With things calm between our three protagonists for now, episode 5 of Barbarians begins with Folkwin eventually agreeing to entertain the wedding proposal idea. Given it could bring the tribes together, Thusnelda and Ari ride together into the village. There, Segestes is silenced by Thusnelda presenting Ari to her parents.
Atop a tree hung with red ribbons, Arminius and Thusnelda are wed while Folkwin watches from afar. The wedding presents come thick and fast, with Ari’s army growing thanks to pledges from the various tribe leaders. Only, not all of them are so quick to forgive him for past actions. Given Ari’s execution in the camp, a few of the leaders shun him completely.
Meanwhile, Ari and Thusnelda are wrapped in white linen together and engage in a ritualistic dance. They don’t consummate the marriage though, especially after Folkwin’s affection for her, but there’s undoubtedly feelings from Ari growing.
Folkwin sits alone by the campfire bemoaning his luck at losing his lover. Unfortunately he picks a fight with the wrong person, as Romans arrive and leave him for dead.
In the morning, Thusnelda taunts her Father before handing the temporary reigns of her rule over to him in her stead. Together with Ari, she heads out into the woods and believes Folkwin has been killed. They find his bag and a smoldering corpse on the floor that looks like him.
Ari convinces his wife that they can’t give up now and encourages her to channel that anger into a more productive outlet. That outlet coming from approaching Varus.
It turns out Folkwin is not actually dead. He’s been captured inside the roman camp where he meets fellow prisoner Raskild. When she finds out his name is Folkwin she scoffs, pointing at the severed head holding the same name. Instead, Folkwin adopts Berulf’s name for now.
Ari rocks up in camp with Thusnelda. He presents his new wife to the slimy Varus while she does her best to grin through this. Ari’s loyalty is tested in all of this as Varus hands over a Roman sword, one that solidifies him as a Roman soldier.
It’s something Ari’s wanted most of his life and something that inevitably causes him a lot of confliction. On the back of this, it causes him to contemplate following Varus’ orders of rounding up the children to give to him.
Outside the tent, Thusnelda wastes little time asking exactly whose side he’s on. While Ari’s loyalty is tested, Folkwin is whipped outside the cage after fighting back against the Romans.
Ari fulfils his obligations and starts going house to house, prying sons away from Fathers and Mothers. Just before they leave, Thusnelda tells them to join the next Moon Festival.
After riling up the crowd to lust for blood, Ari and Thusnelda gather all the tribes together. This happens to be the play all along to make them angry enough to join together and thwart the wolf at the door once and for all.
Ari reminds them that he’s not the wolf and actually, all of their kids are safe. He wanted to demonstrate just how much they have in common and how savage the Romans can be. Despite the insurmountable odds against them, Ari decides that his knowledge of the army and their passion is enough to win the fight.
Determined to rally for freedom, the group beat their shields as Ari comments how Thusnelda is the real leader here. That night they both make love, unaware that Folkwin is actually still alive.
Meanwhile, news of Folkwin being alive spreads all the way back to the village as Segestes suddenly realizes that Varus has been tricked. Ari meanwhile starts to put the next phase of his plan into action, encouraging the army to take a detour into the woods.
This is all part of his trap of course but Segestes arrives and sells him out, telling Varus that Folkwin intends to betray him. Uh oh.
The Episode Review
On the eve of battle, Barbarians delivers a pretty simple episode that’s used to test Ari’s loyalty. It also starts to build up a murmur for the roar that will be the great battle next, backdropped by the political marriage to unite all the tribes.
So far though Barbarians has been a pretty good offering from Netflix, falling shy of the bar set by shows like The Last Kingdom or the ferocious fighting and charismatic characters of Vikings.
Instead, this one suffers from a lack of memorable characters and a pretty formulaic story thus far. It does look like we have a big battle up next though and hopefully that injects some pace and action into the fold!