“What does a man do?”

After the success of last year’s miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, The History Channel ventures deeper into the past with its new drama, entitled Vikings.  Travis Fimmel makes a compelling primetime debut with his wonderful portrayal of Ragnar Lothbrok, who, like most men, desires something more than the ordinary.  This is a story we’ve heard before, yet executive producer Michael Hirst (The Tudors, The Borgias) uses a compelling visual style and beautiful scenery to give this series its own unique look.  Surely there will be comparisons to shows like Game of Thrones and Spartacus: War of the Damned, yet I still believe Vikings stands on its own.  The reasoning behind my thinking is due to the shows’ strong leading cast.  Fimmel is a powerful figure, as a man who loves his wife and children, yet greed and adventure may lead him to a ruinous end.  One of my favorite aspects from the pilot is the relationship between Ragnar and his son.  Like many compelling characters on television, Ragnar is far from a true hero, but the love he has for his family is what drew me to his character.  Did any of you notice his cocky grin every time he was on camera?  It appears that Ragnar knows more than anyone around him, and believes he is capable of anything.

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Gabriel Byrne’s portrayal of Jarl Haraldson was another standout performance in “Rites of Passage.”  The combustable relationship between he and Ragnar throughout this season should be entertaining.  I enjoyed seeing the two of them squabble over the old and new ways of doing their “summer raids.”  Ragnar’s unabashed determination to sail west, versus Haraldson’s desire for consistency will be a compelling plot that will hopefully provide ample drama over the course of this nine-episdoe season.  From the pages of history, I’m sure many of you know that the Vikings do travel west, raiding villages and churches for their gold and riches, but will that be all Vikings attempts to explore, or do you see this series having the potential for a more rounded story, involving family, friendship and honor?  All of these characteristics are common tropes of great dramas, and while I’m not attempting to hail Vikings as the next coming of Game of Thrones, I do believe this series is a step in the right direction to where historical dramas can achieve greatness outside the realm of premium channels, like HBO and Showtime.

“Rites of Passage” was a strong premier from creator Michael Hirst and company.  Let’s hope that Vikings continues to improve as the season progresses, and keeps most of its 6 million viewers from the premier.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show in the comments section below.  Did the pilot leave you wanting more, or were you underwhelmed with its debut?

–David Griffin (Follow @griffinde on Twitter)

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