[This is a review of the season 2 premiere of Vikings. There will be SPOILERS]
When Vikings first premiered last year, it was touted as little more than a Game of Thrones impersonator, lacking in originality, as History attempted to move into the "original series" playing field. Fortunately, over four million viewers tuned in each week to see what these Scandinavian giants were up to.
The reasons for Vikings success stem from its stellar casting, and top-notch writing from Tudors veteran Michael Hirst (who has written every episode to date). This sword and shield drama could have easily failed in its first season; however, its unique setting and characters helped the series stand out in a market over-croweded with genre-based programming. Can Vikings avoid the cliche of the "sophomore slump?"
If the season two premiere, entitled 'Brother's War' is any indication, then Vikings is headed for a successful encore. Last year's finale left our hero (Ragnar) in a tumultuous circumstance. After assisting King Horik (Donal Logue) with a land dispute, Ragnar's troublesome brother (Rollo), decides it's time to step out of his sibling's shadow by betraying him. With any battle of epic proportions imminent, one would think that the clashing of shields would come at the end of 'Brother's War,' yet Hirst puts Ragnar and Rollo on the battlefield to open the episode. It seems that "saving the best for last" is not in this show's vocabulary, nor should it ever be.
As with the first season, the fight choreography is top notch. For a show that's rated TV-14 here in the States, there is plenty of blood and gore to feast your eyes on. Even without the conflict between the brothers, Vikings continues to do a good job at keeping the battles intimate. There are never too many extras in the background, so the attention is always focused on the main characters. Perhaps this is due to budget constraints, but in any case, Hirst and director Ciraran Donelley make this work to their advantage.
Sparing Rollo's life was a welcomed sight, due to the fact that simply killing the brother for his betrayal would have been the easy way out. Now, Rollo must learn to survive in a society that shuns him for his actions against Ragnar. Will his brother ever forgive him? Hopefully, the answer is yes. While Rollo could never be called a "good guy," the brothers make a formidable pair, and when working together, they are nearly impossible to defeat. Undoubtedly this new subplot will take up a large portion of the story, but Ragnar's family troubles do not end with Rollo.
Ragnar's family war has now stretched to his wife (Lagertha). The strikingly beautiful Canadian-born actress Katherine Winnick (Nikita) gives her best performance yet, as her husband welcomes Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) to their home. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Ragnar had a one-night-stand with the lovely princess, which resulted in a pregnancy. To make matters worse, Ragnar suggests that they form some kind of polygamous relationship. Even with this being a period-based drama, and with Aslaug and Ragnar telling her that many other couples have similar arrangements, it's easy to sympathize with Lagertha's plight. It was a bold move to leave her husband behind, but as with any marital dispute, a child always gets hurt.
Bjorn's (Nathan O'Toole) decision to leave with his mother should smack some sense into Ragnar. While the princess may be enticing and carries his unborn child, is it worth losing his family over? Ragnar is a brilliant strategist when it comes to exploration and battle, but in matters of the heart he still acts like a child. Lagertha gives him that maturity and without her, he will suffer. What do you think will become of this love triangle as the season progresses?
The focus of season two will most likely center around Ragnar's family dilemma, and his ambitions to journey further west in search of riches and glory. Our hero is destined for great things, but at what cost? Ragnar will have to discover what he holds most dear, or our favorite Viking warrior will lose everything.
Vikings continues with 'Invasion' next Thursday @10pm on History.