The Last Daughter of Uppsala
The End of the Beginning
Set 100 years after the events of Amazon’s Viking series, Vikings: Valhalla is a bold, brutal and bloody period drama. Beginning with the St Brice’s Day Massacre and ending with the fate of both England and Scandinavia hanging in the balance, Valhalla handles a decent chunk of history and it tackles that pretty well.
Much like Vikings, the real history surrounding this period of time is somewhat skewed. The biggest culprit here though comes from Jarl Haakon, so lets get that elephant in the room out the way first. In history, Jarl Haakon was a male Scandinavian warrior. The name Haakon even means “exalted son.”
So for some reason, Haakon is portrayed by a black female in Vikings: Valhalla. Look, I’m all for championing equal and diverse roles but done in this way, it feels more like point-scoring rather than adding and enhancing the story. As a similar example, it would be like if Tom Cruise or Matt Damon played an Asian samura… oh. Oh right, they did.
Jokes aside, it doesn’t detract from the overall story and it’s the only eyebrow raising piece of history that’s been changed.
Of course, these tweaks of character are nothing new to Vikings fans, and on the whole Valhalla feels much closer to the early seasons of that show rather than the dwindling quality of the later seasons after Ragnar’s death.
The story here essentially splits the 8 episodes into two distinct arcs. The first 4 begin with King Aethelred deciding to wipe out the Vikings on his shores, ordering a nation-wide extermination. This sends ripples across to Scandinavia, where King Canute of Denmark begins rounding up Vikings from across the lands, intending to strike back – and strike hard.
The only trouble is, the Vikings themselves are divided between the Pagans and Christians, each squabbling over their chosen God and threatening to erupt into Civil war at any moment.
In the midst of this conflict, the story centers on a rabble of Greenlanders who arrive with a revenge mission of their own. Siblings Freydis and Leif soon find their fates bound in different directions, leading to the narrative splitting across to three or four main characters alongside the pair.
There’s a good chunk of time spend with Harald Sigurdsson (later to be Hardrada) along with events happening in London involving Aethelred and Queen Emma.
There’s also the young and hotheaded Edmund, who’s portrayed here as an arrogant boy-king. Think Joffrey but without the torture or unpredictability to go with it. And for those who know their history, this is the biggest bastardization of character in the show.
However, the story works well enough and for those not in the know, this only further cements how much you want the Vikings to win. All of this crescendos into a really exciting episode halfway through the show.
The final four then change tact and feel like a transition to a more personal conflict in the Viking ranks, something that’s been brewing since episode 1 and while the characters have a consistent arc, the world and plot itself is left hanging in the balance.
However, season 2 has already been green-lit so grumbles aside, at least we’re not being left with half a story!
Aesthetically, Valhalla looks fantastic. Massive props to the make-up, costuming and production team for this because honestly, this show looks amazing. Each of the warriors are covered in dirt, blood or look like they’ve been through the mill.
The armour and weapons look realistic and the action is gritty and well-shot. The tactics behind some of the battles feel reminiscent of that seen in Last Kingdom and Vikings too, which is good to see.
It’s not perfect, and there are a few contrivances during the finale that allow troops to move from point A to point B, but largely, this is a solid, action-packed series that fans should be happy with.
There are also numerous references and nods back to Amazon’s Viking series too, including mentions of Ragnar, Ivar The Boneless and the Seer, the latter of which playing a part in Freydis’ individual story.
This generally does feel like a continuation of Vikings and although the later episodes feel like they lose some momentum, that’s quickly gained back during the exciting climax of the season.
Vikings: Valhalla is a really solid watch and although it does have a few narrative bumps in the road, it’s largely a satisfying and enjoyable show to sit through. The gritty action and interesting characters help elevate this and despite some of the history being a little wonky and inaccurate, Valhalla packs one heck of a punch in its 8 episodes, making it easy to overlook that.
Vikings Valhalla launches on Netflix worldwide on Friday 25th February 2022! Add it to your watchlist HERE
Verdict - 8/10