Grab your battleaxe and start pillaging because History Channel’s Vikings is back for its third season! If you’ve been watching the show from the beginning then you must be as excited as I am of the prospects of the oncoming year. Showrunner Michael Hirst has promised a wider scope, more characters and bigger action set pieces including a raid on Paris. If you haven’t been watching, here are a couple of reasons you should think about starting from Season 1.
Mild Spoilers Ahead! (Very Mild)
Writing historical fiction can be a tricky tightrope to walk. You can either decide to stay as historically accurate as possible, which could result in an underwhelming and even boring story, or you can go full Tarantino and create your own history to surprise and entertain the audience. Vikings rest comfortably in between these two categories, seamlessly blending historical intrigue with blockbuster fun.
The show chronicles the exploits of legendary Viking Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) who is the first in his land to try his luck at plundering the lands to the South: England. He does so with the help of his fearless and loyal shield maiden wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) as well as his son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and sneaky shipbuilder Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard). Ragnar will have to face both the strange rulers of this new unexplored “civilised” world, as well as the scheming rulers of his own land in order to make a better life for himself, his family and friends.
The first season starts off pretty slow, spending a lot of time dealing with the logistics involved for these Vikings to travel all the way to England. Such things as crafting a boat capable of undertaking the journey, getting permission from their Earl and mapping out the best possible route to England take up the bulk of the first couple of episodes. If you’re interested in Viking culture (like me) then you will really enjoy the effort the crew behind the scenes has put into making everything seem as authentic as possible. Once the Vikings set off, the show picks up momentum with battles, death and pillaging galore, everything you could want from a show called Vikings. Now, since this is a cable TV show, don’t expect battles as epic as those you would see in 300, but the show does a great job of making the them seem large in scale, even when only about 40 people are actually fighting.
The show is not purely about action and violence, the series also spends a lot of time discussing issues of importance in the time period such as religion. Athelstan (George Blagden), a Northumbrian monk who is captured by Ragnar and turned into his house servant, is a character whose deep religious beliefs serve as a pivotal story arc in the show’s two seasons. Now trapped in a land he does not know and surrounded by a culture and religion that contradict his own morals, Athelstan undergoes an interesting spiritual transformation wherein he must choose between sticking to the doctrine he has been taught his entire life, or embrace his new home and culture by becoming a Viking in his own right. Athelstan’s road to religious self discovery takes center stage in the first season’s penultimate episode, Sacrifice, which is entirely set in and around the Viking temple of Uppsala during an important pilgrimage.
Religion is not the only topic on the writers’ minds. The role of women in Viking culture is something that the show spends a lot of time with. You’d be surprised to know that for a show about bearded masculine men engaging in battle, it has some of the best written and developed female characters on television. The stand-out of course is Ragnar’s wife Lagertha, whose status as shieldmaiden often puts her at the frontline of battles where she proves that she can ably kill the fiercest of foes. Lagertha is in no way defined by the men in her life and will not stand any disrespect done to her. In one awesome scene somewhere in the latter part of season 2, she unexpectedly stabs a man who insults her in the eye with a fork! Another great female character is Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) who uses her powers of persuasion as a means to gain power and influence in this male dominated world. She’s the Lady Macbeth of the show, whispering ideas into men’s ears in order to advance her own ambitions. As the show progresses, we get even more female representation, from both the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons.
The show also takes risks by doing things you’ve never seen done on TV before. Since the trips from Scandinavia to England could take weeks, the show is forced to undergo frequent and immense time jumps, with one in particular jumping ahead four years, forcing them to recast all the child actors. These time jumps work in the show’s favor as it keeps the plot moving at a fast pace and allows the viewer to experience the many changes that have occurred between commercial breaks. Vikings handles language in a very interesting way by switching between modern English and the historically appropriate languages. It’s a difficult concept to explain but works effectively when done on screen and adds more authenticity to the show, while also adding tension to the various negotiation scenes between the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons.
If you like Game of Thrones, or are looking for something to fill that hole in your heart caused by the absence of similar shows like Spartacus and Rome, then Vikings is a must watch, enough said.
Vikings Season 3 is currently underway, airing Thursdays at 10PM on The History Channel.
featured image from fitchburgpoint