When the History Channel began its charge into the scripted drama series world, there were plenty of skeptics out there, many wondering if the net could produce a truly believable series that didn’t sink into cheesiness on either the creative or production level.
Thankfully, there is no ‘cheese factor’ evident in the network’s hugely entertaining series Vikings. The dark series is a pleasing blend of rich characters, beautiful backdrops, and gritty battle sequences all mashed together in an amazingly cinematic style that could definitely eclipse many big budget films.
Set to begin it’s third season on February 19th, Vikings stars Travis Fimmel (The Beast), Jessalyn Gilsig (Glee, Heroes) Katheryn Winnick (Bones), and, joining this season is Kevin Durant (The Strain). The series was created and is written by Michael Hirst, whose previous work includes the Academy Award-winning film Elizabeth and the critically acclaimed television drama, The Tudors. Hirst also serves as Executive Producer on the series.
Following the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Fimmel), a curious, rebellious young man who is always looking to discover and conquer new civilizations, Vikings is filled with conflict, warfare and bloodshed. The series is also about family, as Ragnar deals with his ex-wife, Lagertha (Winnick) and his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen, Starz’ Camelot), who are often at odds with Ragnar’s ideas and intentions.
Catching viewers up, at the end of season two, Ragnar became king to his people – a role that he’s still figuring out, but clearly relishes. Now, with his newfound power, Ragnar is anxious to take on a thrilling and treacherous new mission – invading Paris. This quest clearly will be the main focus of season three.
Will the new King be able to keep his plan, which will require a large-scale attack requiring a massive amount of manpower, on track? Or, will the sheer scale of the mission, with all of its unforeseen obstacles, prove to be the downfall of Ragnar? That is the central question that will drive the narrative of Vikings as the story unfolds.
Hirst clearly brings a level of knowledge to historical projects that is well regarded. But, all the accolades in the world sometimes don’t make things move quickly or smoothly.
The journey to bring Vikings to television began years ago when a production company reached out to Hirst just after Elizabeth had become a hit. “They asked me what I wanted to do and I did a script about Alfred the Great, who among other things, fought the Vikings, “ explains Hirst. “I devoured everything I could find out about them, which wasn’t a lot. Most of what we know is written by Christian Monks with an axe to grind.”
But the lack of source material didn’t deter Hirst from moving forward on the project. “I became fascinated with the Viking culture and Viking Gods and kept on researching, looking for anything I could find,” divulged Hirst.
Sadly, like a lot of things in the entertainment industry, the project, for one reason or another, came to a screeching halt. At this point, “I reluctantly just sort of put in my back pocket and moved onto other things,” says Hirst.
Then, out of the blue, a request. “It was from MGM,” Hirst recalls, “They said that they were moving more into television and they asked if I had any interest at all in telling the story of the Viking way of life. Clearly, I was surprised and delighted and relayed that I certainly have more than a passing interest in the subject matter. So we got together and began the steps to make the idea into a reality.”
Hirst theorizes that the series has caught on with fans because, “The subject matter has been underdone, there haven’t been many shows about the Vikings even though they are culturally significant. Unfortunately, they’re often portrayed as vicious guys, mindless thugs. What’s different and significant here is that this show tells the story from the Viking point of view, exploring that culture and society.“
He goes on to say that the subject matter is extremely relevant given recent discoveries throughout the world. “In Europe, there continue to be these finds. There was a big dig in Dublin that uncovered some artifacts, “ Hirst explains. “Also, in Russia they discovered the grave of a young woman who was some sort of Princess and it had the most amazing jewelry in it. So to me the Viking legacy continues to be unearthed, literally, a bit at a time.”
Hooking up with the History channel on the project, Hirst found what he believes is the perfect fit. “I think the fact that it’s the History Channel gives people the right to understand that it’s real history. It’s born out of research.” But he does go on to say that the production was not without its challenges. “We did have issues to overcome, especially with the violence.” Clarifying a bit, he describes the thought process. “We asked ourselves, ‘ How are we going to show this so that it has impact, but make sure that it’s not just gratuitous?’ So, what we did is, we hired the right people. The guys who’ve coordinated all of the fight scenes were just genius in the way they portrayed everything with such realism. And, our crew worked very hard to capture and edit it in a fashion that tells the story but not in a salacious way.”
That realism translates well onto the screen in a very fluid style, with each episode looking very much like a high budget feature film. “We spent a lot of time discussing what we were going to do and how we were going to do it to make it really look like a film,” discloses Hirst. “It was imagined on a cinematic scale and I really think that fits in with the subject matter.”
Seeing the finished product, the writer is extremely happy with the outcome. Revealing a bit about his initial expectations and the actual final results, Hirst says, “I learned that as a young writer, many times what you see on screen is a pale imitation of what’s been playing in your head. But in this case, it looks better; it’s more fabulous and richer than it was in my mind.”
Vikings is, at its core, a show that Hirst wants viewers to know “is based on research, but it’s a drama so there is a ‘shaping’ of certain aspects. You make choices about how to tell the story. I’d like people to watch it not thinking, ‘oh is this exactly how it happened’, but rather in a way that if it piques your interest about the subject matter, you’ll go and read the books. That’s what they’re there for.” He goes on to say, “This is the dark ages, not very much is actually known about the Vikings so I just want people to watch it generously, knowing that we did our best to tell the story in a truthful, compelling manner. “
“Vikings” begins its third season on the History Channel Thursday, February 19th at 10/9c.