Vikings airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on The History Channel
Welcome, friends, to the History Channel’s second-ever scripted series, True Blood: The Northman Years. Actually, wait, it‘s Vikings! I’m so excited to find out what ancient aliens or secret Nazi plans were responsible for this.
The History Channel’s other scripted show, Hatfields and McCoys, seems to be doing really well, and Vikings‘s showrunner, Michael Hirst, has proven he can hack it with the historical drama. Combined with the great cast (Travis Fimmel! Gabriel Byrne! Jessalyn Gilsig! One or more Skarsgards, we can never be sure!), I’m certain this is going to be great fun. And if it isn’t…yo, staring at Travis Fimmel’s psycho-fratboy face while he hits people with axes for 45 minutes a week is like therapy.
Eastern Baltic, 793 A.D. Lightning strikes a tree as we pan slowly onto the bloody, lovely face of Real Historical Dude Ragnar Lothbrok (the aforementioned Travis Fimmel, who I first came across in a weird Australian movie starring Stephen Moyer and Teresa Palmer called Restraint, where he managed to pull off sexy and horrifying and magnetic at the same time, because he’s a fucking fantastic actor.)
(I’m sorry, I get very emotional about former male models.)
The show already proves itself fairly capable by counterplaying the thunder of the storm with the sheer, serene calmness of Ragnar’s face, which is actually calm because he’s in the middle of a battle. Ragnar, like most vikings, is in a perpetual state of About To Fuck Shit Up, and when this one dudes steps to him and cuts his axe-head off the handle, Fuck Shit Up he does. Sucks to get skewered longways by your own sword, but you should have thought of that before you messed with someone whose ponytail is that long.
The fighting is awesome, subtly choreographed and authentic-feeling, and the battlefield (strewn with arrows and spears and bodies) is framed beautifully by the misty green mountains of Ireland in the distance.
Ragnar and his hot buddy kick six tons of ass, then go in for a manful hug. Hot Buddy flops down dramatically while Ragnar surveys the aftermath of his slaughter, and catches sight of a hunched figure in a sweet hat picking his way slowly through the corpses in the field. Ten thousand crows are just flying around everywhere, and it looks awesome. Ragnar assumes it’s Odin, and it’s unclear if he’s hallucinating the figure taking the spirits of the dead or what.
Credits. THESE ARE MY NEW FAVORITE CREDITS. They’re dark and beautiful (the burning longboats!) and set to one of my favorite songs, Fever Ray’s “If I Had A Heart.”
Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and her daughter spear fish in a stream while Ragnar and their son spar with wooden swords in the village. As pumped as I am about all aspects of this show, I think I’m most excited to see Lagertha’s role, since she’s a Real Historical Dude, too. I know almost nothing about women in viking society, and I hope the show delves into it as deeply as possible.
Ragnar and Lagertha meet up again in the village with their kids. They seem a little tense with each other. Ragnar wants to bring their 12-year-old son to some kind of–okay, I can’t for the life of me make out what he’s actually saying, and it sounds like “the thing”–and Lagertha thinks he’s too young. Ragnar wins, and we next see them all sweaty and firelit in bed, so I guess they worked it out? SEXUALLY.
Lagertha’s all, “If you could not be a total whore when you go to The Thing, that would be great.” Ragnar promises to control himself around other women, and Lagertha asks if that’s a roundabout way of admitting he loves her. He, in response, tells her that he dreamed she “fed him blood pudding.” Haha, gross, Ragnar. That’s like top secret pervert shit, don’t tell her that.
More gorgeous Irish scenery. Ragnar, the son Bjorn, and a giant adorable puppy head out to The Thing, which seems to be meeting with Ragnar’s earl boss about his farm, and where Ragnar will be exploring next. Ragnar’s convinced that he’ll be sent to the east again, but he wants to go to the west, to “see what cities and gods are over there.” I like this a lot, that Ragnar’s a totally bloodthirsty badass, but at the same time is so drawn to exploration and knowledge.
“Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge. But I would give far more.” TWO EYES. THREE EYES. SOMEONE ELSE’S EYES.
Lagertha teaches her daughter how to weave back in the village, but two crusty dickholes come into her house. Lagertha tells her daughter to go feed the goats and faces the guys, completely calm. They tell her they know she’s alone, that all the men are gone, and she says they can have a drink or some food or they can GTFO.
Obviously, they are not here for food or drinks, so Lagertha just smiles.
Crusty Dickhole: I don’t want to kill you, woman.
Lagertha: You couldn’t kill me if you tried for a hundred years.
AND THEY CAN’T. She grabs a sword that’s resting in the fire and proceeds to beat the shit out of both crusty dickholes, burning one and ripping half the other one’s face off as she slams them into walls and kicks them out of her house. LAGERTHA. LAGERTHAAAAA.
Ragnar tells Bjorn the story of how he got engaged to Lagertha, and if your engagement story doesn’t involve you fighting a bear, I don’t even want to hear it. Bjorn is actually a delight, which is a surprise. His actor does a great job.
Ragnar asks Bjorn if he’s ready to receive his–god, there’s like a mental block between hearing and spelling with these old Norse words, so I’m just going to type what they sound like (feel free to correct me if you’ve got closed captioning or a working knowledge of Norse history or a functioning brain)–receive his HAMDRING. Ragnar also asks if he’s prepared to take on the responsibilities of caring for his family, because Ragnar might not be around to do it soon. I wish my dad had talked this out with me before running off to live with his other family in Ohio.
Ragnar and Bjorn arrive at a bustling village, and Ragnar’s hot bro from the beginning, Rollo (Clive Standen), appears to bear-hug Bjorn and greet Ragnar. Rollo invites them for a drink. Bjorn downs his mead like a trooper, but it knocks him pretty hard, so Ragnar fondly sends him to sleep it off. Rollo and Ragnar discuss where the earl might be sending them this year. I assume this is like family vacations at my house, where we’d be like “Where are we going this year, Mom?” and my mom would be like “Obviously we’re raping and pillaging in the Eastern Baltics. STOP COMPLAINING OR YOU CAN JUST STAY HOME.”
Ragnar broaches the subject of going west, and Rollo is gently dismissive of it, practically rolling his eyes when Ragnar says he met “a wanderer” who gave him a primitive compass/sundial combo. I think my phone has one of those.
Ragnar shows Rollo how it works with a bowl of water and a candle representing the sun, his eyes bright with the science fever, and Rollo picks it up way quicker than me. Rollo extinguishes the candle and asks “What if there is no sun?” which seems like a pretty legitimate question if you live in a place that doesn’t get the sun sometimes. Like it just doesn’t show up.
Ragnar has an answer for that, too–the sunstone, which catches the sun even through the clouds. Rollo seems convinced at that, or he’s just drunk enough/loves Ragnar enough to be up for anything.
Time for The Thing, which seems to involve a bearded gentleman dancing like a Bluth chicken. All our dudes are wearing really adorable matching headbands.
Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) walk in and everyone goes silent. A guy announces the chicken dude’s crimes–stealing–and that he’ll have to run a gauntlet of stones as punishment. Which doesn’t seem that bad, honestly. The next criminal up is a big scary fucker named Eric who’s accused of murder, though he’s claiming self-defense. His argument is torn apart immediately when the officiant asks why he didn’t tell the first person he saw afterward. Eric says he thought the dead man’s family might live in all the houses he passed, which doesn’t fly with the crowd. It particularly doesn’t fly with the sister of the murdered man, who says it was over land.
We learn that murder in secret is a “dishonorable deed,” and that there’s no way to atone for it by paying the family. Eric seems visibly confused, and tries to remind Haraldson that Haraldson knows about his claim to the land, but Haraldson is just like NOPE LET’S TAKE A VOTE. Everyone except Bjorn raises their hand, but the vote must be unanimous, so Ragnar makes him do it. Eric chooses beheading for his execution.
The gauntlet actually seems like mostly food instead of rocks, and I mean, if you can’t handle being nailed in the head with some cabbages, what are you even doing with your life? Bjorn doesn’t want to throw a cabbage either, and he just kind of drops it hilariously in the dude’s direction. I really like Bjorn.
Eric is brought out next, and Ragnar tells Bjorn to watch so that Eric can get to Valhalla. Bjorn does, dutifully, but Haraldson curses Eric after the beheading, saying he should never get to Valhalla and never feast with the gods. Dick move, bro, and Ragnar tells Bjorn as much.
The Thing happens. Bjorn and another boy swear fealty to Haraldson by eating some dirt and kissing his wife. I just call that a Wednesday night.
Everyone is ready to feast, but Ragnar and Rollo fuck it up by asking where the raids are going to be. Everyone’s like OMG DUDES JUST LET US EAT, but Ragnar gets up, beer in hand, and launches into a TED talk about exploring westward. Haraldson shuts it down and calls the food out.
Later, Haraldson calls Ragnar into his private room for a discussion, but mostly to be a dick about all Ragnar’s dreams and wishes. Haraldson threatens him with the same thing he did to Eric; namely, killing him and taking his land. I don’t think things are going to end well here.
That night, Haraldson dreams about his sons being chopped into pieces. Still less gross than blood pudding!
Also that night, in some other place, Ragnar drags an exhausted and probably drunk Bjorn into the middle of the woods to speak with the gods. “The gods” is actually a spooky eyeless hillbilly.
Bjorn and I are like ARE WE JUST NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOTHERFUCKER OR WHAT and apparently we’re not. Ragnar says he wants to know what his future holds, but the seer is evasive. Ragnar’s like “You haven’t helped me at all,” and the seer’s like “You’re asking the wrong questions” and tells Ragnar to ask the gods himself, if he’s not too chicken. Ragnar then licks the dude’s palm and puts his head down on it. Ragnar, there’s NO WAY this freak is not the most furious of masturbators. Do you see how blind he is? Go get some penicillin right now.
Ragnar and Bjorn walk through the woods the next day, heading to meet Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), Ragnar’s wanderer. We’re treated to the exposition that Floki is like Loki, except not a god, because we couldn’t figure that out for ourselves. Unless he IS a god, in secret. Who knows! I enjoy the ambiguity, whether Ragnar is literally seeing and trucking with his gods or not.
Floki hops out of the woods in a mask, and tells Bjorn that he has his father’s eyes, “unfortunately.” Ragnar, sensitive about his beautiful eyes being insulted, asks why. Floki says it’s because Bjorn will be like Ragnar, and want to do better than him, which will make Ragnar hate him. I hope not :(
Floki also is good with trees, and can read them the same way. It’s useful for building boats
Floki finds a perfect tree, and Bjorn slightly questions his ability to see into trees. I think Floki is going to kill Bjorn with his axe, but he doesn’t. He just asks if Bjorn has ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon or some shit about trees and how ships are alive.
Not to say I don’t agree, but haha, calm the hell down, Floki. He shows them the awesome ship he’s building, and geeks out with Ragnar pretty hard about it. It’s awesome.
Back home, Ragnar and Lagertha reunite (Lagertha pointedly doesn’t mention the two crusty dickholes), and there’s some weird dirty-talk that still somehow works because they’re both so hot. HE ASKS IF SHE WANTS HIM TO MAKE HER LOVE. SHE’S GONNA RIDE HIM LIKE A BULL. etc.
Rollo rocks up in his canoe and sees Bjorn whittling, and asks where his parents are. Bjorn says “They’re having sex,” and Rollo hangs out with him I guess until they’re done? They all have dinner later. Rollo asks Ragnar’s daughter if Lagertha’s teaching her to use a shield yet, and she’s like “I know how to use a shield.” Rollo tells her that Lagertha was a famous shieldmaiden, and Lagertha’s like WAS???????? Rollo corrects himself, and Lagertha sends the kids to bed so the men can talk.
They discuss the boat’s progress. Rollo tells Ragnar that, since they’re brothers, he won’t go under Ragnar’s command. Ragnar assures him that they’ll always be equal. They’ll have to find a crew of people not afraid of Haraldson, and that the wrong person might betray them to Haraldson. I am now certain that Rollo is going to be that wrong person.
Ragnar goes to pee. Rollo immediately tries to fuck Lagertha, being skeevy and gross about how he pictured her while having sex with another girl. He tells her not to insult him, and she says she wouldn’t dream of it. He’s “too great a warrior, but not so great a man.” BURN.
Ragnar, during the world’s longest pee, sees a crow land on Rollo’s boat, which is probably a portent of doom. One time two seagulls had sex on top of my car while I was inside it. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Ragnar sees Odin again in the distance and runs back inside to tell them. He finds himself tangled in a web of awkward between Rollo and Lagertha, and takes her to bed, frowning at Rollo.
In the first boat trial the next day, Floki has a crisis of self and apologizes for making a terrible boat. Ragnar, best bro ever, is like SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU’RE AWESOME THIS IS GONNA WORK. And it does! It’s fantastic. Floki is once again confident in his abilities, and Ragnar stares out into the open ocean.
NEXT WEEK: Time to get a crew together, and also we meet Ragnar’s SUPER Catholic boyfriend that he kidnaps!