Some of my favourite TV characters are very bad men. Tony Soprano had some of his best friends whacked – and even killed family members. Dexter Morgan was a serial killer, despite his biggest crime remaining the final season of the hit Showtime series. Mad Men’s Don Draper is a total shit, albeit a very handsome one. But Vikings’ Ivar The Boneless? I hate that prick. I couldn’t hate a TV character more if Ian Beale and King Joffrey defied medical science and had a baby. I hate him more than mushy peas, the London Underground’s Central Line and the greatest hits of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Who knows whether Vikings showrunner Michael Hirst reads NME. Who knows whether Michael Hirst, creator of both 1998 Cate Blanchett vehicle Elizabeth and long-running drama The Tudors, reads anything other than historical biographies, crossing out the bits he doesn’t like (Henry VIII being fat, for example) and weaving in bits he does (loads of shagging, basically). And yet if you are reading this Michael, preparing to premiere the show’s final season this week, know that it is your moral duty for Ivar to end your excellent, if very silly series, dying slowly and in pain.
Played by 26-year-old Dane Alex Høgh Andersen, since his debut in season two, Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug’s fourth son has killed his brother Sigurd for having a sick mullet, embedded an axe in the Seer’s head for having the audacity to disagree with his belief he is a living God, left his wife Freydis’ baby son to be eaten alive by foxes, strangled her to death for being sad about that, set at least two women on fire, and worn rubbish leather trousers like a budget Michael Hutchence.
Ivar hasn’t had it easy. Born impotent and unable to use his legs, he spends much of the show crawling around on the floor. Thing is, nobody has it easy on Vikings. Everyone is terrified of the Gods, or of being chosen as a human sacrifice, or having their lungs pulled out of their back in a grotesque ‘Blood Eagle’ ceremony, or, perhaps worst of all, having to drink flat mead. Ivar is what is commonly known as a melt. He blames the world for every misfortune that has befallen him. Nothing is ever his fault. If Ivar existed in the now he’d be writing horrible stuff about girls on 4chan. He’d be an incel. The FBI would know about him.
One thing Ivar is entitled to blame anyone but himself for, is his name. What is it with Vikings and the names they thrust upon people? Remember when Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow named their daughter Apple? Those guys have got nothing on Ragnar and Aslaug, who not only chose to call one of their sons Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye – cheers mum, thanks dad – but they gave their disabled, impotent son the prefix ‘The Boneless’. As parenting goes, that’s a crime worse than your mum coming to the school gates and wiping a bit of rogue chocolate off the corner of your mouth with spit and a hanky.
The Anglo Saxon chronicler Æthelweard records the real Ivar’s death as taking place in 870 AD, of a sudden and terrible (but not specified) disease. Apparently, he’s buried under a hill in Derby, which is not something I’d wish on anyone. But this still isn’t a wretched enough end for a character whose every action has been despicable. Ivar’s villainy isn’t of the antihero variety, see. There’s no growth to his character. No nuance. No moment where you ever feel sympathy for him or solidarity with his actions. He was born, he started killing people, he didn’t stop. He is the personification of unlikeable. Even Darth Vader had a girlfriend.
I sometimes wonder if the real Ivar The Boneless was as villainous as his onscreen portrayal. In truth, the character’s malignance has most likely been amplified to fill the void of charisma that exists in the wake of his father Ragnar’s death, in the second half of Vikings season four. Vikings arguably mucks around with historical fact more so than even ‘The Tudors’, largely because everything that happened did so long ago and any records of what did were written on bits of paper that have rotted as the years have turned. The only people who really care about the show’s accuracy are the people who run Jorvik Viking Centre. I mean, Odin, the revered, one-eyed Norse God, turns up in season four and mumbles some prophetic stuff about death and doom. This isn’t documentary.
Which leaves Michael Hirst free to do as he pleases with the coming end of this thoroughly entertaining show. Maybe Ivar could sit on a bazooka. Maybe he could get eaten by sharks. Maybe he could fall down an elevator shaft or choke to death eating a hedgehog. All bets are off Michael. Time to end this. You’re free to do whatever you like. Make your choice wisely and nastily…