Vikings

You know what good people, we are truly living in the best days of our lives – as far as good television is concerned.

The 90s were known for the comedy –  Friends, Everybody Love Raymond, The 70s Show, Frasier and the granddaddy of them all Seinfeld.

The noughties were more famous for drama – Sopranos, West Wing, Wire, House, CSI. Heroes came and went down in a blaze of glory whereas Lost just lost itself in pretentiousness.

This decade however, is going into nerdvana. Never mind political drama (Homeland notwithstanding), this decade has decided to look at two diametrically opposite directions – history/fantasy and comics.

 

Not that the other genres are suffering. They are all going great guns.

In Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, we have two all time great comedies. How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men had their moments. Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock gave us the two great lady comedians of all time in Tina Fey and Amy Poehler while Its All Sunny in Philadelphia and Community curved their own niche.

There is not much that is left to be said about Breaking Bad.

Dexter totally fucked up its ending, but had a great run. So did Mad Men.

Ray Donovan is carrying on the mantle from Sopranos – mainly due to Jon Voight giving the performance of his life – and True Detective is creating its own genre of bleak American police stories (hitherto the exclusive domain of Britain and the Scandinavia – Luther, Wallander etc) with superlative performances from Woody and Mathew.

 

But comics though. With the success of X-Men, Nolan’s Batman and Marvel’s Avengers group, the tv studios have open up to a whole new genre – comics.

Since its early days, there is a hit and miss quality to it all.

Agents of SHIELD started off well but has tapered off, Flash is for kids, Arrow is going strong.

Gotham is awesome and rightfully earning rave reviews. Its about the early years of Bruce Wayne, Selena Kyle (Catwoman), Inspector James Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) and it is surprisingly good.

The guy playing Oswald Cobblepot is having the time of his life while Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney are solid as always. The kids playing Bruce Wayne and Selyna Kyle are also doing decent jobs; the cinematography and script and action sequences are all top notch.

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Sleepy Hollow – based on the Washington Irvine story (very very very very loosely based) – is another series which has turned out to be pretty good. Ichabod Crane’s consternation and delight with the modern world are adding constant touches of humour to the otherwise grave stuff going on and thus adding charm to the series. The fact that they have a given a black actress (she is good) a chance as the female protagonist gives it extra brownie points.

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Constantine started really well but a completely flat chemistry between the lead character and the female lead has ruined it. The execution has not been upto the mark and I don’t know if its ever going to get a second chance.

Agent Carter, Daredevil and the Preacher are coming up this year.

 

History is another genre which has never had it so well.

It all started with the frankly awesome Deadwood, then came Rome, The Tudors and the Borgias. There were other short-lived series.

Then came Spartacus with (hitherto unseen on tv) extreme violence and nudity and then the behemoth Game of Thrones (based on the English civil war between the Houses of York and Lancaster….The Wall is Hadrian’s Wall built by the Romans to keep out the Scots) with dragons, zombies, magic, the fucking red wedding, the world’s youngest assassin and two heroes – one of whom is a fatman and the other knows nothing. And of course Hodor.

 

And now there’s Vikings.

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The series is based on the Viking invasions of Britain and has as its hero Ragnar Lothbrook, a semi-mythical legendary Norse hero and the father of Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd Snake in the Eyes and Ivar the Boneless.

Historically accurate information is a bit scarce about Ragnar, he is kind of a semi mythic figure. All we know for sure are that he had a number of famous sons and that he was one of the first to come to Britain for pillaging.

The protagonists of the tv series are Ragnar, his brother Rollo (based on an actual person – a great great great etc grandfather of William the Conqueror), Ragnar’s 1st wife the shieldmaiden Lagertha, their son Bjorn Ironside, the priest Aethelstan – who acts as the conduit betwen the Norse and Christian cultures and religions – and the carpenter and shipbuilder Floki (resident weirdo).

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There have been 2 seasons so far, both hugely enjoyable. Script and story are good, picturisation and choreography/stunts awesome, music superlative and the acting more or less top notch.

The story arc has Ragnar and Lagertha starting off as a farmer/raider couple though by the end of 2nd season they have divorced. Ragnar becomes a king while Lagertha becomes a powerful Earl in her own right.

In actual history, Ragnar, after a number of successful raids, was finally captured by King Aella of Northumbria, who threw him into a pit of snakes. His sons raised the “Great Heathen Army” to avenge him. Suffice to say that they did.

The actor has done a decent job, but he is a bit uni-dimensional (Roman Reignsesque). He always has a smirk/twinkle irrespective of whether he is fighting, arguing, discussing religion or making love.

 

Personally I love Lagertha’s character – no nambi pambiness, she is a good wife, mother, queen etc etc while at the same time an excellent warrior who can kick anybody’s arse (think Ygritte, without any namby pambi you know nothing John Snow stuff and about 500 times a better warrior). Credit to the actress Katheryn Winnick for doing a very good job (she is a real life black belt). There are speculations that she might be the next Captain Marvel.

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Through the seasons, their son Bjorn progresses from a pre teen wee lad to an unbeatable warrior. The wee actor is better than the elder actor at the moment.

In actual history, Bjorn pillaged the crap out of France, Spain and Italy. He is considered one of the greatest Vikings ever (and we are talking of Vikings here, so to be considered mucho great amongst them means you were pretty special)

Björn’s most famous accomplishments was his semi-legendary raid into the Mediterranean which began in around 860 AD. Following in his father’s footsteps Björn and his brother Hvitserk raided northern France. However, at the end, instead returning to Norway, upon hearing of the rich lands of the Mediterranean, Björn and his brother decided to venture onward. The two brothers raided the Spanish coast all the way round the straits of Gibraltar and all the way up into southern France where they spent the winter. In the summer of the following year Björn proceeded on to the city of Pisa which he duly sacked. 

Buoyed by his victories Björn launched further raids in Sicily and North Africa back to the straits of Gibraltar. However, this time the Arab rulers of Spain had anticipated his coming and assembled a fleet against him. Björn’s fleet was ravaged by the Saracen fleet who bombarded the Vikings with Greek Fire (a substance similar to napalm invented by the Eastern Roman Empire). Björn lost 40 of his ships and the greater part of his loot but managed to escape back to Norway with enough booty to live out the rest of his life as a rich man.

On the death of Ragnar Lothbrok Scandinavia was split between Björn and his brothers. Björn inherited the Kingdom of Sweden where he founded the House of Munsö which ruled Sweden for several generations and would eventually become the ruling House of Denmark.

So, in short, he sacked a large part of Europe, became a king….and en route managed to escape fucking Greek fire – the medieval equivalent of atom bombs. (Am writing a separate blog on medieval weapons)

 

Then, we have Rollo, Ragnar’s brother. He goes through a whole gamut of emotions/expressions/experiences. He is in love with Lageretha (so mental anguish etc etc). He gets tortured for information, he once betrays Ragnar and fights on opposing sides, later saves Ragnar’s family from an invading force, in between becomes a drunk – basically all kinds of mental and physical tortures and redemption). The actor’s done a good job.

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Historically Rollo was a Viking lord who raided and later settled down in northern France. His men and descendants came to be known as the Northmen or Normans.

I love the opening sequence btw, easily one of the best along with the opening sequences for Hercule Poirot, Simpsons, GOT, The Sopranos, Dexter (fucking ending) and amongst the recent ones True Detective and Black Sails.

An added bonus for some of you – Vikings has no nudity.

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