Vikings, a History Channel Original series, is one of the most underrated series out there. Its beauty in costuming and its brutality in combat sequences and battles should be in the same discussion as Game of Thrones, and now, Netflix aims to recapture that spark. In Vikings: Valhalla, Netflix takes on a new story from viking history, this time delving deeper into religious divides between the Old Ways and Christianity, and expanding on the cross-cultural meeting between the Norse and the world around them.
For those who thought the original series met a perfect end (myself included) it should be noted that while Vikings Valhalla is in a world shaped by Ragnar, his sons, Lagertha, and Rollo, it is a new story. Set over a thousand years ago in the early 11th century, Vikings: Valhalla chronicles the heroic adventures of some of the most famous Vikings who ever lived — the legendary explorer Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett), his fiery and headstrong sister Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson), and the ambitious Nordic prince Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter). As tensions between the Vikings and the English royals reach a bloody breaking point, the Viking world stands on the brink of civil war over Christianity and the belief in the Old Ways.
Vikings: Valhalla showcases how large the world has become for the Vikings. Greenland has its own community, Kattegat is a trading hub and one of the most racially and faith diverse points of the Viking world, and the characters we followed in the original series have reached a legendary status used to move warriors into battle. In this way, Vikings: Valhalla feels like the perfect stage for a sequel series. Taking place within a historical context allows it to reference the past and the characters we saw grow into myths and gods without becoming overtaken by them. Vikings: Valhalla is about our trio, a new world, and how the same problems like kingship, kinship, and religion rear their heads.
Vikings: Valhalla tells three stories. The first is centered in Kattegatt from Freydis’ perspective, the second is in England with the Prince Edmund (Louis Davison) struggles to maintain his throne against the King of Norway (Bradley Freegard), and finally, one that moves between the two points as a war campaign led by Harald where Leif proves himself invaluable. But despite the multiple elements, the series maintains a clear focus, by using religion as a way to see the world.
Power struggles use religion to usurp thrones. Religion leads to a Viking genocide sanctioned by the English Crown, and when Vikings come together to claim vengeance, religion threatens to fight each other in a bloody war. The refreshing note is that the theme of religious strife is used deftly, and doesn’t absolve Christianity of its sins that range from simple backstabbing to genocide, all in the name of the cross. Over the eight episodes, we get to see how characters twist religion to their will, using it to either justify their rage and betrayal or act as true believers to cleanse their Pagan past.
While power struggles and religion are important elements to Vikings Valhalla, the series is made compelling by its sibling duo: Leif and Freydis. Leif is a man living in the murderous shadow of his father. Stuck between being othered as a Greenlander and being accepted as a Viking, he’s an astounding fighter and strategist. He captains ships through open water and storms without losing any men to the sea. He can kill a man easily having fought animals twice his size. He quickly becomes a man that has stories told of him in the great hall of Kattegat. That said, his power isn’t without hesitation. Leif is a man without identity, and while he begins to build a name for himself, he finds himself questioning where home is, and who he’ll be — including his religion. The way that Corlett brings a questioning Leif to life is fantastic. He shows a deep emotion that comes from watching those close to him die. He’s a fighter who is allowed to have emotional moments through his action sequences, and his story in the finale hits like an arrow to the chest.
On the other hand, Freydis only becomes more sure of herself as the episodes move forward. A woman with revenge on her mind, he traumatic past with both Christianity and men has hardened her. She’s a survivor, a shieldmaiden, and someone who has learns to run towards her future and its hardship instead of away from it. She is strong in her faith, and as the season continues, it only becomes more impenetrable as she sees murder in the name of God. As Freydis, Gustavsson brings a strength and ferocity that is balanced against a vulnerability that arises both in battle and in more typical dramatic sequences.
Then there is Harald, the great-great-grandson of Harald Finehair and Viking royalty. A Chrisitan of what seems to be circumstance rather than belief, he stands a bridge between the Christians and those who still hold tightly to the Norse Gods. Kinder and more patient than his lineage, Harald is a pillar in the series, holding stories around him instead of pulling into the forefront. In fact, his part in Vikings Valhalla is woven into Leif and Freydis in a way that allows the series to maintain a focus. While many had issues with how expansive the cast of the original series became with Ragnar’s death, this series manages to maintain multiple stories in tempo with each other. Whether in Kattegat, on pilgrimage, or in England, the individual plot points dance together, meeting when they need to, and setting up for a larger narrative in the future.
And all of this is only scratching the surface of what Vikings: Valhalla has to offer. With standout English characters like Queen Emma (Laura Berlin) and Godwin (David Oakes), there are too many outstanding moments and character choices to highlight without heading into spoiler territory.
With all of that said, it wouldn’t be Vikings without battles, and Vikings: Valhalla has a lot to offer in terms of combat. With superb editing around fight sequences (both one-to-one and in open battle), the series maintains the violence and style that the original series expertly showed. With both men and women on the battlefield like the series before it, no actor gets the short end of the stick when it comes to showcasing their strength. Harald is a natural berserker, clad in a wolfskin with two axes.
Leif is a mountain attacking everything in his path and winning out against immovable obstacles. With Freydis we get to see her resourcefulness that comes from being a Greenlander in battle become something special as she transitions into a shield maiden that would make Lagertha proud. While there is only one large-scale battle this season that comes on par with the original series, there are many small moments that add up to something special.
Vikings: Valhalla’s one major flaw comes from it’s small episode order. There is a lot packed into each episode and while it all stays cohesive for the first half of the season, when the pacing picks up some moments feel too erratic. Narratively, everything works, but elements that could have used more grounding and exposition are glazed over, namely in relationships between Harald and his brother, and the intrigue and backstabbing happening in English court.
While you don’t need to explain every twist and shift, background adds impact, and some dramatic shifts happen too quickly. Thankfully, Vikings: Valhalla Season 2 has already completed production and Season 3 has been greenlit. This means that we’re going to get more of these characters and their journeys, we’ll get to watch them become the legends that we saw Ragnar, his sons, and Lagertha become.
Additionally, Vikings’ special effect work (both practical and computer-generated) was nearly seamless, but in Vikings Valhalla, much of the ocean sequences feel hollow instead of authentic. It’s clear where the green screen begins and the physical ends and it makes it hard to become fully immersed in those moments, and that’s how the series opens. That said, the work done in the fight sequences and religious rituals is just as detailed and intricate as you would expect from the franchise. Finally, the costuming and make-up in Vikings Valhalla leaves something to be desired. While the gowns and furs are detailed, much of the armor and leatherwork seems generic as opposed to the ornate and detailed costumes in the original series. Add in the simplistic hairstyles and you have moments that could use a strong dose of war paint, braids, and detailed leather.
Truthfully though, Vikings: Valhalla is a worthy sequel that accomplishes in building a larger world. While the execution isn’t perfect, where it falls in history and the story it’s trying to tell is a natural progression that takes Vikings into franchise territory beautifully. In the end, I just want more of the characters, the setting, and the battles. This is a series that hits all the notes it needs to and ends on a perfect tipping point into a new season. Vikings: Valhalla is a solid start that will bring new fans to the franchise and satisfy existing ones at the same time.
Vikings: Valhalla is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Vikings: Valhalla is a worthy sequel that accomplishes in building a larger world. While the execution isn’t perfect, where it falls in history and the story it’s trying to tell is a natural progression that takes Vikings into franchise territory beautifully.