It is not often that four brothers see eye to eye, especially those who are trying to outdo the successes of their famous father, Viking legend Ragnar Lothbrok. After avenging their father’s murder by King Aelle of Northumbria in season four, Ragnar’s sons take center stage in “Vikings” season five, which debuted Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. on the History Channel.
Division is the central theme of the new season of “Vikings,” following the abrupt disbandment of the Great Heathen Army that formed in season four. The largest Viking army portrayed on the show to date was comprised of the sons of Ragnar and their armies, who successfully stormed England. The tipping point that disbanded the Great Heathen Army was the murder of Ragnar’s youngest son Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye by his increasingly ambitious brother Ivar the Boneless.
Now, without a unifying purpose, the army and its leaders descend into infighting. As Bjorn Ironside, the eldest son of Ragnar, foreshadowed during the celebratory feast following the Great Heathen Army’s victory in England prior to the end of last season, “the only thing that ever kept the sons of Ragnar together was the death of their father.”
Ivar is a crippled Viking prince who obsessively seeks to prove that he can achieve even more fame than his three living brothers, who are all healthy and respected Viking leaders. He is conflicted at the beginning of the new season, after he killed his brother Sigurd out of rage at the end of season 4B. Instead of succumbing to guilt, Ivar transforms his rage, depression and jealousy into a newfound determination to lead armies with a deranged ruthlessness and cold tactical prowess on the battlefield.
Much of the fifth season focuses on the evolution of Ivar and his journey fulfilling his father’s prophecy from the previous season, “that one day, the world will know and fear Ivar the Boneless.” Alex Høgh Andersen, who stars as the troubled son of Ragnar, portrays the angry and demented Ivar in a fashion similar to that of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in the 2008 film “The Dark Knight.” Ivar proves to be an interesting adversary to his older, more brutal and forceful brother Bjorn.
In the golden age of television dramas, “Vikings” is a prime example of how richly a long-form show can explore character and historical authenticity compared to two-hour films. While movies have higher budgets, multiple-season series have the advantage of using several hour-long episodes to more extensively delve into the setting. Michael Hirst, the show’s creator, utilizes the time he has to explore the full lives of several Vikings, from the rise and fall of Ragnar to the birth and development of each of his sons as they pave their own paths.
When the average person might thinks of Vikings, a group of seafarers rarely explored by Hollywood until now, it is commonplace to picture tall, rugged men raping and pillaging their way through Europe. This is the unfortunate result of the Norsemen’s failure to record most of their history. Today, historians rely on Norse sagas, which were based on stories passed down from ancestors and those of other civilizations that were subject to Viking raids. Because of that point of view, it is easy to picture the Vikings as bloodthirsty savages.
Instead, History’s “Vikings” does a beautiful job of portraying Vikings from their perspective rather than painting them exclusively as uncivilized heathens. Hirst successfully illustrates the personal and not-always bloodthirsty mindset of Norsemen, as opposed to their depiction in British history. It is common to picture Vikings with large helmets with horns, as seen in the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings logo. However, they typically had long elaborate hairstyles rather than horned helmets. To be more historically accurate, the rare times the Vikings are seen wearing helmets on the show, they are sans horns.
“Vikings” also sheds light on the Vikings’ vast reach across the continent of Europe. In the show, and in history as well, the Vikings had already explored Norway, in addition to traveling to England, France and a Moorish Spain. This season, the show will visit Iceland and Morocco, and it explores the Norsemen’s adventures in these foreign lands.
While you wait for the final season of “Game of Thrones,” get your fix of big-budget gore and familial power struggles by catching up on this thrilling historical drama. The first 10 episodes will air on Wednesdays between November and January, while the second 10 episodes of season five will debut later in 2018.