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'Vikings': The History Channel's first scripted series paints them as more than brutes

HBO's got "Game of Thrones." Think of "Vikings," the History Channel's first scripted series, as "Game of Zones."

[Related: TV's new drama 'Vikings' sheds light on Dark Ages]

The period drama, which begins its nine-episode run on History on March 3, revolves around Viking raider Ragnar Lodbrok and his desire to explore new territories for his people. Specifically, Lodbrok -- played by "Tarzan" and "The Beast" alum Travis Fimmel -- wants to head west. His local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne), wants Lodbrok and his men to continue raiding the same territories they've been raiding, even though the people in those areas are as poor as Haraldson's people. The butting of heads ensues.

Lodbrok pushes ahead to satisfy his curiosity about the unexplored world, however, and with the help of his friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), he constructs magnificent ships that will make plundering and pillaging new worlds possible. And plunder and pillage they do -- though, unlike the image most people have of Vikings from pop culture (and those Capital One commercials), there are no horned helmets to be found among these adventurers.

"Our heads have been filled with just how sinister the Vikings supposedly were, but of course they've got families, they've got to eat, they want to expand," Fimmel tells Yahoo! TV. "And they've got as much right, in their minds, to do what they did as anybody else does.

"They needed to expand their resources, because they didn't have many resources in Norway and Sweden back then. They needed food, and they needed to go into other places to find it."

That involves some amazing scenery (the series was filmed in Ireland), thrilling fight scenes, and a host of family squabbles, as Lodbrok's warrior wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), supports his efforts, but his wild-man brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), begins to grow jealous of his sibling as Ragnar begins to build his legendary status. And Earl Haraldson has a plotting family member of his own to deal with in wife Siggy ("Glee" and "Nip/Tuck" alum Jessalyn Gilsig).

[Related: Jessalyn Gilsig hails History's 'ambitious,' sexy 'Vikings' invasion, previews 'Good Wife' visit]

Fimmel says the family saga is what helped him connect to Lodbrok -- a Norse hero who believed he was a descendant of the god Odin -- and make him a character he thinks viewers will find relatable.

"I just tried to humanize the character," says the actor, who found out he'd been cast as Lodbrok just a week before production began in Ireland. "He's got family, loved ones. That gives him reasons why he does the things he does. The Vikings have been portrayed as these brutal people, but in reality, they were concerned with doing the right thing, and providing for their families, like any culture."

Fimmel says the beautiful locales, costumes, and set design, not to mention the spectacular ships that the History Channel had built just for the production, also helped the actors really tune in to the period, as did the rainy weather they faced most days.

"We shot in the rain, and in bad weather, every day," he says of the series, which was penned by "Elizabeth" and "The Tudors" writer Michael Hirst. "We were always slipping and falling … it makes it very realistic. [The Vikings] didn't get to pick a sunny day to have a battle. You fought when you had to."

[Related: See the poster art for History Channel's 'Vikings']

As for the future of the series, Fimmel confirms that the final episodes of the first season leave it open to continuing the story.

"For sure, and in fact, my favorite episodes are the last ones. Gabriel Byrne is just amazing, and what his character does later on is brilliant. He's such a talented man, and it was a privilege to work with him."

"Vikings" premiers March 3 at 10 PM on the History Channel.