This series of historical fiction/fantasy from The History Channel, MGM, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Vikings, follows the adventures of the legendary medieval Norseman Ragnar Lothbrok (portrayed by Travis Fimmel), his family, and his band of Viking raiders that brought terror to France an England during the middle ages. The first season deals with Ragnar’s rise from a simple farmer, his growing conflict with the local leader, Earl Haroldson (Gabriel Byrne), his eventual discovery of a new means of navigating the open seas to allow for raids to the West, to attack England, and finally, the ultimate showdown with Haroldson that will place him in charge of his people. But leadership brings a cost, among them growing resentment from his own brother Rollo (Clive Standen).
From the outset, Vikings manages to strike a balance of drama, intrigue, action, and fantasy that is rivaled on television only by HBO’s Game of Thrones. It is made all the more riveting by the knowledge that this is not purely fiction, but based upon fact, and the tales of Ragnar as told in the 13th century saga Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, as well as in the 12th century work Gesta Danorum by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. It’s a world of Pagans versus Christians; Ragnar keeps for himself a Catholic priest from one of his raids in North Umbria who we are led to believe begins to have his own crisis of faith. Witches, seers, and ravens play big roles in the series, lending a mystical touch. The look is as visually gritty, dour, and visceral as the blood-laden raids the Vikings were known for.
Fox has provided the series on Blu-ray with extended, unrated episodes that make the series perhaps a bit edgier and even more compelling than its original censored-for-broadcast run on The History Channel. Apart from a few brief scenes of nudity, both male and female, some of the fighting sequences are bloodier as well.
The high definition production of Vikings, coming to Blu-ray in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24 encodement, looks flawless. Variably gritty (owing to artistic choices) and exceptionally clear, the sharp details, drab color palette, and splashes of blood are all presented with delicate nuance, crisp texture, and strong contrast. Black levels are deep without crushing and flesh tones look spot on.
The crackling of fires, the metallic clash of sword or the crush of axes into flesh or bone – it’s all conveyed superbly in this rich, engaging lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) mix that encapsulates you in the medieval world of Vikings. Dialogue comes through with a natural fullness, sound effects move around with a good balance, the atmosphere sounds true, and the score is at the right level at the right moments.
Two audio commentaries are included alongside interactive features and featurettes that delve into the history of the real Vikings, and the production of the series. It’s all well worth going through.
- “Rites of Passage” audio commentary featuring Michael Hirst and Jessalyn Gilsig
- Deleted Scenes (1.78:1; 1080p/24)
- “All Change” audio commentary featuring Kathryn Winnick and Clive Standen
- Conquest and Discovery: Journeys of the Vikings – An interactive map and discussion of the Vikings’ journeys
- The Armory of the Vikings – An interactive look at the weaponry used by the vikings.
- A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:20:48)
- Birth of the Vikings (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:17:09)
- Forging the Viking Army: Warfare and Tactics (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:12:11)
The Definitive Word
Of all the new fantasy series to hit cable recently, including the Starz mini-series The White Queen, Vikings is the one that held my attention the most. I wasn’t expecting much from this History Channel series and went in with very low expectations. Not only were my expectations met, they were surpassed by a very wide margin. By the time I got through with the first disc, I was hooked. Now, I can’t wait for season two. The Blu-ray set is also a perfect presentation and a great way to binge view.
Additional Screen Captures