Review: Vikings (TV Series) Available on History Channel
With a Rotten Tomatoes critic and user score of 93% and 89% respectively, it’s clear to say that the Viking-themed TV show is a force to be reckoned with. It has been casually dismissed by some as Game of Thrones-lite, but to ignore Vikings would be a mistake. It is a significantly more streamlined saga than the Game of Thrones juggernaut, focusing mostly on one family, compared with the legions of individuals, families, and clans in the world of ice and fire. It is not sacrilegious to say that Vikings may in fact be the better of the two shows (reader gasps in shock).
The main limiting factor with Vikings is the network on which it is aired, the History channel. Let me be clear, I am a huge fan of the History channel, which has provided us with some of the greatest documentary series on TV, such as the amazing Ancient Aliens with the illustrious Giorgio Tsoukalos (the guy with the hair and, “I’m not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens” meme) but this channel simply could not compete in term of viewership with the likes of Game of Throne’s Sky Atlantic. It is now possible however to watch Vikings on Amazon Prime, as well as History, greatly increasing its accessibility.
The show is now in it’s sixth season, the first half having already been aired, and the remaining 10 episodes are scheduled to be aired later this year, likely in Winter sometime. There will be a kind of spin-off series named Valhalla and will be provided on Netflix drawing the saga to a close. We can expect the seventh season to air in late 2021.
Vikings kicks off with legendary Swedish King Ragnar Lothbrok leading a famous raid. We don't know whether the real Ragnar was involved in the 793AD raid regarded as the start of the Viking age; a good example of how Vikings blends European history with its fictional storytelling. The drama plays fast and loose with recorded events, but you'll get some knowledge of the times from watching. Which is arguably more useful than a working knowledge of the sigils and royal houses of Westeros, much as I love them.
The Vikings’ deeply held pagan spiritual beliefs also allows for drama around premonitions and hallucinations fuelled by religion and/or drugs. But there's no sorcery here. The only dragons you'll see in Vikings are the ones carved on the front of their warships.
But while the events are shuffled around, cultural aspects of Viking life are treated with a little more care – the importance of a good death, what a blood eagle is, that sort of thing. A forthcoming episode deals with blood sacrifices – one of the strangest episodes, and a real standout. While the show could never be confused with a history lesson, we see a little of how the Vikings interact with each other and other cultures. (Often disastrously for the non-Vikings, as the raiders' world expands thanks to Ragnar's ambition and cunning.)
The cast also looks appropriately grubby and weathered: strong but not six-packed, as if their tough lifestyle as farmers and fighters – rather than thousands of ab-crunches in the gym – has made them powerful. The acting doesn't disappoint either: ex-Calvin Klein model or one-time tv Tarzan Travis Fimmel erases his past misdeeds as the charismatic, sly Ragnar Lothbrok; a man of few words, all of them important.
Elsewhere, Katheryn Winnick impresses as Ragnar's wife and shieldmaiden Lagertha, and Clive Standen is great as Ragnar's sibling Rollo who, forced to live in his brother's shadow, has the show's most interesting and eventful story arc. There's also Gustaf Skarsgård (another son of Stellan) as impish boat builder and mystic Floki, a character as amusing as he is deadly, and George Blagden as English monk Athelstan who serves as the audience's eyes and ears as he ends up deep in Viking culture.
You never get the impression that anyone involved is giving any less than their all. There's no wheel spinning or time wasting – Vikings is a lean, mean show that starts off well then steadily improves. So, what have you made of it? Leave your (spoiler-free, if possible) thoughts below.