My friend had told me that the TV series was great and I would love it, as she had told me before about Game of Thrones (of which I am an unconditional fan), and I followed her advice and sat down to watch one or two episodes of the first season. Somehow, I didn’t find them as compelling as she had described, and soon lost interest. As for her, she loved the series and has ben watching every season since, confessing her surprise at my indifference – as I am a lover of history and historical series and movies.
Then some weeks ago as I was watching TV I saw the fifth season of Vikings was about to begin; I had read somewhere that a very well known Portuguese actor, Albano Jerónimo – and handsome too – would be making a brief appearance as a Byzantine lord. Wow, I thought, how exciting, a Portuguese actor in such a famous series – I want to see him. And I sat down to watch the fifth season with only a vague remembrance of how the story had begun.
Having read so much about British history I could not fail to know the bloody episode that marks the beginning of Viking raids in England: the attack on the monastery of Lindisfarne, on an island just off the coast of the then called Kingdom of Northumbria. It was the 8th century when England was not one kingdom but four, ruled by four kings. As the strange-looking boat threw the anchor a group of terrifying, huge, savage looking men came ashore and crossed the beach, making way for the monastery where they slaughtered most of the monks who lived there. And how these “devils from the North”, as they were called by the English, would not stop coming back for many, many years, instilling terror in the hearts of the English people just by mentioning their name.
The main character of the story is a man called Ragnar Lothbrok who is a farmer; but as we understand Vikings were simultaneously warriors, as every summer they went raiding to the lands around the Baltic Sea. But this man has a different vision: he has heard of a land to the west, called England, with many riches for the taking. And he wants to sail there.
After some difficulties he, his brother and a group of friends finally manage to sail west; that’s how they come to the monastery of Lindisfarne – and the rest is history.
As a child I found the Vikings’ story a fascinating one: yes they must have been terrifying, and violent and cruel, but they were also great adventurers who feared nothing. As they believed death would take them to Valhalla, a place where they would feast with their gods, they did not fear it, and only this would have made them fearsome warriors. But then they were big and strong, and they had some peculiar customs, so in the end there was also a sort of romantic aura around them – that is also there in this series, for as much as we see bloodshed and terrible violence by the Vikings we still see them as some sort of heroes, invincible warriors.
I’m presently watching the fifth season and at the same time watching the previous ones, so that I may better understand what is going on, and I must say – suddenly I was hooked! Just like my friend had predicted! I suppose it’s the gripping story, one of ambition and courage, but also of deceit and treachery; of passion and hatred; of building alliances and seeking revenge. The scenes of revenge are particularly gruelling as this was a world where honour counted for much, as much as a word given; a world of lust but also of deep love, between men and women, women and women, parents and children, friends…after a certain time these Vikings are no longer a legend, they are flesh and bone people just like us, with their strengths and weaknesses – but always great warriors.
I did see our handsome Portuguese actor who portrayed a Byzantine leader, and thus spoke Greek – how strange. In case you feel tempted to watch the series I will not tell you what his fate was – I’ll only say it was surprising, in the least, and that the Vikings had nothing to do with what happened to him! After all, cruelty was not exclusive to the men from the North, and we come to the conclusion that men from the South could be more…sophisticated when dealing with their enemies.
This series also depicts women as fighters – not all but several – going raiding and into battle with their men and becoming rulers in their own right. I must say I never got that impression from the books I read but still it’s good to see women treated as equals and participating in many aspects of Viking life, not just relegated to their role as submissive wives and mothers. Submissive is definitely not a word we would use when describing the Viking women in this story!
I won’t say more – I’ll leave you to watch the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok and his family and friends, at first, and then his own children who also become warriors. Even if this series is fictional, it is based on true historical characters like Ragnar, his brother Rollo – who would later become the first Duke of Normandy and an ancestor of William the Conqueror; the Saxon Kings, Prince Alfred who would later become Alfred the Great, his sons Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless…it is a rich tapestry of characters, landscapes, stories, customs, castles and villages, fjords and rivers, green forests and fields, kings and queens, earls and countesses, workers and slaves, monks and soldiers, and all along the permanent tension between the invaded people and the invaders, Saxons and Vikings, Christianity and “paganism” . The scenery is beautiful, and the image of the drakkar navigating the peaceful waters of the fjords is unparallelled. The series is definitely worth watching; it allows us to travel in space and time to a hard, but even so compelling, dimension.
And now I have to leave you…there’s a new “Vikings” episode beginning and I will not miss one single minute. As you may see, I am completely hooked. And yes, I have already told my friend how right she has been all along.