Long ago and far away there lived a people who sailed the great, feared seas, who learned to navigate by the sun, and stare down the storms of the sea god Aegir. Untethered by Christian morality and Saxon laws, they lived according to the lessons of their very fallible and often inscrutable gods. Before the Spanish and Portuguese explorers, before anyone, there were the Vikings, and they were free.
If, according to Uhtred of Bebbanburg from Netflix’ The Last Kingdom, “Fate is inexorable”, then surely the motto of the History Channel’s series, Vikings should be, “Happiness is everything. Happiness is nothing”. The story’s protagonist, Ragnar Lothbrok lives as a great Viking: he’s smart, ambitious, ruthless at times, murderous, fierce, loving, funny, and most of all brave. He is a leader with an iron will to succeed, and a free spirit to catch the wind. In many ways, he is an American: Throughout the series Ragnar grapples with the contradictory ideas of community and personal freedom, of responsibilities and adventure, of legacy and true happiness, concepts we still struggle with today.
The series, Vikings, written and created by Michael Hirst is inspired by the sagas of Viking King, Ragnar Lothbrok, a famous “legendary” Norse hero, and the terror of England and France. I use quotations around legendary because the Norse Sagas reflect both historical events mixed with mythical stories often involving gods. But I truly and deeply hope that many of the events portrayed in this series, and in the Sagas are real because they are amazing! I watched like a child, hanging on every plot twist, and there were many.
Ragnar is supported by his family, the most formidable of which is Lagertha, the shield maiden. As the story goes, she saved his life in battle and they fell in love, married and had two children, one of which was later known as Bjorn Ironside due to his skill in battle. It was said that Odin protected him from any weapon. The story begins when Ragnar and Lagertha are farmers, living in a small village somewhere in Scandinavia. But Ragnar’s ambition and longing soon change their lives drastically, as he disobeys his king and takes a group of warriors on their first sea voyage to a mythical land known as Wessex.
And it just gets better and better. The stories are woven in unforgettable detail; every human emotion is explored and shared with the viewer. It is an actor’s playground because of the depth of the characters and the skillful dialogue. It’s some of the best writing if not the best on television today. That is saying a lot given the renaissance television has been experiencing in recent years.
Some of the most memorable performances include Ragnar Lothbrok, of course, played by Travis Fimmel, Lagertha played by Katheryn Winnick, Ragnar’s brother, Rollo, played by Clive Standen, the once Queen Siggy, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, the boat builder, Floki, played magnificently by Gustaf Skarsgard….there are just too many to mention, everyone is that good! The most wonderful thing about the performances, I think, is that they are fully explored, given time to mature and change. The actors are able to show their full range, not just blood thirsty, angry, violent Vikings, but happy, silly, doubtful, mistrusting, loving, jealous, vengeful, and forgiving. For me, one of the most memorable lines in the series is when Floki’s wife, Helga says to him as she is dying, “The world is too small for you, Floki”. Indeed, the world is too small for the Vikings, but Valhalla is just right.
The stories of the Vikings seem to be unending, thankfully, and I watched all four seasons! Yes, it can be done. You can find it on Amazon Prime and Hulu, but they should come with a warning, “Mature content, graphic violence and highly addictive”! Season 5 is out November 29th! Skol!