Spoiler-free Impressions and Components
Skip ahead for further analysis containing details from the first 3 episodes of season 1.
- It’s a solidly entertaining show. I enjoyed it.
- From the beginning, the show sets the expectation for violence, lots of blood, fantastical figures, and a focus on the two brothers, Ragnar and Rollo.
- The writing and plotting are fine, but what’s really compelling are the characters. Ragnar and Rollo work together but have many differences that present the opportunity for much conflict. Lagertha, Ragnar’s wife, is written like a real woman with desires and strength and a role beyond “nagging wife.” The family interactions are an important dynamic to the show, as much as the violence, killing, marauding and other typical Vikings stereotypes.
- The religious aspects are very compelling, with the coexistence of Christianity and Norse mythology. The priest character has a lot of potential and interest.
- The culture is also well presented. The costumes, housing, hair, etc are all meticulously represented. As far as historical accuracy, I have no idea. There is an unknown factor concerning Viking culture, adding interest and unpredictability.
Impressions of series Vikings
Includes details from season 1, episodes 1 through 3
Season 1 episode 1 starts ambiguously and without introduction, just two Viking men battling it out with armored foes. It’s several minutes of intense violence and bloodshed, without a single introduction or distinguishable word, save the declaration “Ragnar!” There are ravens everywhere. A morbid Gandalf looking figure appears, pulling away the bodies, assumingly to the Norse afterlife in Valhalla. The opening scene sets expectations for the series, so look for battles, lots of blood, fantastical figures, and a lot from these two main Viking figures (later revealed to be Ragnar and Rollo).
The main arc right now is the political power plays between the village members, most specifically Ragnar and the current Earl. This is not so much appealing to me (at least not yet), but I know many people are fascinated by political conflict.
Generally speaking, the writing is fine. It does the job, but a little more finesse would be appreciated. Early on, Ragnar and his son are going to a “thing.” It’s plausible the vague wording is to build suspense by not revealing too much, but isn’t there a better word to describe where the father and son are going without being quite such a meaningless placeholder? The suspense theory becomes moot because they continue to call it the “thing” even while they’re at the meeting. Unless the name for this event literally translates to “thing” in English, it’s a bit careless. The writing could also use a little more subtlety, but on the upside, there is no confusion at all. Ragnar wants to go west. Got it. Sunstone, game changing. Cool.
Even so, the characters are diverse, and they are what’s truly enthralling about the series. All the sailing and bloodshed are just ambiance. The conversation and power struggles between characters, especially Ragnar’s family members, provide plenty of conflict and interest beyond sensationalism in the form of violence and sexuality that characterize some other period television series.
The brothers, Ragnar and Rollo are in many ways complete opposites. Ragnar (at least now) seems to respect and enjoy his marriage with Lagertha. By respect, that’s not to ignore that there’s some sort of domestic abuse/physical fighting situation on both their parts, but they both seem to like it? Like it’s possibly foreplay? (Maybe that’s how they dealt with marital disputes back then?) It’s certainly entertaining but not exactly a model of marriage. In contrast, his brother rapes a woman. Seems pretty opposite. So far it’s unclear if Ragnar knows about his brother’s actions and what he would think about it. It’d seem probable that Ragnar at least would be upset that Rollo propositions Lagertha, but the couple was gonna get down with the monk, so maybe Ragnar’s pretty liberal. Although judging by the way Lagertha responded to Rollo, I can’t imagine Ragnar’d be happy.
Lagertha is also a major character, and seems pretty adept at taking care of herself, unlike the stereotype in more Western/Christian traditions. She cares for the children, she’s a shield maiden, and she’s very opinionated.
To me, the most thought-provoking aspect so far is the intermingling of two religions, one still a dominant force worldwide and the other relegated to mythology. There’s already been some fantastical elements introduced with depictions of Norse gods, but it will be interesting to see if Christianity gets the same treatment. It seems unlikely because the series is mostly immersed in the Viking world and concerned with Viking characters. It’s fascinating that what’s considered a mythology today is treated as a religion with actual gods, and Christianity seems more unknown and mythical.
The priest, Athelstan, has potential to be a very captivating character, and I hope he sticks around. For being a slave, Athelstan is treated pretty well and Ragnar gives him a lot of freedom. Not that it’s all shining sunstones, like when Athelstan heartbreakingly walks past his fellow priests hanging by their necks as a very present reminder of these people’s control on his existence. I definitely see his character developing and his role expanding in the future. I would predict moving away from his strict adherence to monk rules while surrounded in this more free society. He did turn down Lagertha and Ragnar, but hey, it’s early in the three’s relationship and while this is on cable, it’s not HBO.
All the characters and story come together, rooted this representation of culture and the expectations in the Viking world. The costuming, the sets, the shaved heads and bushy beards all add to the world building. Early on, the rules and traditions are unknown, and that unpredictability keeps it entertaining. Like little Bjorn, the audience does not know what it means when he raises his hand, resulting in a unanimous vote. Come to find out, all must be in favor in order to sentence this man to death. The uncertainty may not hold true as the series continues, but it makes for a compelling opening.
I am not versed in Viking history, so I do not know the historical accuracy of this series, although as always, it is assumed that some liberties will be (and sometimes must be) made. I do wonder if either brother, being so different, is more historically in line with actual Viking sentiments (as far as research can tell), and about the historical accuracy in general. For instance, Lagertha asks that Ragnar not sleep with other women while he’s away. Asks. So is this typical and not a Viking deal breaker? The woman really doesn’t do much to protest Rollo’s seemingly unwanted advances, so is this a representation of these unique people’s personality or does it reflect a greater view on sexuality in the Viking age?
All in all, it was enjoyable and I plan to keep watching. I’m excited to see how the characters grow and to immerse myself in this unknown Viking land.
- Ragnar’s striking blue eyes contrast beautifully with the deep red dried, blood on his face.
- So far, the kids are kinda just there. Will they play a bigger role in future episodes? Afterall, Bjorn is now a man in Viking culture (no word on the girl, who appears to be close in age).
- Speaking of Bjorn, that kid could definitely be a Lannister based on appearance
- Lagertha looks like a badass (in addition to being one).
- I could almost watch this series for the countryside alone. So beautiful.
- I won’t lie, I only basically understand the sunstone and kinda glazed over the explanations of how it worked.
- Speaking of historical accuracy, is the bowl cut with the balding area cut out real? And you’d think the priest would be happy to get rid of that. Maybe he’s still clinging to what he knows in a foreign and hostile land.
- I wonder how Rollo would feel knowing that his name is a gross candy now?
UPDATE: I am now obsessed. Lagertha is everything. I can’t quit it.
All photo credit to The History Channel and Vikings.