Say what you want about the Vikings, but they sure did like killing people. That’s the main takeaway from the opening few episodes of this eighth-century-set saga, which stars Australian actor Travis Fimmel (remember him from The WB’s Tarzan?) as farmer-cum-pillager Ragnar Lothbrok, Katheryn Winnick as his warrior wife Lagertha, and Gabriel Byrne as local Viking chief Earl Haraldson. It’s the dismissive leader’s refusal to believe that there are any lands worth raiding to the west of their Nordic homeland — or, for that matter, that there are any lands at all — that irks Lothbrok to no end. In the second episode, our hero defies Haraldson by setting off on an unauthorized raid and discovers not only that England is indeed a thing but also that it is home to at least one riches-filled monastery. Cue: dead monks.
Vikings was created by Michael Hirst, who previously brought us Showtime’s The Tudors, and this is clearly designed to occupy the ground between that historical drama and Game of Thrones. What those two shows have, and Vikings dearly lacks, is real intrigue. For the most part, the characters here display little interest in metaphorically stabbing an adversary in the back when they can actually stab him in the front. Yes, Fimmel makes a nicely kinetic lead, and Byrne could entertain by reading the phone book — or merely casting his lizard-eyed stare upon it. But much like the condition of that monastery after Lothbrok and his buddies have finished ransacking it, Vikings is kind of a mess. B-