Movies & TV

Vikings: Valhalla Is Building Up to a Glorious End to the Age of Vikings

Legends never die.
IMAGE NETFLIX
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In the halls of Valhalla, Ragnar approves of the Vikings successor show named after the famed hall of legend. In Vikings: Valhalla, Netflix has found itself an action-packed show with the potential to become one of television’s greatest historical epics. Vikings set itself apart from any other historical drama with its spiritual and bloodthirsty approach to the age of the berserker, and Vikings: Valhalla carries on that tradition in a manner that distinguishes it and elevates it from its predecessor. 

More a historical retelling than a poetic adaptation of the Viking age, Valhalla’s plot gives it less room for creative freedom than the original show. Where the stories of Ragnar Lothbrok, Bjorn Ironside, and Ivar the Boneless were immortalized in epic poems and myths, the tales of Leif Erikson, Freydis Eiriksdottir, and Harald Sigurdsson are remembered in history textbooks. Their lives have been subject to thorough documentation, and anyone who’s taken introductory European history classes will recognize the other names that appear in the show: King Canute The Great, Saint Olaf Haraldsson, Emma of Normandy, and Earl Godwin.

Leif Erikson, the Greenlander

Photo by Netflix.
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Freydis Eiriksdottir, the pagan

Photo by Netflix.

But unlike other historical shows like The Tudors that took on a gratuitous approach to historical retellings, Valhalla is loyal to the spirit of that age, making an effort to portray the complicated religious animosity between pagans and Christians, the enduring Viking spirit that lives on in even the “Christianized” warriors, and the fight for a Viking (or national) identity as the old ways are eroded to make way for the new. It might be set in the 11th century, but Valhalla has a way of making simple conversations about religious differences and nationalism relevant.

What Valhalla lacks in the poetic and prophetic storytelling of the original series, it makes up for in its straightforward plot, which in this case, is its advantage. Vikings was always a little too, how do we say, weird for the mainstream to enjoy, and Valhalla’s more simplistic approach makes it easier to follow, understand, and root for. It almost parallels how the Vikings adapted to the simple Christian culture over the strange Pagan ways. But just like the original, there’s plenty of bloodlust, battles, and testosterone-heavy fight scenes. 

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Although there is no character at par with Ragnar Lothbrok’s mad magnetism, the cast more than makes up for the space left behind by Ragnar and his sons. Leif’s (Sam Corlett) quiet intelligence and steadfast nature is an important contrast to his fiery, vengeful sister Freydis (Frida Gustavsson), and Prince Harald’s (Leo Suter) ambitious yet honest persona serves as a complement to his greedier, prejudiced brother Jarl Olaf (Johannes Haukur Johannesson). Even characters with less screen time, like King Canute the Great (Bradley Freegard) and Emma of Normandy (Laura Berlin) manage to steal every scene and script of dialogue while portraying a level of complexity. Instead of one central figure, the show manages to make all of its characters magnetic and worth investing in. 

Prince Harald Sigurdsson, right hand to King Canute

Photo by Netflix.

Prince Edmund, Queen Emma of Normandy, and the advisor Godwin

Photo by Netflix.
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Still, the show isn’t without its faults. The first episode is certainly its weakest, with a bothersome amount of exposition that will leave you annoyed. But unlike many shows, Valhalla actually manages to get even better as the series progresses. It reaches its glorious climax midway through season one, which ensures viewers will keep watching, yet the intrigue that catches up toward the end of the season is enough to demand a season two as soon as possible.

Despite all the glorious fighting—and even more glorious Viking hair—Valhalla prevails as a show that’s about more than just brutes and battles. If you know history well, then you know that Prince Harald, later known as Harald Hardrada, is largely considered as the last of the Vikings—the final champion of the old ways. The traditions, cultures, and rituals that once defined the proud Vikings are dying a slow death in the show. But while this era of history ends in a glorious war that crowns kings and queens, the biggest casualty will be the Viking himself. Before you cry spoiler, let us just say that history books spoiled this moment ages ago. But knowing the general outcome of this series makes it all the more important—and poetic. So aptly named Valhalla after Odin’s hall for fallen warriors, the show is a tragedy in the making and a farewell love letter to the berserkers that defined the dark ages. Season one is only the brilliant start to what we can already tell will become an epic story. 

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Vikings: Valhalla is now streaming on Netflix.

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Anri Ichimura
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