• Review - Vikings Season 1

    Single Issue XI

    Vikings Season 1 (2013)

    After the success of Hatfields and McCoys, it seems as if the History Channel has decided that scripted dramas, at least in limited number, may be in its future. And with Vikings, it appears as if they have their first hit original drama. Based on the sagas centered around legendary Ragnar Lodbrok as well as the support of other contemporary sagas and written works, Vikings is an epic tale set in the early days of the Viking Age. The drama is epic in that it is about breaking free of the restraints of society while forging one’s own destiny.

    One of the major successes of Vikings has to be the atmosphere of Vikings. The producers of the show strived to create a world that would be believable for the audience, and in large part they succeeded. Shot primarily in Ireland, the show features beautiful landscapes that seem to portray the relatively untouched world of the Vikings. The producers also paid careful attention towards the details of Viking culture that, while perhaps not completely accurate (at least not according to the knowledgeable views of some members here on the forums), do not even for a moment take you out of the experience. The sets, props, locations, cinematography, and even the effects all mesh together very well to bring the viking era to television. One notable scene in particular is the sacrifice episode late in the season that really shows off a lot of Viking culture, including the sacrificial scene that was beautifully shot and scored. Worthy of mentioning has to be the use of Old Norse and Saxon that are used when the Vikings and the Saxons are attempting to converse, with it switching between the two old languages and then English depending on the situation and from whose point of view the scene is taking place from. It’s really a fascinating little detail that they added that I think makes the show that much more awesome. Finally, the cinematography is just absolutely gorgeous in this show. The directors went all out in making such a beautiful looking show when it comes to shooting and all the little additions to each shot that makes the show stand out. Even the music of the series is excellent, with composer Trevor Morris providing a wonderful score that meshes well with the tone of the series rather nicely. The show does not look cheap even in the slightest, with production values that, while perhaps not on the same level as comparable shows like Game of Thrones, give the show an air of authenticity and depth that few other shows can rival.

    Another great aspect of the show would certainly be the casting and acting. Of course the central actor of this series is Travis Fimmel. Fimmel’s performance as Ragnar is nothing short of amazing, portraying the young warrior as a man with great ambition but one also who cares about family and friends very believably, and always with an enigmatic smile on his face. His performance is very nuanced, and an absolute highlight of the first season. Honorable mentions would have to include Gustaf Skarsgard as the hilarious and mysterious Floki, as well as George Blagden as the priest Athelstan. Blagden in particular has his work cut out for him as a character who must live in both the Christian world as well as the Viking one, and I believe he pulls off the role masterfully. Luckily for this show the great acting does not stop with these three, and the full cast is quite wonderful. The only weak spot in the series is Nathan O’Toole as the young Bjorn, son of Ragnar. However, as a child actor I’m willing to give him a pass because I think half of the issues are annoying lines that he had to say.

    The choreography of the fighting in this series is simply amazing, and easily one of the best parts of the season. Throughout the nine episodes, there are about four small battles. Unlike many shows where it feels like scripted fighting, I find the choreography in this to be amongst the best I have ever seen. In many cases when the “heroes” are fighting it feels like they are barely making their kills in the chaos of the fighting, or truly barely avoiding the strike of a blade or axe. In addition, I never thought that fighting in a shield wall would be able to be portrayed so wonderfully and interestingly on the little screen. And it really helps show how the Vikings were able to easily shatter the small forces of the Northumbrians in this season, despite the fact that it is inaccurate to show the English as fighting outside of the shield wall as well. I think the shield wall fighting also helps keep the budget inline and keep the producers and directors focused on making the action look tight and crisp for the audience. Because of all of this, the choreography and battle direction really helps solidify the fact that the Vikings were feared by both the soldiers and civilians of the English kingdoms.

    I think the final main thing that should be discussed is the story itself. While it is not perfect like many other shows, I find the story of the first season to be very engrossing. Obviously the center of the story is Ragnar but his quest for glory is not the only story that Vikings tells. The extent of Rollo’s jealousy and how it affects his decisions, Athelstan’s struggle as a Christian amongst a Pagan culture, and even Lagertha’s (Ragnar’s wife) journey to produce a new son are all mixed together amongst the backdrop of Ragnar’s tale. Showing the first contact (at least in the show) of Vikings and Saxons was also a great addition to the story, as it shows how the show is not just about battles and glory, but exploration, curiosity, and meeting of cultures. Ragnar’s reluctant rise to power is also interesting as his personality and beliefs not only clash with those above him in Viking hierarchy but also his peers. Much of the early conflict in the first season involves Ragnar's tumultuous relationship with his leader, the Earl Haraldson. Haraldson is a traditionalist in Viking culture, whereas Ragnar is a radical, and desires to sail only ever eastward towards their traditional grounds for raiding. Meanwhile, Ragnar’s desire to explore westward places him in direct conflict with his earl. Ragnar’s eventual decision to defy his earl of course leads to violent results, and whose consequences lead to interesting results for the viewers to enjoy.

    The story is overall improved, in my opinion, by tying in the Viking mythology to the series. Odin makes an appearance in the mind (or maybe not) of Ragnar in the very first episode, and throughout the first season the gods are mentioned often. They especially pop up when it comes to talking to Athelstan, as his unfamiliarity but relative interest with the Viking religion matches the audiences’. Of course he begins to experience a slight crisis of faith in later episodes that is heightened by the realities of their religion (sacrifice, the end of the world, etc) so perhaps it is a little tropey, but nonetheless I believe they pull it off rather nicely It is never made explicitly clear this season if the Vikings are actually influenced by their gods, but I believe that only adds to the mystery, the atmosphere, and the intrigue of the story. It is an interesting storytelling method to tie it in, and I hope we see more of it in future seasons as I find it a fascinating plot device in the overall narrative.

    The only main issue I really had with the story was the overall pacing. In some episodes, weeks or months would pass by, without any real hint as to the time passing. This was most prevalent when showing Ragnar learning Saxon from Athelstan, a feat that seems to be accomplished within the span of an episode, with him speaking near-fluent Saxon English to others in later episodes. This also leads to important events being presented quickly at the expense of possibly character development and other important things as the writers and producers race to get to the main bullet points of the season. It’s not a huge issue overall, but I feel it is an issue that could have been an easy fix. In addition, the betrayal of Rollo at the end of the season felt like it came from nowhere, though it did add a nice little cliffhanger onto the overall season. Both of these issues as well as other, much more minor ones could have been fixed by, in my opinion, simplifying having one more episode of story overall to fully flesh out narrative of the season. But again, it hardly tarnishes the overall quality of the season; it’s just something that they can work on in later seasons. Despite these small issues, the majority of these factors and many more lead to the first season having a fascinating story distinct from many other shows.

    Overall, I think that the first season of Vikings is a wonderful starting point for this series. It does have some minor problems to it, like any show does, and I think that it is sometimes unavoidable to have some minor pitfalls in new series. But the story, the production values, the characters and story all make for an interesting and refreshing first season of Vikings. And even better, it has room to grow over its future.


    Comments 7 Comments
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      This review has been worked on me off and on for almost FOUR years. I'm happy to have finally finished it. I'm not entirely happy with how it turned out because for whatever reason this one was so hard to finish.

      Nonetheless, I hope you guys enjoy.
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      One of the master pieces, if not THE, by the History Channel.
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      I'd argue that Hatfield's and McCoy's is better...it's almost a perfect miniseries in my opinion. But yeah Vikings is definitely up there. I think there are only a handful of scripted shows to choose from though. We will have to see how Knightfall turns out.
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Great review, considering that it took you 4 years to write it

      However, now I know I need to see the series.. I'm never very attracted by those shows which are an immediate success (see GoT, for instance), but this one really seems to be deserving my attention
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Yes it's a great series. The first three seasons are awesome.
    1. G|I|Sandy's Avatar
      G|I|Sandy -
      Great review! The addition of Athelstan was absolutely amazing for the show.

    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Quote Originally Posted by G|I|Sandy View Post
      Great review! The addition of Athelstan was absolutely amazing for the show.

      Indeed. Athelstan was pretty much a vessel for the audience in exploring this fantastic new culture. His journey is fascinating.