viking societies, from the 8th century, began to explore and exploit the many river systems that snake through much of Eastern Europe. 

Soon, some began to dominate the local Slavic population, becoming chieftains and rulers. 

The burgeoning trade route – between Scandinavia and Eastern Europe with a south node at Constantinople – saw these rulers grow in wealth and power. 

Division and war were soon such a constant threat amongst the communities that, according to later Russian chronicles, a Viking chief, Oleg, was called to come and rule over these many peoples. 

Oleg would eventually establish the Kievan Rus, which was one of the largest and most diverse empires of the early medieval period – a melting pot of Norse, Rus, and Christian cultures in which the modern nation-states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all trace their ancestry back to. 

Like much of Vikings, the eastward adventures of Ivar bear some historical reality. 

What is interesting is that the power dynamics shown in the Kievan court are strikingly similar to those in Kattegat or even the Frankish realms. 

Oleg soon finds out that he has a possible usurper, while Ivar feels aggrieved after this new bromance (which takes a weird turn on Oleg's wedding night) seems to be just a friendship of convenience. 

The portrayal of King Harald highlights his strategic mind and unyielding ambition, as he navigates alliances and rivalries in his quest to become the most powerful ruler in the Viking world. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

Lies and power 

The introduction of King Harald in the previous season proved a dilemma for the scriptwriters of Vikings

Like all good history nerds, we watched his introduction with both trepidation and curiosity. The historical King Harald was said to be the ruler who unified all the petty kingdoms of Norway under his iron grip. 

This iron grip also saw many political and economic exiles (he was said to have led an oppressive taxation regime) flee to seek refuge westward, eventually beginning the human settlement of Iceland.

In the fictional universe, we see that Harald's rise to ultimate power is done through a bit of old-fashioned political "wheeling and dealing." 

Whilst the real Harald was said to have led bloody campaigns that subjugated all the petty kings of Norway (apart from the Earls of Lade), Vikings Harald gets himself elected, at a special Thing, to be the sole ruler of Kattegat mostly with lies and bribes. 

This means that Björn's grip on power is over, and he becomes a marked person – Harald rightly concludes that no son of Ragnar Lothbrok would ever bend the knee to another king.

Not for the first time in the arc of Vikings does a Lothbrok family member have a short sit on the throne of Kattegat. 

The series portrays the Kievan Rus as a pivotal center of trade and power, where Norse adventurers and rulers like Prince Oleg the Prophet leave a lasting impact on its history and culture. Source: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)

The Rus men cometh 

Like most good endings of a season (or a divided season), there is the inevitable climactic battle scene. However, whilst many of us are still catching our breath from the previous season's ending, the incursion of the Rus into Kattegat is even more breathtaking. 

Whilst led by Oleg, the Rus forces have the strategic bonus of possessing a former king of the kingdom they intend to conquer in Ivar. 

Deviously strategizing with a fair share of darkness and cunning, the Rus forces manage to inflict mortal wounds on Harald and Björn, with all seemingly lost... sound familiar? 

Although the Rus and Vikings never really waged a battle over any Scandinavian kingdoms, there was undoubtedly friction.

The relationship between Scandinavia and the Kievan Rus was also close due to the ancestral and cultural links that connected these two parts of Northern Europe. 

This relationship was best exemplified by the wife of Harald Hardrada, Ellisiv of Kiev. 

She was born the daughter of the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus, Yaroslav the Wise, but was married off to cement the ties between the new medieval kingdom of Norway and the Kievan Rus. 

Aside from royal marriages, it is probable that many communities in the Kievan Rus may have, during the latter part of the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100), suffered from Viking raids but nothing like the raids that plagued the British Isles or the Frankish realms

The final climactic scene of the first part of the last season of Vikings sees Björn fall and die. His reign was as short as it was insecure. 

Could the scriptwriters really kill Björn off like that? 

Well, if Vikings has taught us anything, it's that just because someone is killed doesn't mean they necessarily die. Buckle up because the final ending is upon us...

Vikings (Season 6) was originally divided into two halves of ten episodes each, with the first ten episodes known as "Part One" released first. The entire season is available to stream on Amazon here

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