'Vikings' Review: HISTORY's First Scripted Series Is A Great Attempt That Succeeds Most Of The Time
We’ve already said that you should be tuning into Vikings, HISTORY’s first scripted program when it premieres Sunday at 10 pm ET. Having seen the first five episodes, I can confidently say you’ll want to stick with the series, despite some minor misgivings.
Vikings is the story of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) who wants new worlds to discover (and conquer.) He’s a family man, committed to his wife Lagertha, and son. He also fights constantly with the leader of his group, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Bryne). Earl only wants to send their Vikings raiders every summer to the Baltic states and Russia, but Ragnar believes there is land to the west.
Religion is a much discussed topic on the show as the Vikings, the last pagans that worshipped ancient gods like Thor and Loki, meet the new world religion in the form of Christianity thanks to Athelstan, a young innocent monk that is captured by Ragnar in the second episode. The foundation of their “friendship” (I use the term loosely) is one of the most interesting dynamics to watch unfold throughout the series.
I couldn’t help comparing Vikings to one of my favorite shows on television, Spartacus on the STARZ network. It’s an unfortunate comparison especially since Spartacus really came into its own towards the end of its first season. Vikings has a somewhat boring pilot, but really starts to pick up as we start to get to know these characters and their relationships—I was in particular, happy with scenes where Athelstan and Ragnar interact, or anything having to do with Ragnar’s kooky friend, Floki, who could easily become the breakout character of the show.
The fourth and fifth episode also went in directions I didn’t expect. For fear of too many spoilers, I was pleasantly surprised to see the fights between Earl and Ragnar gear up so quickly and with so much at stake at this early in the show’s history. Other shows would let that tension bleed on for years, but instead, Vikings dares to make it front and center right away.
The production values are absolutely spectacular, thanks to the fact that they’re shot mostly on location. In particular, I felt loved the montage and shots of the new boat built at the end of the first episode and enjoyed its first sail out on the water. It’s even more fully explored and shot beautifully in the second episode.
The fight scenes are pretty well done and you won’t have to worry if you’re squeamish about blood because this is no The Walking Dead in terms of gore. However, this shouldn’t surprise you—there’s a rape or an attempted rape in nearly every episode and while Ragnar is shown to not condone that sort of behavior, it’s something the show will need to touch on regularly since it’s so ingrained to the Vikings culture.
Some of the dialogue felt a bit too modern and I wish they went for something a bit more Shakespearean, which is what’s attempted on Spartacus on a weekly basis. But casting is pretty spot on. I didn’t warm to Fimmel right away, but he’s quite capable as the leading man and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast, especially Katheryn Winnick as his wife.
For the first scripted show from HISTORY, Vikings is a strong start. It’s not going to be the pinnacle for the network that The Shield was for FX or Mad Men was for AMC, but it’s something you should give a chance to grow. Sunday nights can be awfully crowded for quality TV this time of year, but this is one worth trying to make some time for.
Vikings premieres on Sunday at 10 pm ET on HISTORY.