Very well constructed series, signed by Michael Hirst, Vikings, even if too modern in the visual system, in the hairstyles and make-up. The protagonists look more like rock stars, for their movements and expressions, rather than ancient Norse. But the reconstructions of the environment are meticulous and effective, the characters many and well designed: the blind soothsayer, Ragnar’s five children, the crazy visionary Floki, the strong-willed Lagertha, the wicked Aslaug, the just and strong Ragnar Lothbrok and a myriad of others.
Above all, however, Athelstan stands out, the monk who is taken prisoner by the Vikings and lives with them. As the years go by, he transforms from a convinced Christian to a man of compromise and syncretism. More souls dwell in him, the Catholic one and the one contaminated by pagan frequentation. Athelstan begins to glimpse the beauty and spirituality even in certain violent and gruesome blood rites. “I love Jesus and I love Odin,” he says. After his death at the hands of Floki, he continues to be present in the form of a vision and increasingly assumes a salvific and Christological image. His inheritance will be taken by his natural son Alfred, future king of Wessex, the most noble and just figure of the whole series. Athelstan is unresolved, tormented and yet complete, the result of his letting himself go to a multiplicity of impulses, from the most religious to the earthly and lascivious ones. “Their morals are different”, he says now free from judgments or prejudices speaking of his captors who he defines as “his family”.
The admiration and friendship that Ragnar Lothbrok, the most important character, has for him is absolute. Ragnar, in turn, acts driven not by mere ambition but by curiosity: the desire to know what lies beyond the known world, the desire to learn different customs and traditions, to speak other languages.
Another controversial character is King Ecbert, a man of constant ethical upheavals, ready to betray but also to suffer for having done so. A friend of both Athelstan and Ragnar, he becomes the lover of his son’s wife, raises Alfred in the memory of his monk father, and prepares him to become a wise and pious future king. His lover will be the mother of Alfred, whom she had from her relationship with the monk Athelstan, and she will defend his ascent to the throne even at the cost of killing her firstborn.
The case of Lagertha is different, courageous, tenacious, always in love with Ragnar, sweet with her family but ruthless and inflexible with those who deserve to die.
Inevitable the comparison with “Game of Thrones”. But there is a historical basis here, many of the characters really existed and there is a lot of spirituality. There is much talk of god, of the difference between him and the Nordic gods, of heaven and of Valhalla. Are there hell and heaven? Are there gods? And, if they weren’t there, would life have more or less meaning?
Ruthless, barbaric characters who don’t think for a second to stick an ax in your stomach but ask themselves philosophical questions, they talk about Odin and Thor, but also about Jesus Christ and Buddha. Contrasting factions and nations, for which, as in “Game of Thrones”, we side from time to time.
The only absolutely unpleasant character, at least for me, is Ivar the Boneless, played very well by the actor Alex Høgh Andersen. Possessed, megalomaniac because frustrated, bad to the core, he ends up losing his mind believing himself a god, first spoiled by his equally evil mother and then flattered by his wife who manipulates and betrays him. Ragnar’s youngest son, born under an ill star without the use of his legs, he grows up strong, angry and vindictive. “I wish I wasn’t always so angry,” he says.
His father explains to him that he is special precisely because of his handicap but Ivar would have preferred to be normal and loved like his brothers, who partly support him and partly despise him. Everyone without distinction fears him, for his strength, for the tenacity with which he walks on his hands, for the wickedness that never abandons him for an instant.
A melodramatic trend and the presence of new characters of little interest do not play in favor of the last few seasons, after the departure of others of great depth such as Rollo — in constant tension love and hate towards his brother Ragnar — or Judith– mother capable of killing one of her children in favor of the kingship of the other. One such insipid character is the historical Bishop Heamund, who is not well developed. Great warrior and prince of the church, he does not understand why from day to night he falls in love with Lagertha, only to reject her taken by a sudden fear of damnation. Only Gunnhild, a sort of Valkyrie queen of great physical impact on the screen, is saved.
Certain Viking crudities in the last stages of the narrative are replaced by an almost Arthurian epic tone, not unpleasant, especially in the beautiful scenes of Lagertha’s funeral, reminiscent of Arthur’s funeral in the film “Excalibur”, or the death of Bjorn Ironside which brings to mind the Cid Campeador.
Some nodes of the narrative are not explained and must be accepted for what they are, see the presence of the blind soothsayer even after his death, the extreme resemblance between Freydis, Ivar’s murdered wife, with the Russian Katia, the true paternity of Bjorn, Othere’s true identity, the mysterious nature of Harbard and so on.
All in all, despite the flaws, if you think that almost everything that is narrated and almost all the characters are historical or semi-historical, a beautiful and powerful saga.