Vikings review: Brutal start and a poetic end

Vikings review: Brutal start and a poetic end
Television still: Vikings starring Gustaf Skarsgsrd

A group of fearsome bearded invaders barges into a church in an English coastal town to kill and plunder barbarians. A terrified Catholic priest screams: "In the name of God, who are you?"

The Vikings - pagan intruders across the seas from the Scandinavian north - despite being heavily outnumbered in battle, cut down their horrified victims with swords, knives and

especially, their unstoppable axes - they have absolutely no fear of death since they actually relish it.

"Last night, I dreamt you were giving me blood pudding," says the lead Nordic dude, Ragnar Lothbrok (Australian actor Travis Fimmel), to his housewife-missus, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), herself a formidable shieldmaiden-warrior.

You know, I Googled this guy. Ragnar Lothbrok really did exist in old Norse tales as the brutal scourge of England and France in the 8th century.

Facts like this explain why Vikings - an action-ready, saga- strong series as splendid as Lothbrok's raider boat - is History Channel's first foray into serialised historical fiction.

I do not have a red beard or a horned helmet, so I am not sure how much of this series is accurate.

But, man, this is as fun as Game Of Thrones mixed with Gladiator, with a big dose of football hooligans on a rampage thrown in.

Can a small Band Of Very Violent Brothers really cross over to England just like this and take whatever untold riches they wish from the helpless Anglo owners as though they were looting a shopping mall?

Creator Michael Hirst (The Tudors) presumably understands that tucked between the regality of The Tudors and the fantasy of Thrones is a nice spot for these unwashed, animal fur-lined Chronicles Of The Klingon Empire. All the Viking stereotypes of a crude, bawdy and lusty species are here and there is a fair amount of primal sex.

But the show goes further, working the behaviour, customs, mythology and folklore effectively into its main driving tale - the tussle for power as Lothbrok defies his sinister local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne, looking grandly weary), by sailing west to pillage new lands. This turns the series into an interesting story about discovery - spiritual, cultural, geographical.

You probably have heard of the Viking funeral boat but, I tell you, one episode about an elaborate human sacrifice ritual turned into some kind of frenzied, early-Woodstock orgy just blew me away.

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