Vikings TV Series Overview


Introduction

Vikings is a historical drama television series created and written by Michael Hirst for the History channel.

Vikings is inspired by the sagas of Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the best-known legendary Norse heroes and notorious as the scourge of England and France. The show portrays Ragnar as a farmer who rises to fame by successful raids into England, and eventually becomes a Scandinavian King, with the support of his family and fellow warriors. In the later seasons, the series follows the fortunes of his sons and their adventures in England, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

Filmed in Ireland, it premiered on 03 March 2013, in Canada. In January 2019, it was announced that the 20-episode sixth season, which was ordered on 12 September 2017, ahead of its fifth-season premiere, would be the final season of the series. The sixth season premiered on 04 December 2019.

A sequel series, titled Vikings: Valhalla, is in development for Netflix.

Outline

The series is inspired by the tales of the Norsemen of early medieval Scandinavia. It broadly follows the exploits of the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok and his crew, family and descendants, as notably laid down in the 13th-century sagas Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, as well as in Saxo Grammaticus’s 12th-century work Gesta Danorum. Norse legendary sagas were partially fictional tales based in the Norse oral tradition, written down about 200 to 400 years after the events they describe. Further inspiration is taken from historical sources of the period, such as records of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne depicted in the second episode, or Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s 10th-century account of the Varangians. The series begins at the start of the Viking Age, marked by the Lindisfarne raid in 793.

Cast

  • Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok (seasons 1-4).
  • Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha.
  • Clive Standen as Rollo (seasons 1-4; special appearances season 5).
  • Jessalyn Gilsig as Siggy (seasons 1-3).
  • Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki.
  • Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson (season 1).
  • George Blagden as Athelstan (seasons 1-3; recurring season 4).
  • Donal Logue as Horik of Denmark (seasons 1-2).
  • Alyssa Sutherland as Aslaug (seasons 1-4).
  • Linus Roache as Ecbert of Wessex (seasons 2-4).
  • Alexander Ludwig as Bjorn Ironside (seasons 2-6).
  • Ben Robson as Kalf (seasons 3-4).
  • Kevin Durand as Harbard (seasons 3-4).
  • Lothaire Bluteau as Charles of West Francia (seasons 3-4).
  • John Kavanagh as The Seer (seasons 4-6; recurring seasons 1-3).
  • Peter Franzén as Harald Finehair (seasons 4-6).
  • Jasper Pääkkönen as Halfdan the Black (seasons 4-5).
  • Alex Høgh Andersen as Ivar the Boneless (seasons 4-6).
  • Marco Ilsø as Hvitserk (seasons 4-6).
  • David Lindström as Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye (season 4).
  • Jordan Patrick Smith as Ubbe (seasons 4-6).
  • Moe Dunford as Aethelwulf (seasons 4-5; recurring seasons 2-4).
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bishop Heahmund (seasons 4-5).
  • Danila Kozlovsky as Oleg the Prophet (season 6).
  • Eric Johnson as Erik the Red (season 6).
  • Georgia Hirst as Torvi (season 6; recurring seasons 2-6).
  • Ragga Ragnars as Gunnhild (season 6; recurring seasons 5-6).
  • Ray Stevenson as Othere (season 6).

Production

Season 01

An Irish-Canadian co-production, Vikings was developed and produced by Octagon Films and Take 5 Productions. Michael Hirst, Morgan O’Sullivan, John Weber, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn and Sheila Hockin are credited as executive producers. The first season’s budget was reported as US$40 million.

The series began filming in July 2012 at Ashford Studios, which is a newly built facility in Ireland. This location was chosen for its scenery and tax advantages. On 16 August 2012, longship scenes were filmed at Luggala, as well as on the Poulaphouca Reservoir in the Wicklow Mountains. Seventy percent of the first season was filmed outdoors. Some additional background shots were done in western Norway.

Johan Renck, Ciarán Donnelly and Ken Girotti each directed three episodes. The production team included cinematographer John Bartley, costume designer Joan Bergin, production designer Tom Conroy, composer Trevor Morris and Irish choir Crux Vocal Ensemble, directed by Paul McGough.

Season 02

On 05 April 2013, History renewed Vikings for a ten-episode second season. Jeff Woolnough and Kari Skogland joined Ken Girotti and Ciaran Donnelly as directors of the second season.

Two new series regulars were announced on 11 June 2013. Alexander Ludwig, portraying the teenage Björn, and Linus Roache, playing King Ecbert of Wessex. The second season undergoes a jump in time, aging the young Björn (Nathan O’Toole) into an older swordsman portrayed by Ludwig. The older Björn has not seen his father, Ragnar, for “a long period of time”. Lagertha remarries to a powerful jarl, a stepfather who provides harsh guidance to Björn. Edvin Endre and Anna Åström signed up for roles in the second season. Endre had the role of Erlendur, one of King Horik’s sons.

Season 03

Morgan O’Sullivan, Sheila Hockin, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn, John Weber, and Michael Hirst are credited as executive producers.

This season was produced by Steve Wakefield and Keith Thompson. Bill Goddard and Séamus McInerney act as co-producers. The production team for this season includes casting directors Frank and Nuala Moiselle, costume designer Joan Bergin, visual effects supervisors Julian Parry and Dominic Remane, stunt action designers Franklin Henson and Richard Ryan, composer Trevor Morris, production designer Mark Geraghty, editors Aaron Marshall for the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth episodes, and Tad Seaborn for the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth episodes, and cinematographer PJ Dillon.

Norwegian music group Wardruna provided much of the background music to the series. Wardruna’s founder Einar Kvitrafn Selvik also appeared as an actor in the show during the third season as a shaman.

Season 04

Michael Hirst announced plans for the fourth season before the third season had begun airing. The fourth season began production around the Dublin and Wicklow area in April 2015.

Finnish actors Peter Franzén and Jasper Pääkkönen, as well as Canadian actress Dianne Doan joined the cast of the fourth season. Franzén played Norwegian King Harald Finehair, a potential rival to Ragnar. Pääkkönen was cast as Halfdan the Black, Finehair’s brother. Doan portrays Yidu, a Chinese character who has a major role in the first half of the fourth season.

Toronto Blue Jays player Josh Donaldson is a fan of the Vikings series and in January 2016, it was announced that he would have a guest appearance in the fourth season of the show as “Hoskuld”.

Season 05

At the same time that the series was renewed for a fifth season, it was announced that Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers would be joining the cast, as Heahmund, a “warrior bishop”. Vikings creator Michael Hirst, explained: “I was looking at the history books, and I came across these warrior bishops. The antecedents of the Knights Templar: these are people who were absolutely religious, yet they put on armor and they fought. Don’t let their priestly status fool you, either. ‘They were crazy! They believed totally in Christianity and the message, and yet, on the battlefield, they were totally berserk.'”

Former WWE star Adam Copeland was cast in a recurring role for the fifth season as Kjetill Flatnose, a violent and bold warrior. He is chosen by Floki to lead an expedition to Iceland to set up a colony. Irish actor Darren Cahill plays the role of Aethelred in the fifth season. Nigerian actor Stanley Aguzie told local media he had landed a small role in the fifth season. The fifth season also features Irish actor, musician and real-life police detective, Kieran O’Reilly, who plays the role of “White Hair”. In April 2017 it was announced that Danish actor Erik Madsen would join the cast for the fifth season, as King Hemmig. He spent several months of 2016 on the set of The Last Kingdom, portraying a Viking.

Season 06

Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky joined the series for the sixth season, as Oleg of Novgorod, the 10th century Varangian (east European Vikings) ruler of the Rus people. Katheryn Winnick, who portrays Lagertha in the series, directed an episode of the season. Music for the series was contributed by Scandinavian artists with strong Nordic folk influences, including Wardruna and Danheim.

Release

The first episode received favourable reviews, with an average rating of 71% according to Metacritic.

The second season received a Metacritic rating of 77%, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 92% based on twelve professional critic reviews.

Broadcast

SeasonEpisodesFirst AiredLast Aired
01903 March 201328 April 2013
021027 February 201401 May 2014
031019 February 201523 April 2015
041018 February 201621 April 2016
1030 November 201601 February 2017
051029 November 201724 January 2018
1028 November 201830 Janaury 2019
061004 December 201905 February 2020
10?2020TBA

Vikings premiered on 03 March 2013, in the US and Canada. Vikings was renewed for a fourth season in March 2015 with an extended order of 20 episodes, which premiered on 18 February 2016. On 17 March 2016, History renewed Vikings for a fifth season of 20 episodes, which premiered on 29 November 2017. On 12 September 2017, ahead of its fifth-season premiere, the series was renewed for a sixth season of 20 episodes. On 04 January 2019, it was announced that the sixth season would be the series’ final season. The sixth season premiered on 04 December 2019.

In the UK, Vikings premiered on 24 May 2013, where it was exclusively available on the streaming video-on-demand service LoveFilm. The second season premiered on 24 March 2015. The third season began airing on 20 February 2015, on Amazon Video.

In Australia, the series premiered on 08 August 2013, on SBS One. It was later moved to FX, which debuted the second season on 04 February 2015. Season three of Vikings began broadcasting in Australia on SBS One on 19 March 2015. Season four of Vikings began broadcasting in Australia on SBS One on 24 February 2016.

Ratings

According to Nielsen, the series premiere drew six million viewers in the US, topping all broadcast networks among viewers aged 18 to 49. An earlier claim of over eighteen million viewers was later retracted by the channel with an apology.

In Canada, the premiere had 1.1 million viewers. The first season averaged 942,000 viewers.

Censorship

The nudity and sex scenes are regularly edited out for US audiences. For example, the sex scene between Lagertha and Astrid in the fourth-season episode “The Outsider” only showed when they kissed. The scene continued, as shown in international airings and on home video releases.

Historical Inaccuracies

Some critics have pointed out historical inaccuracies in the depiction of Viking society. Lars Walker, in the magazine The American Spectator, criticized its portrayal of early Viking Age government (represented by Earl Haraldson) as autocratic rather than essentially democratic. Joel Robert Thompson criticized depiction of the Scandinavians’ supposed ignorance of the existence of Britain and Ireland and of the death penalty rather than outlawry (skoggangr) as their most serious punishment.

Monty Dobson, an historian at Central Michigan University, criticised the depiction of Viking clothing but went on to say that fictional shows like Vikings could still be a useful teaching tool. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported that the series incorrectly depicted the temple at Uppsala as a stave church in the mountains, whereas the historical temple was situated on flat land and stave churches were characteristic of later Christian architecture. The temple in the series has similarities with reconstructions of the Uppåkra hof.

Many characters are based on (or inspired by) real people from history or legend and the events portrayed are broadly drawn from history. The history of more than a century has been condensed; people who could never have met are shown as of similar age, with the history amended for dramatic effect. Season one leads up to the attack on Lindisfarne Abbey of 793 (before the real Rollo was born). In season three the same characters at roughly the same ages participate in the Siege of Paris of 845. Ecbert was dead and King Alfred the Great was already on the throne, yet he is portrayed as a child in season four. Rollo is shown having his followers killed and fighting his fellow Vikings, whereas in history they were granted what became Normandy and continued to co-operate with their Norse kinsmen.

Little is known about Viking religious practice and its depiction is largely fictitious. When Katheryn Winnick was asked why she licked the seer’s hand she answered: “It wasn’t originally in the script and we just wanted to come up with something unique and different”. The showrunner Michael Hirst said, “I especially had to take liberties with Vikings because no one knows for sure what happened in the Dark Ages … we want people to watch it. A historical account of the Vikings would reach hundreds, occasionally thousands, of people. Here we’ve got to reach millions”.

The depiction of Christianity in the show is also somewhat controversial. In the fourth episode of the second season, the bishop of Wessex is shown inflicting crucifixion as punishment for apostasy, while it had been outlawed more than 4 centuries earlier by Emperor Constantine the Great, and it would have been blasphemous for the Christian population. Athelstan is portrayed being heroic but an unfavourable attitude towards Christianity is implied from the narrative choices in the depiction of figures venerated as Saints by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, such as Heahmund the Bishop of Sherborne (who is portrayed as having a deeply questionable morality, being involved in several sexual relations and in the murder of another bishop) and the Missionary Ansgar, the Patron of Scandinavia (his death is inaccurately depicted as taking place in Scandinavia, and no mention is made of his effective evangelisation).

Other Media

Comic Book

Zenescope partnered with the History Channel to create a free Vikings comic book based on the series. It was first distributed at Comic-Con 2013 and by comiXology in February 2014.

The comic was written by Michael Hirst, features interior artwork by Dennis Calero (X-Men Noir), and is set before the events of season one. In addition to featuring Ragnar and Rollo battling alongside their father, the comic depicts the brothers’ first encounter with Lagertha.

Sequel Series

On 04 January 2019, alongside the announcement that the series would end after its sixth season, it was announced that Hirst and MGM Television were developing a spin-off series with writer Jeb Stuart.

On 19 November 2019, it was announced that this series, currently titled Vikings: Valhalla, would take place a century after the end of the original series and would be released on Netflix.

The 24-episode series is set to be made by MGM Television, and filmed primarily in Ireland, working from the same Ashford Studios in County Wicklow.

The series will focus on the adventures of Leif Erikson, Freydis, Harald Hardrada, and the Norman king William the Conqueror.

Vikings Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Creator(s): Michael Hirst.
  • Producer(s): Morgan O’Sullivan, Sheila Hockin, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn, John Weber, Michael Hirst, Steve Wakefield, Keith Thompson, Sanne Wohlenberg, and Liz Gill.
  • Writer(s): Michael Hirst.
  • Music: Fever Ray (Opening Theme: If I Had a Heart) and Trevor Morris (composer).
  • Cinematography: John Bartley, P.J. Dillon, Own McPolin, Peter Robertson, and Suzie Lavelle.
  • Editor(s): Aaron Marshall, Michele Conroy, Don Cassidy, Tad Seaborn, Christopher Donaldson, and Dan Briceno.
  • Production: TM Productions, Yake 5 Productions, Octagon Films (season 1-4), Shaw Media (season 1-4), Corus Entertainment (season 4-6), and MGM Television.
  • Distributor(s): MGM Television.
  • Original Network: History Channel.
  • Release Date: 03 March 2013 to Present (?2020).
  • Running time: 45 minutes (per episode).
  • Rating: 18.
  • Country: US
  • Language: English.

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