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EPIC ‘VIKINGS’ RETURNS FOR FIFTH SAGA

November 24, 2018

Brothers killing brothers, a hint of human sacrifice and a stunted king’s vow to kill his stepmother. You can’t say “Vikings” (7 p.m. and 8 p.m., History, TV-14) isn’t epic. The drama enters the second half of its fifth season with the sons of the late Ragnar having just completed a deadly civil war.

The stunted Ivar the Boneless (Alex Hogh Andersen) has taken over Kattegat and sent Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and her son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), into hiding, along with Lagertha’s Christian lover, Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The good bishop has a plan to smuggle them back to England. The downside of that is his return to the church and all of the celibacy that entails.

Five seasons in, Lagertha has seen a lot of brutal medieval combat and her share of death. Strangely, as her hair has whitened, her face has grown smoother. I preferred when she looked like a fierce biker. Now’s she’s just glamorous. No wonder Rollo (Clive Standen) still carries a torch for her. Despite his recent alliance with the rude Ivar, Rollo offers Lagertha passage to la dolce vita in Paris, where Rollo rules as Christian royalty.

The one character who has never wavered faith-wise, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) has removed his party to Iceland to be closer to the gods. As of this season opener, they have not manifested themselves amid the bleak volcanic landscape.

Even if you’ve lost the thread of “Vikings” since the departure of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel), the story is fairly easy to resume. I’ve long felt that “Vikings” was “Game of Thrones” for those who could do without the baffling complications.

Based on Norse sagas and English lore, it has the whiff of history, something unusual for History. Not without a sense of humor, the makers of “Vikings” have cast New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard in a small part for the show’s upcoming sixth season. The dominating 6-foot-6-inch giant, nicknamed “Thor,” went 13-4 for the miserable Mets in 2018.

-- Perry Como and Andy Williams may be playing that big holiday special in the sky, but Christmas sweaters are forever. Pop star John Legend and his famous wife, model Chrissy Teigen, host “A Legendary Christmas With John and Chrissy” (9 p.m., NBC). Legend, who was recently seen on NBC’s live performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” will perform songs from his new album, “A Legendary Christmas.” He’s scheduled to coach on “The Voice” next spring.

-- Legend will also be performing alongside Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Brett Eldredge, Darci Lynne Farmer, Martina McBride, Pentatonix and Kellie Pickler during the live airing of the “86th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center” (7 p.m., NBC).

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

-- Kingsley makes an audacious move on “Empire” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

-- Maggie’s nightmares won’t let up on “A Million Little Things” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

-- With his talk show on hiatus, Conan O’Brien goes abroad on “Conan Without Borders: Japan” (9 p.m., TBS, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

Directed and produced by Howard Hughes, the 1943 Western “The Outlaw” (7 p.m., TCM) put so much emphasis on newcomer Jane Russell’s uncovered curves that the film faced censorship, promptly used in promotion. Some contend that for all of Russell’s writhing in the haystacks, the film’s real romance was between Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) and Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel).

SERIES NOTES

Tribal lines are blurred on “Survivor” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Murray’s doctor phobia worries Barry on “The Goldbergs” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Betty digs deep into the town’s 1990s wild side on “Riverdale” (7 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Katie puts a trophy wife to work on the PTA on “American Housewife” (7:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

Carlotta returns to a changed landscape on “Star” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Mira Sorvino, Rob Riggle and Andrew Daly guest-star on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Spencer reaches out to an estranged Coop on “All American” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... The gang rediscovers a love for heavy metal on “Single Parents” (8:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) ... A missing persons case has Magnum hunting a woman 30 years dead on “Magnum P.I.” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Eric McCormack, David Alan Grier and Sara Bareilles are on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Michael Pena, Andy Serkis, Lauv and Julia Michaels appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:35 p.m., CBS).

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