Vikings premieres March 3rd on the History Channel!
Updated February 28
The History Channel wants us to know just what this battle we are about to get into feels like! Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Vikings.
Series Premiere Episode Description (March 3 at 10 p.m.):
The world of the Vikings is brought to life through the journey of Ragnar Lothbrok, the first Viking to emerge from Norse legend and onto the pages of history – a man on the edge of myth. Our story begins in 8th century Scandinavia where Ragnar Lothbrok is a warrior and a farmer who dreams of finding riches by bucking the tradition of raiding to the east. Ragnar has been working in secret on a project that will turn the Viking world on its head. But first Ragnar must convince the leader of his community, the powerful Earl Haraldson, who is none too happy to share in the renown that this journey could bring to Ragnar if it’s successful.
Some reviews are popping up. These seem to be based on the screeners of the first 5 episodes that History Channel provided to publicity folks. Although I had access to them, thanks to the nice people at the History Channel, I decided NOT to view them because I want to watch this series unfold as the writer, director, and actors intended it to be seen: with full music and in high quality. But that’s just me. I’m a fan, not a critic, as you know.
Here are some preliminary reviews from critics who did dip their toes into the screener waters. No spoilers (well, one or two perhaps, but nothing serious).
Say what you want about the Vikings, but they sure did like killing people. That’s the main takeaway from the opening few episodes of this eighth-century-set saga, which stars Australian actor Travis Fimmel (remember him from The WB’s Tarzan?) as farmer-cum-pillager Ragnar Lothbrok, Katheryn Winnick as his warrior wife Lagertha, and Gabriel Byrne as local Viking chief Earl Haraldson. It’s the dismissive leader’s refusal to believe that there are any lands worth raiding to the west of their Nordic homeland — or, for that matter, that there are any lands at all — that irks Lothbrok to no end. In the second episode, our hero defies Haraldson by setting off on an unauthorized raid and discovers not only that England is indeed a thing but also that it is home to at least one riches-filled monastery. Cue: dead monks.
Vikings was created by Michael Hirst, who previously brought us Showtime’s The Tudors, and this is clearly designed to occupy the ground between that historical drama and Game of Thrones. What those two shows have, and Vikings dearly lacks, is real intrigue. For the most part, the characters here display little interest in metaphorically stabbing an adversary in the back when they can actually stab him in the front. Yes, Fimmel makes a nicely kinetic lead, and Byrne could entertain by reading the phone book — or merely casting his lizard-eyed stare upon it. But much like the condition of that monastery after Lothbrok and his buddies have finished ransacking it, Vikings is kind of a mess. B-
(Note from Stella: I love that line about Gabriel reading the phone book…!)
This sets up the conflict between Ragnar and Earl Haraldson that permeates the series. It leads to brutal battles and gruesome scenes of death and destruction. The violence is not graphic but the audience certainly gets the impact of each heinous event that occurs.
The characters have to grow on you. Since most of them are actors who are unknown to general audiences there is no built-in comfort factor. Byrne is the most familiar face and next is Jessica Gilsig who plays Siggy, Earl Haraldson’s wife. Gilsig was last seen on Glee as Will Schuester’s wife.
It doesn’t take long for Fimmel to demand your attention. He looks like a superhero come to life, and all of the physical requirements of the role of Ragnar are totally believable. There is also a comfortable fit between he and Winnick, who plays his wife.
Vikings is not a series that will appeal to everyone. For the fainthearted, it is much too brutal and bloody. On the other hand, for those who like action and adventure, it will become appointment TV. The storyline is strong and the cast is good. Plus writer/creator Michael Hirst is fully in command of his story and characters. The History Channel should have another hit on its hands…
Fimmel, from Australia, is a one-time Calvin Klein model, which makes him an easy target for ridicule. I was impressed, though, by his transformation. His skin is blemished, his eyes are weary, and he doesn’t rely on sexy eyes as he becomes the smirky nonconformist leader. He showed a lot of promise in the short-lived series “The Beast,” in which he costarred beside Patrick Swayze, and he continues to impress here despite some accent issues. His scenes with Katheryn Winnick, who plays his wife, Lagertha, are tinged with comedy, particularly when they fight. She is a warrior who likes to give a good wallop every now and then…
Byrne’s Earl is fixated on maintaining his own power, and he is threatened by Ragnar’s ambition. Looking a bit like Liam Neeson in “Rob Roy,” with long stringy hair, Byrne brings an effective sense of menace to the series. At one point, he invites a servant to sleep with his wife, Siggy (a fantastically cagey Jessalyn Gilsig), then has him punished when he moves to take advantage of the offer. They make a wonderfully horrible couple, Byrne and Gilsig, and complicated, too, since much of their awfulness is fueled by grief.
Newsday (Long Island) [This article is no longer available on the Internet]
“Vikings” should be a hit for History Channel though it’s not immediately apparent why. By Hirst (Showtime’s “The Tudors”) and even THC (the raucous, ridiculous “Hatfields & McCoys”) standards, this all feels initially restrained, even tame. Beyond some opening fight scenes that appear to have borrowed some blood splatter special effects from “Spartacus,” “Vikings” then quickly settles into a fairly routine sword-and-sandal epic narrative that revolves around a sociopath overlord and the subjects who dare to challenge his authority. But it gets better..
Bottom line: Starts slow, gets better, and very nice to look at (shot mostly in Ireland.) Grade: B
LA Times (background information about the series and The History Channel) [This article is no longer available on the Internet]
Have the Vikings gotten a bum rap?
At least according to popular imagination, they were fearsome barbarians in horned helmets who pillaged their way across Northern Europe during the Dark Ages. And while it’s true these seafaring Norsemen were hardly a bunch of peaceniks, the new History scripted series “Vikings” will attempt to bring some nuance to the caricature of the bearded brutes when it premieres Sunday.
“The great thesis is, ‘You think you know the Vikings, but you don’t,” said series creator Michael Hirst.
USA Today (not a review, more of a heads-up)
While History’s viewership generally skews male, Hatfields drew female viewers as well thanks to its portrayals of family and marital relationships on its Romeo-and-Juliet subplot. As macho as Vikings might sound, Hoogstra promises there’s plenty to appeal to women. “There’s a family story in there. There are strong female characters. That was important to us. That was important to Michael (Hirst) as he was writing it, that there were really strong female characters.” …
Even though Vikings was filmed in Ireland rather than Scandinavia, the production, says Hoogstra, strives for historical accuracy despite the limited available written history of the Vikings.
“It was critically important to us that there was authenticity to the costuming and the weaponry, and we were meticulous about the boats, how they were built and what kind of wood was used. We wanted that world to be very authentic and anchored in as much fact as we could possibly get.”
Which Norseman show is right for you?
Next week, the History channel begins a nine-part adventure epic called “Vikings,” which takes place in the Middle Ages, and features royal intrigue, swordplay, crows soaring through ominously grayish skies, and people somehow surviving before the invention of exfoliant. Sound familiar, “Game of Thrones” fans? Compare and contrast, class.
This Norseman is right for us!
Updated February 27
Reuters has a new interview with Gabriel Byrne about VIKINGS. [This interview is no longer available on the Internet]
“Q: What do you think will draw viewers to “Vikings”?
A: It is a tremendously exciting story, and because it’s the History Channel, there will be many facts, rituals, battles and costumes that people will be intrigued to learn about. I also think people will begin to see the connection between ancient history and modern politics. And you recognize that maybe technology has changed, and maybe the way we live our lives has changed, but essentially human beings are not that different. We still make love and we make war, and we still have the need to conquer. We just do it with more effective weapons now…
Q: Why is storytelling important?
A: Going back to ancient cultures again, there was always a man in every village, they’re usually called shamans. And these men, sometimes women, took on the hopes, ambitions, fears, and the dreams of the tribe, so that the tribe could look at where they have come from and where they were going. And these shamans were the first actors. I think that when we look at something that’s well acted and a story that’s well told, it allows us to be a mirror of who we are as human beings and as a culture, and offers a glimpse of where we’re headed.
Q: Your 1997 autobiography, “Pictures in My Head” received rave reviews. Any plans for another book?
A: Yes. When I finish my current project, I intend to go back to writing. I’ve been working on bits and pieces here and there, and now I am going to seriously sit down and write this book. I really admire anybody who writes for a living. It requires such discipline, and I think you could only really do it if you loved it…”
So excited to hear that he is planning to work on the second book now!
Be sure to check out this video about Siggy, Earl Haraldson’s wife, at the new Vikings website. There is a lot of Gabriel Byrne in this vid! The actress Jessalyn Gilsig describes their relationship and her role in the series and she makes some very astute observations.
I cannot embed this video here, so I have made some screencaps to get you over there to watch it! smile
Updated February 26
The episode guide for the series is available at the new Vikings website. Here is the info on the first episode, airing this Sunday, March 3, at 10pm/9pm Central on the History Channel.
Rites of Passage
Premiere Date: March 03, 2013 – 10:00-11:01PM
In 8th century Scandinavia, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) is a warrior and a farmer who dreams of finding riches by bucking the tradition of raiding to the east. Ragnar has been working in secret on a project that will turn the Viking world on its head. But first Ragnar must convince the leader of his community, the powerful Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), who is none too happy to share in the renown that this journey could bring to Ragnar if it’s successful.
- March 03, 2013 – 11:01-12:02AM
- March 04, 2013 – 02:02-03:03AM
- March 04, 2013 – 03:03-04:04AM
- March 05, 2013 – 11:02-12:01AM
- March 06, 2013 – 03:03-04:02AM
Here are a few screencaps from the Earl Haraldson video, in which Mr. Byrne comments on this role and the series in general:
Gabriel Byrne is creating a complex portrait of a man facing enormous change, for himself and for his society. I know we are all looking forward to his portrayal and to the series itself. Lots of action and also lots of drama!
Get Your Warrior On!
Updated February 25
Check out the brand new Vikings website!
And here is a new video in which Gabriel Byrne discusses his character, Earl Haraldson (cannot embed it at this time, so click on the link and you will be able to watch it).
The New York Times provides insight into how the series Vikings was created:
“For the elaborate History project, which began filming in Ireland last summer, Mr. Hirst immersed himself in what had been written about Viking culture — basically documentation by outside observers since theirs was not a broadly literate society. He found the material limited and biased.
“They’re always the guys who break in through the door, slash up your house and rape and pillage for no good reason, except that they enjoy the violence,” he said. “I wanted to tell the story from the Vikings’ point of view, because their history was written by Christian monks, basically, whose job it was to exaggerate their violence.” “
Read more here.
The Opening Credits are very evocative, mysterious, and actually rather frightening (in a good way!).
friends and enemies
In politics and war, there are many wise sayings about friends and enemies. Read The Art of War by Sun Tzu and you will discover these aphorisms: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.” Ok, ok. You get the idea.
In that spirit, here are some enemies or possibly some friends whom you shall meet in Vikings. Will they help or hurt Earl Haraldson? We shall have to wait and see!
In the Behind the Scenes video at the top of this posting, you can see Earl Haraldson putting young Ragnar in his place. The Earl is powerful and in command. You can feel Ragnar seething in the face of this open display of control and authority. How long will it take for Ragnar to rebel? The video offers some comments from Gabriel Byrne, Michael Hirst (writer and producer), and Travis Fimmel (Ragnar).
Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel)
Ragnar Lothbrok is a restless warrior and family man who longs to find and explore new countries across the sea. His goal is to settle his own people to thrive on rich new farm lands. He is in a battle of wills with the reigning ruler, Earl Haraldson.
Siggy, the Earl’s wife (Jessalyn Gilsig)
Siggy rules with her husband, Earl Haraldson, in a partnership that depends on his strength and her political skills. They have lost their two sons to unknown murderous rivals. This loss frames their relationship now.
Ragnar’s brother, Rollo (Clive Standen)
Rollo, Ragnar Lothbrok’s impulsive, wild and carefree brother whose loyalty is at times questionable, but his skills as a warrior are formidable.
Lagertha, Ragnar’s wife (Katheryn Winnick)
Lagertha is the first wife of Ragnar Lothbrok. She has always fought in the shield-wall alongside the men. She and Ragnar have two children, a daughter and a son. Lagertha is a force to be reckoned with.
The monk, Athelstan (George Blagden)
Athelstan, a young and innocent Christan monk whose world is turned upside down by the shocking culture brought on by the Vikings.
Floki, the visionary (Gustaf Skarsgard)
Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), a design genius and close friend of Ragnar’s who helps the charismatic Viking fulfill his dreams of discovering new lands and civilizations through his visionary boat designs.
A new batch of these has been added to the Gallery! Here is an example:
I think Earl Haraldson has a thing for fur…
fan art by stella
You can find three new wallpapers of Gabriel Byrne in Vikings, including the one below, in the Gallery.
Although there are several images of Gabriel that I could have used for these wallpapers, the one I chose is the most complex and intriguing to me. Mr. Byrne manages to look formidable and strong and vulnerable and thoughtful all at the same time. I think his face is made this way, to a certain extent, and he is perfect for this role, as I understand it at this point, without having seen the show. He can portray a complex character with just a look. He talks about portraying the truth as an actor; he says that is what acting is. Here, in this picture, he does it beautifully. So, I apologize for using this picture THREE times but I could not resist…