Vikings was likely easily missed in the cultural obsesstorm that surrounds its first cousin in dirtyface television, Game of Thrones. But the storm has calmed, and in its wake is the perfect time to pick up the 9-episode first season of History Channel’s latest scripted series on Blu-Ray.
The show delivers on everything it promises, which was really just Vikings. We see Vikings rape and pillage, take no prisoners and then take prisoners, discover new things like books and plates by tasting them. The series, from period drama veteran Michael Hirst (The Borgias, The Tudors) is beautifully shot and visually impressive, this even on a cable budget. But where one might mistake this for an overlong reenactment sequence – this is, after all, The History Channel – we get some strong performances, particularly from lead Travis Fimmel as Ragnar, and Kathryn Winnick as his formidable wife and shieldmaiden, Lagertha.
While the show gets off to a sometimes halting and awkward start (mostly suffering from stilted dialogue and a confusing buffet of accents to choose from), it builds quickly as we get invested in the life and times of Ragnar Lothbrok. A farmer who seeks more, he defies the ambiguously evil Jarl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne, ambiguously evil), commissions a boat from the delightfully insane Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), and sails west for the first time to conquer new lands. The dominoes fall rapidly from there: the Jarl doesn’t like being shown up, it takes forever for battle wounds to heal when you’re using only poultice. The succinct 9 episodes make for great binge-watching, thanks in large part to Fimmel’s arresting performance and piercing blue eyes. He imbues Ragnar with an enigmatic charisma, reliably flashing a mischievous smile whenever we think we’ve figured him out.
(Trailer courtesy IGN)
Where Vikings is perhaps even stronger than its pay-cable predecessors is in developing its female characters. The inherent limitations of cable rule out the heavy-handed use of sexposition, Game of Thrones boob-addled method of choice for getting out long bits of crucial information while giving you some sex to watch. As a result, the Viking women are portrayed as smart, cunning, self-possessed, and complex. And sexy, to be sure – lest we forget that less than halfway through the series, Ragnar and Lagertha invite their monk-slave-prisoner to bed with them for a weird Viking threesome. But, since there’s way less screen time hogged up by explicit sex scenes, the women by default have to be doing something else while they’re there. As a result, it seems they’re allowed to have inner thought processes and complex relationships. Ragnar and Lagertha, for one, make a compelling and beautiful couple: both fierce warriors (she’s a shieldmaiden), overwhelmingly good-looking, and actually in love with each other.
The three-disc set is worth taking a look at for an entrée into a legitimately fascinating ancient world (thanks, History Channel) populated by legitimately beautiful people who manage to be captivating in more ways than one. It’s the perfect way to get caught up in advance of 2014’s second season, which you’ll no doubt be awaiting with bated breath.