Ragnar the Raider: Vikings Season 1
"Sigurð had one son, who was called Ragnar. He was a large man, fair in appearance and with good intelligence, generous with his men, but stern with his foes. Soon after he had come of age, he got himself troops and warships, and he became one of the greatest warriors, so that hardly anyone was his match."
This excerpt from Ragnar's Saga shows the legendary impact that hero Ragnar Lodbrok has within Nordic lore. The quote highlights many of the traits that allegedly turned Ragnar into the legend he is today: strength, looks, intelligence, fairness. All of these are put in the forefront of History Channel's epic series Vikings, which stars Travis Fimmel as the Nordic hero. The show, created, produced, and written by Michael Hirst, follows the life of Lodbrok, a Norse farmer and warrior who craves for the adventure of traveling west to discover new lands and riches.
Ragnar the Intelligent
To achieve his desire to travel west, Ragnar is smart enough to have a ship built in secret by his friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård). He surreptitiously gathers men and travels west where they raid a monastery. When Ragnar's exploits are revealed to his chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), Ragnar is smart enough to know how to handle Haraldson's autocratic reaction, which stems more from his jealousy and the fear of Ragnar's influence.
This gives Ragnar the necessary notoriety, and warrants further trips to the west, which he uses to his advantage to gain more power, as well as the reputation of a daring raider. But this growing popularity doesn't rub well with Haraldson, who eventually sacks Ragnar's village, arrests him, and ends up challenging him to a duel.
Ragnar the Fair Leader
After his duel with Haraldson, Ragnar becomes Earl of the village. As a ruler, he is shown to be fair to his rival and his family, as well as his fellow villagers. But perhaps one of the best proofs of his fairness, is his treatment of captive monk Athelstan (George Blagden). Although a slave at first, Ragnar unbinds him and gives him the choice to follow him. Their relationship is one of the most interesting aspects of the show, as both their cultures and beliefs clash, but within an air of mutual respect. Athelstan also has to face his own self-doubts as he is forced to question himself and his God, in light of his new life.
However, despite Ragnar's apparent fairness, his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) doesn't feel that way. Promised by Ragnar at first that they would always be equal, Rollo finds himself constantly in the shadows, which ends up boiling into a deep resentment and jealousy. This is sensed by their enemies, who try to use it to their advantage. Although Rollo resisted this advances and backed up his brother, in the end, he appears to have given up, which will lead to an inevitable clash between brothers.
Ragnar the Strong
Ragnar's new position of authority gives him the liberty of embarking in new raids. He and his men set out to the kingdom of Northumbria, where they battle and defeat King Aelle's soldiers, capturing the king's brother. Despite agreeing to an exchange, the King tries to attack Ragnar's camp, only to be defeated again. In both fights, Ragnar and his men show exemplary strength and skill in fighting what is supposed to be a more prepared army. I don't know how historically accurate it was, but I thought the strategies used by the vikings (the shield wall, and the use of wooden stakes to repel a cavalry charge) were interesting, from a historical standpoint.
Both fights leave the King's army in shambles and his brother dead. Unable to hold off the strength of Ragnar and his men, he orders the payment of the ransom, but not before swearing revenge against the viking.
Ragnar the Good-Looking
In the midst of it all, Ragnar is burdened by family issues. Although he and his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), have two children (Bjorn and Gyda), Ragnar has been promised "many sons" by the local Seer. This promise is strengthened when Lagertha ends up pregnant again. But when she has a miscarriage, Ragnar's faith falters.
After a trip to the Temple at Uppsala, where he prays for more children, Ragnar pleads loyalty to King Horik and agrees to serve as his representative in a land dispute with Earl Borg. However, during his travel, he ends up seduced by Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), who reveals to him that she is carrying his child.
Overall, I was very pleased with the show. I thought it was an interesting chance to shed some light in a part of history that is usually neglected. Plus, it was well acted, with some very good production values.
That said, the fact that I recognize the show's potential makes me be a bit harsher with my expectations and overall criticism. Despite my overall satisfaction with the show, I can't help but think that it could've been way better. Although I think the first 4-5 episodes were very solid, something happened at one point that made the show lose some of its focus.
Whereas the initial focal point seemed to be Ragnar's desire to sail west, and how this clashed with his rival, Earl Haraldson, their duel and its aftermath felt rushed. I thought the character of Haraldson had potential for more development, and the hints they gave about his past are proof of this. After that duel, it felt as if the plot had unraveled a bit and lacked a specific focus. In a way, it felt as if Hirst didn't know where to take his story and wanted to touch all bases in one season.
There was also some flip-flopping on a couple of plotpoints. I remember in the first episodes they hinted on the possibility of Rollo being in love with Lagertha, which would've been another source of jealousy between him and Ragnar. But after a few episodes, they dropped that and changed Rollo's romantic focus to Haraldson's wife, Siggy. I really didn't care much either way, but it was a very notable shift.
Still, I thought the show was solid and has potential to be quite good. If Hirst can focus his writing in a specific direction, and keeps the same strong cast, and good production values, it can be a hit. I know I will be keeping my eyes open for Season 2. As for now, Season 1 gets a solid B.
Vikings: Season 1 Teaser
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