History’s freshman series “Vikings” has been a good show all along, flying out of the gate with crunching displays of violence, brilliant axe-play, and sexual intrigue. The series has centered upon Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his meteoric rise from ship captain to leader of the Viking tribes. The first three-fourths of the season centered upon the brute force of Ragnar’s power grab: He discovered a way to sail West, conquered an English village, and found himself in a power struggle with Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), a struggle that Ragnar came out on top of.
It was a fairly straightforward affair for much of the year.
But just as “Vikings” rounded the corner toward the finale, the show grew into something else: A more complicated, darker, and less straightforward drama where Machiavellian politics has finally come into play. “Vikings,” of course, is no match for a show like “Game of Thrones” — the universe is smaller, less dense, and not as scheming — but it has come into its own as an enjoyable, often somber, and bloody series with enough intelligence to make it interesting, but not so much that an infographic is necessary to keep up with the plotting.
The major turn in the season took place after the death of Haraldson, and just as we thought “Vikings” could lose its key antagonist, the show has introduced two better, more cunning villains in Denmark’s King Horik (Donal Logue) and Jarl Borg, the leader of Gotaland (now Sweden), played by Thorbjørn Harr, who is the most Skarsgård-ian actor I’ve ever seen, and that includes Gustaf Skarsgård, who plays Floki.
It’s hard to know what is exactly at play as the first season ends, but it seems likely that Horik — in aligning himself with Ragnar, and sending him to Gotaland to negotiate with Jarl Borg on his behalf — has laid a trap for Ragnar, leaving him vulnerable so that Horik can make his own power play, which should make for a fun dynamic next season, especially now that Ragnar’s brother is situating himself to be yet another antagonist next year, at least until the Gods tear off his head and sh*t blood down his neck.
The problem, unfortunately, with “Vikings” is that there are too many spoiler pitfalls available: Ragnar and Horik are based upon actual historical legends, and while I want desperately to know more about them, a few trips to Wikipedia can lay spoiler waste to the next three seasons. Based upon the little that I have read, despite the rapid plot-chewing the series has engaged in, there’s still plenty of story left to tell. That includes fascinating side stories with Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), one of television’s fiercest female characters, as well as Aslaug, the warrior queen introduced in last night’s season finale.
It’s a series, going ahead, that’s ripe for better, more complicated storytelling, but in its first season, “Vikings” has been a stellar companion to “Game of Thrones,” a brutal, blood-drenched series quick to get the point and less likely to leave us drifting in a sea of uncertainty from week to week. Last night’s finale solidified the show as one of the best second-tier dramas on television, and the perfect sort of drama to catch up on when it arrives on Netflix.