Vikings is History Channel’s first originally scripted program and it just began its 3rd season a couple weeks ago. The premiere brought in 4.6 million viewers making it the highest rated cable series on Thursday night, but for a few years now, fans like myself have made the argument that the series — which follows the historical rise of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Norsemen — is better than Game Of Thrones.
It might also qualify as being the best show on television that you’re not watching. Something that’d be easy to say about plenty of shows, but I’m prepared to make the case. Get your angry comments ready, internet…
Game Of Thrones Lite
While referring to a show as “Game Of Thrones Lite” may sound insulting, it’s actually a good thing in this case. I’ll admit that I never finished any of George R.R. Martin’s books, so your upturned noses will have no effect on me. I’ve also never really been a big fan of the HBO series.
One of the aspects I always found so off-putting is the sheer size and scope of the story being told. With so many characters being followed, I really find myself only interested in two characters: Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. Beyond them, I start losing track of names, castles and story details because I really just don’t care.
With Vikings, the scope is much smaller, which not only gives these unique characters more screen time, it allows the audience to become invested. Also, Vikings tends to give viewers everything they want regularly. Norse folklore, sexy times, massive fight scenes… it’s almost like a Game Of Thrones episode except say, without all the bare butt and dragons.
So Many Khal Drogos
A friend of mine was explaining to someone why they should be watching Vikings a few weeks back and he ended up concluding that the series was essentially about a bunch of Khal Drogos. The concept of a series that follows an army of Dothraki warriors got her immediately interested and she was soon binge-watching the show. While it’s a funny way to sell a person on a television program, there is some truth to that comparison.
Let’s be clear here: this is a show documenting the conquests of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Norsemen. They are the heroes of this series but let it be known, they aren’t necessarily “good people.” Last week’s episode featured a boat adorned with a selection of severed Englishman heads. And dare I even bring up Rollo’s rape scene from season one?
Ragnar & Lagertha Are THE Viking Power Couple
You can’t really talk about Vikings without talking about Ragnar Lothbrok. He’s like this show’s Rick Grimes in that, without Ragnar there’d really be no show. From a common farmer to king of his people, Ragnar’s drive is to discover new lands and expand his territory. That’s what we see when he discovers England and there are already rumblings about France entering into the picture soon.
Leading the way for all the strong female characters on Vikings is Ragnar’s wife Lagertha is brilliantly portrayed by the beautiful Katheryn Winnick. Here, we not only see a strong independent minded woman and mother, but we also see a formidable Viking shield maiden who fights alongside the men in raids and battles. It’s worth noting that Winnick has Black Belts in Karate and Tae Kwon Do and was once a licensed body guard.
Comparing Ragnar and Lagertha to Cersei and Jamie Lannister is a bit like comparing organic apple trees to rancid moldy orange peels, in that the two couples are in completely different leagues. For all the pillaging, raiding and murdering Ragnar and Lagertha involve themselves with, they are still driven by discovery and are true to their people and their families.
While Jamie Lannister has shown some nice qualities here and there, one must never forget that he likes to have sex with his awful sister Cersei. And, seriously, Cersei is the worst.
Floki! Floki! Floki!
Floki is easily my favorite character on the show. He’s like my Tyrion Lannister, in that whenever he has screen time, I find myself 100% engaged. Floki is the Viking ship builder who helps Ragnar achieve his dreams of discovering new lands and civilizations. A court jester of sorts, he’s regularly seen wearing some different sorts of war paint and even though he’s a silly character, Floki is definitely a dangerous man to be reckoned with.
Side note: Floki here is played by Gustaf Skarsgard and if ever they decide to make another A Nightmare On Elm Street movie, let me be the first to nominate him as the next Freddy Krueger. He’d be perfect.
The Ongoing Battle Between Paganism & Christianity
While we all know from history that Christianity ended up demolishing Paganism, this compelling culture clash plays out in a tragically beautiful way on Vikings. In Season 1, Ragnar and his men discover a group of Christian Monks praying at a church they proceed to demolish. At that time, the Norsemen only knew of their Gods Odin, Thor, and Loki and that when they died in battle, they would live on in their heaven known as Valhalla. Discovering this new culture — and strange Christian religion — led to the kidnapping of one young surviving monk by the name of Athelstan.
An unexpected and interesting relationship soon cultivated between Ragnar and Athelstan. Throughout the series, thus far, we’ve seen how Athelstan has walked the line between both religions and cultures. He has helped Ragnar communicate with the Saxons and, as you can see above, ended up being crucified by his own kind for some rather complicated reasons in Season 2.
What makes it more compelling is the notion that these story details are based on historical fact. It really is a complicated tangled web this show weaves masterfully. And dare I say I’d take these storylines over White Walkers any time.
For A Basic Cable Show, The Violence Is Anything But Basic
Whenever one talked about Game Of Thrones, sooner or later the violent nature of the series comes into play. Yes, the Mountain decapitated a horse many episodes before mauling the Viper. And of course there’s that “Red Wedding” episode people still make references to today. I have no issues with either of these episodes and I’ll agree they made for great television. However, sometimes taking the whole “less is more” approach works better.
Case in point: the “Blood Eagle” episode from Season 2 of Vikings. While little is truly shown in the above clip, I feel really affected by what is happening every time I watch. And if you’re not too clear on what exactly is going down in this scene, please refer to this explanation thanks to Pajiba.
Michael Hirst Is The Captain Of The Ship
Michael Hirst is THE man behind Vikings. Much like his work on The Tudors and Camelot, Hirst writes every episode and while the series boasts a handful of directors, having Hirst lead the way is what truly dictates the direction and magnitude of the story being told. At last year’s Vikings SDCC press room, Hirst told me he intends the show to continue going until the Norsemen discover America. Currently, we’re only 50 years into the Viking Age, which lasted 400 years so we definitely have a lot of ground to cover.
According to Deadline, Mr Hirst recently signed a first look deal with A&E which means he may be getting his way on more than just the story trajectory of Vikings.
Vikings Are The New Black
I’ve always viewed Vikings as the Klingons of the Pirate genre. And while there has been some considerate over saturation of pirates in entertainment over the past decade, we’re just really cracking the surface on exploring the culture and lore of Vikings. Over the Summer, a new series was announced by BBC America called The Last Kingdom which had the AV Club already referring to it as “Game Of Thrones-esque”. While Vikings began its story in the year 793, The Last Kingdom will take place almost a century later.
[The Last Kingdom] is set when invading Vikings had control over a large portion of England, and the Kingdom of Wessex, under King Alfred, was the sole force defending the island. (In the ultimate example of history being written by the victors, both Alfred’s defense against invaders and William of Normandy’s invasion of England are hailed as moments of English unification.) The show will follow Uhtred, the son of a Saxon nobleman who’s kidnapped and raised by Vikings. That dual identity is the heart of the show’s drama, as Uhtred must decide where his loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show will play as the flip-side to History’s Vikings, which examines Viking culture around their first attack on Britain in 793.
For the love of Odin, you had me at “flip-side to History’s Vikings“.
Look, whether you agree or disagree with me regarding my stance on History’s hit series, it doesn’t really matter. In the end, both Vikings and Game Of Thrones are amazing television shows that deserve to be watched and celebrated. Here’s hoping more stories about the Norsemen and their Gods will be hitting the airwaves soon. We can never really have too many Khal Drogos.