Review: Vikings

(History, Sunday, March 3, 10 p.m.)

Apologies if, like me, hearing the name Vikings cues up Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in your brain. But this series is that infectious, and that hard, as in rock.

It opens brilliantly on a stark, spear-strewn hillside along the Eastern Baltic, 793 A.D. The camera zooms in on a bloodied warrior called Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), who’s about to engage, ax versus sword, two of the few survivors of his crew’s raid from Scandinavia.

We’ll later learn that Ragnar, based on a historical figure, is weary of raiding these poor Eastern farmers. He’s heard tales of riches that lie to the West, across the open ocean. He’s ambitious and daring and thinks he’s figured out a way to navigate the distances, using technology not known to his peers.

He’s also a farmer with a wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), and a son and daughter whom he has to leave alone when he voyages. She’s a skilled shield-maiden and warrior, but still, it’s dangerous. Ragnar must also either persuade the tyrannical village chieftain, Earl Haraldson, played by Gabriel Byrne, to permit the foray West, or defy him, despite the dangers. Either way, he will go West and carry out the first raids by Scandinavian warriors on unprotected monasteries along the English coast, ushering in the age of the Vikings.

The characters are vivid, the danger is palpable and writer/producer Michael Hirst’s (The Tudors) scripts weave in Scandinavian mythology and culture (including religion and attitudes towards capturing slaves, and sex) along with the battle scenes you’d expect. It’s the ideal blend for a History action-adventure series.