VIKINGS ON HISTORY: THE NORSEMAN COMETH

When I started watching “Vikings,” which just came back for its second season, I expected it to be a guilty pleasure. After all, it’s called “Vikings” and airs on a channel that’s become a running joke. On the surface it contains a lot of things I could use some more of in my life: shirtless guys, shield maidens, stealing stuff and making it look cool, shirtless guys hitting each other, visions of Ragnarok, general badassery, shirtless guys with swords, an adorable monk, threesomes, shirtless guys getting involved in well-choreographed battles, hallucinogens… you get the picture. 
All that is why I started watching, but as I progressed I found something that I hadn’t been expecting, namely that “Vikings” is actually good. Sure, there’s a boring villain who hangs around for a while and some really unsatisfying dialogue here and there, but its strengths outweigh its flaws. The main reason for this being that it is preoccupied with something I thought History (formerly known as the History Channel) had absolutely no interest in, by which I mean history. 
Its brilliance, however, lies in depicting a murky period of history, which allows writers more space to be creative than a better-documented era. Most of what we know about the Vikings comes from archeological evidence and the accounts of people who hated them, more neutral Middle Eastern observers, and their semi-historical, semi-mythical sagas like the one upon which “Vikings” is based. To these accounts the show adheres rather faithfully, though some of the gap filling seems a little implausible (no, I can’t prove to you that Vikings didn’t usually go in for threeways, but on the other hand there’s no proof that they did). But overall the show leaves me with the exhilarating sense that this might actually have been what life was like for great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandpa Olaf. 
Historical drama is a dodgy thing. Too often the characters seem far too much like you and me, except of course for the villains and, these days, anti-heroes, who are allowed to indulge in the vices of the time, giving the audience some vicarious enjoyment of things they aren’t supposed to say or do while shielding the writers from any accusation that they share in them. Sometimes I wonder why writers choose other periods since they seem to have set out with the sole purpose of condemning them. Other times the work seems to flit between idealization and escapism and reminding the audience that certain historical realities are wrong enough that that you feel yourself getting whiplash. 
Though “Vikings” is admittedly told from the perspective of the titular Norsemen, it doesn’t stray away from the most confusing and disturbing facets of that society, leaving viewers to gaze upon a truly alien world. 
“Vikings” has another rare quality I don’t find very often in television that isn’t prestige drama (and not even then). I haven’t bothered to look up the saga that details the life of the main character Ragnar Lothbrok and his compatriots. Why? Because I really have no idea what’s going to happen next.