Review: ‘Vikings,’ Episode 1, ‘Rites of Passage’

Ah, the History Channel. The very name brings forth black and white footage of World War 2, personal accounts of military courage, and detailed records of Roman culture. Oh, no, wait. That’s ye olde History Channel. Nowadays they air shows like Swamp People, Pawn Stars, Ancient Aliens, and Big Rig Bounty Hunters. You know, quality, deep programming.

Though it can be said that their departure from non-fiction to shit has made a lot of enemies all asking “where’d the history go?,” the numbers don’t lie. “They were a top 20 cable network, but now they’re top 5, top 2. History has closed the gap significantly by doing Pawn Stars, American Pickers, that stuff” (, they might show asinine programming, but the masters behind the network aren’t stupid. They show what people want to see, while occasionally putting out things like Gettysburg, which would be nicely regarded as theatric takes on history.  This is why I wasn’t surprised when I first heard about their new show Vikings, because they have to capitalize on the resurgence of the beloved, the blonde, Thor. Hoping that this is better than Gettysburg and being way into Scandinavian/Germanic culture, I’ve decided to give this show a shot. Lucky you, I’ll also be recapping it! Spoiler warning, duh.

Alright, so you watched the first episode. First impressions?

Not without flaws, but not too shabby.

Considering this is the History Channel, I’m kind of worried. Is there actual, factual basis for the series?

Surprisingly yes. Well, kind of. The main character Ragnar Lodbrok and his wife Lathgertha (known as Lagertha in this series and played by Katheryn Winnick) were legit, real Vikings. Ragnar claimed to be a descendant from Odin and is a hero of many Viking sagas and folklore. Lagertha? Well, she was a shieldmaiden (coolest term for a female warrior ever? I think so) and fought alongside her husband. I have no clue if this is true or not, it’s said that their courtship involved him killing a bear and dog that she ordered to attack him to gain her hand in marriage. I love this couple already. The rest of the cast is total fiction.

Oh, okay, cool. Serving up some semi-historical realness. I can get behind that. What’s the tone of the show, though? Does it feel cheesy? I heard they didn’t have a huge budget. Without glitz and glamour, how will I understand the brutal Viking culture? I need this shit spelled out to me.

Well, they might not have Hollywood mounds of money, but the ambience is outstanding. It’s dark, moody and there is a jagged air of carnality in everything. It’s pretty fucking intense. The scenery is really gorgeous, something a Pacific Northwesterner can enjoy, because it’s woodsy, looks blustery and everything seems to be dimmed by a shade of grey. Feels like home. It also should be said that this has one of the neatest opening segments I’ve seen since Archer.

What’s the basic plot of this episode?

Ragnar, played by a former Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel who looks like a cross between Tarzan and Thor that once upon a time people were so obsessed over they drew weird fanart to honor his existence, is tired of his poor provincial life of killing people in Scandinavia. With the help of some of his brother (Clive Standen) and close friends (including one dude named Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), who has a name that’s more than a little hokey, it’s no surprise that he’s related to Loki), he plans to go “west.” Awe, our own baby Leif Ericson! But, there’s a catch! Jarl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), ruler of the land, is 100% not okay with a farmer speaking his mind and having newfangled ideas. People who have dreams vs. overbearing government, you know the deal. Oh, also, Ragnar’s bro wants to bone his wife.

Is it true to real Viking life?

I’m not 1300+ years old, how the fuck should I know?

Stop answering my question with other questions, this isn’t a theatre game.

Ugh, fine. Within modern parameters, I’m sure. They all look grimy (no running sinks then, y’know), serious beards that belong in the Annual International German Beard Championships, hair aflowing (but while the Norse gods we know and adore has crazy flowing shiny locks of hair, these fellas and gals definitely aren’t Pantene-certified), crazy monkey sex, and there is a lot of brutality. So, sure, close-ish. I’m wondering where they got their eyeliner; was it made out of ground rock, animal fat and guano? Ah, the mysteries of history.

Stop your snark, I’m starting to feel mocked. Worst part of the show?

The accents are genuinely dreadful. They sound like New Zealanders that mated with Californians born with speech impediments.

Best part?

Floki. He talks to trees and they talk back. Oh, and there was also a part where Lagertha was the subject of some disturbing rapey pickup lines by these two creepazoid dudes, so she stabbed one in the throat with a scythe and branded the other with a molten sword.

Okay, so you enjoyed it. Is there anything they kinda need to work on?

Well, I’d like if the show lost the Game of Thrones vibe it has at some moments, but they’re definitely trying to tap into that viewership like the entire Viking population is trying to tap Lagertha.

What are we expecting for next week?

Well, you bet your bottom dollar there will be a fight between Jarl Haraldson and Ragnar. It will probably go something like this:

Jarl: Just ‘cause I told you, you could use my ships to go west did NOT MEAN AT ALL that I wanted you to build your own fuckin’ ships. You have disobeyed me for the LAST TIIIIMMMEE.

Ragnar: Sorry bro. I got a dream, I may be a poor farmer that occasionally fights in wars, but I’m for real serious about going west. I need to add adventurer to my repertoire and then have victory sex with my wife.

Jarl: You know this means I’m taking your farmland and killing you, right?

Ragnar: Yeah, sort of figured that’d happen.

ARBITRARY RATING FOR EPISODE ONE: eleven out of thirteen ravenous ravens.


6 thoughts on “Review: ‘Vikings,’ Episode 1, ‘Rites of Passage’

  1. Pingback: Review: ‘Vikings,’ Episode 2, ‘Wrath of the Northmen’ | hot diggity daffodil!

  2. Greetings,

    While I’ll be the first to admit that the old school History Channel was really predisposed to a hoard of re-runs, I hate the new Reality TV bent the programming has taken. As you pointed out, it makes them money… so I am sure it will continue! I am really excited about The Vikings and it’s renewal for a second season. Perhaps this will set a precedence for history inspired dramas.

    I have always been very interested in Scandinavian history. My father’s heritage is Swedish/British and my mother’s is German- so I practically popped out of the womb a ShieldMaiden! The fact that I grew up to be a 6 foot tall redhead didn’t hurt either! My father and I used to talk about world history and politics during Saturday morning father-daughter time… no wonder I turned out to be such a nerd!

    There is a series on BBC called Vikings: First Blood that is very interesting. It documents Real history, archeology sites and even genetics! The human genome project has led a scientist to try and trace The Viking’s lasting genetic heritage in Britain and Ireland. Watching this series can help you to appreciate and call bullshit on The Vikings series on HC.

    From what I have seen, the evidence of viking raids and brutality is pretty slim. Most sources from monks and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were written hundreds of years after the fact. They seemed to be “propaganda” for the Church to scare Christians into being pius. There have only been a few burial sites found and a few archeological sites chronicled. One in particular is suspected to be one of Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons. Many believe that the Vikings actually came to the UK not to pilliage and rape, but with their wives to settle and farm in agricultural areas but tended to concentrate in larger cities like York as craftsmen.

    I love the show and I am a fan of your reviews and style! But I would have expected the HC to be a little better researched, rather than playing into the sterotypes of Viking savages. Perhaps Hagar the Horrible will make a cameo?

    • I can’t say I had the same expectations of the History Channel – this is the channel that thinks the Mayan civilization was created by (and/or destroyed by, depending on the episode) aliens. At the end of the day, I look at it more as entertainment than actual history! Though, I will say, I would be totally on board for a Hagar cameo, that would be so freakin’ good! I’ll definitely have to try to find the BBC show; do you know if it’s online?

  3. A few ‘Viking’ video links: (you will need a bit of time to watch it all 🙂


    VIKINGS… (newest documentary series from the BBC)





  4. So happy I finally found someone else here at wordpress liking the show! I’ll now read your reviews from start to finish.
    Tiny nitpick: I guess you know by this point, but for the record, Rollo and Bjorn are based on historical characters, too.

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