TV Report Card | 'Vikings' Season 1 Review

“Vikings” concluded its first season this past Sunday. It had been an interesting 9 episodes. The show is dark and gritty. “Vikings” is History Channel’s answer to “Game of Thrones” and is their latest scripted series after they found monster success with the mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys.”

“Vikings” had a slow start. By the 5th episode (titled Raid) it had found its momentum. The biggest hurdle facing this show is that it is filled with characters that are very difficult to root for. They all do horrible things, irredeemable things. You have to work hard as a viewer to come down to their level, in order to continue with the show.

The History Channel is about history and this is a historical period that influenced a great deal of European history. This is as far as we know a pretty accurate representation of what they were like. At least, from what I have studied of the Viking period, it concurs with what I have learned.

Plus, I have read interviews with Michael Hirst who is the showrunner and he has been working diligently to make this as authentic as possible. It is a dark chapter from the past. Does it make for popcorn entertainment? No. Does it make for something that challenges the way we view what makes what we watch entertaining? Yes. If a drama is good it should make us question.

Storyline Direction: The pacing was slow at first and after that previously mentioned 5th episode, things started taking off. Each episode left us in anticipation of the next and a little queasy from what we had just seen. The mystery surrounding the Earle and his sons’ death and whether Ragnar had anything to do with it had a lot more potential to it than was explored.

Arguably the biggest tipping point for the show was the inclusion of the priest as a new character. Athelstan provided a link between the viewers and the world the show presented. He was equally as disgusted by what we had seen and yet by season’s end he seemed seduced by their lifestyle. His descent into the world happened more quickly than the audience’s (or at least mine) so his fall was perhaps accelerated too quickly.

The last two episodes sped time up and it provided the audience with confidence that the writers knew where they were going with the show. All in all, for a first season, it was well done. The biggest fear for a series is hitting a sophomore slump. The best way to gauge that is by seeing how the first season progresses. If it starts off slow and gets better each episode there is no question you are on the right track.

Performance Quality: There is also no question that Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) looks every part of being a Viking. His eccentric hairstyle makes him appear all the more authentic. Having seen Fimmel in the short-lived “Tarzan” TV show (yes, someone actually watched it) it is clear that he has come a long way. However, looking the part is half the battle. Whether he truly has what it takes to lead this show and all that entails remains to be seen.

However, Travis Fimmel’s performance was indicative he might very well be capable of it. The character that represented the greatest redemptive aspect of the show was the character of Lagertha (Ragnar Lothbrok’s wife) played brilliantly by Katheryn Winnick. Her performance provided some of the season's most passionate moments. She imbued Lagertha with strength, ferocity, and feminine charms. Her work in the finale was exemplary as Lagertha led the village and fought for her daughter’s life. 

The actor who actually roped me into watching (aside from being intrigued by the premise) was Gabriel Byrne who was gone way too soon from the show. As the Earle, he portrayed the show’s greyest character. After the revelation regarding his sons’ deaths, he became highly sympathetic and gave the best monologue of the season.

Jessalyn Gilsig, playing the Earl’s wife Siggy, also provided a lot of female prowess on a show that could’ve easily been a boy’s club. She really blended in well with the Vikings universe and she had a highly appealing performance as a woman trying to survive.

George Blagden who portrayed the priest (Athelstan) did a really wonderful job growing his character throughout the season and provided the show's most humane moments. He turned out to be a key ingredient. Without him balancing out the world of the Vikings, it would’ve had nowhere to go fast.

Clive Standen gave an admirable performance as Ragnar’s loyally questionable brother, Rollo. It’s a role that needs to be fleshed out more by the writers, in order for Standen to better explore his performance.

Musical Direction: Great score on this show. Not overpowering, just enough to make the show feel epic and powerful.

Final Grade: A – a show that found its footing and has a chance to really develop into something. There is room to improve and if the first season was any indication it has the ability to rise to the occasion. Showrunner Michael Hirst really has something with this show and I will definitely be tuning in for the next season. Read Eclectic Pop's Review of Season 2 here