In the first season of Vikings: Valhalla, the Greenlanders, Pagans, and Christian Vikings came together for a mutual cause: to overthrow the King of England and get revenge for the St. Brice's Day Massacre.
By the end of the season they had achieved that goal, but when Canute (Bradley Freegard) stayed behind to rule, it created an opportunity for Olaf (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) and his men to make a play for Kattegat. In the closing moments, Olaf was thwarted by Canute's father, King Sweyn Forkbeard (Søren Pilmark), but not without casualties.
When the series returns for a second run Jan. 12 on Netflix, Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett) is mourning the loss of Liv (Lujza Richter), Harold Sigurdsson (Leo Suter) is recovering from his near-fatal injury, and Freydis (Frida Gustavsson) is still hiding from her true religious calling as "The Last."
These are Vikings, however, and showrunner Jeb Stuart won't have them licking their wounds for long.
"All of our characters go from this position of success and growth in Season 1 and suddenly in Season 2 they're all fugitives and thrust out of Scandinavia," Stuart tells Metacritic. "When I was researching that, I thought it was such a fascinating piece. At such young ages, these Vikings were suddenly challenged and thrown out of their comfort zone."
To capture each of the three main characters' respective journeys, Stuart opened up the worlds in Season 2. Over eight new episodes, certain characters travel to Russia, England, the Black Sea, and Constantinople.
"These are epic journeys — I had no desire to always stay in London or Kattegat," Stuart says. "I wanted to show our Vikings out in the greater world. That doesn't mean we won't return, because we all love Kattegat, but we want to see how the growth happens. And the best part of growth is when you leave home, and you get out there and see the world, and the world pushes back."
The show tracks Roland-descendant Emma of Normandy (Laura Berlin) adjusting to the new Viking leadership (and her new father-in-law), while Canute is away. That leaves extra room for plotting and conspiring, as Earl Godwin (David Oakes) realizes someone is trying to assassinate the queen.
Season 2 also introduces the legendary Vikings haven of Jómsborg, where the Jomsvikings, a legendary order of Viking mercenaries and conquerors, were believed to have lived. They're headed up by new character Harekr (Bradley James), whose motives are immediately sketchy.
"We knew from writings that Jómsberg existed, but we've never found it," Stuart says. "It was one of the last bastions of true pagan Viking culture."
Other new second-season characters include Yaroslav the Wise (Marcin Dorociński), the warrior ruler of Kyivan Rus; Elena (Sofya Lebedeva), the daughter of a noble man; and Mariam al-Astrulabi (Hayat Kamille), a famous 10th Century astronomer who may help Leif finally channel some of that rage following Liv's death.
"The grief was almost a trigger for his expression of rage," Corlett tells Metacritic. "That rage was not just because of the death, but it was like everything that ever happened to him. As we enter Season 2, we see him learning how to deal with that grief, that rage, and that acceptance that it is part of who he is. It's a difficult journey."
As for the two people closest to Leif in the wake of Liv's death — his sister Freydis and his new mate Harald — they will find some brief happiness in Season 2 as fellow exiles. However as the characters preview, their relationship isn't built to last.
"It's been fun to do that with Frida because these are two very different characters with a sort of yin-and-yang vibe," Suter says. "They complement each other really well in some respects, but their destinies are very different."
"What's pulling them together is also what's pulling them apart," Gustavsson adds. "They're very divided by their beliefs. They realize they can exist in this bubble, but the real world is pulling them in different ways."
Vikings: Valhalla drops its full second season Jan. 12 on Netflix.