Earlier this month Vikings careened onto our screens, setting the precedent with a gory, hacking introductory scene that said little for the plot but much about the tone of the show. Cue a brooding introduction with abrupt flashes of fire, gore and crows. This show looks to be promising and on the high-end of the production budget! Adverts made the show look somewhat trashier than the initial five minutes suggest, and whilst my fears weren’t completely allayed, the show certainly seemed to be going for refined cinematography and hinting at subtexts to its violent façade already.
Overall, the show is unbelievably entertaining, thanks to some quite fast pacing. We are introduced to Ragnar Lothbrok and his plans to sail west despite the unfalteringly villainous Earl Haraldson’s demands, and by the end of the first episode he’s already sailing off on his newly constructed longboat. The show accelerates from this point on, occasionally jumping periods of months between episodes, at other times picking up immediately where the last left off. This can sometimes give a disjointed feel to the show, but ultimately prevents the show from ever dragging.
Another surprisingly pleasing thing about the pacing is that it isn’t really done episodically. What I mean by this is that over the nine episodes of the show, the impression we receive is of a timeline of important events with the episode breaks falling every 45 minutes regardless of what has occurred. Some (in fact, most) of the grand climaxes of the show happen towards the beginning or even the middle of episodes, and at times they end on a sombre note rather than an enticing cliffhanger. This makes for a refreshing break from our viewing conventions and keeps us constantly on edge once we come to realise this.
The fast-pace rollicking ride that ensues, whilst thoroughly entertaining, does lead to some downfalls. Mainly that characters are not particularly well-developed and some of the scenes seem very simple, in that there is little subtext / subtle tensions between the characters. Many of the scenes in the earl’s hall are quite flat conversions designed purely to move the plot from A to B, without really fleshing out the psychology of characters. Earl Haraldson demonstrates this the most, since he is pretty much set up as the epitome of villainy (hey look, it’s yet another scene where he kills a child!) and this can get either boring or grating quite quickly.
Overall however, Vikings is an extremely entertaining show, and definitely made me want to wait for the second season. Especially since some of the mystical undertones to the plot look like they shall be taking centre-stage in future. Some have started to liken the show to Game of Thrones, but this is misplaced. The story and characterisation look downright bare in comparison, so best not to judge it in the shadow of that HBO giant. Nevertheless, if you come to Vikings expecting a well-produced, fast-paced, plot-driven romp, it will deliver on every count.