Television today is littered with reality shows. A finite number of those reality shows are good, and the rest are either mindless, guilty pleasures or utter crap. One channel that is awash with the latter is the History channel. A quick glance at their “shows” page lists at least fifteen reality shows. Fifteen. For a channel named the History channel, this is baffling to say the least. Thankfully someone at History got a clue and decided to give a shot on a scripted show based on historical people. And it’s actually good. That show is Vikings.
Vikings is inspired on a mythological Norse hero named Ragnar Lothbrok and the show portrays his journey from farmer to leader via successful raids on English soil, as well as Ragnar’s seemingly complicated family dynamics. One thing that makes this show work so well is the casting. The actors selected to play the characters seems to be spot on. Ragnar is played by the insanely good-looking Travis Fimmel, Lagertha, Ragnar’s first wife, is played by the stunning Katheryn Winnick, Ragnar’s brother Rollo is played by the massive Clive Standen, Ragnar’s close friend and genius shipbuilder is played by the amazing Gustaf Skarsgard, and Athelstan is played by the subdued George Blagden. The other members of the cast are very good as well, and the aforementioned are ones that stand out to me due to their strong presence whenever they are on the screen as well as the chemistry between the actors themselves.
Another item that makes this show successful is that is does a lot without saying a lot. Many scenes have limited dialogue, leaving thoughts or feelings left unsaid. Thoughts or feelings are instead played out by looks conveyed by the actors or glances shared between cast members. Sometimes the unspoken word is best portrayed by silence and Vikings has found a way to say so much by saying so little. The production value of the show seems to be fairly good as well. It’s no Game of Thrones, but for the History channel, its superior to many of its other shows. One scene from I believe, the second season (I watched the first two seasons in a two-week span so I get a little mixed up on things), was shot so beautifully: Ragnar and his crew were leaving the village for another raid. The residents of the village were all up on the hilltop watching the ships leave. No dialogue, just music, images of the villages, Ragnar and his crew sailing away, and even images of grass blowing in the wind. It was extremely moving and done so well.
An epic scene from season two titled “Blood Eagle” is another example of the excellent production value of this show. Blood eagle is a gruesome way of executing someone. Essentially, cutting someone’s lungs out and placing them on their back so it looks like blood-stained wings. When the show has this execution performed it was done in a way to make it seem respectful and beautiful at the same time. A nighttime shoot, lit with torches and a cast member dressed in white with the villagers watching. Rather than hear the tortured cries, the show relied on tone, color, and music to convey the scene. The fact that I find an execution scene beautiful says a lot about the end result.
Ragnar’s family dynamics plays a big part in this show as well. Rollo’s constant struggle to be seen as more than Rangar’s brother, Lagertha’s desire to be seen as more than a shield maiden and Ragnar’s wife, and Ragnar’s relationship with his children are all on-going stories throughout the first two seasons. When Ragnar takes Athelstan the monk back to the village as his prisoner, it sets up a relationship between these two men that allows both to grow and learn from one another. The interaction between these two is one of value. They are able to see things in a different light and understand a different system of beliefs that are very foreign to their own.
I’m not an expert on the facts from the time-frame this show takes place in but from what I’ve read, History does a decent job of keeping things accurate. Given it’s a scripted show, some things will need to be embellished, changed, or even not be as strong of a focus as it may have actually been, but I’m Okay with that since everything else is done with such high quality. Ragnar’s ambition to do more and be more drives the show. The casting has been chosen well and the characters are allowed to grow and most are well-developed. Season three of Vikings premieres February 19th and previous episodes are available online. If you haven’t watched it you should give it a try. If you have watched it, what do you like best about this show? Are you looking forward to season three and where it will take Ragnar and his crew?