“All things begin and end with stories…”
That’s Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) rousing the troops before they sail West. Why? To reach England of course, a land of untold riches. Or so the stories say – whoever wrote them has clearly never been to Croydon – and, as Ragnar knows, all things begin and end with stories. Except for breakfast. And sentences. And The Spice Girls.
It’s exactly the kind of silly dialogue we’ve come to expect from LOVEFiLM’s Vikings – and that’s after only two episodes. We start this second outing of the no-dick Nordic adventure in Ragnar’s living room as he holds a secret meeting, one that tribal head Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) must not find out about. The scene is ostensibly a chance for us to witness Ragnar’s charismatic leadership first hand, but really it’s an excuse to introduce resident bad-ass Knut. He has even more facial hair than Ragnar, so we know he’s going to be trouble.
Knut provides the main antagonist force as Vikings sets up the pair as awkward rivals, but evil Gabriel Byrne isn’t done chomping the Scandinavian scenery yet: one sequence involving a man looking at Haraldson’s wife stumbles to a horribly gruesome end, which Byrne delivers with grizzled relish. It all feels authentic enough, right down to Ragnar’s feisty wife, Lagertha, who’s determined to travel with him. But while a domestic scuffle (involving swords and shields – VIkings were even more violent than your average EastEnders) is a nice bit of characterisation, our interest only really catches wind when it comes to sailing time.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur until over halfway through the 45 minutes, making the trek to the harbour fairly tedious. Even Ragnar’s brother Rollo getting his helmet out in a shed (again, an oddly sanitary experience) doesn’t liven things up. When the boats hit the water, though, things come to life; a bedtime story of Thor overlaps shots of the stunning lakes, a sure sign that director Johan Renck hasn’t lost sight of style even if substance is adrift in the mist. Myths mingle with reality as the weather takes a turn for the worse, building up to another key introduction: Athelstan, a monk. We can tell he’s going to be important because he can actually speak Norse. (And by Norse, of course, we mean English – let’s not forget that this entire show conveniently takes place in either a large language translation booth, or a TARDIS.)
Ransacking a monastery, we finally get our first taste of Vikings’ much-anticipated plundering and pillaging. They plunder and they pillage. And they do it well. But it’s over way too soon – a shame after the slow-paced opening. Still, you can never judge a TV show until at least the third episode, once all the exposition is out of the way. Here’s hoping Ragnar and his hairy band of men managed to pick up some pace and depth along with their golden plunder. All things begin and end with stories. With any luck, maybe episode three can move on to whatever is it that comes in the middle.
Vikings is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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