Vikings: Valhalla looked pretty bloody and male dominated when I first glanced at it. Wars always are. But a tip from my Twitter pal Babble On Girl gave me the idea the women characters were important enough to make watching it worthwhile. Here’s what I learned.
Vikings: Valhalla is a sequel to the History Channel’s Vikings series, which lasted for several seasons. Set about 100 years after that series ends, Vikings: Valhalla is about the end of the Viking Age. You don’t need to have watched the History Channel’s series to understand the new series. The new series is advertised to have 24 episodes, 8 of which were recently released by Netflix. They aren’t calling those 8 episodes season 1, but they will apparently be releasing the story in blocks of 8 episodes.
The women characters were tough, brave, and respected as equals. They fought alongside the men, made military decisions, planned strategy, and were as devious and manipulative as everyone else as they sought power or wealth.
Created by Jeb Stuart, the Netflix series is a mash up of famous characters who didn’t necessarily live at the same times, in a story about conquest, revenge, religion and power.
Episode 1 introduces most of the important characters. The story begins with a storm at sea and the brilliant seamanship of the Viking captain Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett) that took him, his sister Freydis Eiriksdottir (Frida Gustavsson), and their crew safely to land. There they met up with a gathering of Vikings who were set on going to England to seek revenge on King Aethelred the Unready (Bosco Hogan). He’s the King who massacred all the Danes in England a year before. Freydis had a personal motive. She wanted to kill the man who raped her and carved a big cross on her ‘pagan’ back.
As soon as they dock, Freydis and King Harald Hardrada (Leo Suter) of Norway have a meet cute and a romance begins to bloom between them. Leif Erikson was involved with Liv (Lujza Richter), a warrior, who was loyal to him.
In episode 1 we also meet Harald’s brother Olaf (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), an example of the religious animosity dividing the Vikings between the Christians and those who still worship the Norse gods. A Christian, Olaf was willing to murder his Viking brothers and sisters if they didn’t worship his god. There was another particularly odious zealot towards the end of the season who massacred whole villages if they weren’t Christians.
The gathering is at Kattegat, a village lead by Jari Haakon (Caroline Henderson). She’s of African descent, as are other African and Asian people we see on the docks. She’s not just a chief and military strategist, she’s also a wise woman and spiritual leader among those who worship the old gods. Her guards, which Freydis joins later, are called “shield maidens.” They are superior warriors.
Jari Haakon sends Freydis to Uppsala, a holy site with a temple to the Norse gods. Freydis goes on a sort of vision quest there and comes out of it even stronger than before.
King Canute (Bradley Freegard) is the final main character we meet in episode 1. (They cast movie star handsome leads for their main characters: Bradley Freegard, Leo Suter, and Sam Corlett, for example. The women leads, while certainly attractive, were not as pretty as the men. )
Soon the gathered Vikings head for England and revenge. The story goes far beyond revenge as it proceeds. There are battles and skirmishes over shires, kingdoms, and religion.
In England we meet Queen Emma (Laura Berlin), the widow of the king the Vikings were bent on killing. (Oops, they’re too late.) She was the military brains behind the throne. Her stepson Prince Edmund (Louis Davison) is impetuous and hard to control. Godwin (David Oakes) manages to be needed by everyone in power.
Queen Emma and King Canute eventually end up together. This brings on the wrath of another important female character, Queen Ælfgifu of Denmark (Pollyanna McIntosh). In addition to fighting a war to defend London from the Vikings, Emma has to defend her position on the throne of England from Queen Ælfgifu, who claims to be married to King Canute and is the mother of his children. A clever scheme that helps cement how intelligent and important Emma is to the story takes place in this conflict.
Mixed up in all these battles for power, Olaf intends to win it all – the entire north of Europe including England, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and whatever else he can grab. He has great plans, but don’t discount all the women warriors and military geniuses he’s up against.
The series is bloody, gory, and violent. The characters are dripping in blood the majority of the time. The costumes and the boats were outstanding. The plot twists were soap opera ready. I cared about all the characters, which surprised me a bit. A tribute to good acting.
Here we sit, 1000 years later, and look back at stories like this. It makes you realize that humans can still be whipped up into a frenzy and be willing to die for ideas about identity, religion, and conquest. It makes you realize that men are still remembered for things women accomplished.
A bit of trivia that I found hilarious, actor Sam Corlett wore vegan armor made of cactus leather as he played a character who chopped off heads and twirled knives inside human bodies. Just a little reminder that you can’t judge an actor’s character based on the characters they play.