I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VIIII

The final episode of the first season is SOP in many cases. The clothing, the belts, the buildings, all those damned candles…it has all become, in the minds of the series producers pretty standard stuff. And to Hel with any accuracy!

The sight of Aslaug carrying a fruit and tempting Ragnar was a very good confusion of the temptress Aslaug with the Biblical Eve. An obvious attempt to play upon the cultural knowledge of the viewer. However, even though it is a good piece of dramatic license, it means the gratuitous hijacking of a theme from another faith! Perhaps an expected result of the hodgepodge of chronology, culture and historical events that are paramount in this series!

Accurate

Jarl Borg asking for a hostage.

The supports for a building are a good representation for the architecture of the period.

A good representation of the process for the succession of Earls/Jarls, owing to election at a þing, even if the other elements of Norse government owe more to later feudal than to current custom!

The “three eye” joke was much in keeping with the sense of humor of the traditional Norseman!

Finally, a spear! And a doggie!

At last, the reappearance of a warped-weighted loom! A good representation even if Lagerthe’s spinning is even less real than that shown in the first episode!

The introduction Aslaug , whom the legendary Ragnar wed after divorcing Lagerthe.

Swearing not to touch Aslaug again was obviously meant sincerely. Too bad about that temptress Eve…I mean Aslaug. It is mirrored by the temptation by Borg to break the oath Ragnar swore to Horik and by the temptation to Rollo to break his allegiance to his brother.

Inaccurate

Very few new inaccuracies are introduced. The costumer and producer have done their jobs and are at least consistent with themselves!

The hood worn by Ragnar is not clearly seen but looks strange.

The Norse houses had shingled roofs. Very progressive, since wooden shakes were not introduced until the middle of the eleventh century. Thatched roofs were then the standard!

Almost anything worn by Aslaug and her ladies. Except when she was naked of course…

The lack of compromise on the matter of land, even if we accept the feudal slant of ownership, seems rather contradictory to the way that the Norse got along.

Uncertain

If all the costumes were designed to look different, why do all the interior of the houses appear the same?

The use of hanging bowls as a light source in the Norse culture is dubious in several ways. For one, it was an artifact found in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon society and, presumably, Celtic as well. They were mostly out of date for the Viking Era n and were not known to be used by the Norse. And they probably did not have the structural integrity to be used as lamps and were almost certainly not chandeliers. But other than that, a great supposition!

The plotline seems to be contradictory about sexual morés, and the morés seem to depend on what is needed by the plot.

The whole wise man theme is getting a little annoying. Prophesy was well known in Norse society, but it was the province of the Völur, the wise women, who were also known as seiðr, for the practice. While there was a term for males—seiðrmenn—they were not often found. Seiðr in particular had connotations of ergi (unmanliness), and some writers have noted that prophesying was probably taboo for men. Men were expected to be the warriors, while women were the wise women. But since the practitioners of seiðr seem to have included sex with a lot of the prophesies—a rare male practitioner, Ragnvald Rettilbein, was known as “straight member”—I’m rather glad they did not attempt to portray their wise men as sexual athletes!

Why are they suddenly using the proper term “jarl?” Apparently “earl” is still being used in the series, and one has to wonder what difference is intended by the producers and whether this is rather like the evolution of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Sabor/Numa terminology.

Bjorn’s cloak is not designed correctly, but the material is nice.

The shawl worn by Gyda is accurate, though the design of the fabric is not especially so.

There is an ongoing overuse of horn cups with a flat end. Forget for the moment that the actual appearance of such a horn cup is controversial. Why no ceramic or wood cups?

Woman wearing a belt (apparently not common practice and one not followed by the other women).

The disposal of the dead seems to owe more to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” than to anything else. Obviously meant as a deep and dramatic incident, but I kept expecting for one of the bodies on the cart to go, “I’m getting better…”

Where are the spots of light in the house coming from? Very dramatic, true, but quite ludicrous when you start thinking about it!

Athelstan’s sleeping robe seems to be more reminiscent of a woman’s gown than what a man would wear.

The countryside looked more like what I saw in Iceland than anything I saw in Denmark!

Conclusions

When did they decide to do the conclusion with so many loose threads? With the introduction of the viper pit and Aslaug, anyone with knowledge of the legend of Ragnar will be filled with expectations. Yet, aren’t these the same persons who are more liable to be offended by the other liberties with details of the presentation? Since some stills seen before the series have not appeared in the first season, one especially wonders if this was filmed in the manner of Richard Lester’s Three/Four Musketeers. Plotlines concerning Norse excursions into England (and elsewhere, though this series seems to refuse to contemplate this much), the betrayal of Athelstan and much else has been relegated to the back and never touched upon, while other dangling plots—Rollo’s allegiance to his brother, Lagerthe’s miscarriage, the whole prophesy deux ex machina and Bjorn’s snottiness—are rotated to prominence. And new developments—the plague, the appearance of Aslaug, the confrontation between land ownership–come from nowhere and attains great prominence. Very frustrating, especially if done without knowing there would be a second season. Perhaps as judicial editing f what was already shot to take advantage of the second season coming, perhaps indicating that the second season was part of the initial deal, perhaps just incompetence at handling this form…whatever the reason, frustrating.

In a miniseries of this sort, having a single overwhelming theme and including additional elements that can be acted on later is the rule of thumb. And much more satisfying. The whole series seemed to be drawing in elements from different sides, then abandoning them and not exploiting them. It never moved forward to a satisfying conclusion and was even more a soap opera than many soap operas. If the dangling plotlines were meant to engage my curiosity and make me eager to see how they will be resolved next season, they did not work because I have no certainty that they will be resolved or even touched upon. Hirst and company have not given me that much confidence! I was not even intrigued by the characters, and I am blasé about what the next season of “Vikings” will present but will now eager await the next season of “Justified,” which expertly did what I expected and still set me off with continuing and dangling plotlines that leaves me eager to see the next season of that series.

If only they had just tossed Ragnar into the viper pit and gone on to a totally new and different storyline, like the late and very lamented Northlanders by Brian Wood. If that had been done, I would really be looking forward to the next season of “Vikings”!

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2 responses

  1. Pedro Ferraz

    Hi there.
    First of all thank you very much for your comments/analysis, namely the time it took you to reflect and gather on them.
    I just watched the 1st season of this series this last weekend and being a former Portuguese medieval reenactor I’m also usually concerned about authenticity, which led me to do some research about the show and age it’s supposed to portray, and that’s how I ended up reading your blog 🙂
    Your comments were really useful to me, some of my suspicions were confirmed but on top of it all I felt I learned a good bit, and I guess I have to thank the show (and you) for that.
    It’s probably not an easy balance between being historically fundamentalist and doing Vikings on steroids (and stereotypes) but personally I give credit to the show for portraying what might have been the Scandinavian society at the time (I hope I used the right term?) whilst having an appealing story line.
    It seems to me Mr Hirst choose some anchors based on historical facts and then weaved a fictional, compelling story around them to captivate the general audiences, does that make sense?
    Perhaps you are right in your conclusions, there wasn’t an exciting “cliff-hanger” at the end, but personally I still enjoyed very much the show and definitely am looking forward to a next season. I also enjoy a plot that leaves me wondering and doubting, where every single scene/event doesn’t necessarily have to be relevant or explored, I find some shows tend to be too predictable and boring.
    I also love the fact that these characters aren’t two dimensional, I quite enjoyed the awkwardness/mixed feelings created by Athelstan’s failed sacrifice and apart from some exceptions I find the acting very good.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind my comments, really have been fascinated with learning more about your culture and past and your blog was really useful.

    Thank you,

    June 18, 2013 at 08:36

    • I love “The Long Ships.” It is so bad, it is funny. Same goes with “The Norseman” and even “Tarkan Viking Kani.” I would really like to see a Quentin Tarantino Viking epic, even though it would probably be as historical accurate as his recent version of the American West was! The big difference is that these were not presented to us by someone say, “This is authentic. believe it!” When you set a chip on your shoulder in that way, even if you’re Pappy Ford with the wonderful “My Darling Clementine,” I am enough of an asshat to take up the challenge!

      In the end, I found the series very educational, because I did so much research into things t5hat looked a bit off that I learned quite a bit! It was fun to see what they got right as well even if many times I wondered if they realized they6 got it right! (this weekend, at an event, that was a big topic when talking with a MoP about the series).

      I guess the comment on every scene etc. depends on whether you classify it as a self-contained mini-series or as an ongoing series. If the season had twenty episodes, I’d look at it far differently from it having only nine. I found myself comparing it all the time to the very much enjoyed “Justified”!

      Thanks for your comments.

      June 18, 2013 at 08:51

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