Ten episodes is not a particularly long length for a season, though it’s fairly common for costume/period dramas. Vikings handled this quite well with a relatively small cast and fairly linear plotlines over its first two seasons. Throwing that out the window, or perhaps over the side of the long ship, was a risk. One that paid off handsomely in season three.
This season of the History Channel’s flagship (no pun intended) drama featured two massive storylines. Starting in Wessex, Ragnar and co. had a bunch of exciting battles before returning home to Kattegat. After King Ecbert betrayed the Vikings, we naturally would expect Ragnar to sail back for vengeance. For a show that’s been fairly predictable, it was surprising to see that this was not what happened.
Taking on a Paris campaign with only four episodes left in the season was no easy task, especially when the show was rapidly shedding old characters and introducing new ones into the fray. It might not have been surprising to see this fail as badly as the first siege on Paris, especially when the show continued to feature the Wessex characters, who no longer seemed to factor in at all.
Maybe it did to some people. The season finale did leave a stronger feeling of “that’s it” than the previous two. Part of this is only natural as cliffhanger endings are an easy way to cap off a short season.
While it’s clear that the Paris and Wessex storylines are not complete, the brevity in which Paris was handled has made me question whether or not it should have been held off until season four. Doing so would have allowed for proper closure on the Wessex storyline and also would have given Ragnar enough time to deal with Floki for killing Athelstan. I originally suspected that Athelstan’s death was forced because of the actor’s commitments to other projects (George Blagden will play a main role in the upcoming series Versailles), though interviews with creator Michael Hirst suggest that it was in fact a creative decision.
The trouble with prolonging the Paris storyline is that it would have prevented the show’s most ambitious action sequence. “To The Gates!,” was the most impressive television battle since Game of Thrones’ “The Watchers on the Wall,” and even gave the HBO powerhouse a run for its money. It’s hard to reasonably advocate against such an achievement.
The simple solution to the abrupt ending would have been to increase the episode count by one or two episodes, which would have prevented this season from feeling rather incomplete. I wrote an article a couple weeks ago suggesting that The Walking Dead alter its episode count for this very reason. I cannot reasonably suggest that as viable when it comes to Vikings.
The difference between the two is that Vikings isn’t one of the most popular shows on television and the History Channel, even with the support of foreign networks, is likely spending all it can on Vikings. The production quality this season greatly improved. If more episodes were financially feasible, we’d likely get them. It’s not fair to criticize Vikings for circumstances that are out of its control.
Season three of Vikings ended with plenty of loose ends. While it’s annoying that we have to wait a year for resolution, that doesn’t change the fact that this was an outstanding season. Choosing to focus on the shortcomings ignores the fact that this show is doing amazing things with limited resources. It has a stellar cast, top-notch production quality, and arguably the best action sequences on TV. Few shows are perfect and that’s okay. Unless you’re Floki.