As is the way of the series, there is much quiet conversation in dimly lit chambers and on stony shores before we get to what we are all tuning in for: violence. When bloodshed arrives, it comes with a stark solemnity befitting a series that is almost kind of a bit about actual history. The characters of Vikings are, in many cases, genuine historical figures, which adds a noble sheen to the fact it’s basically all made up. The ominous soundtrack and colour palette add to the sense that you are watching something terribly serious and should resist the urge to cheer wildly when a bloke gets an axe in the face.
Vikings excels at the slow build-up of dread: the tense, portentous hours before battle explodes. All roads lead to the clash of swords, but the show knows the storm will be all the more compelling for the length of the calm, as nerves fray and snap. The Rus march towards Kattegat while Bjorn’s shattered forces seek a way to defend themselves against the coming onslaught, and the atmosphere is one of sadness, fear and despair. All seems lost as Oleg lays his plans and even allies seem to be turning against the leaderless Norse, who will now surely suffer the indignity of being ruled over by a man named “The Boneless”. However, it must be noted that this is the first of 10 episodes in this final half-season, so no spoilers, but we can probably trust there’ll be a twist or two before the fat lady sings. Not that there are any fat ladies in Vikings: medieval Scandinavia’s female population seems to have been exclusively made up of supermodels.
Much like its sexy cast, Vikings is an uncommonly good-looking show. The ice-and-rock motif of the scenery, decked out in myriad shades of grey, provides a stunningly bleak backdrop to the weighty deliberations of kings and queens, and to the brutal confrontations those deliberations give way to. The climactic battle of this first instalment of the series’ home straight unfolds on as spectacular a stretch of freezing, lonely wilderness as one could ever ask for – but if the setting makes one feel a little chilly at first sight, everyone will soon warm up as the blood stirs and rises at the rousing pay-off to all that tension-building. The thrills take their time, but when they come, they come with a mighty rush.