We like swords, carnage, and medieval history, so we’re watching Vikings. It’s the first drama series from the History Channel, created by Michael Hirst who was behind The Tudors, The Borgias, and Camelot.
The Vikings were a race of seafaring Nordic badasses who went on marauding expeditions to Europe, Russia, all the way to North America. They were large, terrifying warriors who not only did not fear death, they went looking for it. To die a glorious death in battle meant that they would be taken by Valkyrie maidens to Valhalla, where they would feast in the great hall of Odin.
Vikings follows the adventures of the Ragnar Lothbrok, legendary hero of Norse sagas. Here he is with an unfortunate haircut and a stare that makes him look like an inbred redneck (We hear banjoes! Flee!).
When we meet him in the first season, he is a young farmer with a wife and two small kids, but what he really wants to do is sail west to loot and pillage. That was the common job description at the time: Farmer/Marauder. His earl has grown over-cautious and doesn’t believe there’s anything in the west. So Ragnar asks his best friend Floki to secretly build a ship that can sail great distances using primitive GPS technology.
Floki is played by Gustaf Skarsgard, son of Stellan, brother of the hot vampire on True Blood. (Yup, that’s the genetic lottery for you.) We don’t watch True Blood but our sister has Alexander Skarsgard on her Google alerts and of course we’ve seen his naked GIFs. The eccentric Floki is said to be descended from the trickster god Loki (Hoy, cute si Loki ha).
Ragnar has a good-looking brother named Rollo who is a great fighter but is deeply jealous of Ragnar. Bad enough that everyone considers him the spare, but Rollo is also in love with Ragnar’s wife, the shieldmaiden Lagertha.
Some scholars believe that in Viking culture, the women could fight along with the men. Lagertha cooks and raises the children, but she also gets ticked off when Ragnar goes off marauding without her.
On one raid Ragnar captures an Anglo-Saxon monk named Athelstan, who becomes his slave and later his friend. The Athelstan character lets us see the differences between the Viking and Christian cultures. The Vikings have a very open and healthy attitude towards sex (Rollo: Where are your parents? Bjorn: They’re having sex). The Christians are stuck up and fearful, and Athelstan nervously declines when he gets invited to a threesome.
On the show the Vikings look filthy, but they were definitely cleaner than the monks, who never bathed. They live in what is now Denmark, so they should look like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones). And if axe-wielding Nikolaj Coster-Waldaus are coming at you, surrender and ask for their autograph.
Rating: Highly recommended.
In one Comp Lit course we had to read Scandinavian sagas. Along with the Volsunga, we read the Njala, which is also called Burnt Njal. We don’t remember any of it, except that part where the hero Njal is besieged in his house and he valiantly fights off the invaders with bow and arrow. Unfortunately his bowstrings snap, so he turns to his wife and asks her to braid her hair into a bowstring. And she says something like, “Remember two months ago when you hit me?” and refuses to give her hair to his defense. She leaves, and Njal’s enemies surround his house and burn it down with him in it. That’s why it’s called Burnt Njal.