Vikings, Season Two (2014)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Whether or not this series is historically accurate (and it isn't) isn't the point for its fans; they like the brutality and unusual characters more than the historical aspect. Or maybe they just like Lagertha. I know I do.
Life has changed for those in the Viking village. Search of plunder has taken the warriors further from home and Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) has found another woman to love in the meantime. His wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is only content in the knowledge that the other woman is "meaningless," but once Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) reaches their shore pregnant with Ragnar's child, Lagertha abandons him. Their eldest son accompanies her.
Ragnar is now raiding villages in England, much to the annoyance and concern of King Ecbert (Linus Roache), who has more interest in the "pagans" than he lets on. When an ill-conceived raid goes amiss and the Catholic monk turned Viking prisoner Athelstan (George Blagden) is left behind, Ecbert sees in him the potential to learn more about Ragnar and the Viking ways. Two potential monarchs are vying him for position in England, while at home Ragnar's enemies and allies alike are scheming against him. The result is another short season full of betrayal, power plays, and violence that reminds us that the Vikings were neither as barbaric in some of their ways as we like to believe nor were they compassionate. The impression it leaves us is something in-between.
Overall the series has excellent writing and standout characters; no one is likely to forget any of them, like them or hate them. We rarely understand any of their motivations and perhaps they have none, but we wait to see what they will do next. New characters come and go but the older ones hold our interest the longest, and this season we get to see more of Floki and Lagartha's son, who is now a man. Bringing in the English warlords is an interesting choice, as is reminding us that the Romans are not long gone and remnants of their faith and craftsmanship remain. I feel that you do need some basic history in order to navigate some of the complicated power plays, but for the most part the tales stand alone.
It is violent and often sexualized, though the sexual content is less than the first season. Rape remains a viable threat to women and is sometimes used as a means of controlling them. But then again, slicing your husband's head off for fondling you in public isn't outside the realm of possibility, either. It's an unflinching, unattractive glimpse into a period in history that repulses me for its barbarity and intrigues me for its conflicting morals. One moment stands out in particular, when Ecbert questions Athelstan about Viking law according to beating a woman for adultery if she is innocent. Upon given the answer, the king is baffled ... for in this law, the "pagans" are more compassionate than the "Christians." It is, I feel, a touchy subject and not always handled well.
At this point in history Christianity was more of a traditional perspective than a life-changing experience, so corruption in the Church and immorality in those who profess faith is expected, but tragically, there are no Christians in this story who fully believe what they profess or live it out. Even Athelstan turns his back on women being raped and says nothing to save his own skin. He treasures his prayer book, but is fascinated with the old Roman gods. The "Christian" king who takes mercy on him, and has him cut down while he is being crucified (for abandoning his faith) is also not above fornicating with a visiting princess. The implication seems to be that only open-mindedness toward all faiths makes a good individual; those who ascribe to only one belief system become selfish, cruel barbarians.
In this fictional world, everyone is cruel... and no one ever offers any mercy.
A handful of sex scenes and/or sexual implications (such as: a man brings his teenage son to his mistress and they sleep together -- undress one another, kiss, and fade out of shot). Lagertha's new husband attempts to rape her in order to control her (he seems to succeed, and then she kicks him off). Couples undress one another, grope each other, and kiss. We see the end of a sex scene, and the woman is angry that the man is "finished" so soon (later, we see three soldiers entering her bedchamber). An erection is implied while a woman is feeling new soldiers in her army.
Frequent and gruesome; men are bludgeoned, stabbed, have their throats cut, or are beheaded. Many fight scenes. Blood spurts and spatters. The worst of it includes a "bloody eagle," where a man's back is sliced open, his ribs torn to one side (off camera) and his lungs set upon his shoulders so that he can suffocate to death. Men often backhand and brutalize their wives. We watch a priest be crucified in detail.
Paganism is explored in depth through dreams, prophecies, references to and conversations about the gods; sacrifices, including humans, prayers, superstitions, and creepy oracles. The Catholic priest shows an interest in pagan religions and adopts some of their philosophies.