For those in the UK currently experiencing Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms, LOVEFiLM Instant’s Vikings may seem like a natural substitute. On the surface, it is. There are mountains. There are swords. There are Gods. And, most importantly, there are beards. Beards with men attached to them.
The best beard? That’s attached to Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel). We meet the legendary ruler as a young family man, his chin fuzz only half-grown. He wants to go West and seek the lands of treasure that all the cool Viking kids are talking about. The problem? The boats don’t sail that far.
Luckily, his friend Floki knows how to build something that can. And his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), is right behind him. Unfortunately, he’s also right behind his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
Ragnar’s family drama is the main driving force for the opening episode of the History Channel’s series, which slowly sets the scene for some epic future pillaging. The cast are good, with Fimmel’s mix of naivety and ruthless ambition shining through his mud-spattered clothes, but there’s not much depth to it all.
“We must go talk to the Gods. It is what we do,” explains Ragnar to his son, Bjohn (Nathan O’Toole). It’s one of several bits of clunky dialogue – for recovering Game of Thrones addicts, it almost sounds like it was written by Hodor.
“Where are your parents?” asks Rollo at one point. “They’re having sex,” replies Bjorn. Viking children may talk openly about it, but we never see it. That’s perhaps the defining distinction between Vikings and George RR Martin’s gratuitous fantasy rival (currently streaming on VOD service blinkbox): it lacks balls. And breasts.
But don’t be fooled: there may be no dicks in the Nordic series, but this is no show for kids. While the nudity is kept at longboat’s length, there’s enough brutal violence to shock young Westerners (it could eventually find a home in educating teens). The intimidating macho vibe is emphasised by Gabriel Byrne as clan chief Earl Haraldson. “Don’t you ever stick your nose in my face again,” he growls at the upstart Ragnar. You can see the menace dripping from his eyebrows.
Still, this introduction is a slow-paced scull through Scandinavian waters. Director Johan Renck gives us enough eye candy to pass the time – shot in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, the landscape looks gorgeously cold. Combined with an intriguing cast and the promise of plundering, Vikings appears seaworthy enough for a second voyage. It may not fill the void left by Game of Thrones – it’s closer to a hairier version of The Tudors – but there are enough beards and boats to stop you getting bored.
Vikings is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch Vikings online on pay-per-view VOD?