On Tuesday night, I was invited to the British Museum in London to attend a press event celebrating the launch of Vikings: Season 1 on Blu-Ray and DVD. As this was a show I had heard good things about but had not had the opportunity to catch, I jumped at the chance. The night would consist of a screening of the first two episodes of the show, followed by a Q&A session with the series’ creator Michael Hirst and one of its stars, George Blagden.
• Creator: Michael Hirst
• Distributer: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
• Release: Blu-Ray/DVD
• Release Date: Available Now
Arriving at the museum in time for the pre-event nimbles, we were soon ushered into the screening room. Given complimentary popcorn and water, Hirst and Blagden were briefly introduced – with Hirst giving an opening talk on what he wanted to achieve with Vikings. His interest in the Northmen was initially stoked when he was researching for an adaptation of Alfred the Great’s defence of England from the Vikings in the 9th century. When MGM approached him with an offer to make a TV show about the ancient Scandinavians, he took the job on the condition he could incorporate their beliefs and world view heavily into the show – from the first scene, I could tell that this was agreed upon.
The first episode, titled ‘Rites of Passage’, introduces us to the world of the Vikings and our protagonist, Ragnar (Fimmel). After successfully battling with eastern settlers, Ragnar has a vision of Odin, the All-Father. This seems to awaken a desire in Ragnar to explore different areas of the world. Traditionally, the local Viking chieftain, Haraldson (Byrne), decides on what areas his subordinates raid – so Ragnar’s plans bring him into direct conflict with the earl. Taking the initiative, Ragnar asks his boat-building friend Floki to make him a vessel strong enough to take him west. Using tools he picked up from a ‘wanderer’, he is also able to convince his brother Rollo and some local men to go with him.
The second episode, ‘Wrath of the Northmen’, picks up from here – detailing the Vikings’ voyage and eventual arrival at the monastery of Lindisfarne on the coast of England. After raiding the buildings and massacring many of the monks, Ragnar’s beliefs are brought into focus when he confronts a young monk named Athelstan (Blagden), whose own beliefs fascinate the Northman. Back home, Haraldson is busy finding out as much as he can on Ragnar’s journey – killing any he finds out were involved. As the episode ends, the trajectory of the plot becomes quite clear.
Following the screening, Hirst and Blagden were invited onto the stage for the Q&A. Speaking about his initial influences, Hirst pointed out a particular work by an Arab trader from the 10th century that detailed life for the Northmen. While I have not read this account firsthand, I did read Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton – which is based on this work – and a number of times during the show, I saw some of the elements mentioned in the book covered. While historical accuracy was important to Hirst, he stressed that his job was not to make a documentary, but a drama.
Blagden re-iterated many of these points, specifically regarding the accuracy and fidelity of the sets and costumes. Revealing that he had to have a patch shaved off the top of his head when playing a monk, he mentioned how his job was made far easier by these minor details as it helped to place him in the mindset he needed to be in. I will admit that I was quite impressed by the production design on Vikings; each set looked functional and the costumes and weaponry looked authentic.
One of the better questions from the audience (I wish it was me that asked it but alas) hit on how an audience was to accept protagonists that butchered and killed unarmed, peaceful men. Both Hirst and Blagden were quick to mention the recent trend of TV shows that revolved around anti-heros. Though not directly cited, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos were alluded to. Hirst also pointed out that he didn’t want to sugar-coat history while Blagden mentioned his preference for playing these types of complex characters, rather than the 2-dimensional versions you can get when the protagonist has a clear moral code.
It was an enjoyable night and based on the first two episodes, as well as Hirst’s commitment to a third season, Vikings certainly looks to be a show I will be picking up. With the Blu-Ray release this week and Season 2 starting up at the end of the month, now seems to be the perfect time to jump aboard this particular longboat.