OMG, Are You Watching This? History Channel’s Vikings

Klingon Vikings

As a die-hard classic Star Trek enthusiast, I can’t tell you the number of times I grew blue in the face trying to convince folks that a legitimately great Trek series could be in the offing if the creative powers that be would’ve embraced the idea of a Klingon (Qo’noS) based series.  Heck, it wouldn’t even have to be futuristic – it could’ve been in the distant Klingon past in order to make it more affordable for television production – but it coulda/woulda/shoulda explored the plight of what it meant to be a warrior, a father, a lover, and a leader, all under the guise of showing a uniquely human experience in a decidedly not-so-human package.

Well, it looks like the History Channel finally beat Paramount to it.

Has anyone been watching Vikings?

Clearly, someone has. recently reported that not only did it seize the crown of the #1 new scripted cable series for 2013 but also the network recently renewed it for a second season. Series creator & showrunner Michael Hirst cut his teeth with The Tudors and the unfortunately less-than-impressive Starz’s program Camelot … though to Camelot’s credit there was ample exploration of Eva Green’s various “gifts.” (Ahem) Anyway, Hirst knows his way around historical fiction – as well as some conniving and nefarious primary and secondary characters – and he’s bringing bold life to a little explored era in human history.


The lead character – Ragnar Lothbrok (played by Travis Fimmel) – is nothing short of inspired. He’s equal parts Captain Kirk, Jax Teller, and Spartacus all rolled up into one … but with just a touch of, perhaps, Hannibal Lechter thrown in to keep the audiences guessing. Clearly, he operates from his own code of ethics, but he’s not above bending a few rules (or cracking a few skulls) in order to make a plan come together. Ragnar has a simmering undercurrent of Viking rage – one that he keeps bottled up so long as it serves his purpose – but he’s still very much like a ticking time-bomb waiting to go all ‘boom.’

What makes Ragnar a character worth following?

Well, for reasons that never get truly explained, he’s a bit of a dreamer – a wide-eyed optimist – who understands that change may be necessary if his people are going to survive. They’ve raped and pillaged the lands to the East for so long that there’s little treasure left, but that doesn’t stop their leader, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), from insisting they sail East every day the wind blows. Ragnar wants to sail West; and, doing so, he defies the man he’s sworn allegiance to in order to realize his dream, an act that’ll put him on course for the inevitable showdown.

But Hirst doesn’t allow the power struggles to end there.


Ragnar’s “brother” Rollo (Clive Standen) not only desires his shot at leadership of the clan, but he’s got his eyes on the man’s comely wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), a shield-maiden who can perhaps best any man in the village.  There’s a strong hint at some possible mutual affection – not love – in the premiere episode and tidbits sprinkled evenly along the way, but it appears Lagertha’s definitely a ‘stand by your man’ gal.  Well, except for the time she and her hubby ‘invite’ a priest to join them in bed.

For the time being, Rollo’s content to serve at Ragnar’s side — where else is it easier to hide the knife? — but with each episode audiences  see that he’s growing far more comfortable under his scarred skin with the idea of branching out.

So why do I consider Vikings the greatest non-Star Trek series made so far?


Like the Klingons I alluded to in the opening, the Vikings were a race of warriors. Principally, their affairs involved combat along with the necessary seizure of land, property, and women. In order to do this, they had to seek out strange new worlds and new civilizations, especially when the well ran dry of treasures in lands they’d already explored. As they do this, they’re confronted with new cultures – Ragnar doesn’t yet understand why he was drawn to saving a helpless young priest, but he gets good Viking mileage out of mining every scrap of information he can from the man. This is info he uses to, first, get richer, but he also grows wiser in understanding the greater world beyond his village.

Whether deliberate or not, Vikings is imbued with many of the ideals of a good Star Trek program. It’s clearly more sustained, long-term storytelling than episodic.  Still, it’s a complex variation on the old formula – while Kirk was quick to hook up with any available Andorian, he never razed her entire village to ‘make it so.’ That was always more of the Klingon approach – maybe even the Cardassians – but there was always the spirit of a warrior on display, whatever the race. Vikings brings that. It brings ships and their crew banding together to seek out and explore new places. Plus, it’s all told with a hearty gusto respectful to the established Viking culture and lore while balancing out the reality that there was a brave new world waiting for discovery right around the proverbial corner … or ocean.

Little does he know, but Ragnar Lothbrok is boldly going where no man – no Viking, at least – has gone before.

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  1. I’ve been watching since the first episode, and this show is fantastic. Yes, its a very long story arc, but its so well told that its worth it to anyone to hit History’s site and catch up on all the episodes. Its extremely well done (as anyone who watched the Tudors would attest to the attention to detail).

  2. It’s also free on CRACKLE, a free Xbox 360 tv/movie app. Along with the first 2 seasons of The Shield, which I’m glad I finally started watching.

  3. Looooove this show, I actually texted Paul 2 days ago making sure has going to watch it. Good article. I was waiting for Unreality to do a piece on this show. It feels like a solid mixture between Spartacus and Game of Thrones.

  4. Not only is this an exciting show, it’s superbly acted as well. History really knocked it out of the park with its first ever scripted series. Hopefully this means we will see more good stuff like this from that Network in the next few years.

  5. Google Travis Fimmel (the actor who plays Ragnar) and you’ll see him when he was the top male-model in the world. Huge jump from the way he looked then (super pretty boy) to now (thoroughly bad-ass). He’s managed to move away from a very lucrative modeling carreer to become a legitimately good actor, something that must have taken a lot of guts to pursue.

    Hope we see him in more stuff in the future.

  6. Good review but leave the Star Trek stuff out next time. If you have to compare it to something compare it to something proper like Game of Thrones not cheesy stuff like Star Trek

  7. I’ve been a Vikingophile (most assuredly a made up word) since I was a kid, so I was excited about this show, but also was expecting it to be not that great. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
    One interesting thing I noticed when looking into the show was the producers talking about the Viking reputation for brutality. They noted that while of course they were a warrior/raider culture, almost everything we know about them comes from the priests who they pillaged, so those accounts were obviously biased. With that in mind, they scale back the ruthlessness of the stereotypical Viking (only by a hair)!

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