TV Review: ‘Vikings,’ Season 4

Vikings TV Review History Channel
Courtesy of History Channel

Vikings,” which will include a bifurcated and expanded fourth season beginning with a flurry of 10 episodes, has become History’s poor-man’s answer to “The Walking Dead.” And based on the opening salvo, success hasn’t spoiled these pillaging Norsemen, with the show essentially picking up where season three left off — after the bloody siege of Paris — operating on several parallel tiers. Heck, there’s even a “Revenant”-like encounter with an angry bear, as showrunner Michael Hirst distinguishes the basic-cable series as a premium-level commodity.

For starters, Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) was badly injured, leaving something of a power vacuum in the early going. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of aspirants to fill the void, including his wife Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), although since Fimmel is the star of the show, nobody should count him out just yet.

The fallout from season three, meanwhile, continues with the exposure of Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) as the murderer of Ragnar’s pal, the former monk Athelstan; and the exploits of Ragnar’s brother Rollo (Clive Standen, especially good in these early chapters), who has stayed behind in France, where plans of an arranged marriage don’t exactly go smoothly. Finally, there’s Ragnar’s warrior-maiden ex, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), who faces threats to her earldom as well.

The Vikings, obviously, are a perfectly organic vessel through which to explore lust and violence, but Hirst has gone well beyond that in terms of developing intrigue and strategy — including machinations by the only slightly more civilized Europeans, like King Ecbert (Linus Roache), to make just nice enough with Ragnar and his ilk to prevent them from pillaging their strongholds. That reached a dazzling peak with last season’s protracted attack on Paris, which raised the bar on what was already a pretty impressive show.

Hirst (working on the first couple of episodes with director Ciaran Donnelly) once again balances all this with plenty of action, from a harrowing raid on a castle to Bjorn’s solitary efforts to prove his manhood by retreating into the wilderness, which includes a sequence recalling a current Oscar nominee that a lesser critic might call unbearable.

Most impressively, “Vikings” captures the grim reality of these times and the limitations of these characters — barbarous, superstitious creatures that they are — in a manner that draws one into their world without necessarily evoking sympathy for it. And even the ostensible good guys, like Ragnar, are prone to do very bad things, without making them any less watchable.

There has always been a certain romance surrounding the Vikings, which explains why there’s another series (BBC America’s “The Last Kingdom”) set in virtually the same historical era. Still, what Hirst and company have accomplished in terms of creating an appointment series on a channel with at best a modest scripted portfolio is no small feat. And in TV, as in the bloody eighth century, to the victor go the spoils.

TV Review: 'Vikings,' Season 4

(Series; History, Thur. Feb. 18, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Ireland by Take 5 Prods and Octagon Films in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Crew

Executive Producers, Michael Hirst, Morgan O’Sullivan, Sheila Hockin, Alan Gasmer, Sherry Marsh, James Flynn, John Weber; producers, Steve Wakefield; producer, Keith Thompson; director, Ciaran Donnelly; writer, Hirst; camera, PJ Dillon; production designer, Mark Geraghty; editor, Aaron Marshall; music, Trevor Morris; visual effects supervisor, Dominic Remane; casting, Frank Moiselle, Nuala Moiselle. 60 MIN.

Cast

Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gustaf Skarsgard, George Blagden, Alexander Ludwig, Alyssa Sutherland, Linus Roache

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  1. Tara says:

    If you don’t like how the storyline is going – won’t watch it.

  2. “SquatCobbler” , Better Call Vikings.

  3. autismal says:

    The worst season. Atrocious. I quit watching Vikings at season 4.
    And season 1 and 2 were pretty amazing.

    • My thinking as well. This is not a critique against Vikings per se, rather towards an endemic fault in the industry of series. Season 1-2, capture the world of the viking in a very powerful way; the rise to power despite the odds made for a compelling and consistent plot. But like most series, the seasons passed the 2nd tend to diverge from the simplicity and authenticity of beginning plots. Here’s where Vikings lost the magic: 1) It no longer educates us on the viking world. The richness of culture and religion are standardized and made marginal in exchange for the action of war in distant lands and surface level individual struggles [Ragnars addiction; Aslaug’s loneliness; Lagertha’s impotence; Erlendurs revenge]. Every character seems to be on their own. Where is the unifying force? 2) There was no plot twist in the finale which was a trend in every previous season. Instead Rollo’s Frankian forces prevail. How quickly and easily he was persuaded to sell out in the first place was left wanting in my view. 3) Ragnar falls out of the frying pan and into the fire, he never truly recovers from his 3rd season ill, rather he falls into addiction of all things. His madness jeopardizes his strength against the corrupting forces of power. His virtue from humble beginnings was lost, leaving the viewer in dispair. Where is the resilience we found in him at the opening of S3 where he said “I never asked for power… Power is only given to those that are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up”? I fear for the fifth.

    • Tara says:

      I hate to say it, but I have to agree. I will continue watching, but there are no new story lines, except for Ragnar’s addiction problem…which is pretty disappointing. Good to see Bjorn stepping up, though. Best scene was when Lagartha killed her furure husband on their wedding day. That was classic. Other than that– BORING….

    • dbmamaz says:

      i’m thinking that too. its just blood and double-crossing. nothing else.

  4. Isaac says:

    my favorite is floki.. i love him i will love it have him as friend on facebook or twitter.. Gustaf.. if you can add me

  5. One of my favorite series. Thank you for the review!

  6. callum says:

    I watch both vikings and walking dead and enjoy both but i would not compare one to the other. So i Cant see how you see viking as a poor substitute to walking dead. Its a insult vikings because its on history its mistaken and not given a chance

  7. Dude you have slipped and bumped your head if you ever thing to put Vikings on any level with TWD.

  8. Sara says:

    Absolutely love this show and have been watching and been an ardent viewer since its inception. Love the music, scenery and most of all, all the fabulous characters!

  9. blazeaglory says:

    History love the show but season premiere only 44 minutes long? Whaaaaaaaat?

    Also, why make Rollo look so evil? He could have at least used half the guys to kill the other half instead of having him slaughter his brothers and woman and children.

    Has a high ranking Viking ever actually done that in the past? A little too brutal…but the d*ck cutting scene was pretty crazy, doubt that would have happened as well in public. Maybe in private torture but in a public by a female Eorl? (if there ever was one)

    Anyways, I still love the show and understand its “fiction” but allot of fans are really into this show and the history so dont go all “game of thrones” on us haha (My second favorite show ;-) )

  10. john says:

    Great show yes. Accurate? No. Ragnar loathed christianity. Also Rollo (Hrolf) Was not Ragnars brother. I hope they are more correct with Bjorn.

  11. Dick Olsen says:

    Love the Vikings! From what I know of Scandanavian history and the writings of Snorri Sturlison (1179-1241) the Icelander who wrote down the Viking legends, it’s pretty accurate. I’m 3/8 Noske, 1/8 Swede and some diluted Danish. Am I proud of my Viking ancestry? Ya sure ya betcha !

  12. I have a reason for viewing the “Viking,s”,as my Spanish ancestry “Garcia de Noriega” (means of or from Norway” I am a member of the “Sons of the American Revolution with Spanish ancestry and I am proud of our “Viking” heritage. Gracias, George C. Garcia 1st VP SSARSNM..

  13. “Barbaric, superstitious creatures that they are”. In other words, not too very different from today.

  14. Moshe says:

    Lowry ‘s mad cuz no poc in it.

  15. Kay Scutt says:

    I have followed Vikings from day one. I am probably one of its biggest fans. I see much more into this show than just blood, fighting,relationships between men and women, some handsome,some weird. and battles.Michael Hirst gives us, the audience so much more. First of all the beautiful country of Ireland sets the scenes perfectly. The battles are performed greatly there. However what i see in this awesome show.. Vikings.. It goes deeper. I see the history of an amazing age when the Vikings lived and died. I see the love of family, not just to wife and children…but to the whole clan.I see a new religion besides their Pagan one, Christianity come into their leader’s life and begin to make Ragnar want to know more. I also see and learn myself some of the Pagan ways. I could go on and on how Vikings is much more than blood and battle. I commend the History Channel and Michael Hirst for an entertaining…and informative show that has truths and fantasy that combine to make Vikings the best show to watch !

  16. Larkin says:

    I think Vikings is a great show! Both in terms of storyline, budget and characters which have grown from season to season. Well done to History Channel, great show, hope it goes on for a few more seasons and we get to watch some more epic battles and the tangles lives of these Norsemen and thier women!

  17. James says:

    Not a poor man’s Walking Dead in the least. Common man’s Sparacus. Listen to the dialogue! Also – culturally extremely accurate.

  18. Wende Sima says:

    The “poor man’s answer to the Walking Dead’…? Seriously..? To me, “The Walking Dead” is the most overrated show on TV. I tried it…I didn’t like it. It was seriously BORING….with very few good zombies. Having said that, though, I totally support the right of anyone…anywhere…to watch it to their heart’s content. This is why we have a variety of networks & shows…..so that hopefully, everyone can find something they enjoy. Me..? I prefer Vikings…entertaining & historically accurate. What would I ever learn from The Walking Dead..? How to be whiny and full of angst..? No thanks. I’m not a teenager.

  19. HCG. says:

    Keep being negative there critical guy. Maybe it is fun to watch for some of us, fartstack.

  20. Tara says:

    Well, Brian Lowery, TV critic, everyone has their own opinion- and you know what they say about opinions and assholes… In my opinion, a TV critic for over 50 years, Vikings is the best series on TV in the last decade. It’s historically accurate, well written, and lends history a personality. And those personalities are so very intriguing. I await with anticipation season 4 and won’t miss an episode. There aren’t many series on Television I can honestly say that about. Vikings is the best series on TV without a doubt. They have done an excellent job with this epoch in history.

    • blazeaglory says:

      Its historically accurate in the sense of some things but history of characters, no it is not. Loosely based on some characters…

    • Near says:

      Love the show, but please don’t claim its historically accurate, it’s not. But being historically accurate isn’t the point and that’s why I like it.

      • Tara says:

        According to the exhibit at the Filed Museum in Chicago a few years ago, many of the characters, wars, costumes, jewelry, were historically accurate… History then wasn’t recorded as is today…. The didn’t have cell phones with cameras…

  21. graham gill says:

    Being an Extra on the show for the last three series, all I can say is we do as directed as well as we can. It is a pleasure to work with the cast and crew, we all make it our mission to deliver what Michael envisions. I have no idea what is going to happen this season but, I no which scenes I may possibly see myself in.

  22. Richard says:

    I don’t think that Vikings is a poor man’s show compared with any other show. It is well acted and scripted, beautifully shot and, in my opinion, easily holds its own against Game Of Thrones. Now don’t let me perform the ‘blood eagle’ on you!

  23. Matthew says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to call it a poor man’s “Game of Thrones”? Aren’t TWD & Vikings both basic cable?

  24. quez says:

    near my house is runestone from 900 ad that is dedicated to a mother from two brothers and they built a bridge in her honor.
    only 5- max 10% of scandinavians were seafarer/explorers/raiders wish they would sometimes show a bit more on their regulary lives then just women in battles and raids.

  25. Chan says:

    Lowry: A poor man’s answer to a good TV critic.

  26. Noel Snow says:

    It’s poor man’s game of thrones. Or GOT for people who don’t like magic as a plot point. AMC and History Channel are both included in a basic cable package.

  27. Isabel Hagar says:

    You can’t compare the Walking Dead to Vikings. Two different genres altogether. And to call the Vikings “the poor man’s Walking Dead” is abominable. Both of these programs pay quite a bit of attention to detail but in different ways. This “reviewer” must have read a synopsis of this show and based his “review” on that or he hates historical drama.

  28. Kimberly says:

    This isn’t even remotely a critique of the 4th season. All you’ve done is tell us crap we already know. you’re like a yahoo “reporter”. Try again with a little more substance.

  29. Dunstan says:

    I watched the first two seasons but it simply was too repetitious and I gave up.

  30. colig says:

    poor mans answer to the walking dead. vikings is way better than the walking dead.

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