By Jamie Ruby
Created by Michael Hirst for the History Channel, Vikings
follows Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), as he defies the ruler, Earl Harraldson (Gabriel Byrne), and eventually becomes leader of the Viking tribes when others follow him west in search of treasure, rather than east as Haraldson has decreed. The series also shows his family life with wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), a shield maiden, and their children. Ragnar has a strained relationship with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) as they don't always see eye to eye.
There is also the character of Athelstan (George Blagden), who sort of represents the audience in the series. The monk is taken by Ragnar as a slave during their raid on the monastery, but he isn't quite treated as such, and he is always curious to learn the ways and beliefs of a culture and religion so different from his own.
The series also stars Jessalyn Gilsig as Siggy Haraldson and Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki.
One of the things that makes this series really interesting is that it is based on facts and real historical figures (though not a documentary), but it's not what one would expect when thinking of Vikings. It's really told from their point of view and shows that they aren't just the raping and pillaging men most people believed them to be. Hirst has created a very detailed and realistic view of their culture that people really haven't seen before. Viewers will see Vikings of course in war, but also in their home lives and get to learn about their culture, religion, and laws. The series of course does still have the expected Viking brutality at times, from the battles to human sacrificies during a ritual.
The beautiful locations in Ireland, realistic sets, and rich costumes help to really bring the drama to life, but it's augmented by the brilliant performances of the actors. The cast really does a superb job of portraying their characters as they would have been, while also keeping it interesting. Viewers don't have to be history buffs or really into the culture to have an enjoyable viewing experience as one may expect when first encountering the series.Bonus Features:
I was given the blu-ray three disc set of Vikings Season One
to review. The set contains three episodes on each disc. Each episode has the option to play the set with Season Play so you can keep track of your progress. There are also extended versions of each episode included as options.
The first and third discs contain deleted scenes, though each are very short and do not really add anything to the story.
The first disc, which includes the season premiere, "Rites of Passage," contains audio commentary for the episode featuring creator and executive producer Michael Hirst and actress Jessalyn Gilsig.
The season finale, "All Change," includes an audio commentary track featuring Katheryn Winnick and Clive Standen. Also on the last disc are the rest of the special features.A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law
- This feature is about twenty minutes and talks a lot about the factual research that the series is based on. Viewers will hear from Hirst, as well as the actors and other crew members that helped create the look of the show, and also some history professors. Topics discussed include the misconceptions about Vikings, how they had a law system in place, marriage, storytelling, religion, and more. This feature is very informative and you get a lot of factual information from it, while also hearing from the actors about their experiences filming and learning about the culture.Birth of the Vikings
- This feature is about creating the series. The cast and crew discuss topics such as locations used in the film, costumes, and set design. They also discuss how they had the boat made, including using the boat on a gimble and the actors actually learning to row the boat on the water. This is another informative feature that will be interesting to fans. It really shows how dedicated they are to making the world they film in believable and helps give you an appreciation for all the details.Forging the Viking Army: Warefare and Tactics
- This special feature is the stunt coordinator, sword master, and actors talking about learning how to fight with the Viking weapons. Featured are Fimmel, Standen, and Winnick. They also discuss some of the specific battle scenes they filmed and how the bad weather played a part. This is a fun feature.The third disc also contains two blu-ray interactive exclusives:The Armory of the Vikings
- This interactive feature has different Viking weapons that you can select one at a time (as well as a Play All). These are short featurettes that feature History Professor Jochen Burgtorf talking about how each of their tools were used in battle, including weapons, armor, and boats, while some clips of fighting are shown. If you've watched the series, you know for the most part the kinds of weapons they use.Conquest and Discovery: The Journey of the Vikings
- This feature is an interactive map where you can select locations (or Play All) to hear from Burgtorf about the places where different parts of Viking history took place.Packaging
The three discs were in a normal clamshell case with a nicely designed slipcover, which was covered with a clear plastic slip cover. The discs themselves do not tell anything about which episodes are on them, but behind the discs, the back of the blu-ray wrap-around cover does tell which episodes are on each, as well as where the special features are. The fact that the set has Season Play is of course also a bonus.
If you are a fan of the series, I think especially the three main bonus features are definitely something you would want, and even if you are enjoying the series for the first time, they are really interesting.