There is nothing like the past to remind us how quickly things can get bloody, and how jealousies and petty rivalries can turn peaceful situations deadly. That is except for the front-page news, of course.
As the second season of the History Channel's successful scripted series “Vikings” begins, Norseman hero Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his envious younger brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), are facing off with armies ready to hack each other up with axes, swords and spears. That's what they did in the late 8th century, when the story is set.
While the series created by Michael Hirst is mostly an adventure show, it has some basis in history, as a channel with that name may suggest. Ragnar supposedly lived sometime in the 8th and 9th centuries, leading his fellow Vikings in raids on England and France. His wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), was a warrior queen who is said to have left Ragnar when he married another princess and would become his adversary. No one is sure if Ragnar was a real person or a legend, though.
So Hirst and the show's writers have ample opportunity to create their own Ragnar story, and what they have come up with is often entertaining, violent and sexy at times (the Vikings were apparently a lustful bunch) and filled with political machinations as everyone looks for an edge in a world where staying alive is difficult.
Fimmel, an Australian actor, plays Ragnar as charmingly clever, with a boyish grin that masks his cold, hard calculations. A farmer at the beginning of the series, he quickly rises in the clan with his ambitions to raid the West and becomes the Earl after challenging the old one to a duel.
At the end of Season One, Ragnar allied himself with King Horik (Donal Logue) in a land dispute with Earl Borg from GÃ¶taland (ThorbjÃ¸rn Harr). He is sent to negotiate with Borg, and along the way, he falls for the allure of Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). In Season Two, she shows up some eight months later at Ragnar's door, very pregnant, much to the displeasure of Lagertha. He floats the idea of keeping two wives.
So that's the set-up. The 10-part second season of “Vikings” looks to being staying the course of the first. Sometimes, as in all these historical series, the dialogue and actions, seem a bit stilted — falsely archaic sounding — or too modern, but the History Channel has plenty of shows that dig into facts if that's what you're looking for.
“Vikings” does have the virtue of not being cartoonish about sex and violence. People don't go flying 50 feet and bounce off walls and get up like nothing has happened. Without getting too deeply into the hygiene or the mud, the series gives you a sense of the Norsemen's harsh world. So in that way it does adhere to reality and history. Plus, Vikings have always been cool.