Vikings Season 1 Eps 1-3 (TV Show Review)

Historical dramas are quite popular these days, it seems. From what little I’ve seen in the genre, there’s always been a certain fascination since these dramas, for such as they are indeed, take us towards our histories and present an often romanticized version of these eras. In recent years, Tudors and Reign have proven to be quite popular among viewers and recently the History Channel premiered a new show that quickly went on to become such a hit that almost 14 months after the premiere, the show has already been renewed for a third season!

Vikings is the story of the near-mythological (apparently) Norse hero Ragnar Lodbrok who was a feared Norse raider in the early 8th century. Joined by his wife and shieldmaiden Lagertha, his brother Rollo and quite an interesting cast of other Norse characters, Vikings Season 1 tells of how Ragnar Lodbrok discovered England and its many riches, of how he eventually rose to become one of his peoples’ greatest heroes. Having watched the first three episodes of the 10-episode debut season, I have to say that while the story is a bit slow-paced and not all the characters are interesting, I’m definitely interested in exploring more, largely because the action is awesome.

Vikings Season 1 Logo 0001The first episode, Rites of Passage, starts off well enough with Ragnar and Rollo ending what appears to be quite an epic battle, one in which Ragnar seemingly has a vision of the Norse high-god Odin walking the battlefield and having his Valkyries bear away the dead heroes of the battle. As we move further on into the first episode, we see that Ragnar is obsessed with sailing west to the fabled land of England, where more riches and treasures than the Norsemen have ever imagined are theirs for the taking. The Norsemen, especially those under Ragnar’s lord Earl Haraldson, always sail east into the Baltics for their summer raids and as far as Ragnar is concerned, his people have milked those lands dry already. It is time for a change and he is convinced that he is the person to bring about the change, particularly since he has in his possession a most unique and new method of navigating the seas.

The second episode, Wrath of the Norsemen, has Ragnar, Rollo and their hand-picked crew of Vikings set sail for England in a new experimental longship built by Ragnar’s shipwright friend Floki. This episode deepens the political troubles for Ragnar since Earl Haraldson is against the untried voyage to England and he takes some actions against Ragnar’s endeavour, once he and the others have set sail for their fabled prize. And the raid is, of course, successful. The Vikings land in Lindisfarne, Northumberland and raid a monastery there.

The third episode, Dispossessed, sees the successful raiders return to Scandinavia and celebrate their raid, though matters turn sour when Haraldson makes his displeasure known. But permission is soon granted for a second raid, and this one sees the stakes rise higher than before as some of the mysteries of the series deepen once again and we see a further glimpse of the historical savagery of the Viking raids into England.

As a whole, these three episodes flow together quite smoothly since there is a single running story and there are no weekly stories as would the case be in a more… regular series. But, the thing is that the first three episodes are also poorly paced and that the story isn’t quite so interesting. It also doesn’t help that Travis Fimmel, who plays Ragnar, is a rather boring actor and there is little subtlety in his performance. It just seems that he overacts everything and the accent he puts on doesn’t hep either. The same goes for Ragnar. He is far too conciliatory in matters, though he has an occasional moment of dominance and strong leadership. The same cannot be said for his wife Lagertha or his brother Rollo however, or the actors who play those roles, Katheryn Winnick and Clive Standen. Lagertha is a former shieldmaiden and she is one of the best things about the show, particularly since her warrior skills are mentioned again and again and we also get to see her in action in each episode, first against would-be rapists, then against her husband, and then against some English soldiers under King Aelle of Northumberland. With Rollo, he also stands out. Clive Standen was quite fantastic in the tragically short-lived mythological historical drama Camelot where he played Sir Gawain.

Together, Rollo and Lagertha, Clive Standen and Katheryn Winnick more than make up for the shortcomings of Travis Fimmel and his Ragnar, so things are looking good on that front. Hopefully the next few episodes are better in that regard and the latter picks up the way I expect him to pick up.

Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson is another point in favour of the show. The autocratic ruler of Ragnar’s tribe is quite the political mastermind, especially when combined with the wiles of his wife Svein and the dark dealings of his right-hand, Svein. Start to finish in each of these three episodes, I enjoyed every scene with Haraldson and I have to say that Byrne performs admirably in the role. There is intensity in his acting and that is indeed welcome. Jessalyn Gilsig’s Siggy can feel a bit off at times, but then she doesn’t really do much. Her most significant contributions thus far appear to be to kiss young boys on the lips when they go through their rites of passage and swear their loyalty to Haraldson, convince her husband that he has enemies all around him, and expose a traitor in her husband’s employ by attempting to seduce him. David Pearce’s Svein on the other hand is a pretty typical henchman and while he doesn’t get much screen-time, he is Haraldson’s hand and face in most things and thus is indeed quite visible. Plus I really like his accent. It is kind of funny too.

There are lots more characters in the show of course, but these six have so far been the most important and much of all that happens in Ragnar’s tribe revolves around them, in one way or the other. There is some good and decent chemistry between all of them, especially Ragnar and Lagertha, and Ragnar and Rollo, so that comes to save the slow-paced plots more often than not. There are lots of shades of light and dark to all the characters, and if there’s one thing that the show does not shy away from, it is the latter. Even for a strictly-ruled society like that of the Scandinavians, there are often moments where you see the worst of them. This holds true especially for when they are raiders, for in that role, they are merciless and bloodthirsty. Ragnar gets off on those two counts at times, but that’s because he is portrayed as more a seeker of knowledge than as just a warrior, and I like that side of him. It means that there are lots of narrative possibilities here for writer Michael Hirst to explore and he doesn’t shy away from any of them. Not as far as I’ve seen of course.

Vikings Season 1 Stills 0001

Visually, this show rocks. Things are often grim in this show, but the visual details are excellent. This is all the more relevant given how much of these three episodes is filmed outdoors instead of indoors. We have scenes of the vikings raiding in their sturdy longships, scenes of battle and mayhem, the culture, the society, the landscapes, everything. The show’s producers and indeed the director of these three episodes, Johan Renck, take every opportunity to show off the land that the vikings live in, and those shots are quite beautiful indeed. The more… supernatural elements of the show, such as Ragnar having visions of Odin and his valkyries, or visiting a rune-caster in his tribe’s capital Kattagett, are downplayed often but are no less impressive. My only criticism in that regard is that it is not quite clear whether Ragnar is indeed having visions or whether they are just there for the viewer’s benefit. Either way, the visual aspects are top-notch in every aspect.

Based on these first three episodes, I am definitely interested in seeing more. When we leave off at the end of the third episode, Ragnar and his men, alongwith Lagertha, have just fought off a small coastal garrison of King Aelle’s troops, and where we go from there is something that I’m really looking forward to.

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Posted on June 6, 2014, in Review Central, TV Show Reviews, Vikings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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