HBO revolutionized modern television by making fantasy appealing to mainstream audiences with its mega-hit series, Game Of Thrones. While many shows since then have tried to capitalize on the Game Of Thrones fever, few have defied that by becoming famous outside of the HBO hype train. Vikings defied all expectations by becoming the huge hit series The History Channel needed to break into scripted television. It’s hard to think now that at one time it was known as the show to watch when Game Of Thrones was off the air. Now it’s made a name for itself as a true example of the golden age of television that has no problem standing toe to toe with the HBO juggernaut.
Characters like Ragnar, Floki, Rollo, Lagertha, Bjorn, and Ivar the boneless stand alongside characters like Walter White, Don Draper, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tony Soprano. The battle sequences are just as great as any big-budget film would be. Even better if you take into account the series’ focus on practical effects and well-choreographed battles.
Like any show, it has its ups and downs. There are plenty of memorable characters, giant battle sequences, and steamy romances to keep fans coming back for more. Unfortunately, there are also several dead on arrival plot lines, boring side characters, and weak character arcs. None of these tarnish the Vikings reputation though. It has plenty of carnage and political intrigue to make itself a legend despite its few failings.
Here are 10 Storylines That Hurt Vikings (And 10 That Saved It).
20 saved – Ragnar Becomes Earl
Like HBO’s Game Of Thrones, Vikings features a lot of battles for power and shifting alliances. One of the first major changes in leadership is when Ragnar overthrows Earl Haraldson to become Earl himself. While the show was exciting from start, the battle between Haraldson and Ragnar was what really threw the series into overdrive. The conflict seemed like it would go on for years, if not for at least the entire first season. Haraldson dying in episode six allowed the show to focus on Ragnar as a ruler instead of just a warrior.
Vikings has featured many emotionally charged battles and surprising tragedies but this was the one that set the curve. Like the surprise passing of Sean Bean in Game Of Thrones, Gabriel Byrne was the biggest name in the series. Vikings proved it was capable of surprises and it didn’t stop there.
19 hurt – Ragnar’s Marital Problems
Ragnar and Lagertha made a great impression from the first episode of the series. Their chemistry together was undeniable. Both of them were equally awesome in their own right. That’s why it was so disheartening when the series pivoted to focus on their marital struggles.
During Ragnar’s brief indiscretion with Princess Aslaug, it is revealed that she became pregnant with his child. This ruined all of the great chemistry that Ragnar and Lagertha had. While the two eventually reconciled, it never got back to the days where they shared the firelight in their first home together. They were the loves of each other’s lives, it’s rather sad we didn’t get to see very much of it. Though props to Ragnar for his attempt to have both of them together. Of all the bold plans he tries in the series, that may have been the boldest.
18 saved – Ragnar Goes West
Basically, the entire premise of the show revolves around its first big plot line. Ragnar meets with his good friend Floki about his wild and crazy plan to go raiding west. Up to that point, the Vikings didn’t know if any countries even existed that far out but Ragnar was just crazy enough to risk it.
Despite the protests of Earl Haraldson, Ragnar and Floki build a ship and sail out to new lands. This is what sparks Ragnar’s celebrity. It’s his boldness, brutality, and endless curiosity that led him to conquest after conquest throughout the series. This was the first showing of Ragnar’s wild-eyed ambition and it was enough to get fans hooked.
17 hurt – Floki’s Commune
Floki goes through a lot during the series. His faith in the gods often leads him to betray others in his life and cause him great personal pain. He’s even briefly tortured due to the elimination of Athelstan for his worship of the Christian God.
This arc culminates when Floki finally decides he wants nothing more to do with the people and politics in his life. He takes off on a journey of discovery and believes that he’s found Asgard, the land of the gods. Floki then returns to gather people for his own private colony away from the rest of the world. This plot line is greatly disjointed from the others and doesn’t quite have the narrative strength to stand on its own.
16 saved – Invasion Of Wessex
While there are a lot of raids and small battles in the early days of Vikings, the show didn’t fully show what it was capable of until Ragnar decides to invade Wessex. We really get to see how brutal the Vikings are compared to their western rivals.
This is when the show also shows that it has a lot more narrative strength than just the carnage provides. For the first time, the series fully develops one its many enemy leaders. We get to see King Ecbert and the various political leanings of his court. It’s this quality that truly shows how expertly crafted Vikings is. The portrayal of Viking culture may have been awesome enough for most series, but Vikings strives to show the various cultures that interact with them to fairly close to the same level of detail. The Essex story is in a lot of ways when Vikings fully begins.
15 hurt – Ragnar’s Marital Problems…Again
Marriage is hard for anyone. That’s especially true when you’re the most famous Viking that has ever lived and a king to boot. While Ragnar and Lagertha’s marital struggles may have dragged the show down a little, his constant struggles with Aslaug were at times unwatchable.
Part of the reason is that Ragnar and Aslaug never have even the slightest hint of the chemistry he had with Lagertha. Aslaug never felt like anything but a responsibility Ragnar gets saddled with. He showed just as much love for his children with Aslaug as he did with his children with Lagertha but there was no comparison between the two marriages. To be fair, it’s very hard to compete with someone like Lagertha.
14 saved – Rollo’s Betrayals
One of the best conflicts in the entire series is the one between the series two main leads, Ragnar and Rollo. From the earliest moments of the series, it becomes clear that Rollo holds a special bitterness for his brother. He’s jealous of his wife, his fame, and his assumed favor with the gods. Several times in the series does Rollo turn on his brother in such a dramatic fashion that it can only be solved with a bloody and tragic fight scene.
What makes these moments so fascinating is the powerful love that exists between the two brothers. Every time the two meet on the battlefield, their love for each other prevents one from truly destroying the other. Besides that, Rollo and Ragnar’s battle that opens season two has got to be one of the best openers in television history.
13 hurt – Rollo’s relationships
Ragnar’s marital problems may be one of the biggest and most unfortunate recurring plot points of the series but he’s not the only Viking who has issues with marriage. Rollo has lots of struggles connecting to his French wife Princess Gilsa. What follows is a painful journey from Gilsa’s attempts to fight off a Rollo who had no desire to take advantage of her.
Vikings does a lot of things well. Battle sequences, sibling rivalry, juxtapositions between cultures, but it doesn’t make for a compelling marital drama. Like Ragnar and Aslaug before, Rollo and Gilsa just don’t have much chemistry together. Though the two seemed to have an excellent physical life, the relationship is nowhere near as compelling as the political intrigues and counterplots that were around it.
12 saved – Ragnar Becomes King
Ragnar has many enemies and makes quite the name for himself throughout the series. One of his most compelling antagonists is King Horik. The two start off as strong friends who raid together. Their relationship starts to dissolve in much the same way Ragnar’s relationship with everyone dissolves. Horik is jealous and threatened by Ragnar’s celebrity and ambition.
Horik attempts to turn Floki on Ragnar and ambush the Earl. In a big twist, it is revealed that Floki has been playing Horik all along. What was supposed to be an ambush on Ragnar turns into a brutal showing of regicide as several people get to make a swipe at the jealous king before Ragnar finally ends his life. Then Ragnar fulfills his destiny and becomes the Viking king he was always meant to be. It also doesn’t hurt that Horik was played by Donal Logue. That man can do no wrong.
11 hurt – ragnar’s passing
While the show is still alive and well, for many fans it ended years ago with one fateful moment. For these fans, the series finale is the episode where the series lead, Ragnar Lothbrok finally passes away.
Ragnar decides to take a skeleton crew back west for another raid. It’s revealed that Ragnar is actually seeking to atone for the many tragedies he’s caused. In a brutally tragic scene, Ragnar is dropped into a snake pit and passes away in a manner many fans found to be disappointing. These fans may have more to complain to the actual historical events than the History Channel itself though. For those who wanted to see Ragnar go out in a blaze of glory, they were destined to be disappointed by the man’s real-life end.
10 saved – The Blood Eagle
Jarl Borg was without question one of the sneakiest villains in Vikings. First, he turned Rollo against Ragnar and went to war with him. Then, once peace was made, he captured Kattegat while Ragnar and King Horik went off raiding without him. For such a hated enemy, fans were desperate for a brutal end.
Vikings used the Jarl Borg character as a means to show off one of the most brutal Viking traditions, the Blood Eagle. This practice features the victim having his back cut open, his ribs split, and his lungs pulled out of his body to look like wings. Worst of all, Borg wasn’t allowed to scream lest he wanted to forfeit his right to Valhalla. It’s probably still one of the most awful moments of the series. That is until they Blood Eagled King Aelle later on. The first one will probably always remain the more memorable of the two, though. It’s true what they always say, you never forget your first Blood Eagle.
9 hurt – Kwenthrith Drama
Vikings features a lot of awesome female characters, a wide variety of fascinating political skirmishes throughout different cultures, and deeply compelling story arcs. Unfortunately, the Kwenthrith story features none of these elements. The character is manic, unstable, and thoroughly uninteresting.
There’s a lot to love about the Mercia and Wessex stories, but Kwenthrith is always the character that brings those stories down. Even her overdeveloped drive and son’s mysterious heritage aren’t enough to keep her interesting. Was there any mystery in the series less compelling than whether Magnus was Ragnar or Aethhelwulf’s?
8 saved – Lagertha Takes Over
Ragnar may be the show’s leading character, but to many Lagertha is the one to watch the show for. Her rise to power takes many interesting and unexpected turns after her divorce from Ragnar. While it’s sad that we didn’t get to see more of Ragnar and her together, their split was ultimately the catalyst for Lagertha to start her own journey.
That journey ends with her finally taking Kattegat for her own. She got her long-awaited revenge against the woman who wrecked her first marriage when she killed Aslaug. That moment, along with the passing of Ragnar, was what propelled the show into its later years and kept it relevant despite Ragnar’s end.
7 hurt – Bishop Heahmund
Vikings had a big problem during its fourth season, what to do after the passing of Ragnar. The show tried many different solutions to this issue. It pivoted to focus on Ragnar’s sons Ivar and Bjorn. It also showed Lagertha’s time as ruler of Kattegat. The one effort that failed to resonate was the inclusion of Bishop Heahmund.
It’s easy to see the logic at work here. Travis Fimmel was an electric and unique performer who left quite the void when he left the series. The producers clearly thought that hiring Jonathan Rhys Meyers from The Tudors would help fill that Ragnar sized hole in the series. Unfortunately, Heahmund is nowhere near as compelling a character as Ragnar or King Henry VIII. Those are two really hard characters to top though.
6 saved – The Invasion Of Paris
Vikings is well known for its big battle sequences. While there are many memorable scenes of sword swinging carnage, the invasion of Paris is without question the best one. Set in season three, the battle features siege towers, dozens of Vikings ships, and a full-blown raid of the city. The best part of the siege came in the twist where Ragnar passes away due to wounds sustained in battle. His last request is to be buried inside the walls as a Christian. Only the whole thing was a ploy and Ragnar was alive the entire time.
He then blackmails them into opening the gates. The entire sequence is a massive undertaking and shows definitively that Vikings has no problem competing with the cinematic battles in HBO’s Game Of Thrones. What’s even better is that the battle has a sort of sequel when Ragnar is betrayed by Rollo. This dramatic end to the long-running Francia arc is one of the best in the series.
5 hurt – Ragnar’s Loss
Ragnar has plenty of victories but also a fair share of defeats. Most of the time he takes these failings in stride and comes back, ready for more raiding. All that changed after the second battle of Paris. The military defeat, coupled with the betrayal of his brother and the destruction of the Viking colony overseas was enough to finally break Ragnar’s spirit. He disappears for about ten years, but when he returns he is lost. Ragnar never fully comes back to the way he was in the good old days of the series.
While it was the completion of his character arc, there’s no denying that Ragnar’s loss of self-brought down the series right as it was on top. The sudden change from the massive Paris battle to the fall of Ragnar was quite jarring. Luckily, the show found its footing again but for a second there it seemed as if Vikings was going to be as lost as its main character.
4 saved – The Rise Of Ivar
Finding a new character to help ease Ragnar’s passing was no easy task. Luckily, the story of Ivar the boneless ended up being pretty compelling. It helped that the series paved the way for Ivar for years before it truly began his story. Ivar’s struggles as both a baby and a toddler helped inform the monster he’d eventually become.
And boy did that monster not disappoint. Despite being disabled, Ivar is the most brutal and monstrous Viking that has ever appeared on the show. He is a tactical genius and straight up psychopath. Not only does he overthrow Lagertha and become king, but he proclaims himself a god in the process. Ragnar may have done a lot, but he never quite reached godhood. Though knowing Vikings, that godhood probably won’t last long.
3 hurt – Rollo’s Forgiven
Rollo’s betrayal of the Vikings and his new life as a French noble is one of the biggest twists of the series. If any other character on the show had betrayed his people in such a manner, they would be given the harshest vengeance imaginable. Characters like Jarl Borg, Ecbert, and King Aelle are given more than their fair share of comeuppance. It seemed as though Rollo was destined for the same fate.
Not so much. Rollo ended up being forgiven by his people. He even goes raiding with Bjorn again. For a people who are so focused on vengeance, it seems strange that Rollo gets to continue his days as a noble with no Viking hordes trying to kill him constantly. He even betrays Lagertha by siding with Ivar, only to betray Ivar by saving Lagertha. Apparently, Rollo just has infinite passes as far as other Vikings are concerned.
2 saved – Ragnar, Ecbert, And Athelstan
Vikings will always be remembered for its incredible fight scenes but it should be just as remembered for some of the subtleties it pulled off so well. The religious debate between the Viking gods and the Christian one is one of the biggest subplots throughout the show. While many characters struggle between the two faiths, the best showing of the complexities of the warring cultures comes in the character of Athelstan.
Athelstan starts his journey as a monk who is captured by Ragnar. Over time, Ragnar and Athelstan develop a close friendship and he even converts to their faith. This gets more complex when Athelstan meets the equally charming Ecbert. The complex friendships between Ecbert, Ragnar, and Athelstan shows are among the most complex character relationships in the series. Not only are the interactions between the three men fascinating, but they also highlight the comparisons and differences between the two biggest cultures and faiths in the series. While many shows feature big budget sword battles in the wake of Game Of Thrones, few shows can pull off complex relationships that are built around the series’ themes quite like Vikings.
1 hurt – Bjorn Goes For The Mediterranean
Vikings is exceptionally good at showing different cultures in a fascinating light. The show gets a lot of great story potential out of countries like Essex and Francia. For a show that is supposed to be strictly about Vikings, it was often surprising how often the most interesting parts of an episode would feature non-Viking characters.
Of course, a show can’t succeed all the time. At a certain point, the series hit diminishing returns on the new cultures that were explored. The long-awaited arc where Bjorn sailed the Mediterranean was where those diminishing returns became most noticeable. In any other shows, things like accidental cannibalism, sandstorms, and bloody betrayals would be incredibly exciting. Somehow though, on Vikings, it was just boring. The entire plot felt like a stall until Bjorn could return home and finally join Lagertha to fight against Ivar. Still, Bjorn and Halfdan get a pretty great bromance out of the deal. That’s something.
Did we miss your favorite Vikings storyline? What about the one you absolutely hated? Let us know in the comments!