The new series; The Prep Diary begins today!
The “Road to Wrestlemania” is well underway and one of the last stops along the route is the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view (PPV). The Elimination Chamber itself is an ingenious structure, serving as a destructive mash-up of a Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble, and No Disqualification match, with the results usually suitably enjoyable. This year had yet another milestone for the triumphant female superstars, as they were granted their first ever Elimination Chamber match and that’s right where the action begins, so without further ado let’s jump into the match and see how it stacked up.
Match 1 – Women’s Elimination Chamber Match for the RAW Women’s Championship
Six female superstars were scheduled for this historic match-up and as usual, the promo package was excellently delivered and set the scene perfectly. In-ring masters Sasha Banks and Bayley were selected to participate along with veteran Mickie James to give the match the necessary talent to carry it to a good place and guide relative newbies, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. The quintuplet was joined by reigning, defending, UNDISPUTED UNIVER…sorry, not Brock Lesnar but Alexa Bliss. (Would have been funny to see Lesnar though, wouldn’t it?)
As such, it was our champion who entered the ring first and as usual, Alexa’s facials and nuances were perfect. She has her character absolutely nailed down and throughout the bout, I got Kurt Angle Hell in a Cell vibes from Armageddon 2000. Wisely, Bayley began the matchup against Sonya (who was very impressive throughout) and this was a great platform for Bayley to remind us all of her abilities in- ring. Her selling was great, her offense crisp and the baby-face fire comeback against both Sonya and Mandy (who would be the third woman to enter the ring) was fantastic. Sonya and Bayley had nice exchanges where being thrown into the side of the structure was teased, the payoff being Sonya taking the bump. The former MMA competitor retaliated later on and hit a brutal spear on Bayley which rocked the pioneer of Hug Life and further raised my estimation of Deville.
Sasha was next to enter and her intensity was on point (as you would expect) and predictably, Mandy Rose ate the first pin, but credit to her, she more than held her own. Mickie James came in and although her time was short, boy was she hot. She really made sure to get her stuff in and even managed to get a pinfall on Sonya with a leaping move from the pod, which looked effective and brutal. The in-ring story progressed with Alexa now having to face friends Sasha and Bayley alone. Bliss played her part wonderfully well, first slamming her pod door closed after it opened and then attempting to scurry away, which led to…
Sasha turning on Bayley. The seeds for a ‘Mania feud have been quietly sewn in the background and this match served to further accentuate the tension. This time, however, Bayley didn’t take it lightly and got Sasha back, landing a blockbuster finisher from the top rope, which Bliss capitalized on, scoring a surprise roll-up pin on The Hugger. The finale then was Sasha and Bliss going at it, with great aggression and despite a slight botch (Twisted Bliss from the pod into Bank Statement wasn’t quite as crisp as they would have hoped), the duo held my investment right until the climax. At the end of the match, the victorious Bliss was interviewed by the ever impressive Renee and quite frankly, I was worked. Her acting here was phenomenal, I truly believed she was turning face and even noted “weird promo for a heel, but the emotion must have been extreme, can’t blame her” and then she proceeded to revert to the the nasty heel we all know and love, causing me to laugh and scrub out my notes. Well done, Alexa, you got me. Overall, another feather in the cap for the women’s division and a further example of their in-ring ability and storytelling being very much on the money.
Match 2 – The BAR vs. Titus Worldwide for the RAW Tag Team Championships
Honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this match. It just screamed “filler” and quite frankly, The Bar could do with going to Smackdown in order to have some fresh matchups. Apollo again proved how great of an athlete he is and by contrast, Titus reminded us all of how clumsy and out of sorts he looks in a ring. Titus Worldwide needs more members if only to keep Titus in the managerial role, which suits him perfectly. A fun moment was Sheamus botching his ascension to the top rope, to which he responded to the crowd directly and it actually served a story purpose; his indulgence of the fans caused him to be caught out by Titus and I felt this was a seamless recovery for an obvious mistake, so well done to the Great White for that moment of improv. This match won’t live long in the memory by any stretch, so let’s move on to the next contest.
Match 3 – Nia Jax vs Asuka
The stipulation for this match was that should Nia be successful and defeat The Empress of Tomorrow, Nia would be added into the title match at Wrestlemania, making it a triple threat. Much was made of Asuka’s impressive undefeated streak in the opening promo package and it actually got me questioning the outcome of the match; could Nia really win? WWE have done crazier things, like having Charlotte lose her undefeated PPV streak to Bayley on a random “B-PPV” (i.e. not a memorable or milestone PPV like ‘Mania or Survivor Series).
Nia is really starting to get over. She gets good crowd reactions, her moves look vicious and she’s upped her intensity and mean streak. Her power moves always look devastating and she has shades of Braun in that her ability to crush opponents will always be a fun time. Asuka came out all guns blazing which was expected, but she was soon shut down. Tenaciously, she continued to attempt to work various body parts of Nia, however, the former was swatted away like a fly off of a lion and Nia was really asserting her dominance.
In the end, the wily Asuka showed exactly why she’s undefeated; she’s intelligent as well as a fierce competitor and stole the victory, rolling up an unsuspecting Nia for the three. The irresistible force was not best pleased with this and proceeded to beat down on the Empress and blasted her through the guardrail, a spot which I’ll never get tired of seeing. I’m not sure where this leaves Nia and I’m still hoping Asuka will challenge Charlotte, as I think that’s the better match than Asuka vs Alexa Bliss. To conclude then, it was an awesome match and Nia continues to impress, it won’t be long until she’s wearing gold.
Match 4 – Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt
I was immediately laughing the second Matt Hardy appeared on my screen for the promo. Recent weeks have seen me cool on the gimmick, the overused laugh has been driven deep into the ground, but I was right back on board. The crowd seemed to be inline with my thinking, as Hardy received a good ovation and in general, played along with the usual “DELETE” chants. The mind games began early, with Bray appearing in the middle of the ring as he tends to, the spooky bugger, but low and behold, the Woken one was nowhere to be found. Instead, he chastised Bray on the mic, while an ever increasingly angry Bray searched for him. It’s here that I must diverge briefly and mention my love for Bray. He’s simply an amazing talent. His move set is lethal and one of the best in the entire roster, his character is unique and interesting and he has it locked down. It’s baffling then, why he continues to be booked like trash and suffers from such an appalling win/loss ratio.
So with that said, you can already guess the outcome of this match, right? Before Bray ate the pin, I was enjoying the match a lot, despite the crowd being distracted by something, which I’m led to believe was a beach ball (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). This is another opportunity to segway; I get so annoyed when lackluster crowds have the cheek to turn their attention away from the ring and try and get themselves over instead. This wasn’t even a bad match and you could tell Bray was legitimately annoyed, and rightly so. The performers are in there putting on their best efforts and people are not even bothering to pay attention? It’s disrespectful and annoying and even manages to spoil the viewing experience at home.
Ronda Rousey Contract Signing
A brief interlude before the main event was the Ronda Rousey contract signing. Again I’m going to rag on the crowd and ask, why on earth does Ronda get boos? She’s literally living her dream, is a phenomenal athlete and has a presence that will get more eyes on the product. Are people booing her because she “didn’t come up the right way?” I really hope not, as that’s quite ridiculous, but it wouldn’t shock me.
Anyway, to the segment itself and it was great to see HHH stroll out alongside Steph and play to the crowd. The rumored match at Wrestlemania is Steph and HHH vs. Ronda and Kurt and the seeds were firmly planted here. Not only was it announced Ronda would compete at Wrestlemania, it was plainly stated it wouldn’t be a title match. The emotional and seemingly nervous Ronda took to the mic and gave the usual “happy to be here” schtick, which was expected, but things got interesting when Kurt Angle began to spill the beans.
Kurt insinuated that Steph and HHH finally had Ronda and could exert their power over her, which led HHH to escort Kurt out like a naughty child, which in itself was funny. As events unfolded, Ronda cemented herself in one moment by staring down HHH and it was honestly amazing to see. The icing on the cake came when she planted the Cerebral Assassin through the table, and an incensed Steph proceeded to slap the former UFC champ. It’s bubbling away nicely for the Mania showdown and by the end, Ronda had the crowd and I believe she’s going to thrive in the WWE.
Match 5 – Men’s Elimination Chamber to Decide Who Faces Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania
The main event was another first; the first time the Elimination Chamber was needlessly overpopulated with Superstars. It didn’t need seven participants, and as much as I like Miz, he really didn’t need to be here, he felt like the odd man out. Having said that, his entrance alone was probably worthy of his inclusion, mocking superstars who were in their pods before being scared out of his skin by the caged Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman. The match had great pacing throughout, which is expected when you have such a cast of amazing talent. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor carried the early portion of the match until the entry of The Big Dog (screamed by Michael Cole).
Roman Reigns is a polarizing figure, to say the least. His introduction here was in my opinion, spot on. His striking, presence and authority was clear to see and he’s truly come on leaps and bounds. Back to the Miz, and his beloved “Miz Kicks”. Great use of the crowd to tease who would be on the receiving end of his strikes and of course, Roman received the brunt of them. But then the game changed. Enter, Braun.
He is one of the most over superstars on the roster and it’s so easy to see why. His dominance is similar to that of Kane in his early iteration, but with added charisma and even humor. Braun wrecked everyone here and it was a joy to see. Especially memorable was his athleticism to chase Miz up the cage, again showcasing what a truly frightening prospect he is.However, as you would expect, the other wrestlers ganged up on him and even subjected him to a quadruple powerbomb, in the same vein as the Shield Bomb. I expected this to be the end of his night, but he kicked out with authority at two. Big Match John then landed a powerful AA to the monster who kicked out at one and this made me audibly gasp. What followed was an amazing destructive sequence before Braun eventually began picking off opponents one by one, scoring pinfall after pinfall.
Finn Balor had an amazing sequence against Braun, getting lighting quick offense in and looking very similar to a certain AJ Styles. The Irishman was soon dispatched by Braun, but again showed why he’s a true main eventer. As the contest climbed to its crescendo, we were left with Braun against two-thirds of the Shield. The hounds of justice teamed up well, but Seth decided to throw that out of the window and attack Reigns at one point, which in the end backfired, as Braun (yes, Braun pinned everyone) claimed another victim.
The final act saw the much-loved rivalry of Roman vs. Braun rekindled and as expected, it was a joyous conclusion. Braun going through a pod was a highlight, I was nervous we wouldn’t see it, but thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, in the end, Roman prevailed and set up the match that’s been years in the making at Wrestlemania. I can’t say I’m too disappointed with this, as I do believe Roman and Brock will have another great bout, but it’s just a shame it was so predictable.
The Elimination Chamber served its purpose; it furthered storylines and finally confirmed what we all knew for months; Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title at Wrestlemania. Outstanding performers for me were Mickie James, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. There was enough here to be suitably sports entertained for one evening, so overall I’m happy with how things went. Onwards now to Fastline and then the granddaddy of them all soon after…
The Marvel machine manufactures another solid film with Black Panther, but whilst critics have been raving, I was left a little unfulfilled. Lately, the Marvel films have dwindled in importance from “can’t miss” to “catch on DVD later.” With that said, there was certainly plenty I enjoyed, including the majority of the characters, the setting and the score (which felt very appropriate as the backdrop to the mystical Wakanda). Something was missing, almost like the soul (yes, a pun on the absent Infinity Stone). Much like the aforementioned stone, it was hinted at, but not fully fleshed out and things were skirted over.
To expand, the introduction of the Black Panther and its history was wrapped up in a segment at the beginning that lasted a few minutes, which for me was too rushed and simplified. I had the impression they wanted to just get on with the story with minimal time spent on the “origin”, which I can understand to a certain degree, yet for me, Black Panther was never a staple of my Marvel childhood like the X-Men or Spiderman, so having a bit more history and exposition would have helped.
On that note, as Black Panther has never been at the forefront of my superhero knowledge or investment, my expectations for this film were quite tempered; I wasn’t predicting it to be as good as Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger or even Thor: Ragnarok, and it wasn’t. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, this film needed to establish Wakanda as a unique entity and build it almost in the same way as a character, and I think this was achieved with aplomb.
Helped with a fabulous score that felt true to the African heritage without being overbearing, Wakanda was presented in all its glory. The technology made sense, the scenery was majestic and the people felt authentic and real. This brings me on to the cast, who I thought were all incredible. The fierce women by the side of the King all played vital roles and transcend being “strong female characters.” They were simply strong characters. Their impact on the film can’t be underestimated and it’s another stride forward for women in Hollywood.
Black Panther manages to blend modern day issues, such as immigration and world aid, with ancient culture, dreamland tech, and family problems. This for me is the film’s greatest achievement, as it held a poignant relevance that isn’t necessarily explored in other titles in the Marvel Universe, whilst still feeling part of the familiar world we’ve been shown so far. Circling back to the family fall-out, I thought this was handled brilliantly and added another layer to the former King of Wakanda and helped complicate the narrative as it spawned us a villain (Killmonger) who was sympathetic. The best villains are the ones that believe they’re doing the right thing, and from a certain point of view, you could argue that giving the oppressed and underprivileged assistance to rise up is coming from a place of goodness, rather than outright evil world domination, mustache-twirling, and puppy killing.
As a side note, Ryan Coogler (director) and Michael B. Jordan (who portrayed Killmonger) continue to be an excellent pairing together. Jordan is one of the brightest stars of today, turning in outstanding performances consistently, and it’s no different here. Which is why I was so disappointed when he was killed off in the end. I had hopes he would survive and be in Infinity War, helping the good guys defend Wakanda and be part of that running shot towards the camera; Marvel often swindles us by removing characters for trailers (Spiderman in the running shot for Civil War for example), but alas it seems this time it won’t happen.
On the subject of the villain, it’s time to start delving into the problems I had with this film. Despite liking the antagonist, it still fell into the familiar Marvel trope that we’ve seen; the bad guy is just a mirror reflection of our hero. Think Ironmonger, (Iron Man), Yellowjacket (Ant-Man) and Abomination (The Incredible Hulk). If they’re not this, then they’re dull, one dimensional and not fully fleshed out (Malekith from Thor: The Dark World and Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy). Marvel have seriously struggled to give us compelling enemies, perhaps only really succeeding with Loki, who at this point is practically an anti-hero. This is also a fear I have for Thanos, yes the trailer looks convincing, but the same dark tone was presented to us for Age of Ultron and again, this was a let down of a “big-bad”.
The standalone Marvel films are also pretty formulaic; hero starts off bright eyed and bushy tailed, adversity (suspense is never there, more on that in a moment), baby-face comeback, villain vanquished, roll credits and the two extended scenes. It’s a formula that gets results I suppose, but a change up would be welcome. Logan, for example, was drastically different from many modern day superhero films and was a real breath of fresh air because of it. Back to suspense; when T’challa was hurled off the edge of the cliff, was there anyone who honestly believed that was the end of him? Apart from the fact that he’s the main character, we’ve seen him appear in the Infinity War trailer, which happens after this film, so there’s that. Again, it’s a part of the formula and there’s never any real stakes involved. Once more, I hope Infinity War changes this and gives us some big deaths that will impact the Universe and have us as an audience guessing once more.
Another issue for me was killing off the compelling villain, Ulysses Klaue, portrayed by the legendary Andy Serkis. His character had an unstable nature, coupled with a threatening vibe that made him someone not to mess with, yet he was finished off by Killmonger in an empty airfield. A mistake certainly, as I felt this enemy had more to offer and could be a continued thorn in the side of the King, perhaps not during Infinity War, but after. Alas, this is another missed opportunity (unless everyone is revived by the Soul Gem, which would be both awful and funny at the same time).
A sense of urgency was also lacking in this film. There weren’t any real-time constraints on anything, apart from Martin Freeman’s character (who is forgettable and quite frankly, third-rate) being shot at by a plane, but honestly, if he had been killed, who would have cared? This meant that the climactic fights didn’t have any real bearing on anything, apart from seeing the women yet again kick some serious ass, some cool armored rhinos popping up and seeing T’Challa exert his power by casually blowing away many of his foes with his charged up suit, but in terms of having me on the edge of my seat? Unfortunately not.
To wrap up then, whilst I certainly enjoyed the movie and will happily heap praise on the characters, and by extension, the actors (save for Martin Freeman), there was something missing for the film to climb into the upper echelons of greatness. It, therefore, sits firmly in the “good” category for me and I am excited to see more of Wakanda, which we’ll get in the upcoming Avengers ensemble film, so that’s a bonus. The comedy was good throughout and the film certainly did its primary role of world building and giving us some depth into another main character, but it just wasn’t quite on the level of some of the other entries into its lore.
The teaser for the new Star Wars standalone film is here, so what did I think?
Vikings has been at the forefront of gripping, visceral and thoroughly entertaining television since it’s inception in 2013. I was quite late to the party, discovering it on a rather hellacious hangover day with my good friends Ben, Alun, and Callum. After an eventful New Years’ Eve, we decided to watch the first episode in our much-subdued state and by the climax of the pilot, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to binge my way through the four seasons on offer and I did just that, taking me right up to the present day where I’ve recently finished watching the first half of the brand new season, 5A.
It’s fair to say, that the first three seasons are the best. Four was still great, but there were some eyebrow-raising moments, spawned by curious writing that was bubbling away in the background and what would only manifest itself even more during the course of Season Five. There’s a lot of mixed opinion and ideas about the latest incarnation of Vikings, which concluded over a week ago. During that time, I’ve rewatched moments, dissected scenes and really let my thoughts sink in and come up with an ultimate conclusion; it was good, but not great. It can be surmised by taking the moniker of the famous film; The Good the Bad and the Ugly as it was packed with a plethora of all three adjectives.
Yes, Season 5A is the weakest entry in the Vikings lore. There are several issues that were rife throughout, but I’d like to spend some time on the positives first (there were plenty) so we don’t get too downcast about what we just witnessed.
So to kick things off, we begin with the youngest of Ragnar’s sons (no, not Magnus), Ivar.
Depicted above is one of my favorite scenes in all of the show’s run. Ivar sits in solitude against his overturned chariot and issues guttural war cries to the English warriors, which sounded incredible. From the music to the atmosphere, I thought this was an excellent scene that depicted Ivar’s status amongst his enemies; he is a man to be feared despite his obvious restriction. Ivar has been polarising throughout his character run, however, I have always enjoyed his antics as his behavior borders on the ridiculous (where he shrieks “I’m not arguing” whilst in conversation with his brothers) to evil and without remorse (pouring molten gold into the Priest’s mouth during the siege of York).
Ivar has always needed a foil though, someone who can be his equal in all measures and match his insanity, devotion and battle prowess. Enter Heahmund, the newest addition to the main cast played by the enigmatic Jonathan Rhyss Myers. The warrior bishop made an impact immediately and established himself as a commanding presence on screen. The inevitable clash between him and Ivar was teased during the aforementioned battle of York (below) and I was salivating at the prospect of the two clashing in battle, properly.
As the season progressed, Ivar and Heahmund ended up becoming allied against a common foe and although this didn’t pan out as I’d hoped (oh, we’ll get to that), their interactions were great and reminiscent of Athelstan and Ragnar’s relationship, albeit turned up a few notches.
Sticking with the Christians and we get to the family of King Aethelwulf, which despite involving Judith (awful actress and poorly written character) does include the emergence of a new centerpiece; Alfred. When the season begins, we see the son of Athelstan in a pretty bad way. He’s sick, meek and looks poor in battle. However, as time progresses, he truly begins to come into his own, and this was really brought to life where he visited his deceased father’s former monastery at Lindisfarne.
Here, he has a great moment of self-reflection before he recites the Lord’s prayer and we get a glimpse into his character; whilst he will inherit many of his biological father’s traits, he will also develop similar aspects of his grandfather, King Ecbert which can only be a good thing going forward. He developed from a timid boy to newly anointed King, which itself has an intriguing subplot; his half-brother Aethelred vacated the absent throne in favor of Alfred, yet did not look too pleased about it come the coronation.
Moe Dunford was a shining light this season, his portrayal of King Aethelwulf was far above many of the other actors and it was a truly sad moment when he died. Although, the circumstances of his death are again mired in controversy (stung by a bee instead of the heroic death we all presumed he would get), in actuality being able to die surrounded by his loved ones was a just reward for him and contrasts beautifully with Ecbert’s final moments; who was left to die alone and naked with his wrists slashed. Although on occasion, King Aethelwulf was not depicted in the greatest of lights, such as being outwitted constantly by Ivar and indeed undermined by the more tactically aware Heahmund, in the end, his character was that of a good man trying to do his best to live up to an estranged father’s legacy.
Finally, I really enjoyed the “bromance” that developed between the explorers of the new world, Bjorn, and Halfdan. Their chemistry was good and their interactions became something to look forward to, but once again it was ultimately let down by poor dialogue (“Bjorn saved my life” was all we kept hearing from Halfdan to the point of ridiculousness) and their journey being cut abruptly short so they could be whisked back to Kattegat and partake in the Civil War. Which again, was a bizarre choice. Twice now, we as the viewer have been teased with this grand exploration (Season Four Bjorn took a huge party to raid the Meditteranean) and twice it’s been stopped because of other plot needs.
Alas, I can no longer hold back the tide of irritation, it’s been creeping into my positive remarks and it’s suitable now to transition into what I didn’t like about the season.
Leading on from the previous point regarding Bjorn’s adventures overseas, events, in general, felt rushed to a hasty conclusion. I got the impression Michael Hirst just wanted the various plot tangents he started to be over with as soon as possible so everyone could be back to partake in this trivial Civil War and presumably have an epic showdown (oh, we’ll get to that). Therefore, nonsensical occurrences such as Bjorn and Halfdan being able to seemingly teleport back to Kattegat became commonplace and the writing became lazy to the point of being farcical. For example, when Hvitserk is sent to gather troops from France, Rollo is absent and when questioned about this by his brother Ivar, his response is “he didn’t say [why]”. That was it. No actual explanation, just a throwaway line. Going further back, Halfdan, when quizzed about his unwavering loyalty to Bjorn, his response was simply “he saved my life.” This explanation was used against his own brother, who has fought by his side and also saved his life numerous times, surely there’s more to it than that? (Which of course there is, but it’s never properly stated, you have to assume it.)
As far as brothers go, let’s address the elephant in the room; Hvitserk is just a flat character.
Often forgotten and who can really be surprised at that, he doesn’t do much apart from changing his allegiance with Ubbe to that of Ivar, which sparked the Civil War. Again, there’s no real character arc or development for him, it seems all the attention and focus is on Ivar. It’s fine to have a focal point of the show, but when other characters, brothers no less, get relegated to glorified extras, it’s a problem. With Ragnar we had a clearly defined main character, yet he was supported by the fully fleshed out and developed Rollo, who always (and still does) have his own enterprising and storylines going on. Again, it feels lazy that the attention cannot be shared equally, even Ubbe’s role felt diminished as time went on.
Speaking of lazy; Queen Lagertha. The once proud, powerful and awe-inspiring shield maiden has declined to the point of parody and transformed into a caricature rather than the fearsome warrior Queen she is apparently supposed to be. It may sound petty, but her accent was really grating on me throughout. I can’t quite tell if she’s simply phoning in her performances, being told to have a different accent now she’s Queen, or if it’s that magic word; laziness on the part of Katheryn Winnick and Michael Hirst. The whole “girl power” schtick grew tiresome really quickly as it didn’t feel organic or natural, but rather agenda pushing and box ticking. Strong female lead? Tick. Emasculating men for no real reason? Tick. Seriously, the decision to have Lagertha rape a chained up King Harald was absolutely appalling. Utterly pointless and didn’t serve any plot advancement whatsoever.
Something else which truly irritated me was her playing wing-woman for Bjorn, who flat out said he couldn’t be bothered with his marriage and wanted to sleep with the new girl who waltzed in. Instead of being furious and demanding Bjorn show more respect to Torvi, she smiles and prances over to the King of the Sami people and declares her son wants to sleep with his daughter. This blew my mind. Lagertha had her family and life torn apart because of Ragnar’s unfaithful antics and yet she happily encourages her son to abandon his in favor of the new girl? That did not sit right with me at all and again, felt so lazy.
Speaking of Lagertha, remember earlier when I said “oh, we’ll get there” in regards to the decline of Heahmund’s character? I have two words for you. Love. Interest. It’s truly difficult to articulate how baffling this “romance” was, as is common with this season, it was rushed and painfully written. Heahmund declared he would die for Lagertha within minutes of meeting her, which was just ludicrous. This is a man we’ve been shown to be brave, fierce and placing Christ above all, yet here he is acting like a lovesick teenager. There was no need to have Heahmund captured by Lagertha and cut short the budding friendship and respect between Ivar, it didn’t come to any climatic confrontation between the two, it was simply Heahmund acknowledging his former ally with a curt nod. Perhaps the payoff is in Season 5B, here’s hoping anyway.
Floki’s expedition started off with such promise. He discovered an apparent idyllic landscape that he even believed to be inhabited by the Gods themselves. So naturally, he wished to invite other travelers along to join him. I had no problem with this initially, but as their time together wore on, we were beleaguered with uninteresting characters and not so shocking disgruntlement from the settlers. His island is now inhabited with forgettable and unlikeable extras. Floki then exclaims at the climax of Episode Ten that he will sacrifice himself to the Gods to appease them for all of the trouble he has caused. I have no doubt in my mind that this won’t go ahead, the tension is simply not there and I’m not invested at all in the characters, apart from Kjetil “Flatnose” (but that could be because I’m a fan of Adam Copeland). So with this plotline, it feels like there was promise initially but it ultimately fell flat. I’m just pleased Floki wasn’t whisked back to Kattegat by a murder of crows to somehow resolve everything, so there’s a small consolation there.
Astrid and Harald were not exactly star-crossed lovers, but their coming together was a stroke of brilliance, in my opinion, so credit where it’s due. We had some good laughs initially, with Harald freely accepting his poor luck with women amongst a rowdy hall and we had some good old Viking’s style chuckles at that. As time moved on, there was a real chemistry developing between the two and you could see the dynamic was shifting from a one-way infatuation to a more balanced admiration between the couple. Tragedy struck though and Astrid was cruelly taken advantage of by multiple men. Soon after she was pregnant and poor Harald was over the moon, thinking he was the father. Of course, we as the audience knew this likely wasn’t the case, but Harald continued blissfully unaware and looking forward to the birth of his child. Here’s where I feel robbed. We never got to see the outcome of this, because Astrid was scythed down in Episode Ten by none other than her former lover; Lagertha. I understand that the ramifications for Lagertha killing Astrid brought an instant physical change in her, signaling a possible mental breakdown, but this could have been done later I feel. Again, there’s untapped potential that will never be realised and it wastes one of the few good plot arcs this half-season had going. Harald now is reverted back to being another side character without much intrigue and it’s a real shame.
It’s been touched on, but the final battle did not deliver for me. Constant flashbacks and flash-forwards made it feel disjointed and the plot device was overused to the point of confusion. It felt like something out of a video game, the main characters went uninterrupted during a brutal and hectic battle so they could exchange some poignant lines to one another. The realism exhibited in the first seasons had all but vanished at this point and the fact that this entire half season has been used as build up for this climatic conclusion is what has really left a sour taste in the mouth. Characters were also mercilessly killed off. The aforementioned Astrid, who while not my favorite, was growing on me and had more to offer, was joined by Gothrum (son of Torvi and Jarl Borg) and regrettably, Halfdan on the casualty list.
Visions were the key theme throughout the episode, as we saw Halfdan (above) envisage himself back to where he was happy with Bjorn. (Which, by the way, is the real meaning behind “Bjorn saved my life” – he was given purpose.) But there was, of course, strange moments within this cluster of images, including Ivar imagining everyone, apart from Lagertha as skeletons. Ironically this is perfect imagery for the season on the whole so far; nothing else is important apart from the Ivar vs Lagertha feud, in the eyes of the writer, so that’s what we got. Half finished storylines, weak character development, and poor dialogue.
To conclude then, this half season had poor writing, poor acting and the whole thing felt like a run-up to the civil war which didn’t really entice me. I’d rather have seen everyone stick to their original solo adventures, for example, Ivar conquering England, Bjorn raiding and despoiling in the Mediterranean, Lagertha, and Astrid possibly working together to overthrow Harald in secret, the list is endless with “what-if’s” but the underlying thought is that there was a whole lot of potential that was left unfulfilled. Season 5B has a lot to do now to redeem this first half. Let’s hope there are some big pay-offs and I can gracefully eat humble pie.