For a channel which has “history” in the title itself, History Channel has teeny bit believable or compelling historic stuff in it. Whenever I tune in, I either see that atrocious and strangely popular Ancient Aliens or something else which isn’t even remotely related to history. Vikings, though, is surprisingly different. It is, in my opinion, one of the best TV shows (if not the best) to come out of the channel in a long, long time, and is among some of the best stuff I’ve watched on TV recently. I’m no expert on Vikings–though I suppose I’m pretty fond of their culture and the legendary I-don’t-give-a-damn sort of mindset–but I really, really like this show so far. As far as I’m concerned, Vikings has got the essence of Viking-age Norsemen right: the prevalent badassery, propensity to do violence, regard for honour and inherent love for adventure.
It follows the life of a Norse warrior Ragnar Lodbrok (I realise the character has a substantial historic basis; click on the name for its Wikipedia page) along with his family and friends as Ragnar invades the yet-unknown western lands (North-Eastern England) and earns the envy and enmity of the local chieftain, Earl Haraldson.
Quite a few people on the internet seem keen on ridiculing Vikings by comparing it to HBO’s Game of Thrones (hardly a valid comparison) and calling it “Game of Thrones on budget”. They argue that the culture of the Vikings particularly as presented in the show is strikingly similar to that of the Northmen (the Starks and their bannermen). What those people don’t know is that even George R.R. Martin didn’t create the people and culture of the Northmen from scratch. He himself admitted that he was inspired from Scotland when creating the northern province of Westeros.
There, the resemblances end. Vikings, in a stark–pun not intended–contrast to Game of Thrones is a very personal story and is centred solely on Ragnar. It is nowhere near as politically oriented, either. And it is made on budget, yes, but the producers have managed it very well and it doesn’t exhibit that “built-on-budget” feeling.
I’m not familiar with any of the cast-members in the show but acting, on the whole, is pretty excellent, especially from Travis Fimmel as the primary protagonist, the eternally half-smiling Ragnar–a redoubtable young warrior with a keen sense of ambition. Katheryn Winnick plays Ragnar’s wife, Lagertha, a shield-maiden (Norse woman, who is a proven warrior), and her character is something I won’t be able to dislike in even my craziest dream. Consider this: a hot woman who is an equally amazing warrior–how can you not love someone like that?
Another refreshing aspect to the show is its cinematography, which, to put it simply, is fantastic. Locations are very beautiful and very Norse-ish and once again remind you of Game of Thrones, especially the scenes–in Game of Thrones–which are filmed at Ireland (as it happens, almost all of Vikings is filmed at Ireland as well).
All in all, with a great first season, Vikings has caught my attention. The best thing about the show is its modesty. Vikings is very down-to-earth in terms of production values and, thankfully, doesn’t try anything too ambitious. But whatever it does, it does well. Moreover, having a fairly accurate on-screen depiction of the Vikings (no cliched horned-helmet crap), being consistently good throughout the season and with the presence of actual historic characters, it imparts that much-needed “history” to the History Channel.