Vikings: The Most Religious Show on TV?

 

Earlier this week, Bishop Robert Barron wrote a short essay MV5BOTEzNzI3MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzk1MzA5NzE@._V1_about the History Channel’s drama series Vikings, arguing that it’s the most explicitly religious show he can remember watching. On this advice, my husband and I watched the first episode last night and our 14-year-old son was immediately sucked in. His parting words for the night were “Don’t watch it without me!” (The 19-year-old came home in the middle of it and, scandalized, asked why we were letting him watch Game of Thrones? Um, no dear.) From a spoiler-free portion of the bishop’s piece:

[E]veryone in Vikings is religious: the Northmen (and women) themselves, the English, the French, and visitors from distant lands. To be sure, they are religious in very different ways, but there is no one who does not take with utter seriousness a connection to a higher, spiritual realm. Moreover, their spirituality is not an abstraction, but rather is regularly embodied in ritual, prayer, procession, liturgy, and mystical experience. The ubiquity and intensity of faith in these various peoples and tribes calls to mind philosopher Charles Taylor’s observation that, prior to 1500 or so, it was practically unthinkable not to be religious. That God exists, that spiritual powers impinge upon the world, that we live on after we die, that a higher authority judges our deeds—all of this was simply the default of the overwhelming majority of the human race prior to very recent times in certain pockets of Western civilization. Taylor speaks of the “buffered self” that has come to dominate today. He means the identity that is closed in upon itself, oblivious to a transcendent dimension, committed unquestioningly to a naturalist or materialist view of reality. I must confess that it was enormously refreshing to watch a program in which every single self was unbuffered!

I’ve read that, as a piece of historical fiction, it’s fairly accurate. Any opinions, Ricochet?

Published in Entertainment, Religion & Philosophy
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There are 44 comments.

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  1. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    I started watching it but had a hard time with the brutality of the show (i’m a big wussy pants now that I’m a mother for some reason). But I read Bishop Barron’s review and want to give it another try.

    • #1
  2. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    What Mate De said. I had been ignoring it until I read Barron’s review. Now I’m intrigued. They deal with the Viking conquest of northern France. Cool.

    • #2
  3. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is a little too stylized sometimes, but otherwise pretty good.  I can’t comment on the historical accuracy.

    It is pretty gruesome.  Just wait until you get to the blood eagle.

    • #3
  4. Lance Inactive
    Lance
    @Lance

    I have been watching from the beginning and really enjoy the show.  From what I have read, its a relatively accurate depiction of how things would have transpired from a logistics and technology perspective (the depiction of the Vikings hoisting their ships up a cliff and pushing them overland last season is apparently an example of a very accurate and well reproduced technique of the time.   In terms of the narrative unfolding, and its accrurate depiction of how history really unfolded, I am not so sure. I think its meant to read more like historical fiction…which to me is some of the best fiction to read when its done well.  And I like to think Vikings is done well.  Travis Fimmel performance as Ragnar Lothbrok remains compelling throughout the series as well.  I had no idea his character loomed as large in Viking lore as it does, but Fimmel certainly plays him up.

    • #4
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I read it, too. Our own @aaronmiller pointed it out on facebook.

    The bishop’s heart’s in the right place, but his analysis is woefully incomplete. I’m glad he found something to like & he pointed out some things about human beings that really are important, so the people who urged him to watch it might be the better for his writing. But it was not his intention to say what the story’s about or how to think about it, so I ended up at least as skeptical as I started.

    I think I watched an episode once or half of one. I shook my head & minded my business, but then again I’m still waiting for a series on the warlike duke Marlborough, so my heart’s really in a different place…

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Interesting. I should probably give this a shot.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Ambrianne: asked why we were letting him watch Game of Thrones?

    Not to hijack this, but this is a matter where Game of Thrones has proved a general disappointment. For all that Jonathan Price’s performance was excellent, the sad fact of the matter is that the Faith of the Seven — clearly, a stand-in for Christianity — is the one faith in Westeros that seems to have absolutely no supernatural foundation. The treatment is somewhat better in the books as we actually do see some examples of good, intelligent people who are faithful, but it’s still rather weak that way.

    Anyway, a show that takes actual religions seriously sounds very interesting and the first season of Vikings appears to be included with Amazon Prime.

    • #7
  8. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    imageI watch but not religiously. The real viewer in my house is my Marine. He is a big fan of Katheryn Winnick. Ms. Winnick, a Canadian of Ukranian descent, is a kick-ass young lady who got her first black belt at age 13 and started three martial arts schools by the time she was 21. Frankly, I don’t know what he sees in her.

    • #8
  9. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    If you like Vikings I suggest you give “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix a shot.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Kingdom_(TV_series)

    • #9
  10. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    We thoroughly enjoy Vikings also. The religious devotion of all parties has seemed natural and accurate for the times. Can’t wait for the second half of the 2016 episodes.

    @matede – if the bloodiness disturbs you don’t watch the old Spartacus series. I always felt slightly nauseous after each of those episodes.

    • #10
  11. Flagg Taylor Member
    Flagg Taylor
    @FlaggTaylor

    I have watched the first three seasons and it is quite compelling. The most interesting character is a Christian monk who is enslaved by the Vikings. He is eventually freed but chooses to live amongst the Vikings by his own accord.

    • #11
  12. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    JustmeinAZ:We thoroughly enjoy Vikings also. The religious devotion of all parties has seemed natural and accurate for the times. Can’t wait for the second half of the 2016 episodes.

    @matede – if the bloodiness disturbs you don’t watch the old Spartacus series. I always felt slightly nauseous after each of those episodes.

    I agree.  Spartacus went out of its way with stylized blood.  I always thought the creators of Spartacus really liked the movie “300” but did not have the talent to make their series as good as the “300” movie.

    • #12
  13. Kofola Inactive
    Kofola
    @Kofola

    This topic is not my area of expertise, but from what I understand, it’s historically accurate around the margins. The characters are based off of a mix of genuine historical figures and characters from Viking folklore. If you want an idea of what medieval Viking and Christian societies were like or what their languages sounded like, those are the areas where it shows the most accuracy. It is undermined in that respect, however, by very noticeable contemporary prerogatives plugged into some of the characters (particularly the women). It is also highly stylized in ways that are clearly fictional (how religion and combat are shown, for example). If you want an account of actual events and people, find a book on the topic. My advice with historical television and film is almost always this: You might be able to learn some things from it, but be extremely leery. Don’t trust anything unless you have at least some knowledge on the topic.

    • #13
  14. Lance Inactive
    Lance
    @Lance

    Fake John/Jane Galt:If you like Vikings I suggest you give “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix a shot.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Kingdom_(TV_series)

    I saw that and put it in my queue.  The first few minutes I scanned through seemed a bit week, in the way some British dramas can be.  Sounds like I should give it a more complete try. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • #14
  15. Patrickb63 Coolidge
    Patrickb63
    @Patrickb63

    EJHill:imageI watch but not religiously. The real viewer in my house is my Marine. He is a big fan of Katheryn Winnick. Ms. Winnick, a Canadian of Ukranian descent, is a kick-ass young lady who got her first black belt at age 13 and started three martial arts schools by the time she was 21. Frankly, I don’t know what he sees in her.

    A Canadian?  There’s no explaining a Marine.  They have rather odd tastes.

    • #15
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Kofola: Don’t trust anything unless you have at least some knowledge on the topic.

    The “History” Channel as history borders on the good to the awful. In many ways a crappy documentary is worse than these scripted shows as the anticipated accuracy of the latter is not as high.

    Their recreations in “The World Wars” was almost laughable.

    • #16
  17. Patrickb63 Coolidge
    Patrickb63
    @Patrickb63

    EJHill:

    Kofola: Don’t trust anything unless you have at least some knowledge on the topic.

    The “History” Channel as history borders on the good to the awful. In many ways a crappy documentary is worse than these scripted shows as the anticipated accuracy of the latter is not as high.

    Their recreations in “The World Wars” was almost laughable.

    So the history in Ancient Aliens isn’t accurate?

    • #17
  18. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Spin:I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a little too stylized sometimes, but otherwise pretty good. I can’t comment on the historical accuracy.

    It is pretty gruesome. Just wait until you get to the blood eagle.

    Wait. They depict the Blood Eagle? What channel is this broadcast on and what hours?

    • #18
  19. West Facing Squirrel Inactive
    West Facing Squirrel
    @WestFacingSquirrel

    This show inspired me to look deeper into my Nordic ancestry.  I found both Ragnar and Rollo in my family tree, but they are not brothers IRL.  This show is very entertaining, but the writers have taken a lot of liberties with history.

    • #19
  20. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    EJHill:imageI watch but not religiously. The real viewer in my house is my Marine. He is a big fan of Katheryn Winnick. Ms. Winnick, a Canadian of Ukranian descent, is a kick-ass young lady who got her first black belt at age 13 and started three martial arts schools by the time she was 21. Frankly, I don’t know what he sees in her.

    Well that settles it.  I’ll watch looking carefully for the religious parts.

    • #20
  21. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    EJHill: Frankly, I don’t know what he sees in her.

    I don’t like her nail polish.

    • #21
  22. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I’ve only begun watching it. I like it so far. Bishop Barron’s point that the characters all take their religions seriously is immediately apparent.

    The portrayal of the monks as a bunch of scared little girls is my only complaint so far. Some, I could believe. But read about St Boniface chopping down the pagan oak. Priests and monks of those early centuries were bold, hardy. The one monk’s explanation that his odd haircut “sets us apart” is slightly off (the unnatural bald spot was an act of humility against vanity), but that’s a minor oversight.

    Viking history is known through either the Nordic school (archaeology) or the Icelandic school (literature/ mythology) and the two groups remain stubbornly separate. The real history is as debateable as the TV show.

    • #22
  23. Kofola Inactive
    Kofola
    @Kofola

    Patrickb63:

    EJHill:

    Kofola: Don’t trust anything unless you have at least some knowledge on the topic.

    The “History” Channel as history borders on the good to the awful. In many ways a crappy documentary is worse than these scripted shows as the anticipated accuracy of the latter is not as high.

    Their recreations in “The World Wars” was almost laughable.

    So the history in Ancient Aliens isn’t accurate?

    But SOMEONE had to build those pyramids!

    becausealiens

    • #23
  24. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    Vikings is a fantastic show.  I need to catch up on the past season.  I find the characters better developed than other shows and yes, the religious aspect feels more genuine.

    • #24
  25. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    That is probably my favorite part of the show.  The characters are completely sincere in their religious beliefs, not a hint of irony or cynicism about it.  Even the manipulative, scheming characters are sincerely religious, usually taking the view either that their schemes are regrettably necessary or acknowledging that they will pay in the afterlife.

    In one of the best emotionally satisfying scenes a character uses a sacred relic as a rallying point for the army in battle.  In other modern literature, and even historical accounts of the Crusades, such a relic might be portrayed as a “useful fiction” to be the exploited by the enlightened leaders to inspire the gullible masses.  But whether it truly had such power or not is less important than the historical portrayal that all the characters, even the aristocracy, believed it did.

    • #25
  26. GingerMa Inactive
    GingerMa
    @GingerMa

    The show has only one writer, and he takes this stuff very seriously. That being said, it is fiction. There is a podcast called The British History Podcast that has an episode that goes over this show and its inaccuracies.

    However, it is a fun show, and do appreciate the showing of religious characters without them being unhinged or silly.

    • #26
  27. Morituri Te Inactive
    Morituri Te
    @MorituriTe

    I Walton:

    EJHill:imageI watch but not religiously. The real viewer in my house is my Marine. He is a big fan of Katheryn Winnick. Ms. Winnick, a Canadian of Ukranian descent, is a kick-ass young lady who got her first black belt at age 13 and started three martial arts schools by the time she was 21. Frankly, I don’t know what he sees in her.

    Well that settles it. I’ll watch looking carefully for the religious parts.

    Are those the religious parts, on display above?

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer:

    Ambrianne: asked why we were letting him watch Game of Thrones?

    Not to hijack this, but this is a matter where Game of Thrones has proved a general disappointment. For all that Jonathan Price’s performance was excellent, the sad fact of the matter is that the Faith of the Seven — clearly, a stand-in for Christianity — is the one faith in Westeros that seems to have absolutely no supernatural foundation. The treatment is somewhat better in the books as we actually do see some examples of good, intelligent people who are faithful, but it’s still rather weak that way.

    I thought the Lord of Light was the stand-in for Christianity. Monotheist. “I am the light of the world”. Burning people at the stake. Etc.

    • #28
  29. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I think the show is a bit adult for a 14 year old, and I got a bit tired of it after season three.  Only a handful of episodes each year makes it very tedious.  I think I’ll wait a few years and watch the rest when it’s run its course.

    • #29
  30. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Morituri Te:

    Are those the religious parts, on display above?

    Yes, a which is why 14 year olds would want to watch this, but honestly they shouldn’t.

    • #30
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