Vikings!

Mar. 12th, 2013 11:21 am
bagheera_san: (Default)
[personal profile] bagheera_san
My ongoing fascination with all things viking is ongoing and I have discovered by new favourite thing: History Channel's new show "Vikings"! Consider this a rec :)



"Vikings" only has three episodes so far, and I can already tell that people who hate Game of Thrones for the sex and the violence will hate Vikings for the same reason. But like Game of Thrones it also has great costumes, nice scenery and a mix of action and politics that seems surprisingly weighed towards the politics (or not - intrigue, politics and family drama are a big deal in Norse lit). Plus it has a very small element of fantasy/supernatural in the same way the first seasons of GOT do.

Probably my favourite thing about Vikings so far is that the show does quite well with some essential aspects of Norse culture. I once read a very good study on the heroes of Norman literature and the conclusion this study reached was that the typical (viking-influenced) Norman hero is not the "brave, strong and honorable" type, but quite often the "bold, sly as a fox, and never to be trusted" type. Which makes sense, because a viking is essentially a thief with a boat. Ragnar, the show's hero, has two defining qualities so far: he's an independent, open-minded thinker ready to try new things, and he doesn't care one bit about what he's told to do by his Jarl. Ragnar may be a good fighter, but what makes him a leader is his cleverness and his willingess to cheat, lie and sneak around.

The Jarl and his wife Siggy are also true to the representation of some kings and queens in sagas and North myth - the weak/overly cautious king and his scheming wife are a common trope. I have to say that I don't particularly like Siggy, though, she seems very one-dimensional, compared to her more complex husband.

Interesting are also the two men closest to Ragnar - Rollo, his brother, and Floki, the shipwright. Rollo is more what you'd expect from a stereotypical viking hero: a good fighter, hotheaded, womanizing, greedy, a drunkard. But he's clearly the character we're not supposed to like: he treats women badly and seems disloyal to his brother, and most of the time, Ragnar is angry at him. Floki is Ragnar's real right-hand man, which is funny, because Floki is an all-out crazy person (as in: probably actually mentally ill by modern standards) and completely not the guy any sane person would trust with his life, but when one of the raiders points this out to Ragnar, he stabs that guy in the neck. The vikings accept Floki's strangeness (and the fact that he's a quivering mess half the time and completely useless in a fight) because they have a working explanation: he's a descendant of Loki. Also, he builds great ships.

Ragnar's treatment of Aethelstan, the young anglosaxon monk he captures and enslaves at Lindisfarne is also really interesting. It's very ambiguous - on the one hand, he spares Aethelstan's life and leaves him in charge of his children and house at the end of ep 3, plus Ragnar and his wife invite Aethelstan to join them in bed. (Yes, there will be a thousand fics. Vikings is popular on tumblr.) On the other hand, he tricks Aethelstan into telling him everything he needs to plan another raid on England. At first you think - hey, Ragnar isn't so bad! oh, cute, he wants to learn Anglosaxon! - but then you realize, no, he's far too clever to treat a useful slave badly. He doesn't beat Aethelstan into submission, he tricks him into doing what he wants.

Vikings is based on a real semi-historical/literary tale, Ragnar Lothbrok's Saga, but it has already changed quite a lot about this saga, for example Ragnar's wives. In the saga, he has two, because his first love (the damsel in distress) died and he aquired a second, the magical, bird-speaking, possibly Valkyrie action heroine Aslaug/Kraka, and the show seems to have blended the two into one, probably because modern viewers would find the easy replacement of wife #1 strange, and because Kraka is much cooler.

The result of this blending is Lagertha, and so far we've learned that she is a badass shieldmaiden who'd rather go exploring with Ragnar than take care of their house and children (and does - like Kraka) but she's also been rescued from a dragon/monster by him in their youth (like wife #1) although it seems we haven't heard everything about the monster story. I mostly like Lagertha, though like Siggy, she's a bit generic. (But then, as I said, the men are also all types done well). Still, the treatment of women is Vikings' weak point so far, mainly because there aren't many female characters and they never interact.

Mostly, though, this show has vikings! On TV! And done well! I am excited :D
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