February 28, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Vikings”


VIKINGS:  Thursday 10PM on History

The season 2 premiere of VIKINGS neatly demonstrated the series’ knack for straddling brawny historical action and engrossing historical soap.  Written by series creator Michael Hirst and directed by Ciaran Donnelly, it separated into two halves, both dealing with the consequences of events from last season’s finale.

The first half was built around an impressively violent battle, as our hero Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel) was forced to fight against the army of his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), who had joined with Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr) to wage war against Ragnar and his leader, King Horik (Donal Logue).  This being the year 796, all the weapons available killed by hacking and slicing, not to mention one of the longer scenes of impaling you’ll ever see, so it was a sustained sequence of bloodlust, excitingly directed by Donnelly.  It all ended a bit anticlimactically, as Rollo found himself unable to kill Ragnar when he had the chance.  Rollo abruptly surrendered, and under the Viking system of justice, he was set free by the tribe’s Lawgiver (albeit after a bribe from Ragnar), where he can continue to do mischief with the help of the always-scheming former Earl’s wife Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig, looking as though she doesn’t miss Glee one bit).

The episode’s second half featured the grand arrival of Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), the statuesque royal beauty with whom Ragnar dallied last season while on his travels, and who was now carrying his child.  Partly because Ragnar’s daughter by commoner wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) had died of disease last season and the child Lagertha was carrying had miscarried, leaving him with only son Bjorn (now played by Alexander Ludwig), and partly because of plain lust, Ragnar proposed a Mormon-type three-way marriage with Lagertha and Aslaug, but Lagertha was having none of that, and despite/because of her love for him, she was leaving town at the end of the episode, accompanied by Bjorn.  Since Sutherland is now a series regular, Aslaug isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so this will be a continuing storyline this season.

Vikings isn’t deep drama, and some of the characters (notably Rollo and Siggy) are less than well-drawn–the always-interesting Athelsan (George Blagden), Ragnar’s captured/adopted Christian monk, wasn’t heavily featured tonight–but it knows how to push the buttons for both violence and sex, and that skill covers a lot.  Fimmel and Winnick are strong leads, and some episodes (although not particularly this one) feature some genuinely interesting history about a period and place that aren’t widely known.  One key to this season will be not to press the Rollo betrayal plotline too often, since that was already getting repetitive last season, and Rollo only has the two, now familiar, layers of family loyalty and jealous ambition on display.  The show is also strikingly produced, with kudos especially due to the stunt team.

Even after it lost its massive lead-in from The Bible, Vikings was a sizable hit for History last season.  This year the network is taking a bit of a risk by moving the show from Sunday to Thursday, where it will have a solid Pawn Stars lead-in but also have to face stronger network competition.  One assumes, though, that its audience is considerably more male than the crowd for Scandal, and anyway, that’s what DVRs are for.  Based on the season premiere, there’s no reason to think Vikings can’t go on delivering the blood, guts and Norse sexuality it provided last year.

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."