Vikings, in spite of abundant research, remain largely an enigma. We know how they lived, what they ate, which gods they prayed – thanks to the discovery of Viking-age artifacts and their interaction with the Europeans (especially Saxons) in literature and other written accounts. But we don’t know the answers to the whys of any of these questions, except for some conjectures.
Simply put, Vikings were Scandinavian (Scandinavia constituted what are now known as Norway, Denmark and Sweden) seafearers who raided the coasts of European countries around 7th to 11th centuries. They worshipped the gods belonging to Norse pantheon: Thor, Odin, Freya, and so on. I have been fascinated by Vikings and their gods since I was a kid, and my ears still prick up like a feline whenever I hear the very word. My adventures with Vikings have ranged with Disney’s horned-helmeted noble savages to kind, brave men of How To Train Your Dragon to History Channel’s authentic Vikings.
Vikings TV-series follows Ragnar Lothbrok, a farmer, who dreams of sailing across the Baltic sea to unknown lands which he likes to imagine are rich and prosperous. The local chieftain, Earl Haraldson, tries to curb Ragnar’s ambitions, not wanting him to gain favour among his men, but Ragnar sails all the same. And to his and his hitherto reluctant crewmates’ delightful surprise, the kingdoms of west, beginning with Northumbria, indeed turn out to be quite treasure-laden. They come back with a boatful of treasure and slaves. Earl Haraldson does not share their joy, though, and at the end of the first season, the Earl is killed by Ragnar, and becomes the new Earl. Most of the first season is told from Athelstan’s perspective, who is a Christian monk captured in a raid on Northumbria and kept by Ragnar as a sort of curio, who later becomes his friend, and a Viking.
I loved the first season. The biggest achievement of Vikings is that it has managed to get across some sense of the utterly alien mindset of the Vikings, which none of the films or TV shows based on Vikings could do. It does not hurt that it is visually stunning, and cinematography is absolutely top-notch. It’s not all show, however. There are some really good performances too. Travis Frammel stands out as eternally shifty Ragnar, a farmer, who gains repute by his raids and fighting ability. He is backed in his quest to sail west by his brother (the rock-solid Rollo, played by Clive Standen), and his wife (Shieldmaiden Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick). But his staunchest companion turns out to be Floki the Shipright, the guy who really sets all the raiding in motion by building what Vikings prized the most: ships. Compelling character, that guy Floki.
The second season only gets better. The plot gets more complex, there are more intrigues and the cast is bigger and better. And as the following conversation would tell you, it also gives more thought to the juxtaposition of Norse-paganism with Christianity in the Viking-age and gradual Christianiasation of Scandinavia. Which happens to be one of my favourite topics in the Viking-age literature and texts.
Ragnar: “So have you returned to your faith, renounced ours?”
Athelstan: “I wish it was so simple. In the gentle fall of rain from Heaven I hear my God. But in the thunder I still hear Thor. That is my agony.”
Ragnar: “I hope that some day our gods can become friends.”
Watch this. Either buy it, or download it via your favourite BitTorrent client – whatever suits you. Meanwhile, raid on!