I've been a huge fan of Vikings ever since I discovered the first episode on Amazon Prime in 2013. Meanwhile, there have been five incredibly entertaining seasons – perfect for an evening of time travel into rough, but realistic Scandinavia brought to life (mostly) 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, Sweden and Norway) at the time.
In the legends as well as in the series, Ragnar sets out on several bloody raids to the land of the Anglo-Saxons (modern-day England) 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 one of his main Anglo-Saxon enemies, 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 Wicklow County on Ireland's East Coast. The hilly coastline, which is located a short drive from Ireland's capital Dublin, looks a lot like the Scandinavian homelands of the Vikings.
In addition to Vikings, the area has served as a filming location for many other Hollywood productions such as Braveheart (1995) or P.S. I Love You (2007). Film crews still regularly choose this versatile filming location and as of 2018, filming for Vikings is still going on, so on a dedicated half-day Film Location Tour from Dublin you might even spot some film stars in action.
Read more about this tour in my post Vikings Film Location Tour in Wicklow County, Ireland
What I particularly 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 Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) carries out a successful first Viking raid into Northumbria. The English monk Athelstan (George Blagden) is taken to Scandinavia as a slave. Back home in Kattegat, Ragnar has a fight with the ruling Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). When Ragnar finally wins this fight, he becomes the new king of Kattegat.
This is also the season in which Ragnar separates from his first wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) as she's not able to bear him any more children. He is seduced by the Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), who soon becomes pregnant with the first of several sons.
Ragnar's ambitious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) 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 (Lothaire Bluteau).
Most of the Vikings leave after that, but Rollo (Clive Standen) 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 (Morgane Polanski), 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 (Travis Fimmel) comes back to Kattegat in order to recover from Paris and grows close to a new female slave originally from China.
Meanwhile, Ragnar's son Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) travels into the harsh winter wilderness of northern Scandinavia in order to find himself.
There is a lot of plotting going on, too. For example by the Queen Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey), pretender to the throne of Mercia, against King Ecbert (Linus Roache) in Wessex, or Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) 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 (Alyssa Sutherland), have grown up to become men and are ready to fight for their right – including the crippled one, Ivar (Alex Høgh). When Ragnar returns after a long time away from Kattegat, they are initially sceptical, but finally follow him on new raids.
Meanwhile, Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) – Ragnar's son from the marriage to first wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) – 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…
The season starts with Ragnar's sons Ivar (Alex Høgh), Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) fighting to defend their English colony Jórvík (modern-day York in England) against the Anglo-Saxons.
They eventually leave to head back to Kattegat, taking with them the English bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers newly joint the cast this season). Heahmund is a strong believer in the Christian faith, but also a ruthless warrior.
In Kattegat, Norway, a civil war breaks out as Ivar claims the title of king and attacks the current Queen Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
And in the North Atlantic, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) discovers Iceland! Together with some men and women from Kattegat, he sets out to establish a permanent colony in what he believes is "the land of the gods". However, the colony is far from peaceful. Soon, serious tensions between the colonists question the Northmen's survival on the island…
Coming up: Season 6
It's never going to get boring as to which country the Vikings add to their list next. So in Season 6, it's off to Russia! Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky is set to join the series for the sixth season as Oleg of Novgorod. Oleg was a 10th century Varangian (east European Vikings) ruler of the Rus' people, who were sort of the Scandinavian Vikings' cousins inhabiting the shores of modern-day Russia.
Read On: Four Vikings-inspired Travel Posts
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, book the half day film location tour offered by Day Tours Unplugged. I took this tour in November 2016 and have written this post about my experience.
Travel Tip 4: To trace the main film locations of season 5 (including Iceland and Morocco as brand new destinations), check out my new Vikings Film Locations Guide.