Last year, while reading the Vikings chapter in Mark Kurlansky’s awesome historical book Salt: A World History, I had a passing thought that it’d be pretty amazing if we had more Vikings on TV and film. Something along the lines of a Game Of Thrones but with historical value. With the common barbarous misconception that Vikings were just uncivilized and violent, it felt like the time was nigh to shed some light on this strong and intelligent civilization that many still know little about (no offense, Capital One!). Well, great minds apparently think alike because March 3rd marks the series debut of Vikings on History Channel!
Vikings follows the life and adventures of historical Norse figure Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar’s story has been told in many forms throughout history. Ernest Borgnine even played the legendary Norseman alongside Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in the classic (Orson Welles narrated) film The Vikings.
And while that is a classic, there has been no rendition of the tale told, thus far, in a manner that is as expansive and honest as this new History Channel venture.
Vikings explores the stories of Ragnar’s fellow Viking warriors, as well as his family bond, while he makes the inevitable rise to become King of the Viking tribes (historically, he was briefly the King of Denmark and most of Sweden). A fearless warrior and family man, Ragnar was completely devoted to the gods and believed he was a direct descendent of Odin, the god of war and warriors (also, the god of curiosity!)
Created and written by Michael Hirst (Elizabeth, The Tudors), the drama portrays the Dark Age world of these warriors, pagans, traders and explorers not from an outsider’s view, but through the eyes of Viking society.
When asked, Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) stated, “He (Hirst) just said to humanize it, you know, make people relate. It’s like everybody’s got families and brothers and every family has their own conflicts.” Fimmel explained, “My character Ragnar is very ambitious like a lot of people and he’s just trying to make a better life for himself, you know?”
3rd Degree Black Belt Katheryn Winnick (Love And Other Drugs, Bones) plays Ragnar’s wife Lagertha, a fierce shield maiden. “Her role was to fight alongside with the men during a shield wall. And her specific role was to plug up the holes in battle when the Vikings were falling.” Winnick continued, “I play also a young mother and a loving wife who has a true partnership and equal relationship with her husband. She’s such a strong, fierce warrior, and definitely a forward-thinking woman for that era.”
Gabriel Byrne also stars in the series as Earl Haraldson, the powerful Viking chieftain who becomes embroiled in a struggle for power and glory with the ambitious Ragnar. The earl and his wife, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), have one daughter, and are heartbroken and haunted by the loss of their two sons.
When asked about the experience working on such an expansive television production, Jessalyn said, “I had this kind of fantasy for myself that I would get involved in a show that I really associate with cable and are doing so well in cable like I think of Downton Abbey or I think of Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy, these shows where you can’t feel the edge of the set. What I like so much about cable these days is that they’re building worlds that are completely seamless and so thorough. You know, where you can’t feel the edges of the set and Vikings in a way fulfilled that dream of mine of that really they built the world and then we step into it and we have to kind of go through the looking glass into a different world and a different time.”
She’s not lying! With a team that has projects like The Tudors, The Count Of Monte Cristo and The Borgias under their belt, this subject matter is definitely in their wheel house. Director Of Photography, John S. Bartley (LOST) shows he’s a master at his craft and brings to life an expansive cinematic landscape in a manner that’s still rarely seen on television today. The end result is one that is as gorgeous as it is dark, as visceral as it is action packed.
The 9 episode scripted series will chart Ragnar’s driven curiosity to discover civilizations across the great ocean to the West as well as his inevitable conflicts along the way. With the help of quirky friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), they build a new generation of beautifully crafted boats that are faster, sleeker and pretty much superior to everything else at sea.
When asked about some of his favorite moments, Fimmel recalled working on the water, “We had three boats and we’re all rowing and it was the middle of the morning, very misty. It just felt very authentic.”
With the amazing cast of characters and crew behind Vikings, History Channel has another surefire hit in its arsenal. A story of family, courage, survival and progress, Vikings sheds light on one of the most famous characters in Norse legend. From what I’ve seen so far, Travis Himmel is the right man for the job in bringing Ragnar Lothbrok to life.
“I will say that it was really amazing to watch Travis work,” said Gilsig “He was so committed like you rarely see and he was completely integrated into the story and the character and the life and I think for those of us who were there in support of him, that was so inspirational, you know, he just – he went into almost like somebody – like an athlete entering a marathon. And I feel like he kind of went underground into the story and didn’t surface until we finished and we needed that because we couldn’t have any goals, you know, we all have to commit and so to see him commit so deeply I think really gave everybody else the strength to immerse themselves. And I think he should be given a lot of credit for setting that bar.”
Katheryn Winnick agreed, “Travis is such an amazing actor. He definitely kept everybody on their toes and kept it a lot of fun. And also just how he – how hard he worked and how prepared he was really inspired everybody else to work hard as well. And he was great to work with.” She paused…“And obviously it wasn’t very hard to fall in love with him.”
Let’s all rejoice in the name of Odin as Ragnar and his Viking friends are about to raid televisions across the country! Set your DVRs, folks, because Vikings premieres its 9 episode run this Sunday, March 3rd at 10 pm only on History Channel.
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