I knew about five minutes into the first episode of VIKINGS that I wanted to review it, which was surprising. Not that I wanted to review it (book-funky = desperate measures), but that it qualified. VIKINGS is the “breakout” TV series from the History Channel, you see. HISTORY CHANNEL. So no matter how much Viking goodness it had, I figured it wouldn’t fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction.
You have to look closely, but in the middle of all that fog, there are two Valkyrie coming to take a fallen warrior to Valhalla. And that’s not all. A seer, or völva, is an almost constant background presence:
EEP. I’m not sure why the dude looks like that, but being hundreds of years old might have something to do with it. Either that or a combination of irony (b/c NO EYES) and creeptastic.
So yeah, despite being an excellent example of historical fiction, VIKINGS definitely falls under the Rabid Reads umbrella. It follows the life of Ragnar Lothbrok, who (to my understanding) appears to be the Norse version of King Arthur. The History Channel’s version of Ragnar’s life begins with the events leading up to his discovery of England.
Previously, Vikings had never sailed the open sea, so his idea to go west was both novel and courageous. But Ragnar was only a farmer, and his earl was a man threatened by change.
For those of you who want to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. Except to say that the main reason I’ve always been attracted to Viking history is the status of free women. I’m not trying to downplay their treatment of slaves or enemies—I’m pretty sure the phrase “rape and pillage” was invented for them—but their free women had options that very few, if any, other cultures of the time afforded their women.
They went on raids as warriors, respected for their abilities and fighting skills. Even if they upheld a more traditional role, they had rights. A husband needed proof to accuse his wife of adultery. An abusive man could be called to account by his wife.
Say what you want about their methods for acquiring foreign goods, they were WAY ahead of the curve in regards to dealing with their own, and VIKINGS does an excellent job of portraying both sides.
ALSO, I absolutely LOVE the way myths are periodically worked into the storyline, told as children’s stories.
THERE WILL BE MINOR SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION. That’s without the spoiler tags. The spoiler tags are not hiding minor spoilers, they’re hiding HEP BIG spoilers. FYI.
Ragnar Lothbrok has just returned home after the year’s raids and decides it’s time to take his thirteen-year-old son Bjorn to the ‘thing’ in Kattegat.
Ragnar fancies himself curious in the way of Odin and wants to sail west to find and raid a rich country he’s heard stories about—England. He tells Bjorn, “Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge, but I would give far more.”
Unfortunately, Earl Haraldson is a chicken and corrupt to boot, so he forbids it. BUT. Ragnar anticipating this has already begun building his own boat, a new kind of boat meant to withstand sailing across the sea, in secret.
Once the new ship is ready, Ragnar recruits others to sail with him. Haraldson knows Ragnar’s plans, but allows him to leave b/c he thinks they’ll never return (b/c NAYSAYER).
Lagertha wants to go west with Ragnar, but he says, no, b/c someone must stay behind and take care of the farm and children. They fight. VIOLENTLY. It’s AWESOME.
Ragnar and co. land in Northumbria and slaughter an entire monastery, excepting a handful of monks they take as slaves. One, Athelstan, is a wanderer (Ragnar’s weakness), and speaks the Viking language.
Ragnar returns to Kattegat with proof of rich lands to the west. Haraldson confiscates the entire hoard, excepting one item per Viking. Ragnar chooses Athelstan, and through him learns the language and political landscape of England.
Haraldson sanctions another raid, but sends Knut to guard his interests.
This time, Ragnar takes Lagertha with him, leaving Athelstan in charge of the farm in their absence.
Haraldson tries to bribe Rollo into speaking against Ragnar, and is humiliated when his plan backfires.
Episode 5:View Spoiler »Haraldson attacks Ragnar’s farm, killing and burning everything. Ragnar and his family manage to escape, but Ragnar is gravely wounded. « Hide Spoiler
Haraldson tortures Rollo for information on the whereabouts of Ragnar, but Rollo says nothing. When Ragnar finds out, still injured, he returns to the settlement and challenges Haraldson to combat to the death.
Episode 6:View Spoiler »Ragnar wins, making him the new Earl. « Hide Spoiler
Rollo becomes more resentful.
Lagertha is pregnant.
Ragnar leads another raiding expedition, this time to attack King Aelle of Northumbria.
King Aelle’s brother Athelwulf arrives with reinforcements and offers to lead their soldiers against the Northmen, View Spoiler »but Ragnar attacks their camp at night, defeating them and taking Athelwulf hostage. « Hide Spoiler
Aelle offers Ragnar 2000 lbs. of gold and silver in exchange for View Spoiler »his brother « Hide Spoiler, an agreement to leave his lands, and the baptism of one of Ragnar’s men, View Spoiler »but his true intention is to ambush the Vikings. Ragnar kills all Aelle’s men and sends Athelwulf’s head in return. « Hide SpoilerView Spoiler »Lagertha loses her baby. « Hide Spoiler
Ragnar reacts poorly to View Spoiler »the news of his lost son « Hide Spoiler, and decides to make the once-every-nine-years journey to Upsalla to make offerings to their gods, inviting Athelstan to go with them. Lagertha fears for their marriage.
Once there, Athelstan discovers nine humans are to be sacrificed along with the animals, View Spoiler »and he’s meant to be one of them, but the priests declare him unfit b/c Christian. « Hide Spoiler
Ragnar meets with King Horik and swears his fealty to get reinforcements for raiding in the west. Horik agrees to join Ragnar, if he’ll take care of a land dispute issue with one of his Earls.
Ragnar travels with Bjorn, Rollo, and Floki to meet with Earl Borg, who refuses to abandon his claim to the disputed property.
During their stay, Borg invites Ragnar to visit a spiritually significant landmark, where events lead to Ragnar’s meeting with Princess Aslaug.
Borg works to turn Rollo against Ragnar, and when Horik refuses to negotiate, it means war between the two men.View Spoiler »Rollo agrees to fight with Earl Borg against Ragnar. « Hide Spoiler
Ragnar: Thirsty for adventure. To all appearances, an ideal man—a fierce warrior, intelligent, a loving and respectful father and husband, etc.
Rollo: Ragnar’s older brother. Loyal but resentful of constantly being in Ragnar’s shadow. ALSO, in (unrequited) love with Lagertha.
Lagertha: A shieldmaiden and FIERCE.
Bjorn: Eager to impress his father, but young and idealistic.
Earl Haraldson: Old, corrupt, and worthless. Abuses his power to the point of killing innocents to preserve his interests.
Siggy: Haraldson’s wife. A scheming manipulator.
Floki: Crazy like a fox.
So basically, I loved it. LOVED it. And the next time you’re feeling book-funky, or you’re just on the prowl for a new series, I highly recommend VIKINGS. The first three seasons are FREE with Amazon Prime.