Vikings – Review of Episode 1: Rites of Passage

Peter’s Take: The latest medieval-themed tv show starts off, not unexpectedly, with a bloody battle. This early scene was reminiscent of Valhalla Rising with its intense violence and stunning backdrops. A promising beginning for the show Vikings.

Set somewhere in Scandinavia in the year 793, this episode introduces us to Ragnar, his wife Lagertha, and their son Bjorn. We get to see some nice scenes of family life in the 8th century – father teaching his son how to fight; the wife using a hot poker on a couple of drifters who try to rape her.

The main plot of this episode revolves around Ragnar, an ambitious farmer, who has been fighting under the local lord, Earl Haraldson. For years, he has been sent east to raid lands in the Baltic, but now Ragnar wants to voyage to the west, where he believes riches await. Haraldson, a petty and shortsighted strongman, disagrees, so Ragnar secretly has his own boat built.

We are also introduced to Ragnar’s brother Rollo, who seems to be supportive, but he also wants Lagertha, which will surely lead to some fraternal problems later on. Another character that turns up is Floki, a skilled but somewhat crazy boat builder, who seems like he will be providing the comedic moments for the show.

The show aims to have a lot of violence and sex, with the latter also being a little on the rough side (“I want to ride you like a wild bull,” Lagertha tells her husband). One also gets the sense that there will be elements of fantasy in this show – flocks of Ravens, ghosts rising from battlefield, one of the ugliest blind seers you will ever see, and is that Gandalf there too? – which may appeal to some viewers and turn off others.

As for problems with history, I found myself shaking my head at a couple of scenes. First, we have Earl Haraldson at the Thing, where he quickly dispenses justice against a thief and a murderer. For me the scenes came off as corny stereotype of what medieval crime and punishment is thought of, but hardly resembling what would actually have happened. The other #historyfail was the idea that these Vikings knew how to sail from Scandinavia to Russia, yet sailing to the west was a strange and unheard of concept.

These misgivings aside, I quite enjoyed this episode on how they portrayed life in medieval Scandinavia, as well as all the emerging plotlines between the main characters. Vikings also looks well made, with attention paid to details and wonderful shots of the northern European landscape ~ Peter

 Sandra’s Take

“Where are your parents?” ~Rollo
“They are having sex”~ Bjorn

And so we start the newest historical offering, meet Vikings, the latest period reboot. So finally History Channel has some actual “history” on it, albeit a very stylised, splashy version of the early Middle Ages. This is another Rome and the Tudors but in another period. The show is quite violent, the introduction was reminiscent of “Valhalla Rising” for me. There is a lot of dark, supernatural imagery. It’s very stylised, slick and sexy. Viking Ragnar, played by Australian actor, Travis Fimmel (The Beast, Restraint) is itching to raid West and find new fabled lands. His brutal lord, Earl Haraldson, played deftly by Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, In the Name of the Father) has other ideas; he wants them to raid east into Russia as they have always done. Haraldson refuses to aid Ragnar forcing him to seek advice from a seer to find out his fate and do a little plotting behind Haraldson’s back.

The supporting characters look interesting so far. Canadian Katheryn Winnick (Nikita, Failure to Launch) plays one badass shield maiden and Ragnar’s love interest, Lagertha. She’s definitely not someone you want to mess with unarmed! Rollo, played by Clive Standen (Camelot, Dr. Who) is Ragnar’s brother and stands by him but has designs on Lagertha. Lastly, we meet Floki, played by Gustaf Skarsgard, ( Arn – The Knight Templar) son of famous director Stellan Skarsgard and True Blood actor, Alexander Skarsgard, who is a crazed ship builder. Floki is a bizarre but fun character who can look at a tree and know if it will make a good boat. He builds Ragnar the boat Earl Haraldson refuses to spare him for his journey west.

I’m not going to lie, this is a sexy show; Vikings never looked so appealing! Visually, the show is beautiful, and the dark and fantastical tone gives it a Game of Thrones Winterfell mixed with Valhalla Rising feel. I really liked Lagertha’s fiesty character and surprisngly, enjoyed the graphic nature of the show. It pulls no punches and is heavy on violence and gore. That being said, it IS a show on Vikings, so if you expected it to be tame, I can tell you, you’ll be disappointed. It’s brutal but not over the top considering the topic. The only negative for me was that the show lost its pacing halfway through and became a bit slow but Ragnar’s defiance at end and the tension between Rollo and Lagertha make for a promising second episode. ~ Sandra


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