“Vikings” is History’s first scripted program. With a robust budget, “Vikings” will be the litmus test for History, formerly known as The History Channel, to see if it wants to continue with scripted dramas to diversify its programming.
Many are looking at “Vikings” to be the next “Game of Thrones” by capitalizing on social buzz and cornering the coveted male demographic. Consiering the show's strong acting and interesting story, History is banking on “Vikings” to be a success, and early reviews are in agreement that the program could be a hit.
According to History’s official synopsis, “Vikings transports us to the brutal and mysterious world of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a Viking warrior and farmer who yearns to explore -- and raid -- the distant shores across the ocean. His ambition puts him at odds with local chieftain Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), who insists on sending his raiders to the impoverished east rather than the uncharted west. When Ragnar teams up with his boat builder friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) to craft a new generation of intrepid ships capable of conquering the rough northern seas, the stage is set for conflict.”
In addition to the tension between Ragnar and Earl, “Vikings” promises plenty of conflict, bloody battles and other nuances thanks to family dynamics and strong female characters including Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick, who is Ragnar’s wife and a respected warrior. The network also hints at some brotherly conflict involving Ragnar’s jealous sibling Rollo (Clive Standen) as well as another female character, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsing), Earl’s wife, who may have a few secrets. “Vikings” will also explore religion through the eyes of Athelstan, a monk, and the juxtaposition of Christianity and the pagan beliefs of the Vikings.
The show was created and written by Michael Hirst, no stranger to big period epics. Hirst created “The Tudors” for Showtime and wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film “Elizabeth,” starring Cate Blanchett.
The Hollywood Reporter heaps praise on “Vikings,” noting the program lives up to lofty expectations and improves as its episodes move forward. With a rather large budget of $40 million, according to THR, "Vikings" is impressive to look at with its sweeping vistas of Ireland and CGI ocean shots, and it doesn't skimp on battles scenes involving axes, swords and spears.
As for historical accuracy, “Vikings” plays fast and loose with facts, notes THR, adding that since little is known about the actual Vikings, Hirst was able to build characters without worrying too much about real-life counterparts.
THR notes a few instances of weak writing and acting as well as a couple of faulty accents, but the cast and show do hit a stride in the second episode and continue to improve in following episodes. THR sums up its “Vikings” review by noting, “It doesn’t overreach for greatness and, despite the fact that being on History doesn’t allow Hirst the same leeway he had with sex and nudity on Showtime, it seems likely to find a healthy -- mostly young, mostly male -- audience.”
Another interesting aspect of “Vikings” will be its portrayal of each its female characters, warrior who also runs their households. In an interview with Metro, Winnick and Gilsing discuss their characters. While Ragnar is sailing, Lagertha is helping to defend the village. Winnick says the onscreen couple were “partners,” while Gilsing notes that Siggy and Earl are a “couple that has come to the highest position, and now they have to figure out how to keep it. You have to do that by identifying your enemies and any threat you have, and eliminating them.”
The Boston Herald also points out some problematic performances from the supporting cast, but says the show is a success and calls it a “sturdy adventure.” USA Today praises Fimmel’s acting and says, “You'll find much to enjoy in this entertaining adventure, built on a solid hero's-quest structure.”
Similar praise comes from The Washington Post, which calls the show “an adroit and even elegant surprise,” noting influences such as “Game of Thrones” and an attention to detail. The Post describes the show as reminiscent of HBO’s “Rome.”
“Vikings” premieres on The History Channel on March 3 at 10 p.m. EST. You can view the trailer below.