Vikings is the tale of the semi-historical Ragnarr Loðbrók and two of his wives, Lagertha and Aslaug, and their children, Bjorn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Hafdan Whitecoat, Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye and Ubba.
Ragnar is a wealthy farmer at the start of the show. He is a clever and brutal warrior, a combat pragmatist. But he is more, a visionary, a charismatic leader, intellectually curious, a technological innovator, shrewd judge of character, and a Machiavellian magnificent bastard of the first degree.
The show exists in a kind of magical realism where magic is believed in but whether it is ‘real’ is always up to the eye of the beholder.
The show is well grounded in the Norse culture and presents a lot of values dissidence through the vehicle of Æthelstan, a monk from Lindessfarne who Ragnarr makes captive during the first Viking raid on England.
The sets and costumes are reasonably accurate. In order to be more identifiable on the battlefield to the viewer, nobody wears helms in battle, which given the number of head wounds suffered is obviously quite stupid in-world. The depiction of viking and Anglo-Saxon and Frankish tactics is quite good.
They make hash of the topography. They have fjords in Kattegat, they have mountains by Uppsala, they have people crossing from Denmark to Sweden dryshod on land.
And being the we-used-to-be-a-history channel, they make hash of the history. For instance, Ragnarr did not succeed Horik I and king of Denmark, his son Horik II did.
The ships and houses and costumes are very nicely done and era-appropriate generally.
I’m curious to see if Rurik and Dyre will come in season 4 as the viking (varangian) founders of modern Russia were contemporaries of Ragnarr and his sons. Dyre’s companion Askold was the son of Hafdan Hvitsark Ragnarrson and thus grandson of Ragnarr and Aslaug and thus Ragnarr’s grandson.
Someone above scoffed at ‘conquering a new land with 30 guys’ well yes they didn’t have thousands of extras on set. But dark ages battles did not involve thousands of people either. The Great Heathen army of Ragnarr’s sons invaded and conquered most of England, the Isles, and northern Ireland with according to some scholars, less than a thousand men. Although Crusader Kings II gives them 15,000.
The show is very violent. It is about the events leading up to the Great Heathen Army which led the Christians of Europe to make special prayers for protection from them such as:
Pity [us] the highest favor by preserving and guarding our bodies, free us from the savage Norman tribe who devastates our realms.
They aged and young would have their throats slit, and maidens and lads too, and the multitudes also. Repel the evil from us, we altogether implore [thee]. Bring thee the ruling realm, we plead on our knees, to the king of glory, who pity us with true peace, soundness, hopes and strength. Give us peace and harmony. Bestow us unmitigated hope, genuine faith also; concede us continual charity and let completed be. Sanctify our prayers that we be availed in achieving this, that we be rejoiced in glorious measure. Praise be peace and glory, to the Trinity who [is] wholly most-magnificent for the people. Amen
–Charles the Bald
I give Vikings high marks for:
Values-neutral presentation of medieval Christianity vs Norse paganism. They are all anti-heroes at best except the Anglo-Saxon monk Aethelstan who is a viewer reference in that he is moral and isn’t murderous, Machiavellian, or batshit crazy. Well, he is Machiavellian, actually.
Acting, especially Travis Fimmel as the snarky, reserved, observant, calculating and ruthless Ragnarr and Katheryn Winnick as the stalwart shield-maiden Lagertha.
World-building set design and costumes are well thought out and authentic-ish. Such as the clinker-built ships they use.
Not so good for:
History, however Ragnarr isn’t acknowledged by all historians to be a historic character, although all his sons are. How could he not be real if his sons exist?
Ragnarr and Lagertha’s and Aslaug’s stories are caught up in the great cycle of Norse myths and legends such as Aslaug/Kraka/Ranhildr is the daughter of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the shield-maiden Brynhildr. Her early story corresponds to “Clever Peasant Girl” folk tale, Aarne-Thompson no. 875, so either it nicely fit that pattern of changed with retellings to fit it.
Nevertheless the script has Ragnarr become King of Denmark, which for sure did not happen.
Geography as mentioned. Locations have been picked for their visual appeal and way of framing establishing shots, but have nothing to do with the actual geography of the places depicted in most cases.
There’s a lot more analysis at tvtropes but better not to read it yet because spoilers.
Overall, Vikings is a great show and well-worth watching.
Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy