April 29, 2013



History Channel has been on quite a streak in its last two seasons.  Its first foray into scripted television, the miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, was a surprise smash hit, as was this year’s follow-up The Bible.  This season the network stepped into the continuing series world with VIKINGS, and while not at the same blockbuster level as the two miniseries, it’s been a substantial success and an easy renewal for Season 2.  (On the unscripted side, its hits include Ax Men and Swamp People.)   Tonight Vikings concluded its initial run with an intriguing but decidedly odd season finale.

The hour, written by series creator Michael Hirst and directed by Ken Girotti, mostly served as a set-up for Season 2, and if Vikings had proven less successful and not been renewed, it would have left things on a bum note as a conclusion.  There was very little interaction between the show’s main characters throughout the episode, since the main storyline had our hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) sent away from home as an emissary of King Horik (Donal Logue) to the land of Earl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr), valuable portions of whose territory Horik had occupied.  Strictly speaking, Ragnar was there to work out a deal, but it seemed like Horik had really set things up for a war, preferably one that would kill both Ragnar and Borg.  Ragnar spent most of the episode awaiting a response from Horik to Borg’s proposals for a compromise (the response:  no), and he split off even further while he waited to go see a sacred ash tree, leaving his always-ambitious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) behind to be sweet-talked by Borg into betrayal.  While on his trip, Ragnar met the mysterious and gorgeous princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), whom he instantly lusted after and almost as instantly impregnated.  Meanwhile, back at home, a plague engulfed the town, and Ragnar’s wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) was unable to save her and Ragnar’s daughter or the daughter of the late Earl, although Ragnar’s English friend Athelstan (George Blagden) survived after spending most of the episode in a coma.  Since neither Lagertha nor Athelstan–nor Siggy (Jessalyn Gissig), widow of the dead Earl and new wife of Rollo–have any idea what was happening in Sweden, there are plenty of possibilities for Season 2, but at the expense of a genuinely satisfying Season 1 ending.

Vikings has been uneven throughout its run.  It got off to a rather clumsy start, with Ragnar as an almost cartoon visionary–only he can take the Vikings west!–and the Earl (Gabriel Byrne) a cliche of a ruthless tyrant.  About midway through the season, things became much more interesting, as the show had Ragnar abruptly kill off the Earl (thus answering the question of why Gabriel Byrne would take such a role in a continuing series), putting him in charge.  The developing relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan gave Vikings more of a heart than it had shown before, and the episode where Ragnar outsmarted an English king boosted his credentials both as a general and as a dramatic lead.  These last two episodes, though, have gone in strange directions, with the penultimate hour a grim story about (quite detailed) human sacrifice and this finale an elaborate set-up for Season 2.

The characters, too, have been all over the place.  Ragnar has proven to have more substance than at first appeared to be the case (and so has Fimmel’s performance), wily as well as headstrong and determined.  Athelstan, too, has been well developed.  But Lagertha and Rollo have been one-dimensional, and the show has never really figured out who it wants Siggy to be, presenting her sometimes as a pathetic victim, sometimes as a scheming villainess.  Now the show is adding yet more characters who will seemingly play major roles next season.

Perhaps, with a year of success under its belt, Vikings will be more cohesive next season.  Even at its worst it’s been watchable, and there have been stretches when it’s suggested an intelligent, informative, compelling look at a culture few of us know well.  Like many a first-time voyage, though, this season’s journey hit some bumpy waters along the way.

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."