‘Vikings Valhalla’ Season 3 Review

The Big Picture

  • The time jump of seven years in
    Vikings: Valhalla
    Season 3 allows characters to grow and develop, adding depth to their arcs.
  • The focus on character development over action creates a more intimate and personal journey, while still including impressive battle sequences and political intrigue.
  • The introduction of Erik the Red and well-executed romantic relationships and familial bonds provide emotional depth.


From the moment Vikings: Valhalla began, it was clear we were headed for a bittersweet series finale, whenever said finale was set to occur. There’s a particular flavor these sorts of stories have, the ones set at a major turning point in history, the outcome of which is well-known to the audience. When executed well, these types of stories will have the audience rooting for the characters against all odds, and against the knowledge that this is not going to go the way the characters anticipated. Vikings: Valhalla Season 3 is pure proof that the tale of Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett), Freydis Eríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson) and Harald Sigurdson (Leo Suter) is one such story, and one that is beautifully told from start to finish.


This was not the sort of series I honestly thought I would enjoy as much as I did. I tend to lose interest when a historical drama — or even a fantasy drama — puts less emphasis on character moments in the name of upping the stakes and upping the action. But right through to the final scene, Vikings: Valhalla kept the emphasis where it belonged, on the characters at the heart of it all — sometimes in action-packed moments, sometimes in the quieter ones. It was at turns surprising, tense, romantic, and tender, and though the ending had been planned for a while, I am still sorry to see it go.



What Is ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ Season 3 About?

Picking up seven years after the events of Season 2, Vikings: Valhalla Season 3 finds our heroes where we last left them, albeit much more established. Freydis is still in Jomsborg, now a thriving community under her leadership. A chance encounter with a handsome stranger, Stigr (Leander Vyvey) changes her life for the better, while old threats rise up in the background and threaten the peace she’s worked so hard to achieve. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Leif and Harald’s gap year is growing painfully close to the decade mark. While Leif continues to grieve Mariam (Hayat Kamille), he’s also figuring out his next steps, not wanting to serve in Emperor Romanos’ (Nikolai Kinski) army forever. Harald, on the other hand, is the definition of an irresponsible mess, with his aspirations of becoming King of Norway on the back-burner as he engages in a rivalry with his closest military peer, General Maniakis (Florian Monteanu), and continues to lust after Empress Zoe (Sofya Lebedeva).


Meanwhile, over in England, King Canute (Bradley Freegard) and Queen Emma (Laura Berlin) are living their own season of Succession, as the King of Denmark, Norway, and England starts to think about the future of his throne and considers which of his and Emma’s sons — it’s a real Yours, Mine and Ours situation in their household — is best suited to inherit. Another benefit of the seven-year time jump is the children and teenagers who previously only served as pawns in the background for the adults in the room are suddenly full players in their own right, adding layers to a real-life battle for succession that will change the face of history in Europe.

‘Vikings: Valhalla’ Season 3 Prioritizes Character Over Action


With so much around the characters in flux, and with the world around them changing, I expected this season to really up the frequency of the action, in addition to the scale of it. And that’s not to say it doesn’t really up the scale. The Constantinople side of the story kicks off with a large-scale battle in which Harald and Leif, as well as the surviving crew from their Dneiper sailing, are embroiled, along with hundreds of other Varangian guards fighting in the name of the Emperor. The sequence is one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, the series has done in terms of the sheer scale of the set and the number of people involved. It is noteworthy to me that the fight scene that launches the season is the biggest of its kind — because Vikings: Valhalla is first and foremost a character piece.


That’s not to say that there is no other action throughout the season. A group that prides itself on being great warriors can hardly be expected to go a whole season without fighting, and the series would have felt incomplete without it. But every action scene following the finale informs the characters’ journeys in such a personal way that they become essential, rather than just spectacle. A good example of this is a scene early on in the season, when one of Leif’s inventions is used to wipe out the fleeing, refugee population of a conquered city — and it says a lot about the state of world history that a visual so prescient, and a season built so heavily on religious discord, was filmed over a year ago. The scene is short and brutal, but rather than simply existing for shock value, it also forms the catalyst for Leif’s choices over the rest of the season, choices that gradually lead him toward becoming the great Viking explorer he’s remembered as. Though his is the quieter arc for the main trio, Corlett continues to prove what a magnetic onscreen presence he is, his performance imbued with a quiet intensity as he finally sets Leif on that path to the future.


‘Vikings: Valhalla’ Season 3 Still Makes Time For Romance and Family

Image via Netflix

I said in my Season 2 review that I appreciated how the series didn’t put romance to the side entirely after using it to draw in the audience in the first season, and I am relieved to say that Season 3 doesn’t lose sight of romantic relationships, even as things escalate for our characters. There is Harald’s forbidden affair, Freydis’s new romance, and even Leif’s ongoing battle with his grief. The most beautifully executed, however, is the three-season-long romance between Canute and Emma, whose love story is a combination of approximately seven tropes I enjoy very much, but on a less superficial level, remain the most stable relationship in the series. They’re mutually supportive, work well together, and obviously see one another as their equals. As far as the romantic arcs went in the final season, theirs is by far the most memorable, as it simmers in the background to the larger questions of succession that surround them.


There is, of course, a great deal of importance also placed on the familial relationships, relationships on which the whole series is based — and if you stop to think about it for a second, Vikings: Valhalla in its entirety is the story of one extremely large extended family changing the course of history with their squabbling. Leif, Harald, and Freydis receive some much-needed emotional closure as a group, and on the other side of things, Queen Aelfgifu (Polyanna McIntosh) quickly emerged as a standout secondary character, her regency rule of Kattegat making her a foil for any who dare mess with her, as well as a surprising ally for Queen Emma, which is all I ever wanted for the two of them.


While the season mostly focuses on established characters, there’s one noticeable pseudo-newcomer. I say “pseudo” because while he hasn’t appeared on-screen thus far, Erik the Red’s (Goran Visnjic) shadow has loomed long over Leif and Freydis. While earlier seasons showed that Leif was the one who struggled the most with the brutal legacy left behind by his father, Freydis is the one who ultimately ends up pitted against the once-great Viking. Visnjic’s take on Erik the Red is a welcome addition to the series, proudly joining Bradley Freegard’s King Canute in the Hall of Hot Viking Daddy fame. The charisma that he’s exhibited since his ER days shines through, and makes it easy to see why a whole group of Vikings might follow him all the way to Greenland. He also follows in the grand Vikings: Valhalla tradition of proving that the scariest men are not the biggest, or the most violent, the rather the quiet and cunning ones.

‘Vikings: Valhalla’s Season 3 Time Jump Is Both a Hindrance and a Help

vikings-valhalla-season-3-leo-suter
Image via Netflix


As mentioned above, and indeed right off the top of the season, Episode 1 picks up seven years after the events of the Season 2 finale. From a storytelling standpoint, this was the best possible choice the story could have made. When Season 2 ended, Harald and Leif were newly arrived in Constantinople, Freydis and Aelfgifu had reached a tentative deal for peace, and Canute and Emma were settling in as monarchs in relative peacetime, with the ever-terrifying Godwin (David Oakes) now married into their family. To pick up right where this left off would be to find everyone in an adjustment period that is not without interest, but doesn’t exactly make for a tight eight episodes of prestige TV.

If there is one place this time jump stumbles, it’s in Harald’s arc. The jump is great for explaining how he assembled the Varangian guard, and why he and Maniakis have such a contentious relationship, but when it comes to his forbidden flirtation with Empress Zoe, this is where things become far shakier. The emotional place the two find themselves in over the course of the season feels like it should have happened years earlier, and I struggle to think of what else they could have been doing in that time to keep them apart. If this is the one point of logic that must be sacrificed for an otherwise cohesive season, then so be it, but it does leave Harald looking a little stuck in place in a period in which he otherwise thriving.


Does ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ Season 3 End Well?

Back before the release of Season 2, showrunner Jeb Stuart teased that while Season 3 would be the end of this particular arc, which he envisioned as a trio, there would be space in the story to continue things if they were granted that opportunity. Sometimes a statement like that can feel like “local showrunner wants to continue working,” but in this case, it’s clear what he was going for. The character arcs set up in the first three seasons reach a natural, satisfying, occasionally heartbreaking conclusion, but their stories are far from over. Europe is on the precipice of a major historical shift, teased with the introduction of major players in the future of English history, including a very young William the Conqueror (Ely Solan), and Harald, Leif and Freydis are all on the precipice of the major life-altering events of their own lives, the ones history remembers more clearly.


For our core trio, too, the story leaves them having achieved everything they set out to achieve at the beginning. The three of them are, however, a perfect example of being careful what you wish for. More so here than with the English monarchy side of things, the story feels wide open for a continuation. There’s the sense that the English court will continue to run with the same cycle it always had, particularly the push-pull between Emma and Godwin, but, for our three Vikings, they end the show with their horizons as wide open as the seas they sail. History tells us what will become of the three of them, but as far as future story potential, Vikings: Valhalla‘s finale leaves plenty of space for the storytellers to bring it all to the same vivid, heartbreaking, emotional life as the rest of the series did.

Vikings Valhalla TV Show Poster

Vikings: Valhalla

Vikings: Valhalla Season 3 embraces a bittersweet series finale while still leaving the door open for a continuation.

Pros

  • Even in the final season, romance wasn’t tossed out of the window in the name of bigger action scenes.
  • The series ends on a narratively-satisfying note, while leaving space for future stories.
  • The seven-year time jump allowed for heightened stakes, and drove the story refreshingly forward.
Cons

  • With the time jump, a couple of the plot choices feel cut off at the knees.


Vikings: Valhalla Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.

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