Vikings is back on History for series four. A wounded yet victorious Ragnar has won Paris, while his brother Rollo is settling into his new marriage to the reluctant Princess Gisla. And Ragnar’s ex-wife Lagertha is now facing a power struggle with her second-in-command, Kalf.
Hailed as the most exciting and thrilling Vikings series yet, here’s what we think makes it so great:
1.The stellar cast
The cast of Vikings has been praised for their authenticity, believability and, of course, their top-notch acting.
Clive Standen, who plays Rollo, says:
“We pride ourselves on making it as real as possible… None of the characters are superheroes or super beautiful. That’s very realistic because there is no such thing as heroes and villains. We all have those characteristics in us at different times. I think it’s very good to have a show that commits to the brutality of the age and doesn’t prettify things.”
2. The evolving characters
Each and every main character of Vikings goes in a new and surprising direction in series four.
Travis Fimmel explains that while his character Ragnar has more power than ever, it’s not always that much fun at the top:
“He feels the pressure of being in charge and regrets it. If you get caught in a big group with him, the chances are you’re all going to die. In the fight scenes, all the young people are now running around. Ragnar just wants to sit on a horse and tell people what to do. Sometimes he wishes he had just stayed on the farm.”
Meanwhile Clive Standen, who plays Ragnar’s brother Rollo, says his character’s resentment towards his brother has built to a dangerous level, and he is no longer afraid to defy him:
“Rollo has felt second-best to Ragnar all his life. His father and Lagertha both chose Ragnar over him. So there is a lot of hatred there. When Rollo and Ragnar meet, they are like two boxers on opposite side of the rings – they come together in the middle to fight.”
And Rollo isn’t the only one to emerge from Ragnar’s shadows in series four, as Katheryn Winnick says her character Lagertha is also ready to assert her power:
“Lagertha has gained more status. She’s changed a huge amount. When I signed on, she was just a famous wife. In this season, she emerges as her own person even further. She is challenged and pushed to grow even more as a person.”
3. The epic action scenes
The storylines in Vikings are undeniably superb but so are the action scenes.
Clive says a huge part of what makes these scenes so compelling is that unlike many similar shows, all the Vikings stars perform their own stunts:
“We do all our own stunts. We don’t have the budget of Game of Thrones, but we make it very realistic. You see the hurt and anger on our faces because we’ve really been smashed in the face. Those are always the takes that make the cut. When we shoot the scenes with the shield wall, you can see the whites of people’s eyes. You can only do that with real actors.”
4. The realism
Clive says the realism of Vikings is what makes it such a standout historical show:
“On the other shows about Vikings, they are pretty boys running around – they’re like Twilight Vikings. The women all flick their hair like they’re in a shampoo advert. But the girls here are as tough as nails!”
While, of course, some artistic liberties are taken, Vikings has also been praised for its historical accuracy and convincing characters.
“They’ve never been portrayed in the right light in the past. Yes, those guys did some questionable things – they did pillage. But history is a case of ‘nice guys finish last’. Military leaders have to make hard decisions. In the past the Vikings have been depicted as two-dimensional barbarians. We are not trying to portray the Vikings as lovely, peace-loving people. It’s simply about humanising them,” says Clive.
5. The first-class script writing
English screenwriter and producer Michael Hirst is the writer and creator of Vikings and his impressive credits also include The Tudors, Camelot and Elizabeth.
Michael says when he’s writing Vikings he incorporates his historical research to make it as believable as possible, but never lets it interfere with the plot and character development:
“Everything I write begins with the real. I don’t like fantasy. It’s all based on proper research, but it’s always a drama, not a documentary. I’m a storyteller, and this is my saga. As a storyteller, I have to invent things, but nothing that goes too far away from anything plausible. The ship is always anchored in my own research.”
Hirst also notes that Vikings is particularly unique as it is one of the few, perhaps only, shows to portray plundering Vikings in a likeable, even sympathetic, light.
“I love Vikings. Beforehand I was told it was impossible to make Vikings sympathetic – people said that they are just dirty ex-hippies who rape and plunder. But their history was written by Christian monks, people who wanted to paint them in the worst light and who had axes to grind. But the Vikings were actually very family orientated people. As a creator, you have to love your characters. It’s always a great wrench when a character has to die, but they’re Vikings!”
Vikings series four is on History on Tuesdays at 10pm.