History’s Vikings takes to the shores of new lands with this DVD release of the third season of this Irish-Canadian co-production. Created by Michael Hirst, who many will recognize as the screenwriter of the 1998 film Elizabeth and the Emmy-winning TV series The Tudors, Vikings tells the hirsute tale of a squad of Norsemen in the Dark Ages.
Hirst’s affection for antiquity is certainly apparent in the comprehensive and energetic production design, which is doubtlessly not without historical inaccuracies but nevertheless brimming with colour and excitement. The series is set after the Germanic Iron Age in the midst of various Norse explorations, with the 10 episodes of the third season concerning itself with power and politics.
Travis Fimmel stars as Ragnar Lothbrok, a farmer turned hesitant king. He leads his clan from his hometown of Kattegat and travels to England in the first episode of Season Three, meeting King Ecbert of Wessex (Linus Roache) in an effort to secure farmable land and the potential for years of peace. Ragnar leaves his second wife Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) behind and ventures onward.
Of course, that leaves the Viking king with his ex-wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) among others. Of particular note is Ragnar’s pal Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), who seems wooed by the promise of power and divided by his internal conflicts of faith. Also of note is Björn (Alexander Ludwig), Ragnar’s son. He is in love with the shieldmaiden Þórunn (Gaia Weiss).
Vikings is punctuated by expansive battle sequences, which are deftly choreographed but seem to struggle under the weight of precarious camera work. In the first critical skirmish of Season Three’s “Mercenary,” Ragnar and Co. contend with Princess Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey) and her request to wipe out her uncle’s English army.
The fight moves from sea to shore with some nice movements that find the Vikings moving from their vessel to handle the English in the muck and mire. The camera swirls away from most of the action, lurching this way and that as mud and blood hits the air. It gives the action a rather disorienting feel, which seems to be the order of the day in subsequent action scenes as well.
One of the critical moments in Season Three finds the Vikings setting on Paris. This involves some CGI, especially in the wide shots, and uses some remarkable tactics to develop the fight. Lagertha leads a group from the gate of the city, while Ragnar, Rollo, Björn, and others hit the joint from the water. The clash leaves the crew in a difficult position, questioning their faith and resolve as the grime settles.
The question of faith is a pretty big part of Season Three, with the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) avowing his love for both Odin and Jesus Christ. There is conflict between the Christians and the Norsemen and there is conflict between Floki and Athelstan, giving the show some characteristic layers that represent the inner discord behind the killing and marauding.
Many will say that Vikings is a sort of lesser Game of Thrones and that’s valid to a point, but Hirst’s show is a more forthright excursion. It makes no bones about its purpose and builds to its mêlées without a lot of wasted motion, but there’s a sense that Season Three is a little too gloomy and political for its own good.
Still, this is mostly entertaining fare. The episodes are sharp, Ragnar makes for a taciturn protagonist, the vistas are Irish but feasible, and the action is wild and bloody. Vikings isn’t a show of much depth, but there is more going on than many might credit it for. Season Three continues the broad-shouldered fun, with the DVD release including some deleted scenes and a handful of trailers for good measure.