Pillage da village.
MGM // 2015 // 458 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 21st, 2015
Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) has come a long way. Starting out as a simple farmer then getting his raids on by hopping boats and taking his sword to other shore for glory and plunder to, ultimately, ascending to the Viking throne through political cunning and straight murder.
But heavy is the head that bears the crown. Prompted by a relentless love of his family and relentless pursuit of a better life for his people. That better life at first appears to be on the lush shorts of Britain, in the troubled kingdom of Wessex. Though an even greater prize soon enter Ragnar and company’s field of vision: Paris.
That’s the skeletal framework of the third season of Vikings, History Channel’s deeply impressive historical fiction series. Tracking the growth of the show from its smallish first season to this installment, which features one episode completely devoted to an awe-inducing siege, is jarring.
Jarring in a good way, of course. The scope and narrative has expanded in such a way the word “epic” truly applies to what creator Michael Hirst has cooked up here. What I appreciate about the show is the writers’ resistance to rehashing plots or staying too long with stale characters. The story is ever-expanding, matching the restless, curious nature of Ragnar himself; there is simply no time to dwell on retreads.
I mean, folks, we’re in Scandinavia, England, and France in the space of ten episodes, and woven through this jet-setting is a myriad of political machinations and character arcs. The pace this year is breathless and, combined with the high-end production design (might be the best this side of Game of Thrones), the deft acting (Travis Fimmel’s shifty, eccentric, surprising performance is nails) and storylines soaked in history, Season 3 delivers about as entertaining a ten hours as you’ll find.
For me, the extra-Vikings stuff hit the hardest. The internal family and friend politics were solid (and will drive the action next year for sure), but it’s when Ragnar inserts himself into Wessex/Mercia border squabbles and takes the fight to Pari when things really pop.
As someone deeply interested in this “dark” part of history, it’s a thrill to watch the seedlings of Anglo-Saxon Britain take shape (King Alfred the Great is born in this episode) as well as the center-of-civilization Paris that plays such a role in the development of the West. All taken through the dancing eyes of Ragnar, who Fimmel has turned into one the most interesting characters on TV.
And even if these moments don’t grab you, if you don’t give two mead-soaked farts about the Dark Ages, the spectacle alone should glue your eyeballs to the screen. The siege in Episode 8 is unreal, an hourlong attack that’s as majestic and violent and well-staged as anything you’ll see on shows with twice the budget.
But I’ve said enough. Vikings is a great show, surprisingly complex, transfixing for history fans and loaded sideways with the righteous sword and shield mayhem.
Awesome Blu-ray here: a supreme 1.78:1/1080p HD transfer that offers some of the sharpest visuals for any TV show I’ve seen, joined by an aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Extras include select episode audio commentary, deleted scenes, alternate extended versions of the episodes (nudity/gore pumped up), featurettes on the Paris siege and the politics of Ragnar’s rule and an interactive “Guide to the Gods.”