Vikings: A Glimpse of the Past

May 15, 13 Vikings: A Glimpse of the Past

The television series Vikings is a historical drama that depicts the Viking age in medieval Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway). The series follows Norse legend Ragnar Lodbrok and his raids in England and France. Vikings is an enthralling historical drama that gives a real sense of feeling to the old – sometimes wordy – Norse legends.

A show cannot simply be driven by plot. There’s an unwritten rule that no matter how good the plot is, good characters are necessary to keep it moving, and vice-versa. However, Vikings carries such a heavily loaded, multi-faceted cast of characters that one could simply enjoy the show for the characters alone.

We have Lagertha, the famous shield-maiden from Norse legends as Ragnar’s wife. She brings a new dimension to the show, and accurately displays just how much power and voice a woman had during the Viking age. As a woman watching the show, you feel empowered just hearing her talk. Then we have Rollo, Ragnar’s traitorous brother who is secretly coveting his wife, Lagertha. Soon after we are introduced to Floki, the ship-building, flamboyant Viking that gives a sense of humor to the dark-themed series. Our most interesting main character, however, must be Athelstan, the Christian monk who Ragnar kidnapped during his first raid in England as a slave. Athelstan turns out to be more of a confidant for Ragnar than anyone else in the series.

Vikings first walks you through the farm life in medieval Scandinavia, where Ragnar is setting off to bring his son to Kattegat – a rite of passage for young Vikings – much like being knighted. This is where Ragnar confides in his brother Rollo, explaining to him a technology that will help them determine when they are going East or West – now known to us as a compass. Earl Heraldson, the local Viking chieftain, adamantly refuses Ragnar’s demand for the use of a boat to travel to the south, where England resides. Earl Heraldson – being unaware of England’s presence south of Scandinavia – adamantly refuses the use of boats for what he calls a “suicidal journey”. Despite this, Ragnar had his close friend Floki build him a boat so he could band together with other curious Vikings to travel behind the back of Earl Heraldson. When they make it there, they come upon a monastery where they brutally slaughter almost every monk in the vicinity, pillage the monastery, and take a few Christian monks as slaves. This is where we finally meet Athelstan, who Ragnar has an immediate attachment to.

After the first two introductory episodes, we follow Ragnar back and forth as he returns to the four kingdoms of England with his band of Viking brothers as they pillage, steal, and slaughter everything in their way. We see Ragnar’s fights with the English Kingdom of the South, and we soon meet King Aelle as he tries to barter his way out of violence with the hulking Norsemen. It is in this episode where we finally get to see the shield-maidens – including Lagertha – in full combat.

Shield-maidens were women of the Viking age who decided to be warriors; they wanted to fight their way in Valhalla – Pagan heaven. However, these women were allowed to choose both the family lifestyle and the warrior lifestyle if they so wished. How’s that for a dose of equality? We say we are a progressive society, but way back during the Viking age women were allowed to become soldiers and stay at home mothers without discrimination.

Throughout the series we also see constant conflict between Earl Heraldson and the Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, and finally, in the episode Burial of the Dead we see Earl Heraldson and Ragnar’s loathing come to a head as they enter a battle to the death. Ragnar comes out the victor – after sustaining a minor wound – and is officially crowned the Earl. With this title, Ragnar is finally capable of travelling to the British Isles without anyone to stop him.

As the characters develop we get a sense of the flourishing age of the Vikings. We grow attached, even fond of, the Vikings and their horrific raids. Though we know that the Vikings were essentially the “bad guys” of the age, we can’t help but form a soft spot for the brutes while we follow them on their journey. We feel bad for them when they are unsuccessful, we cry for them when they lose a family member, and we root for them when they are winning a battle. Vikings is a series that gives us a taste of ancient Norse history, empowers women, and makes us weep for the bad guys; a setup for a great – and unique – series.