History’s ‘Vikings’ goes beyond blood and guts

  • Hank Stuever The Washington Post
  • Friday, March 1, 2013 4:54pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

One girds oneself for some serious hammer time when an opening fight scene of History’s compelling and robust new drama series, “Vikings,” delivers all the expected gore and blood spatter.

Yet, beyond its blunt-force trauma, “Vikings” (premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday night) turns out to be an adroit and even elegant surprise, simply by aping some of the basic skills of a successful cable drama.

The care shown for its dialogue and acting gives it “Sons of Anarchy’s” sense of scope, while the 1,200-year dial-back lends it a dash of “Game of Thrones” medieval mood.

And a relatively modest budget keeps “Vikings” honest, in a “Spartacus” way, as a caution for those tempted to take it too seriously.

But what I was most reminded of while watching the first five addictive episodes of “Vikings” was HBO’s much-missed “Rome.”

“Vikings,” created and written by Michael Hirst (who wrote the film “Elizabeth” and created Showtime’s “The Tudors”), isn’t that grand, but it possesses that show’s same air of confident storytelling.

It also has a Titus Pullo of sorts as its lead — that is, a conflicted antihero brute as a sympathetic protagonist — in the form of Ragnar Lothbrok, an arrogant Viking plunderer with a scientist’s curiosity about the world beyond his own.

This show’s real strength is the way it effortlessly ushers us into Ragnar’s life and carefully considers its characters, giving them a depth that transcends all the violent stuff (which is, by the way, marvelously shot).

“Vikings” is filled with an urgent, voracious, gritty and even sexy sense of the hyper-macho world it’s trying to portray. The people we’re rooting for are murderers, thieves and occasional rapists — displaying a disturbing arsenal of moral flaws that cable viewers have come to accept as de rigeur.

In a way, it’s all just another iteration of Tony Soprano, as “Vikings” emphasizes a core pride and nobility in this tribe of thugs and galoots.

We are meant to understand that Ragnar’s urge to see what lies beyond the western horizon isn’t merely about greed, nor is it about good and evil. What he’s feeling is the existential tug of history and fate.

More in Life

Julia Turner and her father, Ed, toast as they try out a flight of beer and cider at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. when it opened last year. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Now is the perfect time to design the garden of your dreams

Find inspiration in gardening magazines, on the internet, in your neighborhood and at nurseries.

Teen idol David Cassidy remains in Florida hospital

The former pop star is dealing with multiple organ failure.

Around Thanksgiving, gardeners give thanks for the garden

What are they most thankful for? The pleasure they receive from spending time in their yards.

Great Plant Pick: Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’

What: An exceptional selection of the eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis “Degroot’s Spire”… Continue reading

The pros’ snow: Lake Tahoe a big draw for skiers of all stripes

North Lake Tahoe is home to one of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in North America.

How birds stay alive in winter and what you can do to help

When the weather turns chilly, columnist Sharon Wootton’s thoughts turn to birds coping with cold.

Our annual list of holiday events in Snohomish County and beyond

LIGHTS The Lights of Christmas: Open 5 to 10 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec.… Continue reading

How to maintain your life’s balance amid change

Columnist Paul Schoenfeld shares some techniques for working toward a sense of stability.

Most Read