TV Review: “Vikings” – Someone Hand These People a Textbook

Written by Jessica Koroll March 26, 2013

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Following the legendary exploits of Norse hero Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), “Vikings” explores the first Viking raids to set out against Britain, and Ragnar’s role in preparing the fleets. Alongside his friend and craftsmen, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), and his shieldmaiden wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), Ragnar openly challenges local rulers in order to see to the strengthening of the Viking empire.

“There are no lands in the west!”

Even with a few episodes under its belt and having had plenty of time to establish plot and setting, I still can’t help but find myself at a loss for what’s trying to be accomplished here. “Vikings” is neither entertaining or educational and seems largely unsure of which it would rather be. At first glance, the series almost appears to be going for a “Game of Thrones” vibe. Settings and historical garb appear authentic and lend themselves well to bringing the era of the Viking to life. There’s an ongoing power struggle between Ragnar and the local ruler, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), as Ragnar insists that the Vikings must set out West if they hope to expand, while Haraldson would rather stick to traditional routes.

In these early episodes, there’s promises of conquest, clashing cultural ideologies, and family drama that stems from Lagertha’s insistence that she join in on the conquests as a true viking warrior. The series has plenty to work with and has carefully chosen some intersecting plotlines that could have easily allowed for an exciting look into some lesser known legends and historical period in general.

Instead, what unfolds is an overly simplistic script that borders on mind-numbing. I can really only describe the experience of watching these early episodes as being too linear. From one scene to the next, we see the characters travelling, eating, napping, hunting, and attending court proceedings. While there is generally at least some discussion of plot in even the most throw away scenes, the progression from one person to the next is entirely too predictable and mundane to warrant any real interest in the events. The pacing seems happy to simply meander along at its own speed, leaving the audience to wonder what in the world even happened in the past forty-five minutes spent watching a single episode. If it weren’t for the half-assed bits of foreshadowing that crop up every once in a while, the pacing alone would be enough to convince me that perhaps the series is leaning more towards a quasi-educational bent in showcasing Viking life.

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“He’s worth more alive.”

But half-assed foreshadowing, there is. As Ragnar secretly makes off west for the first time in search of new land, an attendant of Haraldson’s makes a visit to Ragnar’s family home out of suspicion. In the most recent episode, Haraldson unsuccessfully tries to bribe Rollo into betraying Ragnar. The series works hard to instil that the political differences between Ragnar and Haraldson are dangerous and could lead to a high number of deaths, but the threats are just so unimaginative that’s it’s near impossible to really feel intrigued by any of it. The writing, with its obvious disinterest in subtly or complexity, causes the characters to feel flat on repeated occasions.

As the decision was made to create a show that focuses on Norse mythological heroes of great status, the writing team already had a lot to live up to in terms of characterization and, unfortunately, they simply failed. None of the characters come off as particularly strong, forward thinking, or decisive and their development seems pretty stagnant for a series that’s supposed to last only nine episodes.  Unfortunately, given what little the actors have to work with, no one really manages to stand out in their performances in the slightest.

Considering that the show shares space with the likes of “Ice Road Truckers” and “Swamp People,” clearly I was just a tad optimistic in thinking the History Channel may produce something befitting of its name. “Vikings” gives an honest effort at bringing its subjects to life but, really, you’re most definitely better off looking elsewhere if compelling history is really what you’re after.

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My Rating: 4.5/10

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About Jessica Koroll

An English student with a taste for the surreal and love for all things science fiction, her thoughts generally linger on Star Trek, lit theory, and recent tv episodes. I'm also @korolline_

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