Vikings – Season 1, Episode 9 “All Change” Review

Rating:  8.5

Say what you will about the dialogue. Be as historically nit-picky as you can be. Maybe you don’t like the acting. Frankly, without comparison, the worst thing about Vikings is that each episode is only 45 minutes long.

Every time I watch this show I become so engrossed that the ending feels like a spear has just pierced my gut. “No!” I cry out. “That can’t be it!” I’m watching the most intense moment wherein all will be revealed, and bam! Credits. It has become the norm over the span of the first season, and I should know to expect it, but here’s the thing—It gets me every time.

The ultimate example was definitely tonight’s episode, “All Change.” Not only were the cliffhangers pretty much the best in the whole season, but it was the season finale (torturous!). I knew right when that terminal, black screen appeared that my arm was going to be tired by season two. For months I will wait, tiding myself over with fanfiction and probably some non-fiction (Yeah, I have Viking books).

I felt that for a finale the choices made were even a little risky. Having a lot of open questions is not a new concept, but it was done so directly and the stakes were left at such a height that it’s left me a little emotional (“Can’t you tell?”, asked the many parenthetical interjections). I’m not really thinking about how subtle it could have been because I honestly just want to know what happens next.

Despite my desperation I know I’m not alone; Vikings has a loyal fan base, and here’s my season wrap-up thesis as to why that is: Vikings can be primal in its appeal, but it is well-informed and able to communicate complexity well. This balance is maintained through a heavy reliance on visuals. Visual symbolism ranges from simple and effective (blood, a symmetrical face, or a tempting landscape) to the loaded and implicit (a mixed facial expression, a cultural artifact, an ominous sign).

Including a range of complexity gives the show space to be a little bit of everything and to move quickly through its many stories. Ragnar is already at a totally different station in his life, and the show’s conflicts are radically different from the start of the season (while certain themes remain the same). This is achieved with sufficient and simplistic dialogue and effective imagery. Though all of TV is a visual medium, Vikings definitely takes advantage of that fact.

This episode was especially strong because with the help of said visual craft it dealt with basic human issues in a well-paced, strident way. Vikings were consistently deciding their fates while demanding guidance from seers and gods: Betrayal or loyalty? Love or lust? Fame or honor? Throw in the themes of birth and death along with it and you have almost everything covered. There were a few savory montages, but not as many as last week’s episode. I think the show could do with fewer and fewer of them, as the most effective visuals are often outside of the slow-motion moments.

Granted, there are places where the show could be improved, but I wouldn’t want it to change too much. I like that each episode has a different feel while so much continuity can be found. I would really like to write a clever and snappy conclusion, but I am dying to go watch interviews and making-of spots. You know, fangirl stuff. I think that speaks for itself.

Vikings, you’ve done it again for (not really, but what seems like) the last time.

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