It is convenient that Sunday night airs both Game of Thrones and the History Channel’s first scripted drama “Vikings.” Watching these two shows back to back provides a totally different experience from two extremely visually rich and mythical dramas. Thrones is the most complicated TV show maybe ever yet we care about all of the characters intensely as each hour long episode is packed with the twenty or so moving plotlines.
Vikings, on the other hand, is ridiculously simple, compels the viewer to care about the characters not at all, but is wholly enjoyable and honestly a great come down from the heartwrenching drama of Westeros.
What have we learned about Vikings? That they’re all extremely attractive despite terrible hygiene, a lot of mud, and weird chin beards, and that all they really want is treasure. Not treasure to use for like, food, or ships, or anything, but to bury underground so that they may be wealthy in Valhalla. Totally makes sense. Yay cultures of yore!
What’s more, the Vikings are incredibly religious and superstitious people. The second to last episode of the season consists of a pilgrimage to Uppsalla, a place that looks like a sweet mountain resort inhabited by creepy Viking priests where the Vikings say what’s up to Odin & co. and then also do some magic mushrooms in the woods (et. al. debauchery). The last 5 minutes of this episode were an eerie montage of sacrifices, featuring artsy throat slitting/blood collecting of goats, horsies, and humans. Vikings actually did this scene extremely well: it conveyed the gravity and even holiness of the ceremony, but also simulated the Viking peoples’ requirement to watch the ceremony and face death. Death and the role the gods play in it is very real for these people, and I think the religion is really the most compelling part of the show.
At the end of the season finale, the viewer got the feeling that the magical religion of the gods was really at play in the lives of the Vikings. Ragnar’s indiscretions seemed somehow responsible for a great plague in his village, his son’s watchful judgement seemed to be an arbiter of justice, and then there was that damn raven. What this show is doing really well is showing how rigid religious and societal tenets govern the lives of the characters. It is this kind of skewed and magical cause and effect that makes the plot interesting – but the characters pretty one dimensional and unsympathetic. Since, you know, their motivations consist of treasure, sacrifices, ale, and more treasure.
So, what have we learned from Vikings thus far? That The History Channel seriously stepped up their game in the production department, that treasure is a powerful motivator, and that we’ll be tuning in in 2014 to see what Odin has in store for the Lodbrok clan.