Groping its way out of a schedule that was becoming a little reality show/Hitler/alien heavy, the History Channel found success last year with its first ever scripted miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys. So now audiences get to be entertained by Vikings, the nine-part tale of legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lodbrok and his rise to the throne of medieval Scandinavia. That’s all well and good, but will the show send you to the paradise of Valhalla, or pillage your brain and put it on a pike? The wise and powerful Odin revealed to me the pilot episode, and here are my thoughts...
What is Vikings?
History’s first “stab” at serialized drama (there are stabs in this show). Our hero Ragnar’s not like other vikings (for one, he’s portrayed by Travis Fimmel, WB’s Tarzan/one of Australia’s 10 million stud actors); instead of raiding the east like his corrupt lord and ruler Jarl Haraldsan (Gabriel Byrne from In Treatment) keeps commanding him to, Lodbrok longs to travel west, across the ocean, to discover new civilizations. Along for the adventure is his brother Rollo (Clive Standen from Robin Hood and Camelot), and a gaggle of other asymmetrical haircut-sporting familiars. In the romance department, Ragnar’s wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick from Bones and holds a 3rd degree black belt) even gets to kick her share of butt as an equally legendary mythological lady warrior (real-life Xena?). Toss in a Skarsgard (Gustaf, the Clint Howard to Alexander’s Ron), some gorgeous Irish nature, and references to Norse gods, and you’ve got a recipe for good times.
Who created Vikings?
Michael Hirst, the writer and creator of Showtime’s The Tudors and a producer of The Borgias. This guy likes doing historical fiction, so History seems like a natural fit.
When does Vikings premiere?
Tomorrow! Sunday, March 3, at 10pm on the History Channel.
What audience is Vikings even for?
Oh you know, dads, dudes, metal heads, and history buffs. Anyone who likes seeing hunks being grimy, screaming brutes and getting impaled, as well as discussions of “fealty” over mugs of mead.
Huh, well what is the best thing about this show?
Its source material: In an age of repurposed, updated old stories and fairy-tale adaptations, it’s refreshing for a regular Norse saga to get a pretty normal treatment. Also, there's some capable folks on the production side of things, with Breaking Bad's Johan Renck directing the first three episodes, and Swedish electronic musicians Fever Ray offering up the credits song. This isn't just some extended dramatization, there's personality here! Also, Fimmel's a charismatic and relatable lead surrounded with an equally dedicated cast and high production values. With Byrne bringing his A-game, there could be the potential here for a super small scale Game of Thrones, albeit without the fantasy element.
And how about what isn't the best?
Since Vikings airs on the History Channel, you can never quite shake the feeling that tons of actual facts about viking life are being seeded into the dialogue (e.g. decrees about feasts, a court scene that explains laws about how many houses a murderer may pass). While fascinating at first, after a while lines like, "Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge" pull you out of the drama a tiny bit. Also Ragnar's basic trajectory already seems familiar, without any risks being taken through storytelling or innovative character turns. Not every show has to be Enlightened, but if you don't have the patience for slow, straightforward stories, then maybe this ain't your battle to fight.
So, do I watch this, or eavesdrop on my neighbors and their problems?
Hell yeah watch it! If you’re anything like me, then a successful Sunday means cooking up a nice steak, cracking open a craft beer, and watching some muddy-ass sword fights. Vikings isn’t going to change TV as a medium, but makes a strong case for dramatizing a people that've so often been referenced, yet rarely featured.
Can I see a trailer?
What beverage should I pair with my viewing?
Mead. Definitely mead.
Vikings premieres Sunday, March 3 at 10pm on the History Channel.