I've been a huge fan of Vikings ever since I discovered the first episode on Amazon Prime in 2013. Meanwhile, there have been four incredibly entertaining seasons with a fifth in the making – perfect for an evening of time travel into rough, but realistic Scandinavia brought to life on the shores of Ireland!
The story is loosely based on the sagas surrounding Ragnar Lothbrok who was supposedly a legendary Viking king in the late 8th and early 9th century AD. However, the existence of the historical person is not proven, so he may be a construct of different kings and rulers who lived in Scandinavia (modern Denmark) at the time.
In any case, the legends tell the story of a Ragnar who set out on several bloody raids to the land of the Anglo-Saxons (what is now Great Britain) with the typical Viking ships. There were also fights with other Viking kings and rulers at home. And of course there is some personal drama, too. According to legend, Lothbrok was married three times and had several children, mostly boys. As legend has it, Ragnar's life ended when King Ælla of Northumbria threw him into a pit of snakes.
Although the Vikings are supposed to be in what is now Denmark, the series has been filmed on the shores of Ireland, more precisely in county Wicklow on Ireland's East Coast – a hilly coastline area which looks a lot like Scandinavia at the time of the Vikings. Having served as filming locations for many other Hollywood productions such as Braveheart (1995) or P.S. I Love You (2007) film fans can visit the epic Vikings film locations on a half-day tours from Dublin.
The cast is a wild bunch of different nationalities: Travis Fimmel who plays Ragnar is a former Calvin-Klein-underwear-model from Australia. Ragnar's first wife Lagertha is played by a Canadian with Ukrainian roots: Katheryn Winnick. And some of the acting folk even have actual Scandinavian blood in them such as Swedish actor Gustaf Skarsgård (son of Stellan and brother of Alexander).
The script was written by acclaimed British screenwriter Michael Hirst – the man behind Elizabeth, Elizabeth – The Golden Age (two of my favorite period films by the way) and TV series The Tudors. Two of the Vikings women are actually Michael Hirst's daughters Maude and Georgia. Funny enough, I always thought these two looked the most "Nordish by Nature".
What I specifically like is that there is a very realistic feel about this TV series, which is partly due to all the blood that the Vikings got on their faces after a battle. Even though it's not a pretty sight, it is exactly what they would have looked like in real life.
Another detail adding to the Vikings authenticity is the language they use. The dialogues are usually in modern English. However, some of the characters (including the main ones such as Ragnar and Lagertha) speak with a slight Scandinavian accent on purpose. When the Vikings face the Anglo-Saxons in Britain or the French in Paris, there are also several scenes where Old Norse, Old English and Old French are used to highlight the actual language barrier that the real Vikings faced on their raids.
And here is what happens in each season:
In this first season, Ragnar carries out a successful first Viking raid into Northumbria. The English monk Athelstan is taken to Scandinavia as a slave. Back home in Kattegat, Ragnar has a fight with the ruling Earl, which Ragnar wins and thus becoming the new king.
This is also the season in which Ragnar separates from his first wife Lagertha as she's not able to bear him any more children. He is seduced by the princess Aslaug, who soon becomes pregnant.
Ragnar's ambitious brother Rollo is joining forces with the enemy and fights against his own brother. There are also more raids into England and disputes at home in Kattegat.
In this season, the Vikings attack Paris, which turns out to be a particularly tough cookie. In the end, the Vikings make a deal with Emperor Charles. Most of them leave after that, but Rollo is staying with a small party to prepare for a new attack later in the year. To the disgust of the strong-headed princess Gisla, her father Charles promises her hand in marriage to the "animal" Rollo.
This season was split into two halves.
Season 4, Volume 1:
The Vikings have come pretty far by now. Thus, this season leads us to all different corners of the Viking world: At first, Ragnar comes back to Kattegat in order to recover from Paris and grows close to a new female slave originally from China. Meanwhile, Björn travels into the harsh winter wilderness of northern Scandinavia in order to find himself and Rollo, who stayed in Paris, manages to learn French and grows closer to his new wife, Princess Gisla.
There is a lot of plotting going on, too, for example by Queen Kwenthrith against King Ecbert in Wessex or Lagertha against her new husband and his Viking earldom. In this end, Ragnar gets back to his former strength and dares to attack Paris once more – only for Rollo to defend the capital of the Franks. Now it's brother against brother. Who will win the fight?
Season 4, Volume 2:
In Ragnar's absence, his four sons by Aslaug have grown up to be men and are ready to fight – including the crippled one, Ivar. When Ragnar returns after a long time away from Kattegat, they are initially skeptical, but finally follow him on new raids. Meanwhile, Björn – Ragnar's son from the marriage to first wife Lagertha – has achieved quite a reputation himself. He dreams of finding the mysterious Mediterranean land he discovered on a map. Back home in Kattegat, it's the battle of the women as Lagertha returns to reclaim the old kingdom she once ruled jointly with Ragnar. Needless to say, current lady-in-charge Aslaug is not amused…
As hardworking as they are, the Vikings have already returned to Ireland for filming. As of February 2017, a fifth season has been completed! I can't wait, can you? Here is the first teaser trailer:
Season 5 (coming soon):
Travel Tip 1: In case you're finding yourself in Stockholm, a day trip to the former Viking stronghold of Birka is a must!
Travel Tip 2: A range of amazing displays, exhibitions and museums make the Viking age come alive once more in Gothenburg, Sweden and Oslo, Norway!
Travel Tip 3: To check out the stunning film locations in Wicklow County just outside from Dublin, take the half day film location tour offered by Day Tours Unplugged.
What do you like best about the Vikings? Tell me in the comments below!
Ready for some Viking action?
Watch it on DVD, Amazon Instant, or the History Channel.
All episodes on Amazon Instant (USA), included in the Prime Membership:
All episodes on Amazon Instant (UK), included in the Prime Membership: