Vikings Had Threesomes? Debunking Season 1 of ‘Vikings’

The History Channel (desperately) wants you to believe that history is sexy. With its first-ever scripted TV series, Vikings, the legend of Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok unfolds like a finely polished HBO drama: lots of epic, bloody battle scenes; beautiful hard-bodied Vikings in bed together; panoramic shots of Ireland standing in for eighth-century Scandinavia. Close one eye and Vikings is a poor man’s Game of Thrones. But if you pry them both open for a season 1 binge — all nine episodes are available On Demand in anticipation of tonight’s season 2 premiere — the show delivers much more than a glut of lusty warriors.

History paired with MGM Studios and English writer-producer Michael Hirst (Elizabeth, The Tudors) to create the sleek, stylized historical drama, with Australian actor Travis Fimmel starring as Ragnar, a farmer-warrior (aren’t they all) who aspires to head west rather than back to the tapped-out east to pillage and plunder. Ragnar has Norse god Odin on his side, along with the love of his wife, shield maiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), his two children, a smattering of loyal men with amazing hair, and a dubiously loyal brother, Rollo (Clive Standen).

The History Channel does due diligence to lowercase “history” by introducing characters of the time, though this lesson left me wondering how much of the fiction was inspired by fact. A little research cleared things up:

Was there actually a farmer-warrior-king called Ragnar Lothbrok?
Ragnar Lothbrok (or Lodbrok) is a Viking hero who appeared regularly in Old Norse poetry and sagas. Legend says he was the descendant of the god Odin — who, Marvel’s Thor teaches us, is the Zeus/Anthony Hopkins of Norse gods — and the father of many sons, including historical figures Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Not kidding.

It’s unclear whether Ragnar was one man or a compilation of many; his history takes place around 793 AD, when the first recorded Viking raid on Britain (on a monastery, just like the show) took place.

One of the main characters in Vikings is a shipbuilder named Floki. Like…Loki? The Norse god of mischief?
Why yes, kind of like Loki! The character Floki could be Loki on Earth, causing trouble, though as played by actor Gustaf Skarsgård, he’s more like Johnny Depp’s pirate kook Jack Sparrow. Never go raiding without your eyeliner.

In Vikings, shield maidens go to battle alongside Ragnar, the women rule while the men are away, and Ragnar’s wife Lagertha kills two home intruders in the opening episode without breaking a sweat. Were Viking women…dare I say it…the equals of men?
Ehhh kind of. The BBC history of Vikings says that the Old Norse word vikingar applies exclusively to men, but there is evidence that women ran the show at home while the men were off raiding, and may have been part of a merchant class. The shield maidens appear in sagas, as did valkyries, armed with sword (or spear) and shield, who often accompanied dead heroes to the great big after(life)- party Valhalla. Women could have fought alongside men, so credit goes to the show Vikings for taking that idea, running with it, and creating some of the most badass female characters on television right now.

Did the Vikings really keep slaves?
Yes.

And ritualistically sacrifice humans?
Most likely.

And have a thing for threesomes? Because they sure do on the show…
Vikings were considered pagans with different moral standards than Christians. Still looking for the history book that will discuss threesomes, so for now, let’s chalk this one up to the Book of Cable.

So now you want to watch? Season two of Vikings premieres Feb 27 on the History Channel at 10pm.
Recap: A History Channel infographic of Vikings, Season 1

Image: Travis Fimmel (center), Katheryn Winnick and the cast of Vikings. Courtesy Jonathan Hession/History Channel.

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