Vikings

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TV Series Review

I would've made a horrible Viking. I'm not very good with a battle-ax. All the drinking and bad hygiene would get to me after a while. And I'm pretty sure I'd get sick on those stormy ocean voyages.

Vikings, History Channel's first scripted drama, does a fantastic job of depicting just how much I would've loathed being a Norseman back in the early Middle Ages. And the details of that depiction make it an astronomically problematic show. Why? Well, if History Channel's right about how these Vikings lived back in the day (and, really, given its impressive track record with such shows as Ancient Aliens, how could it be wrong?), their lives were soaked in violence, sex, filth and booze.

Plugged In would have had an extraordinarily low readership in ancient Norway.

Not that there weren't men who occasionally aspired for something better than plunder and wenches and mead. Take Ragnar Lothbrok, for instance. Oh, he can pillage with the best of 'em, but he's always been more of an explorer than a fighter. And thanks to some nifty innovations, he's discovered some brand new places to plant their fierce flag—most critically a lush, green isle filled with riches and reasonably docile Christians. Having been made king back home and having a deal struck with one of the new land's rulers, King Ecbert, Ragnar has a hankering to settle down in what is called Wessex (modern translation: Southern England).

Not everyone's thrilled with Ragnar's pacifistic bent, of course. And many are more than willing to use violence to stamp it out.

Vikings is, in a way, Game of Thrones lite. While there are no dragons and "sexposition" scenes (HBO's notorious habit of including gratuitous sex scenes in the midst of dry dialogue), there are mountains of other kinds of explicit sex amid all the vivid violence. Courtships tend to be fast and physical. And disagreements are often terminated at the end of a blade. Indeed, any random episode is liable to feature a rape or beheading or some manner of torture. Often all three.

Life is not sacred here. It's not even particularly important. And while you get the sense that what we see onscreen feels more or less reflective of the spirit of the age (if not the historical letter), that still doesn't make it any easier or any more advisable to watch.

Oddly, maybe, in the midst of all the salaciousness, sadism and gore, we see evidence of deeper stirrings: the desire to provide for wife and family, the value of friendship and community, the need to dream big. We see, too, a yearning for spirituality. Vikings shows us a time when the heroic Norse myths ran headlong into the curious faith of Christianity and its loving Savior.

We know how that bashing of beliefs ended, of course. Eventually the Vikings converted and settled down, with the old gods fading away to myth and memory. The History Channel seems to express some wistfulness for those bygone gods, though. And the Christians we see here are often far more cowardly and just as bloodthirsty as their pagan adversaries. The monk Athelstan is a Christian struggling with his faith, maybe especially so because he was (abortively) crucified by his fellow Christians. It's not, apparently, a very historical take, and some have suggested the show is extrapolating views that Christianity was and is a violent, hypocritical mess.

But Christianity Today's Paul D. Glader notes that even in that awful crucifixion scene, Athelstan prays to God in Latin—suggesting that even if his fellow Christians aren't showing any sort of Christ-like love, his eyes are still fixed on his Savior.

Will Ragnar or any of his compatriots ever convert? If Vikings were being true to history, it would be likely. In this salacious expression of Viking lore, though, it seems ... less so. There may simply be too much killing and maiming and rape and torture to perpetuate for any solid spiritual resolution to wriggle its way into the carnage.

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Episode Reviews

Vikings: 2-19-2015
Vikings: 3-10-2013

Credits

Rating

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Drama

Author

Cast

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok; Clive Standen as Rollo; Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha; Jessalyn Gilsig as Siggy; Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson; Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki; Jefferson Hall as Torstein; Tadhg Murphy as Arne; George Blagden as Athelstan

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History

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Reviewer

Paul Asay Paul Asay