The History Channel’s flagship series Vikings aired its last episode in December. And though this celebrated work is finally in the history books, its legacy will live on. It isn’t your stereotypical “this is one of the best shows ever” series. It isn’t trying to be anything other than itself. And that’s okay. Vikings is, first and foremost, entertaining. It combines intricate plot mazes with brutal action and cunning twists and spectacular drama and dazzling cinematography (having been filmed in beautiful countries like Norway, Ireland, Canada, and Iceland). Perhaps equally striking is its informative subtleties. Granted, the show does dabble in mysticism and graphic scenes enough to where it doesn’t render a very “academic” disposition, but make no mistake: The writers did their research. It’s impossible to know a lot about 9th-century Viking legends—whose lives were often juggled throughout the course of European literature by nonfictional and fictional tales alike—but the History Channel lived up to its reputation here. The nature, timing, and location of the Viking raids on various places in Europe depicted in the show are accurate. Even the tiny details in the set, costumes, and characters are spot on.
Speaking of characters, lead character Ragnar Lothbrok is one of my favorite characters and heroes of all time. At first, he seems ruthless and heartless and able to violently terminate human lives without regret. Yet he has a soft and truly admirable side. He is patient. He is incredibly smart. He has intellectual curiosity. He cares for his family with not just words but also actions. Still, he can be very cold. You just never know. He is unpredictable, and that’s one of the best traits one seeks as a screenwriter. Props to Travis Fimmel, who nailed the role with remarkable charisma. But even if Ragnar weren’t one of the strongest characters I’ve ever seen, there are plenty of other fascinating personalities in the show. Athelstan, King Ecbert, Rollo, and Floki come to mind. Vikings is like Game of Thrones in the sense that it explores the dynamic adventures of all sorts of people. You can tell it’s well-done because you generally tend to dislike most characters at first, then you slowly build empathy for many of them and understand why they do the things they do. The show also synthesizes elements of Viking religion with institutional Christianity. And these spiritual elements come alive through the characters, who are shaped by their idiosyncratic beliefs and experiences.
All in all, Vikings is consummate. I’m not sure I’d recommend tearing through the last two seasons (which are 15 episodes each). But the first four seasons are, without a shadow of doubt, worth it. Then again, I don’t think that this show is suitable if you cannot stomach the extreme violence. You will see decapitations, human sacrifices, people taking giant battle axes to the face, raunchy sex, violence toward civilians, and more. Needless to say, it’s because these things really did happen. Some shows avoid those elements. But Vikings does so with patience, diligence in adhering to the facts, and an ability to cancel out the gory side with bits of humanity. In short, you will not like Vikings if you dislike violence—or when lots of main characters are killed off. You will like it if you approach the show without preconceived notions, if you’re willing to overlook its rugged aspects and appreciate the historical aspects. It is quite thrilling, particularly in the first four seasons (I’d rate this show a 9/10 if I were strictly evaluating these seasons). The pilot episode is slow, but after that you’ll be immersed in the world of these vicious—yet surprisingly egalitarian—people. So check it out on Amazon Prime Video!
*Note: I couldn’t find the original trailer on Youtube, but this fan trailer is pretty great.*