Vikings Season 1 Review “Rites of Passage”

I have to confess that I do not watch the History Channel all that often. That’s changing thanks to its new original program, Vikings. The show has the look and feel of an HBO show and has an impressive pedigree behind it. Tudors scribe Michael Hirst brings 793AD Scandinavia to life and introduces a new hero, Ragnar Lodbrog (Travis Fimmel).

This is not some rinky-dink Saturday afternoon syndicated historical drama. Stylistically, the show is similar to Game of Thrones. The palate is dark with grays and browns contrasting against the green landscape. The perpetually overcast skies make life seem dirty and dismal for the Viking people. In many ways, it must have been. Vikings are associated in our imaginations with lawless hordes killing, pillaging, and plundering their way through neighboring lands. On the one hand, Vikings can be looked at as daring explores who first pushed the boundaries of geographical knowledge all the way to the new world. On the other hand, that vision is less romantic and more about their thirst for riches. Vikings wants to give us a bit of both views.

Ragnar is obsessed with the idea of sailing west. He is tired of raiding the lands to the east where the people are equally poor. He believes that there is a rich land in the west that is ripe for the taking. His fixation, though, seems like more than just a lust for gold. After all, he is a farmer and doesn’t seem particularly unhappy with his social position. He is supported in his quest by his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), whose loyalty has limits seeing as he covets Ragnar’s wife, Lagertha (Kateryn Winnick).

Ragnar has a major problem, though. The leader of this band of Norsemen, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) does not support exploration of the west. The drama of the season will certainly focus on the power struggle between these two men. Trimmel is a good choice for the rugged and smug Ragnar. He has a convincing swagger that is complimented by his piercing blue eyes. It’s hard to fault casting Byrne in anything, but he just doesn’t seem very Nordic. Jessalyn Gilsig is also an interesting choice as Haraldson’s wife, Siggy.

Norse mythology and the Viking’s reputation as warriors and explorers make this a rich area for drama. For viewers of action heavy shows like Spartacus, Vikings will not disappoint. It rushes out of the gate with a graphic and bloody battle, complete with 300-reminiscent slow motion slayings. The Viking women are no pushovers, which is a pleasure to see. When marauders come into the village while the men are away, Lagertha slays them without breaking a sweat.

The only complaint I really had was that the background music is a little heavy. They could ease up on the tribal drums and flutes. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go in the exploration west, and also how they will integrate the Norse mythology, including Odin. If you are a fan of the Tudors or Game of Thrones, Vikings is definitely worth a watch.

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