[This is a review of the season 3 premiere of Vikings. There will be SPOILERS.]
Some might put History's ambitious Vikings series in the category of "lesser than," by unfairly placing it in the same category as HBO's juggernaut Game of Thrones. The theory nowadays is that if your series is based in a time before cell phones and the internet, then you're trying to match the ferocity of GoT.
Thankfully, talented writer and creator Micahel Hirst (The Tudors) is ignoring that philosophical outlook and is instead choosing to create his own little masterpiece on one of the most underrated networks on television. History (no longer referred to as The History Channel) has given him the freedom to craft a brilliant tale about Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his family set a long time ago in the Scandinavian lands. So, why aren't you watching?
Season 3 starts about a year after the events of the exciting second season finale, which saw the demise of King Horik, who was portrayed by the talented Donal Logue (Gotham). Now, Ragnar has assumed the mantel of King, but reveals to his son (Bjorn) high on a mountain top overlooking Kattegat that he did not ask for this power. Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), who is looking bigger and stronger with each passing episode, is longing for combat and blood. Hopefully the young man will heed his father's advise when he tells him of the pitfalls of obtaining power. Simply, it comes at a cost.
Vikings at its core has always been about the importance of family. Sure, there's your usual mix of seduction, betrayal, and political maneuvering, but it always comes down to family in the end. While Ragnar and his brother are in Wessex, Rollo (Clive Standen) asks if this (teaming up with King Ecbert) will make him happy. Ragnar's answer says it all, as he informs his brother that he's not necessarily doing this for himself. Ragnar understands that he will leave a legacy behind for his family. Farmland is much more important than gold and silver. Unfortunately, most of his viking brethren do not feel the same way.
Back in Lagertha's hometown of Hedeby, a new character emerges named Kalf (Ben Robson). He will be the wild card to look out for this season, while he tries to usurp power from the lovely Earl Ingstad. Lagertha seems enraptured with the young man, even suggesting that he ask her to marry him, but will she be alert enough to see his other motives before it is too late?
In Kattegat, the beautifully mysterious Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) holds her brittle-boned son, Ivar. It's difficult not to feel sorry for her when she is clearly in love with a son that no one else wants. Ragnar claims that he loves him, yet appears fearful around him. Even his three older boys stopped playing when Ivar entered the room. In the histories, Ivar grows to become a great leader of men and women, but this is television and not a documentary, so history can become lucid. Only time will tell.
The big set-piece this week took place in England; and with an episode title like 'Mercenary', you can be sure there will be some well choreographed battles. One of the highlights from this week's adventures was when the vikings and King Ecbert's men were waiting for news of when they were to attack. Ecbert's son Athelwulf was saying that these heathens are nothing more than uncivilized brutes. Unbeknownst to him, Rollo and the crazed Floki were sharing stories and reciting poems about love and women. Vikings shines in these small moments of introspection, especially when pitted against another religions, or cultures. These men and women have a lot more to offer than just their shields and axes.
By the episode's end, Princess Kwenthrith and Ragnar have their victory when Floki puts an axe through the head of her uncle. She now has the army she's been looking for, as she tries to take back the Kingdom of Mercia. From an interview with Michael Hirst as last year's San Diego Comic Con, we know that there will be a battle in Paris at some point this season, but the journey from England to France should be a fascinating ride as this season progresses.
Already, the third year of Vikings is off to a great start. What are you most looking forward to seeing this season?
Vikings continues with 'The Wanderer' next Thursday @10pm on History. Check out a preview of season 3 below: