VIKINGS – Season 1 (2013)

  • Original Air Date: 03/03/2013
  • Cast: Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Gabriel Byrne, Clive Standen, Gustaf Skarsgård
  • Creator: Michael Hirst

Visually stunning and brimming with energy! “Vikings” looks poised to be an interesting follow

Vikings is a History Channel original series that takes us into the fantastical but brutal world of Ragnar Lothbrock (Travis Fimmel), a Viking peasant who wants to travel west of his home, discover new lands, plunder them and get rich in the process. He is also interested to understand and learn from the different cultures that he plunders and adopts the best in them. Noble as his idea may be, he is constantly thwarted by Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) of Kattegat. There comes a time when he grows tired of waiting and decides to set about on his conquest with a handful of men who are looking for adventure and wealth.

His friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) designs an ingenious ship that is light enough to travel fast and even in shallow waters but strong enough to accommodate enough men and weapons. Ragnar also has his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) in his team who shares a bittersweet relationship with him. The men travel through troubled waters but eventually land up in Lindisfarne which was inhabited by a group of Catholic priests. The town is plundered by the Vikings and they return with wealth and a few able-bodied priests who they plan to employ as slaves. One of the priests is taken in by Ragnar as his personal slave. From this man, Ragnar learns of all the other cities that are waiting to be plundered in the west. He returns to the Earl with a request for permission to travel west again. The Earl, who was livid with him for not abiding by his orders earlier, allows him to go but puts his brother, Knut as his eyes in the expedition.

The Vikings raid the Northumbrian village of Hexham this time with little bloodshed, as the villagers are gathered for Mass. During the raid, Knut is killed by Ragnar’s wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) after he tries to rape her. This execution sparks a bitter feud between the Earl and Ragnar upon their return. The Earl tries to get Ragnar executed as per the Viking law for the murder of Knut but when he is let off by Rollo’s testimony, he attacks Ragnar’s farm killing most of his farm-folks and wounding Ragnar. Ragnar and his family are rescued by Floki and they start living at his place waiting for Ragnar to recover. Even before he is fully recovered, Ragnar decides to challenge Earl Haraldson when he learns that his brother Rollo is in the Earl’s captivity and is being tortured for his whereabouts by the Earl.

Ragnar kills the Earl and in the ensuing fight and is hailed as the new Earl of Kattegat. With all the men, wealth and technology of Kattegat at his disposal, Ragnar moves to forward his dreams of conquering the west and he sets sail for Northumbria. He sets up camp near the castle of King Aelle and when the king sends his brother to raid their camps, they successfully defeat the men and hold the king’s brother hostage after carrying out a successful ambush on the king’s men at night. He then forces the king to pay him 2000 pounds in gold and silver for the return of the Vikings after a bitter battle and the murder of the King’s captive brother. At about the same time in Kattegat, Lagertha has a miscarriage following which she is unable to conceive again.

This is the first season of Vikings and for that reason, I will have to give it some leeway as it is barely building up its mythology. I learned from the Vikings aficionados that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th season are the best of the series and I am looking forward to being blown away by the series. Having seen the raw sexuality, violence, and carnage of Game of Thrones before, I did feel that this was a more watered-down version of a treatment that felt very similar in feel to the historical fiction of Game of Thrones. It isn’t a bad thing per se but I would have preferred it to be a lot more violent, sexual and vile. That would have easily upped the ante and made the series a lot more affecting. Every time, we arrive at something sexual or violent, the scene cuts away to something different. This proved to be extremely annoying at many junctures. I thought for a while, that I might be watching a censored version of the series but later realized that that was not the case.

The series is constantly on the move in terms of the story. Atleast the first six episodes move quickly as the tale concentrates on Ragnar’s exploits overseas and the politics and feud brewing between him and the Earl at Kattegat. All that comes to an end in the sixth episode with the Earl’s death. The next three episodes cover a lot of ground and set up a lot of things to come in the next few seasons and for that reason, it felt a little shallow and hurried. There is a lot of time spent on a sacrificial festival that led to nothing more than Ragnar forging a bond with King Horik of Denmark. To accomplish that, a large portion of time is spent on trivial qualms.

The final episode is again overburdened with too much happening and hence results in feeling undercooked. A brief romance brews between Ragnar and the princess Aslaug who ends up getting pregnant with Ragnar’s child. Jarl Borg convinces Rollo to team up with him against Ragnar when diplomacy fails between him and King Horik. A mysterious sickness annihilates Kattegat’s population and results in the death of Ragnar’s daughter. Lagertha visits the seer to learn about her and Ragnar’s future and doesn’t get a good response. All of it is sometimes too much to fathom even though the pacing is just fine.

Travis Fimmel is good as Ragnar. It goes beyond saying that he has the meatiest role and the best dialogues to shine and he makes the most of it. The only complaint that I had with his act was in his rendering of a few sequences where we see him forcing himself to give out a wicked smile/look when it didn’t feel natural or menacing. His chemistry with Katheryn Winnick who plays Lagertha is unmissable and works for most of the parts. Better still is his rivalry with Gabriel Byrne. He looks at him in ways as if he would shred him to pieces and that helps bring out the tension between the two characters on the screen. Fimmel does his part well in realizing the love-hate relationship that he shares with his brother, Rollo.

Katheryn Winnick is electric in the series. She gets to shine briefly and she makes the most of it. Consider her to be a “dedicated wife” version of Daenerys in this series. Gabriel Byrne is an able adversary to Ragnar and he feels threatening as well as foxy when he has to. I loved Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki. He is insane and he brings out some of the most outrageous characteristics of the character with clinical ease. Clive Standen as Ragnar’s brother is unpredictable and that is what makes his character so enjoyable. George Blagden as Athelstan, the monk captured by Ragnar was wasted as his character leads nowhere. This is easily one of the characters that if was not there in the show, it wouldn’t change a thing.

Vikings is beautiful and affecting to look at. The series definitely looks costlier than it is and doesn’t rip off from any other series of similar style and content. It does a good job of world-building and ticks all the right boxes to merit praise for its rendition of the Viking life. We actually get to see their society, their daily humdrum, and some crazy rituals and elaborate battle sequences that are shot and edited with elan. There is a lot of use of close-ups and semi-close-ups here to put forward emotional pointers and it works well. The fact that most of the major characters emote well makes these close-up worthwhile.

The first season of Vikings merely sets the pieces where they should be and introduced us to the lore and the key players. The history of the Vikings is not particularly well documented and that gives the makers of the series almost unlimited options to play around with different ideas. I liked the series for its performances, gripping screenplay, wonderful visuals, and solid action. I want to believe in the words of the Vikings aficionados who led me to believe that the following seasons were larger and better than what we got here. I hope they are.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)    

 

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