Vikings: Season 1: Episode 1: “Rites of Passage” — a review

Vikings

Sure, I’m late coming around to watching this series. I’ll say this for myself, though. It’s still on the air. I’m doing better than I used to.

I would forgive you if you thought this was solely a Star Trek/Star Wars blog. If you’re scrolling through my recent posts, it appears that Star Trek has taken over entirely. There’s a reason for that. During my Boldly Going project, I set about to watch every episode of every Trek television series ever produced. In a couple of days, I’ll have finished my rewatch of the animated series and then the only Trek series I’ll still be watching will be TOS (I’m halfway through this rewatch) and Star Trek: Discovery when it comes back on in 2019.

Of course, I’ve started going through the Trek movies again in my 15-Minute Federation project, a deep-dive dissection of each movie 15 minutes at a time inspired by my respect for the Star Wars Minute podcast. That means this will continue to be a Trek-heavy blog for the near future. But, there’s an end in sight.

My entertainment choices go beyond just science fiction offerings. I’ve been aware of the television series Vikings for years, and it’s one of those series I’ve been planning to get around to watching. Finishing up most of the Star Trek series has opened a hole in my viewing schedule, which I’ve decided to fill partially with this show.

This is a History Channel series, filmed in Ireland. Since it is broadcast on a network with “history” in its logo, you might be lulled into thinking this series is historically accurate. I’ve watched shows about UFOs on the History Channel, so I have no illusions. This series is a fictionalized account based on the tales of the legendary Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok. As such, I don’t expect historical accuracy, although I imagine that many of the things that will crop up in the series will be as accurate as possible. What I do expect is a rousing story with a lot of swordplay and intrigue. Like Game of Thrones, but perhaps without dragons.

I am also a fan of heroic fantasy, which is perhaps no surprise to you after you’ve seen the nerd-centric bias of my posts. Watching the first episode of the first season checked a lot of the boxes in the list of what I look for in good heroic fantasy. If some of it happens to be based on reality, that’s a bonus.

In “Rites of Passage,” we’re introduced to some interesting characters and situations that promise to develop into an engaging story.

Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) is the central character in our overarching story. He is a farmer who is destined for greater things. He sees Odin in visions.  He is tired of going on raids to the East, and dreams of raiding the West, where he’s sure that the plunder is bountiful. He is vocal—perhaps too vocal—about his ideas, especially within earshot of his Lord, The Earl (Gabriel Byrne). Ragnar is secretly having his own ship built by the eccentric ship-building genius Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), so we know that he’s taking action to make his dreams come true. I can’t imagine The Earl will be happy about this.

Ragnar’s woman (wife, maybe?) is the shieldmaiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) who demonstrates her ability to be both fierce and tender in this episode. This is a woman who knows how to take care of herself, and the fitting companion for one who is apparently destined to rule.

They have a son together, Bjorn, who is the character going through his rites of passage. In this episode, Bjorn receives the arm ring that marks his passage into Viking manhood.

Another character who, it seems, will factor heavily into the story is Rollo (Clive Standen), whom Ragnar calls “brother.” At this point, I’m not sure if Rollo is Ragnar’s actual brother or just his Viking brother-in-arms. I suspect the latter. He is fully aware of Ragnar’s plans to explore West. While the two men seem to have genuine affection for each other, Rollo comes across as pretty sketchy in this episode. He even makes sexual advances towards Lagertha. While Lagertha has demonstrated the ability to take care of herself, the fact that she doesn’t share Rollo’s actions with Ragnar is just fuel for future conflict.

I like how Viking information is woven into the narrative, rather than being dumped on us as exposition. We learn a lot about Viking traditions and practices by inference. The rites of passage that Bjorn goes through. How justice is achieved through a democratic process, and how punishment can be anything from public humiliation to execution. The power structure is made clear as well. The Earl owns the ships, so he dictates where the raids will occur.

The seeds of conflict are sown from the very beginning. Rollo and Lagertha, which will lead eventually, I predict, to Rollo and Ragnar. Ragnar and Earl Haraldson, of course. Then, the Vikings versus the world. Exciting stuff.

I was going to leave this observation out of my review, but I just can’t. At certain angles and in specific lighting, the actor playing Ragnar looks a lot like Charlie Hunnan. Likewise, the actress playing Lagertha bears more than a passing resemblance to Scarlett Johansson. Just an observation: it doesn’t mean anything.

There was no bad language or nudity in this episode, and it isn’t missed. The violence is probably a bit rough for the kiddies, but they’ve seen worse in video games.

I liked this first episode a lot, and am happy that I have many seasons of viewing in front of me. If, like me, you have postponed watching this series, make the time. If this episode is any indication (supported by the series’ consistent renewals), this promises to be a great show.

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