I’ve been trying to write up a review for Vikings for a while now, caught in between hectic schedules and furious emotions, this is sadly the first one. So for those of you just tuning in, this is a show that is pretty easy to understand and yet, I think, has a lot to teach us. Ragnar Lothbrok (or Lodbrok in some spellings) is a farmer and a warrior viking, he dares to sail westward towards the unknown, and in the process discovers rich and plunderable Northumbrian lands. This is a series put out by the History Channel (yes, the same one), though seems more like a production of the Tudors or the Borgias, in my opinion. However, historical inaccuracies aside, this show is not to be missed.
We last left off with Ragnar taking his men, including his brother Rollo, his eccentric shipbuilding friend Floki, and his wife and shield maiden Lagertha, into the Saxon/Northumbrian lands to plunder their churches and villages. Having learned the Northumbrian customs from Athelstan, the monk he captured in the earlier episodes, Ragnar is able to cleverly use this to his advantage. Instead of attacking during any other day, they choose to attack on Sunday, when everyone is worshipping in church and they have kept their weapons outside of the church. It’s easy to see how Ragnar and his bunch bursting in, killing their men, desecrating their god, could be seen as demonic. Covered in blood, yelling their battle cries, it’s a vision of how we view barbaric outsiders. But speaking from the perspective of the Vikings, they are a cowardly people. Their god is one that believes in kindness and peace, while Odin and his valkyries praise glory in battle. The show really allows the viewer to see things from the Vikings’ side of story.
During the raid, we encounter several things that count as interesting characteristics of the culture. Floki jaunts around the church, drinking what is probably wine and spitting it out, causing a gasp among the church goers who see Floki spitting out the blood of Christ as he plays with the cross as if it were a child’s toy. Rollo bursts into a house only to find an elderly man in his bed, sick. Fearing for his life, he stares back at Rollo, who fills a pewter (I’m assuming?) cup of water for the man to drink before taking the jug and the cup with him, leaving the old man with his life. I think this is almost a projection of Odin that Rollo has towards the man, not the all mighty god, but as Odin appears as an elderly man. That, and the fact that it’s not very honorable to just kill an old, sickly man in his bed. Then of course, we come across Knut, bursting into a home with a mother and her son, taking aside the mother and rapes her. Lagertha comes across this and stops Knut. After a struggle between the two, Knut getting the upper hand at one point and trying to rape Lagertha, she stabs him in the side and kills him before he’s able to do any more damage.
Lagertha’s protection of the mother and child reminds us of the first episode when the strangers come into her house with her children there, intending to take advantage of her. Personally I love the way that Lagertha has been portrayed, both by the writers and by Katheryn Winnick. She is a shield maiden, and fights equally alongside the men. She’s respected as a mother and a keeper of Ragnar’s lands. She is protected by the law. She does not face men with fear, and when confronted, doesn’t think twice in putting them back in their place. Sexually confident and intelligent, I would say that they are far more advanced in their gender equality than we are. Characters like Siggy, also reinforce this point. She is a person who holds much power her relationship with the Earl. She recognizes her own power and knows how to use it to her benefit, as well as to the benefit of her daughter.
Leaving the village, the vikings meet with the forces of the king. Outnumbered, the Northumbrians seem to believe they have the upper hand, but when they showdown, it is clear that the vikings’ form of group combat, as opposed to the Northumbrian’s charging forward, is much more effective. With their shield wall in motion, we realize that even outnumbered, they are much more of a threat with their shields than the Northumbrians are with their swords. The battle is quickly overturned, as the vikings slaughter all of the foot soldiers, and the lieutenants gallop off to tell their king the news. The king hears of this battle and is able to put a name to all of this destruction and paganism, Ragnar.
Back in their homeland, Athelstan (who I called Applestand for a while because I could never hear his name) takes care of Bjorn and his sister. Unwilling to be below Athelstan, a slave to Ragnar, Bjorn defies him at every turn. But, patient and understanding, Athelstan eventually seems to win over Bjorn little by little. During this, he begins to doubt his religion, and begins to doubt his god.
Coming back from their raid, the earl realizes that Knut is missing, and learns that he has been killed. Killing Knut without any witnesses, Lagertha has put herself in an awkward position, but Ragnar takes the fall for her. He tells the same story but altered, he saw Knut trying to rape Lagertha, and stopped him by ending his life. Emotions run high as the earl arrests Ragnar, and his men rush to defend him, but he is taken away to face trial. Later that night the earl, fearing that Ragnar will one day surpass him and take his place, moves to secure his spot. He attempts to bribe Rollo, with suggestion that Ragnar believes himself superior to his brother, and the possibility of marrying the earl’s daughter, Thyri. Rollo, who we’ve all kept a close eye on during the show, has been always teetering on the edge with his brother. He is in love with Lagertha, as well as Ragnar’s position of power with the men. Very early on, we see him rape a handmaiden before setting off across the ocean. It’s clear that in this culture, and inside of the culture, rape is not acceptable. During raids and pillaging, perhaps, every time they mention it, it is a negative action. Rollo’s actions in this matter set him apart and at a lower rung than his brother. Although he ultimately sides with Ragnar in the trial, he does not do it out of loyalty for his brother, but love for his wife. In a show that revolves so strongly around family, it is interesting to see where they will take it should Ragnar’s popularity as a leader continue.
After being set free from his bonds, Ragnar celebrates with his men, one of them being Erik. During the party, men come in and attack Erik, killing him, and then attack the party. They are fought off, but things have changed. The episode ends with a seer telling the earl about the imminent troubles that are coming for him, and Ragnar pensively staring into the ocean, planning his next move against Earl Haraldson.
On a different note, the History Channel has done a lot to promote this show, and on their website have done mythological web exclusive videos that remind me of the folklore videos from Game of Thrones. Awesome little pockets of extra knowledge, I think they are a great addition to an awesome miniseries.