Vikings is a The History Channel’s first foray into the world of scripted television drama. It follows the story of Ragnar Lothbro as he attempts to change the course of Viking history. The pilot aired March 3rd on the History Channel.
Vikings faces a difficult battle when it comes to reeling in viewers. The vikings were a group of people who raped and pillaged their way across Europe and the New World. How does one create a protagonist we can empathize with, when we are actually rooting fro him to carry out horrible atrocities on innocent people?
It’s not an easy question to answer, and the pilot of Vikings seeks to simply ignor it altogether Ragnar is our hero, and he comes off like a decent enough guy. He loves his wife and child, and he seems to be more honorable than most of the other vikings we meet in this first episode. But his main conflict with the villain of the piece (A Jarl played by Gabriel Byrne) is over where they should go in order to rape and pillage during the next raping and pillaging season. Ragnar’s idea of sailing to the West is visionary, but the show seems to gloss over why he wants to go there. It isn’t that he’s a visionary explorer, he just wants somewhere fresh to rape and pillage. By painting Ragnar as such a hero, the show instantly loses some of its integrity as a factual representation of what Vikings were like.
There are some interesting scenes showing how the Viking hierarchy and justice system work, but most of the pilot is spent just introducing us to characters without spending any time showing us why we should care about them. Ragnar’s wife is a standout as a formidable female warrior, but the show largely ignores what her place is within the Viking community, besides making Ragnar’s dinner.
There is some relatively bloody combat, but it is provided at the start of the episode without reason or context. Likely it was put in to show viewers that the show will have bloody combat, but they didn’t have any to show in the pilot. There is also some mysticism included as Ragnar sees visions of Odin on the battlefield and later in other places as well. The mystic elements are not played up significantly, but their inclusion at all once again limits the shows ability to feel historically accurate. A further blow to the credibility is the rock music titles at the beginning of the episode.
Vikings isn’t a bad show, but there isn’t a lot to get excited about in the first episode. Some elements do not feel period or accurate, especially for a show airing on the History Channel, and not a whole lot happens in the first episode to capture the viewers interest. That being said, there is plenty of room for it to grow, and future episodes may do a better job of representing the Viking culture, and providing an interesting story to follow.