Religion, Raids and Ragnar(ök): Series One of ‘Vikings’
By Ross Crawford
Published Online (2013)
Intoduction: It would be fair to say that not many of us expected much from Vikings. The History Channel is not exactly famed for high quality serialised drama. It’s infinitely more well-known for its laughable insistence that the ancient world’s architectural triumphs are so hard to comprehend they can only be the work of ALIENS! It’s the only rational explanation!
It is with pleasure then, that Vikings ended up being such a welcome surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been quite so unexpectedly enjoyable, as a quick glance behind-the-scenes reveals a creator of considerable pedigree, Michael Hirst. He is of course responsible for Elizabeth, Elizabeth II: The Revenge of the Spanish Armada (sorry, The Golden Age) and most pertinently perhaps, the breakout hit, The Tudors. In these examples, Hirst plays fast-and-loose with history, prioritising narrative-flow above all else. You will find little slavish accuracy here history fans, most ‘facts’ are quickly sacrificed upon his altar of high drama. Yet while they may not be strictly credible in the minutiae of historical detail, they more importantly feel authentic and stay relatively true to the broader historical reality. Indeed, Hirst’s fast-paced and ever-so-slightly blasé approach to history ends up being a perfect fit for the lively world of the Vikings.
Other than how gorgeous it looks–the rugged landscape of Ireland doubling convincingly for early medieval Scandinavia–the most initially striking facet of Vikings is how deliciously weird it is. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes it is not. The opening moments of the show exhibit both aspects of this ‘weirdness’. A brief, bloody skirmish introduces us to Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), and the strange northern otherworld he inhabits. We are first met with a close-up shot of Ragnar’s piercing blue eyes before he springs into combat, every bit a physical manifestation of a Viking warrior. As introductions go, this swift, brutal fight is rather thrilling and immediately sets a grim tone.