The two best episodes of the vastly different fifth season of History Channel’s Vikings are the ones where Rollo makes his encore appearance. After the death of Ragnor Lothbrok in the previous season, the series seemed to have placed his resentful brother on the back burner. With no Ragnor, what would drive Rollo? I suppose that logic checks out. But the truth is, Rollo’s climb to the top of the military hierarchy in France was one of the best subplots of season 4-if not the series up to that point. Unfortunately phasing out his character meant we wouldn’t get to see the rest of his story unfold. For now, we’re left to relish in those couple of all-too-brief moments as Rollo bows out one last time. Rollo is played by Clive Standen, whose acting career is rooted in theatre. Growing up a mere 15 minutes from the legendary Sherwood Forest of

Robin Hood lore, Standen’s first acting gig saw him doing live Robin Hood reenactments involving actual swords that caused actual swords that caused actual injuries. He was 14-years-old. I suppose you could say this was training, if not a sign that he would go on to portray a ruthless Viking full-time. Standen gives arguably the strongest individual performance of the series (he, himself, calls it a personal favorite of his career).

Becoming a fan favorite, Rollo’s knack for an unpredictability that has shown both great betrayal and also great loyalty, is what makes his character so much fun to watch. Seeing him grow from a heathen in the truest sense to the commendable war hero as Duke of Normandy (where Standen also got to flex his comedic chops a bit as well), Rollo’s personality has become very nuanced and his journey has been far from boring. A jealousy-filled, vengeful little brother is a trait we’ve seen before in TV and film, but perhaps no one has conveyed these passions as convincingly as Rollo, much credit to Standen, himself. Despite getting a diminished role in his final full season, his was still the most intriguing storyline from those episodes.

The brother of Ragnar, the legendary Scandinavian king, has been overlooked his entire life.

Even as boys, his parents always favored his brother, and as adults, watching Ragnar’s rise to power wasn’t easy as the whole kingdom praised the king and gave him all the credit, while Rollo stood by his side, often his most loyal subject, and was in many ways better than his brother.

Creator and writer Michael Hirst and his team do a brilliant job making us root for both sides, wanting them to just get along at the end of the day.

But we all know brotherly dynamics aren’t that simple, and not all that easy to deal with-especially when there’s jealousy and resentment at play. Standen’s Rollo provided a semi-counterpoint to Ragnor.

Rollo was conflicted by his loyalty to his brother and his desire to step outside of his shadow, very often leading to betrayal. However, their dynamic proved that just because someone is of a higher rank doesn’t mean they’re better at everything. A superior warrior-perhaps the best of his ealm-and with the proper resources, probably a better strategist, as seen through his victories in Francia, Rollo ended up getting his glory when he left his Viking people to become Duke of Normandy, ultimately stifling and putting an end to the Vikings’ attacks on Paris.

In many ways Rollo was a more intriguing character. Where Ragnor was unflappable, Rollo was the changing current driven by emotion and passion. Ragnor operated efficiently within his society, but Rollo was constantly trying to find his way in the world. And amidst a people who are very set in a particular way of life, it was difficult for him to truly grow until he left, much to the displeasure of his peers. Perhaps no character changed more than the formidable Rollo.

There was always a refreshing sense of unpredictability. But while other, more predictable characters’ decisions didn’t always make sense, Rollo’s inner-conflict always fit the complexities of his character. Sometimes he can be unlikable, but that’s often the point. There’s a nobility to his uncertainty, and that exposed vulnerability evokes empathy that other characters don’t necessarily receive. In the second season, his spiral to rock bottom is oddly commendable amidst a society laden with pompous ego. It also makes his redemption later on fe l more rewarding.

In one sense, he does win the brotherly battle. Vikings is a show that places both hero and villain on either side of its battles-and sometimes those qualities can simultaneously be inside the same person. Within the world of the series, the line between bad and good is often blurred, and Rollo’s a perfect example of that. Even if Rollo doesn’t return, the upcoming Vikings spin-off series, Vikings: Valhalla, will feature Rollo’s descendant, William the Conqueror, as one of its central figures.

Standen, as well as the show runners, felt Rollo’s story was over in Vikings, which is why he was essentially written out, but his final moments gave us the best plot twist of the series. There have been murmurs about the character’s return for the second half of the sixth and final season later this year. So we’ll have to wait and see if Hirst can find another way to let us see the infamous Rollo one last time. Until then, you can look for Standen in his new series Council of Dads, where he shows his ange as a man who helps take care of a dying man’s kids.

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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