Got Game of Thrones withdrawal syndrome? Try Vikings
With swords, skullduggery and epic narratives spread over thousands of miles, this is the perfect TV to see you through till Game of Thrones season seven
A bloody tale of warring kings and odysseys to far-off lands … Vikings. Photograph: The History Channel
Six months. That, roughly, is how long the wait is until Game of Thrones, due “in the summer”, returns. Until then, you could busy yourself by ticking off a few of those New Year’s resolutions you have no interest in achieving, like running, or learning French, or reading books that aren’t Game of Thrones. You could finally get round to bingewatching House of Cards, despite the fact that a large part of you really doesn’t want to. Or you could scratch that sword and skullduggery itch by immersing yourself in a bloody tale of warring kings and odysseys to far-off lands. You could catch up with Vikings, one of the best and most under-appreciated quasi-historical TV epics of the past decade. Then you could bask in the knowledge that you’ve made completely the right decision.
Vikings follows the pillaging-and-plundering exploits of famous Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok. A legendary figure of the history and folklore of the ninth century, Lothbrok was the first Viking to cross the North Sea to England, and the first to raid France.
Ragnar’s actual existence is disputed – it’s commonly assumed he’s an amalgam of various other derring-doers – but his character in the show is no less compelling for his possible fictitiousness; a farmer with an impossible dream who blooms into the leader of an entire people, by way of cunning, cruelty and insatiable curiosity. Oh, and killing.
Because, like all the most interesting TV characters of recent years (and virtually everyone in George RR Martin’s tomes), Lothbrok is not a good person. His trade is murder and robbery, after all. There is no black and white, only grey: he lies, cheats, betrays and butchers, forever questioning his own actions and succumbing to the easy road of temptation. Azure-eyed ex-underpant model Travis Fimmel puts in a career-defining turn as Lothbrok. That his fidgety, howling, transmogrative performance has never met with any award is something of a travesty.
A warrior in her own right … Lothbrok’s wife, Lagertha. Photograph: Amazon Prime
The web of supporting characters, too, is strong. Lothbrok’s wife, Lagertha, is a politically astute warrior in her own right (for a society so at ease with rape and pillage, it was an oddly egalitarian society). There’s Lothbrok’s brother Rollo, jealous of his sibling’s home life and burgeoning fame; and Floki, his eccentric, eyeliner-sporting confidant – an axe-wielding oddball and master shipbuilder. Special mention must also go to Linus Roache (son of William, AKA Ken Barlow) as the deliciously dastardly King Eckbert of Wessex.
At this point, three-quarters of the way through the show’s fourth season, narratives are spread over thousands of miles, each locale – again, like Game of Thrones – rich with its own seam of intriguing characters and power-plays. And the show is happy to kill off characters it’s spent so long developing, too, which gives each story arc an air of unpredictability (at least to those who haven’t cribbed the history pages of Wikipedia).
Nary an episode goes by without swords-a-swinging … Vikings. Photograph: Amazon Prime
Don’t let all this talk of characters give you the impression that Vikings scrimps on the action, though. Nary an episode goes by without swords-a-swinging: the violence is brutal and bloody, without crossing too far into gratuitousness. And the battle scenes are exciting and epic, with some sequences (such as a vast assault on Paris) easily standing up against the best scuffles on the show with dragons in it. This is a good-looking production, and if there is a vast budgetary disparity between this show and HBO’s, it is rarely evident on-screen.
Throw in a smattering of the supernatural, constant talk about gods – the cool Norse gods, like Odin – and no small helping of the bared flesh now compulsory when dramatising any story involving royalty, and you’ve got a show that’s tailormade for someone who likes their TV sword-based and a tiny bit silly.
So don’t worry. Winter is coming. But until it does, there’s Vikings.
Yeah, totally. Ragnar is great. Ditto Lagertha. But the real cool character is Floki. Floki rocks!