TV Review: Vikings – Season 1 – 8.3
The History Channel really is starting to mix things up. This year, they introduced both The Bible and Vikings. While I didn’t watch The Bible, I did get caught up in the drama of Vikings. The season finale aired this previous Sunday, and did not disappoint. The show proved itself throughout the year, and is one of the best new shows on TV.
Vikings centers on a particular Viking warrior, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), and his family. Early in the season, Ragnar is taught a new way of navigating the seas, allowing the Scandinavian Vikings to sail to England. We see Ragnar begin to strike out on his own, and begin raiding the English. Soon, his local governor or Earl (as he is called on the show) begins to feel threatened by Ragnar and the first real tension of the season begins. Ragnar is pitted against Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). The Earl begins a campaign to discredit and eventually kill Ragnar. The interplay between Ragnar and the Earl occupies the first half of the season.
Towards the end of the first season, we begin to see Ragnar start to expand his horizons. We meet a “king” of at least some of the Viking people. King Horik receives the loyalty of Ragnar, and we see some of the Viking traditions. One particularly good episode depicts the Viking ritual of human sacrifice. Now, I’m not a Viking scholar by any means, so I can’t claim to have any expertise on whether or not this was historically accurate. But, for the feel of the show, it was pretty damn fun to watch.
The show benefits from some really fine acting. In particular, Fimmel does an incredible job as the show’s lead. He has a sort of mischievous charm that is impossible to miss. His charisma shines in almost every episode. Katheryn Winnick, who plays his wife Lagertha Lothbrok, is a perfect counterpart to Fimmel. She portrays a sort of directness and strength that makes Lagertha a completely believable character in the show. At the same time, she displays a sensitivity and emotional side that makes her vulnerable at the same time. Clive Standen plays Ragnar’s brother (Rollo) and also puts forward a solid performance. He, more than any other character in the show, is a conflicted soul. It is clear that he feels close with Ragnar, but he also is jealous and wants to be out of his brother’s shadow. It seems as if the growing discontent of Rollo and his conflict with Ragnar will be a primary story line in the second season.
More than the acting, the show simply does a good job of capturing a realistic portrayal of the dynamics of the characters involved. Nothing is too over the top. A feeling of desperation balanced by a more simple contentment, underlies the feeling of the Vikings. The show can be bleak in appearance and themes, but does well to highlight the characters to prevent the show from focusing solely on the bleak. The relationship between Ragnar and Lagertha is really the cornerstone of the first season. It is hard not to root for the couple, and for each individually. Ragnar may not be the best individual (at times he does some questionable things) but because of his charm, I want to see how high he can go.
The show does have its faults. It is one of those shows that mixes accents without any regard at all for whether it may be disturbing for the viewer. Clearly, the show doesn’t have the actors speaking Scandinavian (or whatever language the Vikings used). They all speak English, but it is unsettling to have Australian accents, mixed with American, mixed with Canadian, mixed with English. It simply diverts the attention away from the time period it is supposed to be set in. It also currently lacks a real central “villain” or nemesis to Ragnar. At the end of this season, its arguable that Rollo is currently Ragnar’s nemesis, he really hasn’t stepped up to the plate yet. Comparing Vikings to Game of Thrones, for example, demonstrates the paucity of villains in Vikings. Game of Thrones is almost defined by its incredible villains. Vikings has none.
Final Toast: 8.3
Vikings is one of the best new series I have watched this season. It combines good acting, clever and cohesive writing with a fresh setting. It is certainly worth the time of watching the first few episodes to get the flavor of the series. If you don’t like it by the end of the second episode, you likely never will. I for one, am already excited for season 2.