May 2, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Vikings”


VIKINGS had a strong second season, both in the ratings (despite a move to a new night, and the loss of the blockbuster The Bible as its lead-in) and creatively.  The season, written start to finish by series creator Michael Hirst, cannily built on the story of 8th century Viking explorer Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his trailblazing raiding parties to Britain, which brought him such wealth and renown that he became an Earl–and the target of the jealousy and plots of others.

Hirst expanded the canvas of Vikings in vivid ways.  He was especially good with the character of Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), who had been Ragnar’s strong but mostly dutiful wife in Season 1, but left him when he returned from his travels with a new wife, the statuesque Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), although she could have stayed, since multiple wives were permissible in Viking culture.  Instead, Lagertha moved to a neighboring area of Scandinavia and married an abusive Earl whom she ultimately killed, taking over his title and joining Ragnar’s British invasion as an equal.  The character arc gave Winnick a storehouse of meaty material, and she rose to the challenge.  While keeping Lagertha as a heroine, the show was also smart enough not to turn Aslaug into a villain, instead giving both of Ragnar’s women their due.  Also fascinating was the inclusion of stories about Wessex, where Ragnar had invaded, and its King Ecbert (Linus Roache), who was willing to go to war if necessary, but preferred to find a way to coexist with Ragnar and his people and who, despite being a Christian, had a fascination with the pagan religion.  The British section of the season also kept the complicated character of Athelstan (George Blagden) going, a one-time monk who had been captured by Ragnar in the first raid, converted to a Viking life and a close friendship with Ragnar, was then captured by Ecbert’s men, returned to Christianity, and then voluntarily returned to Scandinavia with Ragnar.  This kind of scale has given Vikings the true feel of an epic.

The season finale, directed by Ken Girotti, was somewhat uncharacteristic, both because it took place entirely in Ragnar’s home village of Kattegat, and because until late in the hour, Ragnar himself was only occasionally at its center.  The episode focused instead on what turned out to be a very long con played by Ragnar, his inspired but somewhat flaky shipbuilder Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) and the always-scheming Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), the wife of the Earl Ragnar had supplanted.  Floki and Siggy convinced King Horik (Donal Logue, in a role not so different, despite the centuries that separated them, from the Tammany Hall politico he played on Season 2 of Copper) that they were ready to betray Ragnar and join in Horik’s coup–Floki out of jealousy, and Siggy to regain her high status by marrying Horik–by murdering Ragnar’s children.  They convinced viewers, too, because Siggy had never been trustworthy, and Floki always seemed to be one bad cup of mead away from doing something crazy.  In fact, though, they were luring Horik into a trap–Floki even fake-poisoned one of Ragnar’s confidants–and the season ended with Ragnar executing Horik and assuming the mantle and sword of King.

Vikings doesn’t have the money to spend that Game of Thrones does, and it doesn’t come close to capturing that show’s near-lunatic massive scale and complexity, but History’s series still has one of the most effective design teams on television, producing a variety of villages and kingdoms, as well as brutal, hand-to-hand battle sequences, that look entirely convincing on a moderate budget.  The cast is equally persuasive.  It’s not clear what else Fimmel can play, but he’s got charisma and presence to spare as Ragnar, and he’s backed by a very solid supporting cast.  (If Alexander Ludwig, as Ragnar’s oldest son Bjorn, and Gaia Weiss, as Bjorn’s freed-slave lover Porunn, are more beautiful than brilliant, that’s the way of epic ingenues.)

Vikings has already been renewed for Season 3, and considering that the Viking tales of their history freely mixed fantasy with documentary fact, there are no doubt many more stories to be told about Ragnar and his adventures.  The series has achieved an impressively assured tone and style that should keep it in good standing for seasons to come.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."