History's 'Vikings' sets sail for 2nd season
In this photo dated July, 8 2013 Ragnar, front, played by actor Travis Fimmel, a leading character from television show Vikings, History’s brooding and brutal drama about the 8th-century Nordic warrior Ragnar Lothbrok. After a six-month shoot in Ireland, season two debuts Thursday night sporting a bigger scale, more confident pace and stronger entertainment than last year’s uneven, at-times plodding inaugural run.(AP Photo/Bernard Walsh/History)
ASHFORD, Ireland (AP) — "Vikings," History's brooding and brutal drama about the 8th-century Nordic warrior Ragnar Lothbrok, is growing up quickly.
After a six-month shoot in Ireland, season two debuts Thursday night sporting a bigger scale, more confident pace and stronger entertainment than last year's uneven, at-times plodding inaugural run.
The opening scene pits Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) against rebellious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) in a spear-and-axe spatterfest involving more than 300 stuntmen and extras filmed in an abandoned Irish quarry transformed into an apocalyptic moonscape. It's striking stuff accomplished with choreography and muscle, not CGI.
Later episodes feature a four-year jump forward in plotline, a dizzying expansion of Ragnar's family and military challenges, and a potential alliance with the calculating ruler of southern England, King Ecbert of Wessex (new cast member Linus Roache). Joining Ragnar in his raiding party is former monk and slave Athelstan (George Blagden), who has sheathed his Christian piety in favor of a pagan sword and bow.
Ragnar's boy Bjorn isn't staying a grumpy kid for long, either. After the opening episode, he sprouts into Alexander Ludwig (Cato in "The Hunger Games"), who at 6-foot-3 of muscle is more than able to look his burly, braided-mohawk father in the eye. Ragnar rapid-fire fathers four more boys to join the power family, including Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ivan the Boneless.
Who's the mother? That's an awkward one. Out is shield maiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and in is princess Auslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). Lagertha and Bjorn aren't happy with the adulterous Ragnar — particularly not after he suggests polygamy as a solution — but with so many enemies at home and abroad, they still fight on the same side, with Winnick able to kick any man's ass if her orders aren't respected.
Michael Hirst, the creator, writer and showrunner for the series, openly hopes to keep "Vikings" plundering the airwaves long after Ragnar meets his death, as history — if not History — says he must.
While Hirst is keen to avoid plot spoilers, the fact is he's dramatizing the central warrior legend of the Nordic Dark Ages, so the bare bones of the plot are already there on Wikipedia. And that record shows Bjorn Ironsides, as Ludwig's character is to become, lived an even larger life than his father, exploring and plundering all the way to Italy. He, like all the actors slated to survive season two, is already under contract for a third.