Vikings is one of those shows I’ve been vaguely interested in for a long time. As a big-time history buff with a penchant for ancient European history (hate on me, haterz), it seemed like my kind of show. Factor in the fact I still can’t get my head around enjoying Game of Thrones (A few good characters + rape as set dressing x people trying to pass it off as “historical accuracy” does not = a good show, at least not to me) and it’s even more tempting. But it’s only in the last day that I’ve come round to watching it, and holyshititmightbethebestthingI’veseenthisyear.
Okay, that might be an overstatement (the best thing I’ve seen this year is the Hannibal finale, which was one of the best pieces of television I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing). But Vikings is still pretty damned excellent. It follows the story of the semi-mythologized Ragnar, a farmer with ambitions that go beyond his village. Keen to raid new territory, he winds up rampaging his way through England while dealing with deepening political machinations back home.
I’ll say this straight out: the best thing about Vikings is the cast. It’s one of those rare shows were everyone is so good- Gustaf Skasgard (son of Stellan) as the demonically eccentric Floki, Katheryn Winnick as a formidable female warrior Lagertha, Clive Standen as Rollo, Ragnar’s scheming brother…these are rich, well-conceived characters who help build the immersive world of Vikings with style. The small cast of regulars conveys that sense of tight community and intuitive closeness that comes through the best in the amazing action sequences. Take a look at this bad boy. Background: Ragnar is the blond fellow who almost takes an arrow to the face and the indescribably attractive blond woman is his wife, shieldmaiden Lagertha.
Now, what I really love about the fight scenes in Vikings is how quick they are. They usually last under five minutes, and they rapid, brutal, efficient and frightening. There are no Walking-Dead arterial blood sprays, or slow-motion sword-skewering- these people have been trained to fight, have done so all there lives, and are very, very good at killing people.
But the main quarrel isn’t the plundering or pillaging or raping- the driving conflict behind the show is religion. That mind sound ridiculous and ponderous and boring, but it’s not. One of the main characters-and my personal favourite- is Christian Monk Athelstan, played by George Blagden. Ragnar picks him up as a slave after a raid on Lindisfarne, and he becomes a kind of confidant for the protagonist. We frequently see events through the monk’s eyes- ritual sacrifice, the execution of law, and fervent devotion to Norse Gods is played out to Athelstan’s at best confused, and often horrified, point of view. The clash between Christianity and the Viking’s belief system is frequently explored in ways that I sadly can’t go into if you haven’t seen the show, but it’s a fascinating choice for a series that everyone assumed was going to feature a bunch of hot chicks and swarthy men in funny hats. The eighth episode of the first series, Sacrifice, is probably the best, as it tackles head-on the issue of Athelstan’s continued Christianity and how it continues to affect his life amongst his Viking masters. It’s an audacious choice, but, fuck me, the last ten minutes of Sacrifice make the whole series, let alone the thematic elements, worthwhile.
A quick shout out, before I go, to Travis Fimmel, who plays lead Ragnar. Let’s all take a moment to consider the fact that this guy is a Calvin Klein underwear model by trade. Sure, he’s pretty, but man can he make the whole antihero thing work for him too. While at first Ragnar seemed like he was going to be another dull hero who was too good for his own, well, good, his society has conditioned him to be the kind of person we consider pretty evil. You’ll find yourself drawn to and repelled by him in equal measure, despite the fact he has got, admittedly, a jaw-droppingly good body.
Vikings has just been commissioned for a third series, and I can’t compel you enough to get started now before it’s all anyone can talk about. Grab some mead and a nice warrior woman to see you through the night, and get on this shit now.