“Vikings” turned out to be a remarkably durable concept, so much so that they could kill off the main character and trudge onward through the mud and muck. Sailing from History channel to Netflix, “Vikings: Valhalla” should be an even bigger attraction, charting a new chapter set more than a century after the original, while offering most of the same lusty charms.
The earlier show’s Ragnar Lothbrok gets name-checked as a remnant of the past, but the series ably moves into a new era where the Vikings are trying to resolve an internal rift created by the introduction of Christianity into their midst, spawning a subset of believers who clash with those clinging to paganism.
Yet the real tension comes when the English king conducts a purge of Vikings who have settled in his country, unleashing a bloody quest for revenge that brings together an assortment of quarrelsome personalities with disparate motives, including the gifted explorer Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett) and his shield-maiden sister Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson), who is just as deadly with a sword and committed to her own separate crusade for justice.
They come into alignment with Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), an ambitious Nordic prince who recognizes Eriksson’s talent, and sees the opportunity for a career advancement in the siege to come.
Executive produced by veteran screenwriter Jeb Stuart working with original producer Michael Hirst among others, the show possesses particularly epic qualities, including a battle for London Bridge that’s as intricate and muscular as any staged during the earlier series, which is saying something.
The show also features a sprawling cast of characters and shifting alliances, with one of the more prominent being the Viking King Canute (Bradley Freegard), an astute strategist who sat on both the English and Danish thrones in the 11th century.
Rooted in history but not beholden to it, the show might provoke one or two viewers to crack a book seeing if this is how it actually unfolded, which isn’t a bad thing. Yet nor is that really necessary, with “Vikings: Valhalla” working plenty well simply as escapist drama, covering a great deal of story in a season that still leaves room for battles and brawls to come.
Netflix has been particularly opportunistic about identifying shows developed elsewhere and bringing them into its army, and “Vikings” certainly fits that profile. While it was a success on History, this broader platform should benefit both parties.
In a sense, the streaming service’s acquisitive instincts have a lot in common with the Norseman depicted here, even if the modern content pillagers show up in designer shoes rather than muddy boots and boats.
“Vikings: Valhalla” premieres Feb. 25 on Netflix.