Vikings Season 1 Review “Wrath of Northmen”

Wow. That’s all I can say after watching the second episode of History Channel’s Vikings. If things keep going as they are, this is going to become a must-watch for me (and not just because I write about it). The characters are compelling, the cinematography is beautiful, and the story sidesteps formula and predictability. I said it last week and I’ll say it again – if you like Game of Thrones and shows of that vein, you must watch Vikings.

This week, Ragnar has “go west” fever. His new boat is finished and he secretly gathers a crew to navigate into the western unknown. Ragnar’s wife, Lagertha, is not pleased by his plans to leave. That’s actually an understatement. Lagertha is seriously pissed off. But, not for the reason you may think. Typically, the wife and mother would be upset that her husband is embarking on such a dangerous voyage. Lagertha isn’t mad at Ragnar for leaving, she’s mad that she’s not joining him. The dream of going west was supposed to be both of their dreams, and he is leaving her behind so she can take care of the children.

While Ragnar doesn’t seem all that concerned about leaving Lagertha, her anger is refreshing. Her rage is so fierce that she later attacks him with her shield. This was pretty spectacular. Lagertha expresses all the frustration that would typically be reserved for a male character, and she puts the smack down on Ragnar in the process. She is not only his equal, she may actually be slightly better than him. Of course, Ragnar tries to stop the fight by turning it into foreplay. Normally, you would expect the female to acquiesce and that equilibrium would be restored after a night of passion. Not so for Lagertha. She is unwilling to relinquish her feeling of betrayal. The two retreat to their corners only after their son intervenes. This is the type of situation that shows Vikings is not on autopilot and is putting thought into its characters. Lagertha is becoming one of my favorite female characters on TV, and Katheryn Winnick is doing a fantastic job bringing her to life.

Rollo agrees to go west with Ragnar and before they leave, the crew meets up at Floki’s. It was pretty gross to watch the men wash their faces with the same bowl of water that they’re all blowing snot into. But, there wasn’t exactly Purell back then. Rollo is being set up as the second major villain of the story. Last week he tried to seduce Lagertha, and this week he rapes Floki’s servant. I have discussed in other reviews that I won’t watch shows with violent rape scenes. Vikings conveyed the rape of the woman in a manner that other shows should take note of – it showed what Rollo was about, cut to other characters, and then went back to show him walking away. You didn’t have to see every thrust or any nudity to appreciate the violence. The emotional look on the woman’s face was enough. This is how something so horrible can be communicated to the audience without being exploitative.

The journey in the ship is fascinating. As you watch, you can feel what it would be like to be in a boat that small, tossed around the ocean in the rain and in the cold. I’d never really thought about what it would look like for the Vikings inside their ships. The juxtaposition between the journey and Lagertha’s story about Jörmungandr the sea serpent was wonderful.

Visually, the episode was great. The journey of the men west is cast in a deep palate of grays and blues. I also loved the various elements like the ravens flying off into the mist, the ship emerging from the ocean towards the land, and the monk’s vision of a Viking ship in the night clouds.

With all the interesting details, I appreciate that the writers don’t want viewers to forget that the Vikings are violent murderers. Their slaughter of the monks leaves no doubt that these are bad guys. I hope that they keep the priest around because it will be interesting to see his interactions with Ragnar. I’m still not a big fan of the Earl Haraldson and Siggy characters. But, it’s just the second episode, so we’ll see if that changes.

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