Vikings fans who like this show, don't read this. It's for people deciding if they want to spend time or money on it. I recommend watching thru season 4, that's where it should have ended. But, s5 & s6 is a GoT repeat: the writing changed dramatically.
Vikings started out as a dramatized documentary. The first few seasons are semi-good storytelling. But now, it is an irrelevant soap opera - with gobs of disappointed and angry fans who can't believe these last two seasons exist like this. A summary:
- Some early plots and character arcs were rewritten without explanation; while others, even some battle scenes, are downright unbelievable - in order to ramp up the emotional experience, which is the reason for all the obsessions. Who needs science? Stephenie Meyer didn't, and neither does the writer of this series, Michael Hirst - who IS CAPABLE of good writing. That's why the anger - we know what he is capable of, and can see what he's been doing these past two seasons. Uncool.
- Repetitive, predictable 'Viking' storylines are used over and over, whether they make sense or not. (For instance, brothers betraying each other is absolutely mandatory - despite 'real' exceptions having existed.) Viking family life, relationship and adventures don't need logic as long as there is enough blood, gore, rape, sex and betrayals to keep the shock factor high.
Another example: a young boy witnesses a gang rape - then is never seen again, as the audience wonders who he ran off to tell. No one. Just more woowoo drama, and isn't it all so shocking!
- The intelligence of both the Vikings and English is often insulting. For instance, in season five - the English army are portrayed as bumbling idiots; and pregnant Viking women are (more than once, ugh!) clueless about the effects hard labor can have on an unborn child. In fact, most babies don't make it to being born; and the ones that do - well, if they were born a girl, they're gone. Who cares about a young Viking girl coming of age? (This isn't about #metoo - just more insensitive Hollywood bs.)
- Weaving 'real' legend and history into this show was important, BECAUSE most of the characters (and culture) already had exciting reputations that we were curious about - and we really wanted to hear their stories! (Which is why we early fans started watching and made it a hit - you're welcome, current fans! ;)
But, Vikings doesn't respect history nor the historical/legendary Viking or English characters this show is based on. At. All. HBO, Showtime, etc - as bad as they are, are all WAY better at incorporating history & fiction, even though Vikings is done by The History Channel. (I recommend The Last Kingdom on Netflix - way more satisfying.)
Really, the things that were 'really' going on at the time with both characters and historic events - are far more fascinating than the writer has been able to revamp. Vikings missed out on some amazing opportunities to actually be good because of it. (Imagine watching King Harald's last battle, fighting from boat to boat out in the water - all day - still standing triumphant at the end. Don't expect anything remotely like that for 'this' King Harald. Also, he is very unlucky in love - more like an 'un-King Harald', and it's kind of sad.)
- The gods are almighty and powerful (with so many characters able to 'hear' them, it's ridiculous), while Christianity's God is pretty much just in the mix because its part of history - can't make a show about Vikings & 'The West' without it. But, it's just a prop while the gods are tangibly interactive and GREAT! (This might not have been so bad if we hadn't spent so much time in England. This show could have been called 'Wessex' for a few seasons.)
- They talk like people do today, often adopting modern phrasing or 'Old English' protocols & etiquette as their own. One of the most annoying things is the New Age 'enlightenment' talk that has somehow made its way into here. (Halfdan's desert visions along with 'what Bjorn taught him', Floki 'buddha meditating', talking about 'the soul' (remember Ragnar asking Athelstan what a soul was?) and a desire for peaceful human coexistence through the gods, etc - a complete, unexplained flip for our beloved 'Christian killer'.)
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy an occasional 'woke' YouTube video. Floki was supposedly already 'pagan woke' - but there was/should be a significant difference between how he experiences that 'then' and how we might experience something like it 'now'. Floki didn't NEED any other religious/spiritual influences to represent OR express his 'wokeness'. (Plus, when/how did he learn those things?) MH started out writing his transition well enough (hand lick, yum!) - but it was yet another thing that fell off a cliff. Hard.
See season 501 & 502 'critical reviews' for fan confirmations and detailed specifics; plus by now, you can view the critical reviews for this season. Also see non-spoiler episode reviews of s602 in the comments. I keep hearing two different things about the ending - it's either brilliant & satisfying, or more of the same. I have to find out for myself; and I'll let you know if the ending is watchable or cringeworthy from a storyline perspective.
I did this, but Amazon removed the comment section from reviews across the platform - probably too much fighting going on in them, dunno. Another summary:
Not too bad of a review, but one seriously cringeworthy issue: all throughout this season, the main characters whine about 'sins' and regrets - and wondering how they can ever make amends, or if ODIN will forgive them, etc.
I was starting to think Michael Hirst had mistaken Paganism for Christianity - but then, he decided to throw a couple 'far out' Christian miracles in the mix - and that actually made me believe he had indeed, flipped the two religious perspectives completely around. Actually, that part wasn't as bad as it sounds, since it was something new, ha!
However, Torvi summed up the Pagan attitude about those things for us in s502: "What sin?"
There is probably a 50/50 chance you'll enjoy the entire series to the end - if you know these things are coming so you can more easily gloss over them. For instance, don't let yourself become too attached to any character. While death scenes have always been spectacular (this show has mastered them); along with the battle scenes this season, which they nailed (finally) - every main character's storyline crashed in the most illogical and unsatisfying and/or incomplete ways (sometimes in several places) - starting with Ragnar turning into a wimp in s401 to abandon the young sons that he just HAD to have, and snowballing from there. One disappointing train wreck after another. Though again, Ragnar's death (ALL their deaths) - WoW!
All the new characters from s402 until now are way too shallow because of too many previous rushed, sensationalized storylines. There was no time to give any of them substance for the audience to care nearly as much about them as they did earlier characters. We needed those connections since the main characters were (logically, last season) starting to dwindle.
For instance, Kattegat felt as if complete strangers were left to rule it. (Although Ingrid has a fan club cuz she's a HOT slutty former slave (and now lesbian!) - one of the writers favorite tropes to overuse since it works so well for him. There is a definite shortage of 'royal' women to marry royal men off to in this Viking world.)
Also, there is a character 'Erik', who I kept wondering: why does anyone care what he thinks? He saved Bjorn's life once, so that somehow gives him positioning to become King? WHERE are all of Bjorn Ironside's warband buddies, he has NONE like his father did! As long as Bjorn has enough women, that is the most important thing for his character, I guess.
At first, Erik seems to be the legendary 'Erik the Red' - but he's not. I can't imagine why a writer would 'insinuate' that, and not use his story. But, this isn't the only historical or legendary character that is taken WAY out of context. I hope none of the 'real' main characters have been watching from Valhalla, Heaven or wherever, ha! I can't imagine any of them would be very impressed.
It's the same with storylines - because there were too many going on, they are all only partially told. The first episode this season demonstrates that really well, though other incomplete storylines follow. And because they are all so 'rushed to end', LOTS of 'telling' instead of 'showing' happens - if explanations are given at all.
It looks like this series was completely written, then split at the midpoint of season four - then two 'sensationalized' seasons were inserted - until this last half where they were obviously trying to tie up loose ends. Not necessarily all was bad, there was some good writing (and acting), in places this season - along with the usual extra pretty visuals. However, I kept thinking that many of the scenes belonged in season five. That was weird.
Fans seem to be split on whether or not the ending is good. I think it would have been an excellent end (with a couple unbelievable quirks - NO, on Ivar's bs) if they were not partially told stories. That aspect is unsatisfying for many peeps. There should be a whole 'nother episode just for Hvitserk, but he's not the only character (Bjorn!) who needed more screen time for his story to seem complete.
Also, you see this in other reviews: too much New Age eyeroll-worthy talk at the end. It's like Michael Hirst dumped his own beliefs into the heads of his characters while they were supposed to be Vikings. Whatever.
Yeah, check out The Last Kingdom on Netflix for boatloads of relevant Viking fun, storytelling and history combined. We're waiting for season five, so there are four whole seasons for you to binge watch.