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Vikings, a History Channel (yes, really) drama that loosely adapt the Ragnar Lothbrok legend for American audiences is a show that shouldn't work for American audiences. There is no brook given for the Viking culture: characters fervently believe in the Gods of the Aesir and willingly participate in human sacrifice without moralizing judgement. Characters rape and plunder, they slaughter Christian priests with abandon and you hope they pull it off. One woman serves as a shield-maid while the other is a high noble's wife; no one in the Earldom finds either role exceptional enough to comment on the differences in their choices, and Ragnar's right-hand man Floki is an inventor and wiseman who appears to be a priest of Loki at the bare minimum.

Very little explanation is given to fill the audience in; you either sink or swim and every episode produces a little alien shock as you get thrust into a cultural situation played out in full by the rules of the Viking world. Characters die frequently on the battlefield, and from illness and mishaps. They make choices no modern human would make, see the Gods in trees and despite this, are surprisingly magnetic.

It is also surprisingly pacey, even for a nine-episode first season. Each three episodes roughly become their own arc, the first being about a plan Ragnar has hatched with Floki to navigate to "the West" - England, a previously unaccomplished goal which the Earl they have sword fielty to has expressly forbidden.

I also want to give special notice to Travis Fimmel as the lead; a former underwear model, he is the dead-sexy kind of lead that I usually associate as being chosen for empty eyed beefcake rather than lead performance. He's actually shockingly, stunningly good at keeping Ragnar from devolving into either pure Magnificent Bastard territory or Woobieism. He's both a man oozing with daring ambition, a good family man, and at once perfectly aligned with his culture. You can't trust him for a minute, but you sure would like to...


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September 2014

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