“You landed in the kingdom of Northumbria…”
Dialogue doesn’t get much better than that in Vikings, the History Channel’s slightly trashy take on Scandinavia’s spiky-headed past. Episode Three, Dispossessed, marks a big step forward for the show, as nuance lands on the shore of Michael Hirst’s script and invades its shallow waters.
Returning from their successful raid of England, Ragnar’s band of merry men find they’ve stolen from the poor monks and have to give it all to the rich Earl Haraldson. Sitting in front of the pile of golden trinkets, Gabriel Byrne laps up the opportunity to take centre stage, taunting Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) with a wicked smile. He almost starts stroking his moustache.
But Gabriel isn’t the only one given a chance to develop: Earl orders Ragnar to take Knut into his group of soldiers as someone he trusts, setting up some wonderfully hairy tension. And, to top it off, Ragnar’s wife Lagertha steps up her ass-kicking game to earn her role as shield maiden.
The one who intrigues the most, though, is Athelstan. Last seen bellowing “Red” in Tom Hooper’s Les Mis, George Blagden’s timid monk spends half of his time on screen looking terrified. But when Ragnar chooses to keep him as his slave, Athelstan’s ability to speak Viking and knowledge of the British Isles make him a surprising sidekick to the smart wannabe leader – not least thanks to his chastity, even in the face of Lagertha’s scantily clad body.
After two episodes of setting up, what we have now for the first time is a fully-fledged ensemble of interesting characters with relationships that can fluctuate at the turn of a helmet. There’s even a bit of sex in there for Game of Thrones fans suffering withdrawal. Finally, this show is starting to grow some horns.
It may be called Dispossessed, but Episode 3 sees Vikings claim its own personality. As if to prove it, director Johan Renck signs off with a stunning shot that hints at grisly combat to come. Nuance has landed – and the bloody aftermath will be interesting to watch.
Vikings is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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