Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

How about a little Viking-style rape and pillage to complement your evening chardonnay and candle-lit boeuf bourguignon? Now-now, don’t look so shocked; you know you wanna – not do it or anything, just watch from a distance. Participate vicariously. And don’t feel bad; your crude craving doesn’t make you sub-human. In fact, revelling in the sordid savagery of Viking uncouthness is a blatant attestation to the vitality of your exceptionally human spirit. It’s just that society has placed a strait jacket on the historical temperament that birthed, oh, just civilisation – but in truth, there is something in our nature, call it ‘the animal’ if you like, that is desperately attracted to the unrestrained barbarism of the savage that belches contempt all over civilised society, axe in one hand, phallus in the other.

The unashamed Viking lust for land, ladies and laud is an emancipated existence that conjures a fire in the heart of all those constrained by the mandate of modern living. That whole ‘rape and pillage’ thing… it’s a metaphor, so really, your shame is redundant; it’s freedom you’re after. And freedom is especially attractive when propagated by the likes of Ragnar hunk-of-burnin’-love Lothbrok; legendary Norse ruler, explorer from the Viking Age and notorious scourge of England and France – what a dude!  This seriously sexy bad-ass has even defeated the snare of time to find himself the hero (or something like that) in the modern retelling of his own saga; Vikings, although masterminded by acclaimed writer/producer Michael Hirst (The Tudors and the Elizabeth films) is propelled by the lore of Lothbrok.

According to legend, Ragnar Lothbrok had three wives (not all at once) and a load of sons, all of whom inflicted some sort of Valhalla-worthy bloody carnage on both man and land; he also claimed to be a descendent of Odin. An unequivocal egomaniac but also intelligent, ambitious, passionate and unknowingly handsome in a work-the-land-rather-than-the-gym kind of way, Travis (oh baby!) Fimmel plays it brilliantly. Think Brad-Pitt-in-Twelve-Monkeys dished with an insane amount of charisma, few words (but all of the ones spoken important) and facial expressions that tell eons of story and volumes of emotion, thus conjuring a man as lethal as he is licentious. An adventurer before a King, it’s a heart-palpitating experience watching Ragnar’s ascent to power, and how the changes that accost him affect the choices he makes. Ragnar Lothbrok is the makings of a great story and it’s Hirst’s expert translation that is set to make the History Channel a force to be reckoned with when it comes to evocative series viewing.

Viking men and women plundered – gold and sex, but most importantly life. They implore us to seize every moment and pulverise the living daylights out of it

But it’s a team effort. Clive Standen as Rollo, Rangar’s brother, redefines the meaning of ‘sibling rivalry’, taking it up a notch or thousand; Gustaf Skarsgård (just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more Skarsgårds in the movies) gives an electric performance as warrior, boat-builder Floki, exhibiting much the same character traits as his mischievous deity namesake Loki; and George Blagden as English monk Athelstan, who, as an outsider looking in – terrified, horrified and equally mesmerised by the foreign culture into which he is thrust – looks and speaks on the viewer’s behalf.

But as much as Vikings is a terrific testosterone fest, it boasts some truly fierce females all of whom aim to show that as brutish and brawny as Viking men are reputed to be, they appreciated their women and valued their contribution to society. Viking women were considered individuals in their own right, not merely manly possessions to be treated as property – they were warriors, mothers, lovers and adjudicators, and the point is clearly made when British King Egbert calls the pagan laws enveloping the rights of women superior to ‘civilised’ English law. Ragnar’s first wife Lagertha (Katherine Winnick), also a shield maiden (kick-ass warrior chick), is an absolute revelation in the realm of strong female characters. She battles alongside her husband and exerts a particularly strong sense of moral justice on the men in her life, which ultimately earns her power, position and reputation.

Not only does Hirst, a historian first and foremost, quash preconceived ideas about Viking women but he corrects other of popular culture’s self-propagated Viking delusions. In an effort to demystify the monster, viewers are told that: those cool, horned helmets…made-up; sexing everything that moved…not quite; they weren’t even called Vikings, ‘Northmen’ is the correct term. So they sacrificed a person every nine years and hooked up the occasional orgy but these Northmen farmed, had families, loved their children, honoured their wives; they were religious devotees, artists and engineers. Not bad for a bunch of barbarians.

But don’t worry; the ruthless ravishing that Vikings meted out on life is no fallacy. They were vicious and violent; they did rape and raid and the show is all that and more. Vikings argues the notion of ‘Viking’ as a manner of being not just a people. Viking men and women plundered – gold and sex, yes, but most importantly life; Vikings ravished life. They personify a carpe diem attitude that implores us to seize every moment and pulverise the living daylights out of it. It’s all or nothing and happiness is an afterthought. Hirst’s show dispels myths but it also revels in them, and isn’t that life? We create our own versions anyway. Might as well ransack a few houses and hearts along the way.

Vikings returns with the Season 3 premiere on February 19

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