Prime Instant Video TV review: Vikings Season 2, Episode 1
Ivan Radford | On 28, Feb 2014
When Vikings first landed on Amazon Prime Instant Video, the comparisons to Game of Thrones were perhaps inevitable. But Michael Hirst’s series soon sailed into its own waters, embracing its smaller scale to concentrate on an tiny band of characters against a striking mountainous backdrop.
That tactic shows no sign of stopping with Season. 2: Episode 1 is as much a dip back into familiar territory as it is a bold statement of intent to sail somewhere new.
After the final three episodes of Season 1 established malcontent brother Rollo as Ragnar’s most dangerous enemy, Episode 1’s title, Brothers War, warns that their sibling rivalry, built up over nine episodes, is about to erupt. And boy, does it erupt.
If MGM and the History channel have increased Vikings’ budget for this new run, they’ve spent most of it on blood. For a programme that has usually featured minute-long skirmishes, the battle takes up a surprising amount of the episode, but – true to form – remains small in scale; this showdown is personal. With no CGI and some brutal choreography, it’s a bone-crunching opener that makes you feel every snap, while reminding you that even central characters aren’t immune to being bumped off.
Clive Standen feels more intimidating in his role than ever, his sheer physicality complimenting his beard and angry glare; the fiery opposite to Travis Fimmel’s icy calm. Even when Rollo’s tender better half, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), tries to comfort him and broker peace, he shrugs redemption off: “You can’t warm a dead man,” he growls.
Ragnar isn’t without lady trouble either: the excellent Katheryn Winnick keeps you divided between Ragnar and his wife Lagertha, angry at his affair with Alyssa Sutherland’s Princess Aslaug. When she arrives at Kattegat, her news tears apart the Lothbrok family home – but Ragnar’s cool demeanour and Hirst’s script avoid soapy melodrama, instead emphasising the impact on Nathan O’Toole’s young Bjorn Lothbrok.
As Ragnar preaches to think of future generations rather than current squabbles, Vikings follows his lead with an unexpected twist that gives Lagertha and Bjorn to chance to take centre stage; a move that narrows the show’s focus even further on familial ties, while expanding it out to new horizons. Savage yet civilised, violent yet intimate, the start of Season 2 makes it clear that Vikings’ boats are ready to set sail – and the tide looks promising.
Want more Vikings? Read our interview with creator Michael Hirst.
Vikings is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery and 350,000 eBooks available to borrow, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.