Robb Ghag on the first episode of The History Channel’s new drama Vikings…
… But Only the Boldest, Make History…
In one of the shows last promos before the Season 1 premiere the tagline is as much for the viewers as it is for the channel.Typically shows on The History Channel deal with a documentary style type of programming.In Vikings, they take a page out of AMC’s book and will hopefully have the same success.
The story begins in the Eastern Baltic 793A.D. This is where we first meet Ragnar, the visionary. As you would expect with a show called Vikings, it begins on the battlefield. A quick battle ensues and we see a hillside skirmish, where our Hero easily dispatches three enemies. The first thing you notice is that History is not going for the flashes of blood across the screen, or immense amount of gore, which was a pleasant surprise. What did catch me off guard was after the battle, and a swarm of buzzards engulf the battlefield, Ragnar witnesses a dark figure (Odin as Ragnar whispers) taking up the souls of fallen warriors to Valhalla.It’s rare that a historical drama would have spirits raising through the ether, but the Visual FX make it work. It also establishes very quickly that Ragnar sees things others would not.
When the opening credits kick in, the score is tranquil but powerful. Not surprising as the show was created by Michael Hirst, the creative dynamo behind Elizabeth and The Tudors. We find ourselves in Scandinavia where the story moves to the Viking women, catching fish. They speak in subtitles at first, but this also transitions into English very quickly. Our hero is a family man, with a son (Bjorn) who is coming of age, a daughter who takes after her mother, and of course Ragnar’s wife who is skilled at catching fish on a stick as well as with a sword.
Father and son make their way to the main village where as explained, they’ll witness justice through the Viking ‘court system” and the Chieftain will decide where the clan will continue pillaging and raping in the Summer Raids. One of the best lines of the show, and definitely one that establishes Ragnar’s character “Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge, but I would give far more”.
Back at Ragnar’s home Lagertha (Ragnar’s wife) is set upon by two bandits, who know that the men have left her all alone.They clearly aren’t looking for food or drink, but after 30 seconds it’s clear she wasn’t chosen simply because of her looks. “You couldn’t kill me if you tried for a 100 years” she says as she quickly dispatches the two intruders in typical Viking fashion. At this point I am already excited to see her in battle again!
While camped out in the woods our Hero teaches his son the lessons he has learned. Asking difficult questions and foreshadowing what is to come. They then arrive at the village where Ragnar is met by his ship “brother” Rollo. While at the tavern Ragnar reveals a device to his brother which would guarantee a course to the west, over open seas, would remain true. Something as simple as discovering a compass is explained with a genius piece of television.
Back in the courthouse of the village we meet Earl Haralson (Gabriel Byrne) as he presides over his people passing judgement on a common thief and a murderer. The Earl’s character is one of benevolence and Byrne’s acting is stellar. Clearly he will be Ragnar’s proverbial thorn, and vice versa. Bjorn gets a good look at the life of a Viking as he has to help sentence the man to death, and watch as he is beheaded. Byrnes words after the beheading are spiteful and prove that he is not a man to be denied.
Bjorn then receives his arm ring, swearing fealty to Earl Haralson as a child of 12, in Viking status he is now a man. Proven more so when he gets a kiss from the Chieftain’s wife. Before the feast the Chieftain explains that the Summer Raiding party will once again head east towards Russia. As Ragnar hears this he is compelled to stand and explain that the path should be west, towards new lands.Immediately irritated by anyone questioning him, the Chieftain silences Ragnar, and explains that they are his ships, his lands and it is his decision. Already at this moment I cannot wait for their first fight against one another.
The Earl summons Ragnar into his private chamber and has clearly heard enough talk of the west, and puts his subject on notice. It’s a one way conversation that clearly irritates both men. When the Earl dismisses him, he has him followed as “I don’t trust him”. A glimpse into the Earl’s back story is shown threw a flashback where he awakes from the nightmare of seeing his sons buried in a shallow grave.
Worshiping and fearing the Gods, but always seeking their counsel, Ragnar and Bjorn go see a shaman. He is an eyeless old man who surrounded by bones and runes, tells Ragnar to go ask the gods himself his next course of action.
We then meet Floki, a crazy old boat builder. He has been hired by Ragnar to construct a boat that would withstand the long arduous journey west. Floki, clearly a crazy hermit, definitely has an engineering acumen as he explains the boats construction. When Ragnar arrives home, he asks Lagertha if anything transpired during their absence. She doesn’t tell him anything about the bandits, but instead says she needs to ride him like a Bull. Bjorn waits outside as Rollo arrives at his brother’s home. The casual manner in which Bjorn explains to Rollo his parents are having sex is probably the only laugh in the entire episode.Ragnar tells Rollo the boat is nearly completed and they need to start looking for a crew to sail the ship west. It will be a difficult task as not many would go against the Earl’s wishes. While Ragnar goes outside to relieve himself, Rollo inside confesses his love for Lagertha, where she angers him by denying him her affection.
Outside the home Ragnar is once again visited by the vision of a dark cloaked figure he saw on the battlefield. The sign that he has been waiting for, that he is doing the right thing. The final scene on the water as Floki, Rollo and Ragnar test the ship in the water. As they unfurl the sails the ship travels smoothly across a river, as Floki gleefully sings his own praises at building the vessel. On top of a hillside as the three sail the ship, as the Earl’s spy watches them. We cut to the Earls stone like expression back at his table presumably waiting to hear from the spy.
Vikings episode one starts slowly but has already built some great characters. With similar shows of this quality, it has already established a hero’s journey and many obstacles (from outside and within) he will have to overcome.Given time, more confrontations are sure to emerge and a story as simple as a man sailing west has me hooked and eagerly waiting episode 2.
Robb Ghag works for an Arts & Entertainment Brokerage in Toronto Canada. An Animation and Film school graduate, he specializes in Risk Management of Animation and VFX studios throughout North America.