REVIEW: ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ is a Slow Burn With Potential

vikings valhalla review

Vikings: Valhalla is technically a spinoff to the original Vikings series, which ran from 2013 until 2020, but isn’t burdened by its legacy. The story takes off a century after Ragnar’s legacy and further explores the aftermath and history that surrounds the characters of Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett), Freydís Eríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), and Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter). Not only does it explore the invasion of London but also the inner conflict between Christian and Pagan beliefs within the Viking community. Does it manage to offer a compelling story while continuing what made the Vikings franchise popular?

I’ll confess that I’ve not seen the original series. So, I went into this blind and without much knowledge, but luckily the 100-year gap made it quite easy to jump in as a newcomer. You are quickly caught up with the main story, an opening text does hint at Ragnar and his story from the original before jumping directly into the conflict that defines this spinoff. The English royals betray the Vikings that lived in their land. As they gather for vengeance, the conflict between their changing culture also reaches a boiling püoint. In a way, it allows for an ongoing conflict within and outside of their ranks.

This divide was the most compelling storyline throughout the season, especially with how its portrayed. It never is a simple “good or bad” view, but two beliefs at a constant front. We regularly see members of both sides pick a fight because of their difference, while the leadership struggles to keep them in line. It establishes a constant tension between the parties, which makes you wonder when or how people will try to take it out on each other. Yet, it also feels oddly held back by the series trying to juggle more than it can chew at times.

In a way, the show drags early on and also rushes through storylines. There’s a lot of history here that is complex and worth exploring, but the way it goes from one plot point to the next, it kind of feels like a cliff notes version. You could perfectly split this season into two halves without really changing much, as it suddenly introduces new characters late into the game. While one of them might be my personal favorite just for his general attitude – I don’t want to spoil who that is – it still feels like some of these conflicts could’ve used more time.

Leif Eriksson, whose history is very much defined by his discovery and not his war prowess, is certainly a kickass character but just along for the ride. His main storyline ties into the overall conflict but it feels somewhat unrealized. Outside of a literal symbol and a heartfelt goodbye, we don’t spend too much time with his conflict. This is war and it takes sacrifices. One of the highlights was seeing him come to grips with the loss and his potential new belief does make a very compelling storyline. Yet, it feels convenient when the story needs it rather than an actual arc throughout.

Even Freydís’ storyline focused more on build-up than the end execution. Though I will say, I felt like she had the stronger arc throughout this season in comparison to everyone else. I especially loved exploring the Pagan culture and mystical elements surrounding her character. It helped her path stand out from the rest, as the actual England invasion was a bit rushed to get everyone to where they needed to be. They tried to tell so many storylines that it comes to the detriment of its pacing

I quite enjoyed the back half – even if I believed it should’ve been its season overall to flesh it out more – and it made me happy that I sat through it. Yet, I struggled to get through the earlier episode. There are quite a few characters to keep track of, and it ends up overshadowing our main cast which should be the guiding light throughout the story. We not only have to keep up with our main cast, the Viking royalty, their goals, those that are Pagan and Christian, a side story with a compelling villain played by Asbjørn Krogh Nissen, and the English royalty.

It’s this weird effect where a lot is happening yet it feels dragged out until suddenly it’s just resolved. Everything else about the series is well-made. The costume design is fantastic, even as many Vikings are similar in design, you can still pick out Leif from the crowd. It doesn’t shy away from brutality from that time, even as we’re watching Pagan rituals. It all comes together at the end, but some might’ve jumped ship as the series doesn’t truly get going until quite a few episodes in. As a weekly release, it could’ve been its detriment but the Netflix binge model may help it out. And with a second season on the horizon, perhaps the best parts are yet to come.

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