Leif sets out to find his sister and Harald when a bounty is placed on their heads by Olaf’s men and the group is forced to flee Denmark along with a group of Viking refugees who have been forced out of their villages by the advancing Christian army. But although our favorite trio is allowed to fight together one last time (in a typically epic Valhalla setpiece you probably saw in the teaser trailers), their paths subsequently diverge in unexpected ways. The three are eventually sent on separate paths, as the famed Last Daughter of Uppsala journeys to Jomsburg, a legendary Viking stronghold established by those who wish to protect the religious practices of the old ways. As for Harald and Lief, they turn eastward and set out for the city of Novgorod in the Kievan Rus, with hopes of getting King Yaroslav to support his nephew’s claim to the crown of Norway against Olaf.
As a result, many of the season’s major arcs feel fairly siloed from one another, but each ultimately works to reinforce the scope of the world we’re watching. The story of the original Vikings was largely centered around Kattegat, with occasional forays into other locations. Here, the world of the series expands to encompass continents, from the snowy steppes of Kievan Rus to the lands of the Pecheneg tribes in central Asia, and even the gates of Constantinople itself. When we tend to think about the Vikings as a people, we almost always think of them going west, toward England or even North America, but they explored much of the known world, journeying as far as northern Africa and Iran.
On their journey east, Suter and Corlett are given the chance to explore Leif and Harald’s dynamic in new and interesting ways and their bro-y road trip vibe is more charming than it has any right to be. As the pair progresses well outside of the world of Scandanavia, they encounter an intriguing array of new people and cultures, from the gifted Muslim scholar Mariam (Hayat Kamille) to the blinded Pecheneg prisoner Kurya (Tolga Safer) who turns out to be much more than he initially seems.
Freydis’s story is somewhat more isolated as she attempts to make a new place for herself among the people of Jomsborg, who essentially view her as a sort of mythic figure sent to them by the gods themselves. But not everyone in her idyllic new home is as dedicated to the good of all as she is, and she clashes repeatedly with the group’s leader, Harekr (Merlin’s Bradley James, serving excellent Big Bad energy), who seems to believe that only some Vikings are pure enough to be worthy of the safety of their new promised land.
The series’ ensemble remains Valhalla’s strongest asset, and each cast member commits to their roles with enthusiasm. Suter is clearly having a blast living it up on his character’s accidental excellent adventure, as would-be king Harald haggles with Russian merchants for the furs he plans to sell to fund his army, happily boxes strangers (shirtless, of course!) for money, and literally sails a boat over a waterfall in an attempt to rich his destination more quickly. Life as a fugitive generally suits him and his expansive, adventurous spirit, and when the opportunity presents itself for him to ferry an important item from his uncle to the Emperor of Constantinople, he grasps it with open arms (and enthusiastic plans for how the journey will help his ultimate goal of claiming Norway’s throne).
Often, it feels as though Leif’s primary job in season 2 is to sort of be dragged along in Harald’s seemingly unstoppable wake, but Corlett does yeoman’s work in making his character’s interior journey one that is as rich with meaning as the group’s physical one. As he struggles to process Liv’s death and wrestles with where his true beliefs (religious and otherwise) lie in the wake of her loss, we see him at his lowest and emotionally weakest points. And the man who is ultimately rebuilt from the repeated tragedies he experiences certainly looks a lot more like the one who will become one of the most famous explorers in history than he ever has before.