This past Sunday, the History Channel debuted its first scripted drama series, VIKINGS. (If you missed it, or if, like me, you don't actually have a television, iTunes had the first episode available for free, at least at the time of writing.)
VIKINGS follows the exploits of a de-mythologized Ragnar Lodbrok, a hero of Viking myths and sagas. Going by the first episode, the show hardly appears to be a straight adaptation of Ragnar's Saga; little about the show's hero remains the same as either the sagas or, as best as I can tell, the best guesses at the historical life of Ragnar. (I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's a strange choice - nobody in America except serious Viking buffs will even recognize the name, and the people who recognize it will be confused as to why the character doesn't resemble the Ragnar of the sagas. Who knows.)
In the first episode, "Rites of Passage," Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his twelve-year-old son set out to their tribe's Thing, where, after a few matters of law and punishment are settled, the tribe's leader, Jarl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) will announce their destination for the summer's raids. Haraldson announces they will strike east, into Russia, as they have for several years; unfortunately, while it is known territory, it's also a poor place to make a profit, as the Slavs aren't any richer than the Scandinavians. Ragnar, with the help of a few new technologies, believes they should strike west, instead, but Haraldson won't have any of it. In secret, Ragnar hires a half-crazed shipwright, Floki, to build him a vessel so he and a crew can go exploring, putting him into direct conflict with Haraldson, who doesn't want one of his subjects making him look weak by defying his orders.