“Vikings” was a massive hit for the History Channel, a cable network not exactly known for its high ratings. The series’ premiere in 2013 drew six million viewers, which is a crazy number then and now. People love historical action, and we’ve long been fascinated by the Viking Age, even though some facts and depictions in “Vikings” have irked pundits. After five and a half seasons on History, the second half of the final season landed at the end of 2020 on Amazon Prime Video. Now, just over a year later, the company is sailing to Netflix for ‘Vikings: Valhalla,’ jumping ahead 100 years but maintaining a similar aesthetic of warring tribes and fighting families (with a bit less mysticism).
Created and written by Jeb Stuart (an 80s/90s powerhouse with credits like “Die Hard” and “The Fugitive”), “Vikings: Valhalla” picks up a century after the original series, retracing the arc of some of the plus famous names from Nordic history, including Leif Erikson, Olaf Haraldsson and Freydís Eiríksdóttir. I can’t speak to the historical veracity of “Valhalla” (although I’m sure others will), but the show feels like it’s playing with real figures more than trying to teach viewers their real life, existing somewhere between reality and Viking fan-fic. It cleverly doesn’t take itself too seriously, forging character instead of worrying about sticking to text.
“Vikings: Valhalla” opens with the arrivals of Erikson (the charismatic Sam Corlett) and his sister Freydis (the excellent Frida Gustavsson) in Norway, navigating incredibly rough waters to get there from Greenland. This places them as strangers to strangers, allies of the Vikings with whom they will fight but also of another country. They come from a people who align themselves more with the gods of old than with the Christians of Scandinavia, including Harald Hardrada (future star Leo Suter), who plans to avenge his father’s death against the British. The King ordered the Vikings killed, and much of the first season is all about revenge, both large-scale and personal.