With the success of shows like BURN NOTICE, BREAKING BAD, and THE WALKING DEAD, more and more cable channels have been trying to get in on the original programming game. But I was a bit surprised when I heard that History would be getting in on the action. However, with the conclusion of the second season of VIKINGS, they have certainly proven that they can create a show just as entertaining as anything on USA or AMC. The second season opens with a Viking on Viking battle: on one side is Ragnar Lothbrok and King Horrik, on the other is Rollo, Ragnar’s brother, and Jarl Borg. The battle ends in something of a stalemate, with Ragnar, Horrik, and Borg making a tentative peace, while Rollo is taken prisoner for betraying his brother. This violent, intense opener sets the stage for the entire season: Ragnar continues to rise in power and covets more, Jarl Borg pursues revenge and, in his mind, justice, Rollo seeks a path to redemption, and Horrik seeks to undermine Ragnar’s growing fame. However, there are a few other players who get thrown into the mix. Lagertha is now the wife of an Earl and potential rival to Ragnar, and Bjorn, her and Ragnar’s son, has grown into a strapping young man eager to prove his fighting prowess. These factions all intertwine to give us a story that is not only original and entertaining, but extremely fun and more than a little addicting.
VIKINGS boasts some impressive production values and, as expected from a show on History, holds pretty true to an accurate depiction of Vikings, at least from what has been set down in the historical record. The sets are gorgeous, yet simple, as Vikings mostly lived in wooden homes, and even when they are invading England, the time frame is well before the castle age so most of those sets are simplistic as well, but very well crafted. The costumes are beyond wonderful, mostly simple woven clothes of drab colors with nicer clothes only worn by important people on special occasions. The warriors wear mostly leather with metal being a rarity and rarely used, except by some of the English. One of the things that most impressed me this season was the increased use of axes; it was very uncommon for Vikings to use swords, as metal was scarce, and only the greatest warriors or leaders might have them. The first season was a little too sword heavy, probably to lull in viewers who have less of a historical appetite who simply expect the dark ages to feature swords, thankfully, they pendulum has swung back and axes are the primary weapon of the Vikings this season. Another wonderful historical accuracy is the focus on farming. While VIKINGS focuses on a legendary Viking hero, and therefore has a great deal of warfare and raiding, the Viking lifestyle was far more agricultural based, and this acknowledgment in the show and by Ragnar helps keep the viewer anchored to a more realistic perspective of Viking life.
Besides great production values, VIKINGS boasts a great story and engrossing characters that will hook you in and have you eagerly awaiting the next episode. What makes the story telling so fantastic, is that the show delivers exactly what you want, but it does it in a way that you’re never quite expecting, which is refreshing in an age of predictable television. When it comes to characters, front and center is Ragnar Lothbrok, played by Travis Fimmel (THE BAY TOWN OUTLAWS). Ragnar’s vision of the future is one where he, and subsequently, his people, claim a higher place in the world; he is an Earl with eyes on greater things and he is headstrong and brave, but also intelligent and crafty, which makes him an engrossing character that is insanely fun to analyze. Athelstan, played by George Blagden (LES MISERABLES), is a conflicted man. Once a monk and servant of God, he was captured by Vikings and converted to their religion, but now he finds himself torn between those two worlds of belief, with some interesting, and terrifying events wrenching him in different directions. Rollo, played by Clive Standen (HAMMER OF THE GODS), is a man who has constantly been in his brother’s shadow, but every time he tries to step out, he finds himself back at the mercy of his brother, his is a story of an unquiet soul trying to find something to sooth his tumultuous desires, which makes him a favorite of rebels everywhere. For the brilliant misfit there’s Floki, played by Gustaf Skarsgard (KON-TIKI), Ragnar’s chief ship builder and all around odd ball. Floki is a fierce devotee of the gods, but he is a bit too unbalanced to function like most other people in his society, this makes him a great deal of fun to watch, although he can go from fun to disturbing in an instant. Men aren’t the only interesting characters in VIKINGS, Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick (STAND UP GUYS), is an extremely powerful woman with an uncompromising spirit. She desires, and succeeds, at being an equal or, arguably, a superior, to the men around her. Her intelligence, strength, and gender allow her to play the power game on a different level and it provides an engrossing dynamic to the show.
When I first heard about VIKINGS, I knew I was going to watch it because I love medieval kitsch, but I was pleasantly surprised by its outstanding production values and engrossing characters. History has thrown their hat into the original programming ring and come up with a show that not only entertains, but gets under your skin and makes you crave more. If you have any interest in the time period, culture, or just want to watch a show full of intrigue and vicious combat, than check out VIKINGS, because it’ll more than satisfy.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10