On Sunday night, the History Channel debuted its first two scripted tv series with The Vikings and The Bible. I only got around to watching The Vikings and was pretty impressed with the pilot episode. I apparently wasn't the only one; the ratings for the two shows were kind of epic, and the History Channel ended up beating the broadcast networks in the all important 18-49 demo AND posting the biggest cable premiere of the year. Put that in your zombie pipe and smoke it, The Walking Dead.
According to Wiki, the series is "inspired by the epic saga of Viking King Ragnar Lodbrok. One of the most popular Norse heroes, Ragnar was a great Viking commander and the scourge of France and England." Sidenote: I REALLY wish I could be the scourge of something. Maybe the scourge of chocolate truffles or naps or even my Netflix queue.
"RAWR! I will watch the shit out of your instant queue!"
What was I saying? Oh, right! Ragnor! Ok, so when we first meet Ragnor he and his brother, Rollo, are tearing it up on the battlefield. See, they are awesome warriors. But Ragnor also has a pretty sweet family life--he's married to the uber-hot Lagertha who has some awesome fighting skillz of her own, and has two adorable moppet children. In the first episode, Ragnor takes his son (who has recently come of age) to the annual gathering of Scandinavian warrior dudes where the King hammers out issues such as property ownership, renders judgment on peeps who have broken the "law," and decides where the warriors are going to rape and pillage for the spring season.*
But there's trouble in this non-specified Scandinavian paradise. Turns out Ragnor is of the mind that the warriors should head West for this year's fightin. Apparently, there are rumors of all kinds of treasure and ladies ripe for the picking out that way. But the King, Jaral Haraldson, (played by Irishman Gabriel Byrne) is all, "Ragnor, you are an idiot and if you threaten my power I will rip your head off, mkay?" So Ragnor decides to build his own ships, gather his own forces, and make his own way to the West along with his brother and their crazy ship-builder friend, Floki.
"Maybe we should go discover Canada while we're at it."
There's some other interesting stuff going on here, what with Rangor seeing Odin everywhere he goes, seeking out advice of soothsayers, and having a fondness for the latest scientific gadgets. The acting is universally good (and it even looks like they tried to hire mostly Scandinavian-looking people) and I found the political angle very very eeenteresting. I can't really comment on the accuracy of the period stuff: everyone looked appropriately grubby to me, but other than that I will have to leave it to the scholars.
I have read some criticisms of the dialogue and how it comes off as stilted due to a "trying to sound authentic to the period" type of thing, but here's my take. You're telling a story for a modern audience here and some allowances are going to have to be made. I think Spartacus is a great example of how you can craft period appropriate dialogue while still maintaining modern story techniques. Sure, the characters in The Vikings are quite, shall we say, plain-spoken, but it didn't come off as distracting, just different.
In sum, I thought The Vikings looked great and got off to an excellent start. I'm liking the characters and am genuinely curious as to where Ragnor's journey will take him. There are some good ideas here, and I would think a fair comparison would be to The Tudors or The Borgias (though toned down for basic cable). And it turns out, it's the same producers on all three shows, so that should give you some idea as to the look and feel of The Vikings.
The Vikings airs Sundays at 10:00pm on The History Channel.
And honestly? How can you NOT watch a show where the lead character's name is Ragnor? I mean, come ON, people
*Actually, I hadn't even heard of The Bible until I saw the commercials during The Vikings...oops!
* On my travels through Iceland and Scandinavia last year, I actually heard a lot about this yearly gathering and in Iceland toured the area where it took place. During these scenes of the show, I was all knowledgeable, pointing at the screen and going, "oh! oh! This is a totally a thing that I heard about and then promptly forgot!"