Vikings – The Longest Rant

Finally! Time for the Vikings rant. What took you so long, you ask?
Answer: I basically had to wait for the Iron Age to end first. It’s got ALL the seasons!

This is just such a messy rant, what to doo, but anyway: one evening, a few years ago, I sat both uncomfortably full and tipsy in front of a nice warm fireplace at The Inn at Kippen outside Stirling, with an alarming quantity of Alan’s relatives seated around the long table, when my father-in-law grinned at me, saying: “So, what do you Swedes really think about that TV series, Vikings? How do you feel about being portrayed that way?” Everyone was suddenly staring at me, waiting for me to say something. Well, did anyone get packaged and appropriated here? Who is really closest to the imagined root of this supposed evil; who should be most offended about the Vikings fantasy soup and its existence?

Obviously those with the background knowledge to point out the highest number of errors in that shit, right?! That is, ALL REENACTORS in possession of enough source shame* to writhe in agony over the HBO shenanigans. (Apart from the ”real” historians and archaeologists who are not also involved in reenactment – you don’t really care, not in your hearts, shush!!) Footnote: *Source shame – the icy, horrific shivers you experience when you have conducted enough self-study to write a complete dissertation about exactly why the party kilt-wearing man gnawing a bone and carrying a cardboard roundshield and a plush hobby horse should be turned away from the market, (no matter how tacky the market itself), and why he should be ritually lowered to the bottom of the ocean with his goddamn bone for having ruined everyone’s suspension of disbelief.

And. Of course, it is also the poor, poor high-functioning (as in: interested in ackchual histry) reenactors who will feel the blow and afterburn of Vikings, the series that has done us all such a great disservice by reinforcing and partially establishing from scratch an idea of “what things looked in the Viking Age”. This will plague all involved parties forever. Not least since this idea – out of context – is rather…visually striking. In a good way. OH YES IT IS! YOU THINK SO TOO! 

But. Every summer for 25 years from this day on, counting from the first episode made available, we will be standing on the lawn of whatever event, answering questions about why we’re not wearing bracers and cornrows. “…cause that guy over there, does?!?” All our social media is already overflowing with Trump-humping American rune-abusers, who mess up your algorithm when you stalk them for shits and giggles. They clog up your feed with Hail Odin-sweatpants and airbrushed wolf pictures and tankards with SKÖL woodburned around the rim. It’s everyone’s sacred duty to be offended! ”Well, dear Father-in-law, this is all a very sad story… But first, would you tell me how you Scots perceived that … “Outlander” thing when it was first aired?”

Hereby, we may draw the conclusion that the only reliable thing is the following: you are Viking appropriated when someone else feels sorry for you, because of it. Or mock you. And by then, it’s too late to renounce your alleged and poorly outlined heritage. Regardless of whether you have any sources for it or not. Nobody seems to want to dirty their hands with a review of Vikings in my usual channels. The air has been strangely quiet, apart from a few blanket dismissals. A bit of spiteful googling makes me realize that any solid roasts of this thing seem to be few and far between. Oh well. That doesn’t necessarily stop me from amusing myself. Draw a little something along the edges. (In reference to the Swedish archaeology scandal about tablet woven bands with disputed patterns.) As usual, there will be spoilers, but (as usual) I will also be vague, messy and unstructured, so most of it will be hard to figure out anyway.

It’s a rule in the self-professed circle of high-functioning reenactors that you don’t watch Vikings, out of principle – it’s not good enough, and it gives the “niche” a bad rep. (What niche, really? What are we??) You’re supposed to be above it all. Meaning nobody will understand any of this. Because you didn’t watch Vikings! Because it’s so terribly bad!

I’m not above anything, I watch Vikings. I spun my own goddamn dress, can I watch Vikings now, let go of my arm! In all truthfulness I’ll watch any renfaire glurge, and honestly whatever pseudo-historical garbage you can pelt at me, as long as it’s got swörrrds and mud. The few things that make me stop watching include nonstop rape because “historically accurate”. And poorly animated dragons. AND/OR 90s make-up-laden “enchantresses” with too much gloss, rumpled dupioni dresses and unreasonable expectations about revenge. And I’ll turn my screen off faced with anything made by the BBC, for children – unless it’s Narnia, because then it’s OK, despite the girl with the hamster cheeks. 

Many of the points of accusation that rightly ought to be addressed here, are things that Vikings have in common with the filthy murder of one of my favourite book series, The Last Kingdom. (In Swedish for now). That rant concerns drafty houses, prancing carelessness in the mud and filth, and not least Manly Hugs involving furry cloaks and shoulder plates. More or less everything that I wrote there goes for Vikings, too. 

There! When you hear the soothing chords of Heilung and Wardruna, turn the page!

You cannot talk about what is historically incorrect in Vikings, because there is fucking nothing on this show that is. Oh, well, maybe a few things. Small things. But basically the producers seem to have fallen through a gaping hole in space-time, to make a fairy tale. Just like everyone else who has touched upon the subject through the centuries. The self-references to “Vikings” and the yapping about a whole host of nations, issues and people who were not invented until waaaay later (along with peroxide cornrows) are just a few of the crimes against national decency being committed in every episode.

The village, which is either a small fishing village or the biggest trade center in Norway depending on who you ask, is called fucking Kättegäätt. Is it possible that the colour-blind American producers were so busy praying to ODIN to ensure their soap opera would be a success, that they failed to identify land and seas respectively, even on the map of present-day Scandinavia? Outside Käattegäät there’s NååRdjöö and sometimes SweaRdjöö (ok they really say Sweden, but Sweden didn’t exist either), and furthermore Gjötaländ (or is it Jeetaläänd?), but not really any DäänmáRk, or – at least initially – any of the other nations which the characters apparently HAVE names for, but no knowledge of, and which they have never visited, at least not in the early days of the series. I must have snorted the loudest at OPSALAH, atop its majestic mountain in the deep woods, surrounded by waterfalls roaring down from the peaks. 

Once again, we are presented with a society (several, in fact) where no one produces anything whatsoever, or grows any crops, or gathers any edibles. Who picks the blueberries around here?? By all means, there seems to be a surplus of goats, but only very small, cute goats that never ruin any property, or climb all over things. The character called Bjårrn occasionally goes fishing, and there’s one child that picks a couple of mushrooms, once, in another country, but like, seriously, what do these people eat? We never find out. There’s some talk about how they mean to do farming, but we never get to see it. The only thing you ever really see people ingest is the odd haunch of meat, which is not food but a social marker to further highlight the abysmally shitty table manners of the Vikings, as well as their preposterous barbarism. And of course, those bursting handfuls of unidentified mushrooms that everyone is cramming into their maws at all times (though nobody picked them), presumably in order to forget the fact that they left their dry shampoo back home.

For it isn’t pork rinds and BBQ crisps that get stolen from the lazy Franks when the Vikings go a-raiding. The Vikings, mind, prefer gold and other more obscure, inedible goodies. To do what, exactly? Because we never get to see them trade with any neighbours or next door semi-enemies. Everyone who’s acquainted in NååRdjöö (and SweRdjöö) are already out raiding together, even the thoroughly despicable trustfund toad Erlendur, (with a stupid Icelandic name, which has rendered him bitter beyond both his pitiful attempt at facial hair, and the ongoing vendetta) – the rest of all the potential trading partners are all too far away, or have already been murdered by the main cast. So who, exactly, are they going to trade with? Perhaps the abandoned subjects of the theoretical court of Gyöhtaland, more on this below.

Ok, but what about the language? In order to establish a proper, authentic Viking feeling, all relevant cast has been assigned a “Nordic accent” in order for us to understand that they speak Old Norse among themselves. How I would have LOVED this show, so much, if the producers had gone the distance with all the languages featured, as they were spoken at the time! The problem, though, is that the characters have no Nordic accent whatsoever, but a made-up one. Let me tell you, a Nordic accent sounds VERY uncool, and to other Scandis, it is cringeworthy in the extreme. We hate hearing our politicians speak English. If you are familiar with this accent, imagine for just a moment the entire cast running around shirtless, moufful of shrooms, speaking fluffy-bunnies style in the same accent our Prime Ministers use. Could they make just ONE episode like that, please?? And deep down, I’m convinced this was really, truly how it was! In reality! History will prove me right! 

Another language clustermess is the one concerning the stupid, anglicized names. Worst for wear is the mangled Siggi, for Sigyn, and the female name Gudrun, for a boy, on a show that approves lesbian smooching for all the wrong reasons, but maintains a solid binary norm to avoid upsetting any Odin-toasting incels. Skarsgård and a couple of other Scandis on the cast make every other fellow pronouncer seem even more uncomfortable with the strange phonemes, going “Hej Björn! Hej Ragnar!” among all the embarrassed, half-swallowed “Hey BjeeRn! RäG-näRR! Whittzeerck!” Not to mention how mostly everyone just flat-out butchers “OoBÖH!” (Ubbe), a name that contains a vowel that NOBODY outside of Scandinavia has ever been forced to learn how to pronounce.

Considering that all other research seems to have been carried out using a single crayon and a pair of googly-eye glasses, I’m half surprised they didn’t just swap all the names for others, more metal and better suited to the producer’s vision. It would align the names with the costume design eventually chosen – triangulated neatly in the overlap between any music video by Abbath, random footage showing the very muddiest bits of a metal festival, and a way-way-way back prequel to Sons of Anarchy.

Religiously, and socially, too, it is a strange fairy tale world we are presented with – not least displayed by the now-fully-devout Odinists on the production team, who are only too proud to show you their homework. Any cosmology mansplained on the show is introduced to the children (mostly for the benefit of the audience beyond the fourth wall) by Rägnär telling it as if it was All News to everyone – This just in; Midgard Serpent now morbidly obese! Aren’t they yapping about this stuff every single night for want of a Playstation? How come everyone draws breath like poor ignorant monk Ätelstan has just shit himself when he asks, in a shaking voice: “What is Ragnarök?”

People also tend to forgive each other all sorts of completely unreasonable slights and trespasses, as if it wasn’t the Iron Age (and they are talking about new and interesting places you could ragequit off to at any given moment), but rather the Stone Age, when it would truly be just tribe-or-die with the same one hundred and fifty people, until you die a premature but likely most welcome death at twenty-seven-and-a-half. The entire reason why real people initially figured out there were other tribes beyond that pesky mountain/sea/swamp – and that you’d likely have to cut down a massive tree and skin a mammoth in order to build a totally unsafe canoe in order to visit them with no invitation – must have sprung, at least in part, from how insanely tired you were of Auntie Asscrack and your three halfwit cousins, Gruk, Stuk and Knork, who whould just never SHUT UP with their shitty Gothenburg jokes.*

Footnote: *It is an established fact that the Gothenburg joke was created thousands of years before the city itself, which was only coincidentally placed in the very swamp that was once the original epicentre of crappy dad jokes. This form of humour was later exported during the Iron Age, to Scotland and England, in connection with a series of successful business trips. (To this day, these cultures still claim they have invented the Gothenburg joke, along with absolutely everything else – just ask my father-in-law…) The Gothenburg joke was later reimported to Gothenburg in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, as an addition to the already existing issues with old boys making shitty jokes. Hereby, it was enhanced by a peculiar reverb, making it a prevalent and widespread problem to this day.

Despite the claustrophobic world, several of the characters manage to simply “disappear” like nobody’s business, by simply wandering off into the terrain. And I’m like, no no no, if those people aren’t lying uncairned somewhere behind the second pine to the left and straight on ’til Valhalla, they are most assuredly sleeping rough in the next muddy village with too many goats and not enough wattle and daub. They just refuse to go home, like stubborn runaway children, due to imagined slights, beauty issues or religious fretting. 

And the all-encompassing ineptitude when it comes to anything but burning other people’s houses and eating their blueberries! The Vikings are able to build ships that can traverse oceans, so why these unbelievably shoddy houses, where you can admire the snowfall through the massive gaps between the boards? Even in the house of the KING!? “This is the great hall of Rägnäg Lothbråck!” Yes, but I can see the snow outside?! Despite the fact that we’re inside the house? Can’t you afford any moss or mud? An old shirt? One of all those baby goats that’s all over the place, falling into the soup – maybe try shoving one of those between the clapboards? 

The only available pregnancy test is whether or not you will be laughed at when you announce that you are cahahahahaharrying someone’s chihihihihihildddd (’cause “knocked up” is not something you’d be in the Iron Age). Or that you randomly bleed – or don’t bleed – pints and pints during the summer raids in unknown Shrinkland. 

If we cannot talk about what is historically incorrect in general, then we cannot talk about what’s wrong with the clothing in this series, either, because there is, again, nothing right about the costumes or the armour or actually mainly the lack of clothing and armour and HELMETS, helloo, why is NOBODY wearing a hat or mittens? WHAT??!? Get dressed! It’s cold! People are whacking you! With sticks!

Example in point: crashing bore Bjårrn, who goes through this phase when even he himself gets so fed up with him, that he concludes it’s best for everyone if he just spends the winter in grandpa’s old sauna on the mountain. Nobody really thinks he’s going to survive and come back, and still they’re all like, BYE Bjårrn, see you never… Bjårrn ventures bravely into the wild. In winter. Without a beanie. That’s the bravest thing. This whole field trip is allegedly undertaken to Make Him A Man, and I can tell you right now that he is NOT, since he – unlike most kids in daycare that I have encountered (and they are many) fails to see the use of a hat and mitts. And a scarf. And please close your stupid reindeer skin that lies flat like a board on your back, Bjårrn. “Keep your head warm” seems like a good start to the learning curve. But no. Bjårrn gets shitfaced and sleeps with his wet hair right in the snow. Bjårrn cares fuck all about mittens, and walks to the middle of the lake and punches a hole in the ice with his fist every time he needs a drink of water, instead of just making a hole at the shore, with the axe, and then bring the bucket – it’s RIGHT THERE – to the sauna when it’s his bedtime.

Further, I’d like to know who serves as Lagertha’s stylist, that is, the most hard-working person on the entire raiding party? Where is her army of hairdressers, is that what all the shiiiiieldmaidens are doing in their spare time? Also: the older you get, the more you forget to wash. This is the only thing showing that time passes, and that characters age. That it’s been an increasingly longer time since their mothers could force them to take a bath.

But maybe we could at least talk a little bit about the things they should have gotten right, regardless of this production’s blatant disregard for sources and clothing and historical facts. Like, script writing and attitudes and common sense, everyday logic and continuity? Could we please get a bit agitated over the show’s disgusting bloody rape culture, and the compulsive petting of goats, and the stupid feral mullet chavs that make up Ragnar’s younger sons, making IKEA cabinet Bjårrn seem like a rounded, sophisticated character in comparison?

All I can think of when I see the above is ⬇⬇⬇

I have so many questions. Seriously, how does it really work with King Aelles stupid pit of exotic snakes (who might appreciate a very different climate if they are to survive) – this pit, which is moreover MOVED during the course of events? Wasn’t it originally located in town, for easy bragging access, and then later in the woods, for maximum drama? Did they dig another pit?

Boat builder Floki appears to build about 600 ships singlehandedly, how come nobody is helping him with at least the gruntwork? And apparently he is the only one in possession of this crucial skill – are they really going to let him join in the fighting? The entire Viking Age might suddenly end with a crunch if he takes a crossbow bolt to the face.  

And how come they just offed Ass-löög with no ado whatsoever? Female characters on this series tend to die and disappear just like that, often with no real plot motivation, just goodnight, under the ice you go! Poof! Plus also, speaking of Ass-löög: “A princess of Gjetaläänd” – in the middle of the woods???! Isn’t she connected to any local power structure which they ought reasonably to sync with, communicate with, trade with, benefit from? No, she’s just a random princess in the forest, since a head necklace is all you ever need to prove your noble heritage…

And why, why can they not learn to row in unison? Of all the things that bother me, this is the worst! They are heading upstream along the Seine, yet they’re waving their oars around like a group of very special children, on a field trip where they’ve been given the task to impersonate a very large hedgehog.

I am mentally suggesting script developments while I’m watching: aaaaaand NOW the enemy should be right there when he comes back out of the hole in the ice, that’d be really scary! NOW he ought to find that bear torn to shreds in the woods, so he’ll get that there’s something even worse afoot. No? No? It’s always less good than you think it’s going to be.

Overall, Vikings is a show that never delivers any Hygge nor any YAY, not even as a contrast to the catastrophies and the drama. Instead, you have a feeling that EVERYONE is living their lives completely disconnected from one another, going around with that feeling in the pit of your stomach which you might have when attending an event or a festival where there is no one you really want to hang out with.

But there are upsides! All you need to do is remember that, despite the confusing title, this isn’t really about Vikings at all. Squint a bit, and think fantasy soap opera, and you will appreciate both the costumes, the mud and the gore. We loved Pathfinder, especially the director’s cut. Why shouldn’t we love this morbidly lengthy affair on the same merits? 

And finally, speaking of fantasy costumes, I am downright CRANKY about the fact that Vikings have now put eternal dibs on eyeliner, fauxhawks and Dutch braids, because I LOVE those things! I have mainly dealt with my psychological need for bracers, some of it already in school due to the vigorous LARP culture in the area where I grew up – but the fauxhawk! The only hairstyle that would have allowed me to age with some dignity! But I have no styling thrall who can pull this off, and even if I did, everyone would just mock me and yap: “Have you been watching VIKINGS, or what?”

And what about my father-in-law? Roddy is never taken aback. In his inimitable manner, and with his delightful Scottish accent: “Oh, I got the box set to watch that Outlander thing, and to my horror and surprise I found it was nothing but a bodice-ripper! I had to watch it again, just to make sure it was just as bad as I found it the first time!”

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