Barbarians

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Cast

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Reviewer

Emily Clark

TV Series Review

In 9 A.D., the Roman Empire expanded its territory into Germania (the land that would eventually become modern-day Germany). However, as they crossed the Rhine river, they met resistance from the tribes living there.

These barbarians (as the Romans called them) didn’t want to submit to Rome and its gods. They had their own socioeconomic system in place and their own pagan gods to worship. Also a sticking point: Living under Roman rule also meant paying a tribute of cattle and grain to the Roman governors in order to keep the peace—something that these already starving peoples couldn’t afford.

The Reiks (chieftains) of each tribe aren’t left with many options. They can pay the tribute and let their people die of hunger; they can submit their people to slavery (an alternative to the food tribute); or they can unite the tribes and fight. Although, considering the Reiks can barely speak a civil word to each other without fighting themselves, that last option seems pretty unlikely.

That is until Arminius arrives. Born as the son of a Reik but given to Rome as a tribute when he was just a boy, Arminius now serves as an adjunct to Varus, the Roman governor. He knows how to defeat the Romans. Conversely, he also knows how to defeat the barbarians. Now the only question is where do his loyalties lie?

Barbaric Content

Barbarians is aptly named when you take all of the content contributing to its TV-MA rating into consideration.

The show’s climactic Battle of the Teutoberg Forest, as well as every fight and mini-battle leading up to it, is bloody and, well, barbaric. Heads are chopped off, guts spill forth, men are beaten into bloody pulps, and the list goes on. The Romans also have a nasty predilection for crucifying anyone who stands against them (including women and children). One man takes his own life when he realizes he has been betrayed by his son. And as a sacrifice to her gods, a woman purposely slices open her eye in order to “see” the future.

Speaking of gods, while the Romans and barbarians don’t worship the same deities, none of them are worshipping the God of the Bible (keeping in mind that Jesus hadn’t started his ministry yet). So, we see a lot of pagan rituals, witchcraft, and other mumbo jumbo that, at times, can be a little creepy, especially when it seems like it works.

The language in Barbarians is another barrier—and not just because it was originally filmed in German with English dubbing. Viewers hear uses of the f-word, s-word and c-word, as well as other milder profanities. People also get naked and have sex, so there’s another thing you may want to avoid.

So even though Barbarians can be a genuinely interesting historical drama, its barbaric content isn’t something you necessarily want to navigate when you could just as easily read about the events in a much less graphic (and probably much more informative) history book.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 23, 2020, Episode 1: “Wolf and Eagle”

When a new Roman governor takes over, he demands a tribute of food from the Germanic tribes. Standing up for their people, Folkwin and Thusnelda (two Germanic warriors) sneak into the Roman camp to steal their standard and prove that the Romans aren’t invincible.

A man and woman kiss passionately and later have sex (we see some nudity). Folkwin pretends that Thusnelda is a sex slave in order to sneak into a Roman camp, and she threatens to castrate him for it. Someone talks about an orgy. We see several shirtless men and boys. While negotiating the price Thusnelda is worth, her potential bridegroom says she is too skinny.

We see glimpses of a bloody battle between Roman and Germanic soldiers. A woman with a bleeding eye leads her troops. A man is beheaded. Several soldiers are found stabbed in their tent. Thusnelda strangles a man with rope until Folkwin can stab him in the neck. Folkwin slices a man’s throat and breaks his neck. A man is whipped for insulting the Romans.

Thusnelda is dragged by her hair when she stops her father from submitting to a Roman soldier. Her little brother bites the man holding her, and the soldier hits the boy on the head with his sword, causing permanent brain damage. A woman punches a man in the face after he tackles her. A woman slaps her daughter in the face. A man grabs a woman harshly by her face to examine her teeth. A boy threatens to stab a man for his sister. A Roman soldier wears a full tiger skin on his back. A man jokes about sacrificing his little brother to the gods.

Thusnelda cuts her hand and offers blood to her gods in exchange for revenge against the men who wounded her brother. A seeress chants over Thusnelda’s injured brother and attempts to heal him. She says that the boy went to the kingdom of death and returned, indicating that the gods have a purpose for him. She also uses bones to tell the future. Someone talks about the Roman god Mars.

We hear the f-word, s-word and c-word, as well as “h—,” “d–n,” “a–” and “p-ss.”

People drink alcohol. The Roman soldiers force a tribe’s Reik to kiss the Roman standard (a golden eagle) as a sign of submission. Thusnelda’s father not only submits to the Romans but also treats her like property, selling her off as a bride in order to gain more allies. We learn that a man gave his sons to Rome as a tribute years ago in order to keep the peace. Barbarians are insulted when the Romans can’t tell the difference between their tribes. A man covers a child’s ears to prevent him from hearing that they are running out of food. Thusnelda’s mother refuses to comfort her son after he is injured. Someone sets the Roman camp on fire. Someone threatens to burn down all the barbarian villages. Two men swim through sewage to sneak into the Roman camp.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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