An Open Access Review Journal Encouraging Critical Engagement with the Continuing Process of Inventing the Middle Ages

May 20, 2022

Naismith, Ní Mhaonaigh, and Rowe: Writing Battles

Rory Naismith, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, and Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, eds., Writing Battles: New Perspectives on Warfare and Memory in Medieval Europe. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

Reviewed by: Craig M. Nakashian

This edited volume fits nicely into Medievally Speaking’s mission to encourage “critical engagement with the continuing process of inventing the Middle Ages” in that it discusses how medieval people themselves invented and reimagined the world around them. The act of remembering battles was fundamentally a creative one, an effort to memorialize and shape the perception of historical events both for posterity and contemporary utility.

The volume includes ten scholarly articles, in addition to the introduction and afterword, and covers a wide array of examples from how contemporaries saw the role of London in combat to how Mel Gibson has shaped our understanding of a medieval melee. The articles were inspired by the “slew” of conferences that were sponsored by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge to commemorate major battles in the 2010s. The volume primarily “showcases” some of the papers presented at those conferences, expanded and developed into articles.

One of the central themes of the volume is the “timelessness of warfare as a structuring element in both society and memory.” (1) The editors note that there are “striking continuities” in how battles are remembered, memorialized, and understood by contemporaries and later observers. Battles were often seen as “key markers in the course of history” and were woven into collective memories, nostalgia, and cultural historical imagination. (1)

The introduction itself is a brief, but highly effective, overview of the chapter contents and the central themes of the volume. Instead of discrete paragraphs discussing each chapter, the editors offer a discussion that links themes running through each contribution and ties them together. They also highlight continuities in methods and conceptual frameworks. This is a very useful approach to a volume such as this, though it benefits from the fact that the geographical range of the volume is limited to Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia (despite the subtitle of “Medieval Europe”). Either way, the introduction, while only running to four printed pages is among the best scholarly introductions to an edited volume that I have seen. With that said, I will proceed to review the book in discrete paragraphs.

Robert Bartlett kicks off the volume with an article covering one of the most basic aspects of memorializing a battle - how do you go about naming it? One of the examples that Bartlett cites is near and dear to my own memory growing up as an American Civil War buff - the United States named major battles in that war according to the nearest river or stream (Bull Run, Stone’s River, Antietam, etc.) whereas the Confederates named them according to the nearest town (Manassas, Murfreesboro, Sharpsburg, etc.). For later medieval conflicts, Bartlett points out the crucial role played by heralds (memorialized by Shakespeare’s Henry V). He also considers the grammatical forms and etymological realities of how battle names developed. His presentation is lively, vibrant, and suffused with humor throughout. His conclusion forwards the psychological impulse to name a battle at all as a mechanism to create “a simple and solid event from the mess.” (20)

Jenny Benham shifts the focus a bit and considers the role of battle in efforts to create peace. Her approach examines battle narratives to see how they were situated in a Roman-inspired “just war” paradigm and she demonstrates how the portrayal of battles was often shaped in order to promote their role in achieving peace. Peace was the ultimate purpose of war in this conception and it could be achieved by victory in battle and war (provided they were justified). Observers also often saw two mechanisms of peace strategies - mediation and arbitration - which Benham does an excellent job unpacking and examining.

Matthew Strickland’s article – “‘Undying glory by the sword’s edge’: Writing and remembering battle in Anglo-Saxon England” - looks at the commemoration and memory of Anglo-Saxon battles prior to Hastings. His fundamental question was why certain battles were commemorated whereas others were largely forgotten. He shows how much our reliance on chance survivals of evidence - he uses the wonderful epic poem The Battle of Maldon as his prime example - have shaped our understanding of the cultural perception of battle and war in Anglo-Saxon society. He asks (and argues) whether “the laconic annals recording battle in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were intended merely as an aide memoire, implying access to fuller oral accounts and poems (whether legendary or more contemporary).” (48) The implication is that the answer was a strong affirmative.

The following three articles come from the volume’s editors. The first is Rory Naismith’s “Fortress London: War and the making of an Anglo-Saxon city”. Naismith argues that war made London into the de facto capital of England by the eleventh century (despite Winchester’s historical claim to centrality). He examines London’s military role in three phases - the most important of which was against the Vikings in the 900s. Naismith also unpacks a great deal of how London was imagined in various phases, focusing on the relevance and scope of the various names given to it over the period(s) - Lundenwic, Londinium, Lundenceaster, and Lundenburg.

Elizabeth Ashman Rowe moves the action northward with her article “‘Axe-age, sword-age’: Writing battles in Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia”. She surveys the available evidence for writing about battles, and she wisely adopts a broad approach that includes poetry and sagas to supplement runic inscriptions and manuscript evidence. She examines evidence across a broad temporal swath as well, from early medieval runic writing up through the writings of the thirteenth century author Snorri Sturluson. She focuses on the cultural purpose of narrating battles, and argues that in addition to the political and religious purposes in battle memory, we must also account for their role in establishing fame and reputation amongst warriors.

The final article from one of the volume’s editors is Máire Ní Mhaonaigh’s “Medieval Irish battle narratives and the construction of the past” wherein she examines Irish battle-writing from the late eighth to early twelfth centuries. She shows how medieval Irish writers, much like writers in other medieval societies, used a glorious, imagined past to presage a strong and vibrant present (and future); in the case of medieval Ireland the imagined past was linked to the legend of Troy (as it was in many other medieval societies). The Irish used both Classical traditions as well as Biblical ones to fit themselves into the cultural narrative of history. She shows how the narratives of battle memories were designed to illuminate and support the ideology and ambition of the elites who consumed them, even if the details of particular engagements were less than trustworthy.

Natalia I. Petrovskaia broadens the discussion even further with her article, “Which ‘pagans’?: The influence of crusades on battle narratives in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia”. In it, she engages with how modern audiences envision the Middle Ages and how medieval peoples understood those whom they saw as quite different from themselves. Much of her discussion swirls around the use of the term “Saracen”, which she shows to be an ubiquitous way of referring to essentially any non-Christian population. She sees this lumping together of non-Christian populations as a mechanism of establishing Christian unity. She ends with a reminder that our modern theories of self-identification are useful lenses through which to approach the medieval past, but that ultimately we should focus on the theoretical frameworks that they themselves utilized, often derived from the teachings of the fifth century theologian Orosius, the translatio imperii, and synchronicity to align historical memory with emotionally-memorable contemporary events.

The three editors then team up for a joint article that examines the battle of Stamford Bridge (1066) in which King Harold Godwineson of England defeated an army led by King Harald of Norway and his own brother Tostig. They give accounts of the battle found in four separate languages (English, Latin, Old Norse, and Irish) ranging in period from near-contemporaries (such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Irish poet Gilla Cóemáin) to the early thirteenth century writings of Snorri Sturluson. They show how each text was constructed to influence the memory of the event (even the laconic Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) and they do a valuable service in providing versions of the original texts. One area of criticism would be that it would have been nice for them to weigh in with more of their own analysis - it is tantalizing to have these three engaging with such fascinating materials and I felt that they could have gone further with their own interpretations.

The final two articles bring us into the twentieth century, first with Anthony Pollard’s fascinating look at how Hollywood makes movie magic in “Shooting arrows: Cinematic representations of medieval battles”. Pollard, both a professional academic historian and someone who served as a technical advisor on major film productions, looks at how modern movie-makers seek to imagine and portray the medieval past. He shows how proper terrain was crucial for both medieval commanders and the film-makers seeking to restage their epic victories and defeats. He pushes back against the tendency to portray medieval battles as merely mindless chaotic melees and questions why gunpowder does not turn up in more medieval cinema, given its presence on battlefields from the fourteenth century onwards. Surprisingly he does not tie in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with its use of gunpowder to draw distinctions between the “backwards” Christians and “scientific” Muslims. Still, his article is a strong defense of historical cinema, inaccuracies and anachronisms notwithstanding.

Finally, Robert Tombs advances the discussion to how battles in the First World War were remembered and memorialized. He shows how the cultural memory of the war in Britain was focused on battles themselves and a general theme of loss and mourning, primarily through the use of poetry. In France, on the other hand, the overarching focus was one of pride and celebration of liberation. He gives an excellent overview of how the British (and to a lesser extent French) saw the Great War up through Blackadder in 1989, but his article is often focused more on memories of the Great War itself, not necessarily just the battles.

The volume ends with a brief Afterword written by Brendan Simms whereby he pulls together the various themes of the volume, including how war should be seen as a “process” in addition to an “event”. He reexamines how battles were commemorated, named, recorded, and appropriated by contemporaries and successors for their own purposes. He ends with a strong defense of seeing the people of the past as fundamentally people, rather than as a foreign “other” to our contemporary world.

Overall, this volume provides a great deal of food for thought on how medieval authors understood the role of battles in their own past and in their cultural imagination about their own presents (and futures). While the subtitle overpromises the breadth of areas under study, as an examination of how authors from Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia understood the “timelessness of warfare as a structuring element in both society and memory”, it does an excellent job and will provide plenty of food for thought for anyone interested in how medieval peoples conceptualized battles. (1)

Craig M Nakashian, PhD

Texas A&M University-Texarkana


April 28, 2022

The Northman


A review of Robert Eggers’ The Northman


Kevin J. Harty

La Salle University


Vikings have been appearing on the big and small screen in feature-length and made-for-television films for over a hundred years, and the more than 80 entries in any Viking filmography include a decidedly mixed bag of cinematic offerings.  There are would-be Hollywood Viking blockbusters, such as Richard Fleischer’s 1958 The Vikings—a star-vehicle for Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine—and Jack Cardiff’s 1963 The Long Ships, which featured Richard Widmark as a Viking warlord matching wits with a Moorish prince, played by Sidney Poitier, to find a fabled bell made of gold. One of the better critical responses to The Long Ships is simply the title of an essay by Don Hoffman, “Guess Who’s Coming to Plunder?” There are campy Viking B-movies, such as Roger Corman’s 1957 The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent and the unintentionally hysterically funny 1971 Turkish film Tarkan Viking Kani directed by Mehmet Asain.  There are animated Viking films for children, such as the three films (2010, 2014, and 2019) in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. There are serious Viking art-house films from Hrafn Gunnlauggsson and other Icelandic and Scandinavian directors that summon up a more authentic medieval Nordic past.  There are Viking horror films and sci-fi features, such as Marcus Nispel’s 2007 Pathfinder and Howard McCain’s 2008 Outlander.  There are cinematic attempts to dramatize encounters between indigenous people in North American and the Vikings who landed in Vinland around 1000 CE, such as Charles B. Pierce’s 1978 The Norsemen and Pam Berger’s 1994 Kilian’s Chronicle, or to chart Viking travels into Slavic territories and to other destinations even farther east, such as Richard Thorpe’s 1960 The Tartars and Jerzy Hoffman’s 2003 When the Sun Was God.  Mighty Thor has popped up as a superhero in the Marvell cinematic franchise.  There are even Viking comedies, such as Herodes Falsk’s 1983 Prima Veras Saga am Olav Hellige and Terry Jones’s 1989 Erik the Viking. And there are Viking films that portray a world waist deep in blood, the most violent until now being Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 Valhalla Rising.

            Adding to this varied Viking cinematic history, we now have Robert Eggers’ The Northman, which according to pre- and post-release press notices intends to be “the most accurate” Viking film ever made—there is not a horned helmet in sight.  The plot is simple, and familiar enough.  A young prince vows vengeance against his uncle who has murdered his father and then abducted and married his mother. The film’s source is the Ur-version of the tale of Hamlet, also the source of an earlier, little-known and much less ambitious Viking film, Gabriel Axel’s 1993 Prince of Jutland. Eggers shot his film in Northern Ireland and in Iceland, and the scenery is breathtaking.  The cinematography succeeds in capturing the beauty and the horror of the story that the film tells. The musical score is always haunting.

            King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns home from a successful raid loaded down with chests of treasure and trailed by a column of collared slaves. Ravens will play a continued important role in the film.  He is greeted by Amleth, his young son (Oscar Novak), and his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Amleth’s initiation ritual into manhood follows under the guidance of Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe), further establishing a pattern of identification between Viking warriors and their animal avatars that threads its way throughout the film.  The initiation ritual ends abruptly when Amleth’s uncle, Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang), kills his brother, declares himself king, and makes Gudrún his bride and queen. The boy Amleth barely escapes with his life. 

Time passes quickly, and the now grown Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is a buff, ripped Viking berserker armed to (and, in one scene, with!) his teeth mercilessly raiding Slavic villages for the joy of the blood-sport, for treasure, and for slaves who are sent off to such faraway places as Iceland, where Fjölnir has taken up residence as a dethroned king turned farmer. In a narrative ruse that nods to Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator, Amleth disguises himself as a slave and joins the human cargo bound for Iceland to avenge his father’s murder and to rescue his mother. Also aboard the ship is a Slavic seer, Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy).

                                         Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth the Berserker 


Not unexpectedly, once in Iceland, Amleth is mistreated as a slave. When he saves the life of his stepbrother, Gunnar (Elliott Rose), during a game of knattleikr, an especially brutal and violent lacrosse-like Icelandic Viking sport, Amleth receives slightly better treatment, but with the warning that he “will always be a slave.”   After the game, Amleth, with the aid of his now lover Olga, sets in motion his plot to avenge his father, rescue his mother, and kill his uncle.  A middle-of-the night meeting with the local He-Witch (Ingvar Sigurðsson) enlightens Amleth further about his destiny—Olga will bear him twin sons, each a king in his own right—and provides him with a charmed sword (think Viking Excalibur) that can only be unsheathed at night and at the Gates of Hell, a volcanic cave filled with fiery lava.  Amleth returns to Fjölnir’s farm, sword in hand, and launches a campaign of physical and psychological warfare against his uncle and his retainers, learning some unsettling truths about his mother in the process, until he and Fjölnir meet naked in a final last battle at the Gates of Hell.  Strip out the volcanic component of that battle, and viewers have a cinematic echo of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred at the end of John Boorman’s 1980 film Excalibur.

            In a number of interviews, Skarsgård has allowed that he always wanted to make a Viking film.  In the HBO series True Blood, he played Eric Northman, a Viking vampire from the Middle Ages.  He is the son of noted Swedish actor, Stellen Skarsgård, who was Cerdic, the blood thirsty leader of the invading Danes in the 2004 film King Arthur.  The younger Skarsgård also played Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband in the HBO series Big Little Lies.  And while Skarsgård makes a convincing berserker and warrior, the outstanding performance in the film is delivered by Kidman.  In her confrontation with her now-grown son, she delivers a monologue that is truly Shakespearean. No unwilling or vaguely involved Gertrude is she. Even Lady Macbeth pales in comparison. She instigated Aurvandil’s murder and laughed with delight when Fjölnir carried her off as a more than willing bride. She even happily bore him a son, Gunnar, whom Amleth had earlier selflessly rescued from certain death on the knattleikr playing field.


                                                      Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún


           Eggers has developed a following among moviegoers because of his two previous films.  Both The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) are small period films that evoke the horror, magic, and mystery of seventeenth-century and nineteenth-century New England. Eggers goals for his Viking film are clearly more ambitious; The Northman does not offer viewers another moody glimpse into some out-of-the way corner of New England.  Beginning with its runic intertitles, The Northman posits an expansive Viking world that is unapologetically pagan and that stretches across Europe from Russia to Iceland.  Christianity is dismissed offhand in a brief conversation between two of Fjölnir’s soldiers as a fringe religion whose God hangs from a tree. 

The film’s world is also unsparingly brutal.  In the Viking raid, those villagers not dragged off as slaves are hacked to death or are herded into a barn and burned alive, be they men, women or children. Women especially are victims of brutality even when they are allowed to live as slaves, but Gudrún, Olga, a second seer (played by Björk), and a Valkyrja astride a white stallion (Ineta Sliuzaite) do have genuine agency.  If Umberto Eco is correct in asserting that we constantly “mess up” the Middle Ages, The Northman does so in a way that has a contemporary echo given the savagery now on display daily in Ukraine at the hands of the country’s so-called Russian liberators. Critical response to the film has, deservingly, been overwhelmingly positive. And, with a script co-written by the Icelandic poet and novelist, Sjón, The Northman is certainly a cut above most Viking films in its attention to detail, both small and large. 


The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers from a script co-written by Sjón and Robert Eggers. A Focus Feature/United Artists Production. 137 minutes. 2022. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe.

April 12, 2022

Vikings: Valhalla


Jeb Stuart’s Vikings: Valhalla (2022)

Reviewed by Kevin J. Harty


Umberto Eco once explained the continued interest in the medieval and in medievalism in one simple sentence: “People seem to like the Middle Ages.” And television producers seem to like the Vikings. Vikings: Valhalla, Jeb Stuart’s eight-part series streaming on Netflix (with two more seasons promised), is a sequel to Michael Hirst’s six-season Vikings, which aired from 2013-2020 on The History Channel.  Both series were complemented by The Last Kingdom, which aired for six seasons beginning in 2015 and was developed by Stephen Butchard for BBC2 and Netflix from Bernard Cornwell’s series of novels, The Saxon Stories.

Vikings told the story of Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his family.  Ragnar rises from being a simple farmer to a Viking king who terrorizes early medieval England and France.  The series follows his adventures and later those of his sons and their followers in England, France, Scandinavia, Russia, and across the Mediterranean. Ragnar’s capital is the fictional Kattegat in Sweden.  The original series condenses roughly a century of history and includes historical events such as the Viking sacking of Lindisfarne Abbey in 793 and their siege of Paris in 845. Characters and their interactions are a mix of the historical and the fictional. The major tension in the series is religious—with the pagan Vikings encountering the equally violent Christian Saxons and French.

The Last Kingdom recounted the role that a fictional Dane, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), plays in both furthering and frustrating attempts by Alfred the Great (David Dawson) and his heirs to unite England as a Christian kingdom.  The pagan Uhtred is the very definition of courage, integrity, and righteousness. Alfred and his Christian followers run the gambit from the overly pious to the truly villainous. Again, there is a mix of the historical and the imagined in a series that spans some six decades, although the at times unbelievably long-suffering but always-loyal Uhtred seems ageless throughout.

Both Vikings and The Last Kingdom seem content to be little more than action-adventure series, Vikings: Valhalla less so. For starters, the main character is Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett), who along with his father Erik the Red, is much more well-known than Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons.  In the series, Erik is mentioned frequently, but never appears. Vikings: Valhalla opens on November 11, 1002, with the so-called St. Brice’s Day Massacre, when Aethelred II (Bosco Hogan), known as the Unready, orders the killing of all Danish settlers in England, be they Christian or pagan, as a “solution to the Viking problem.” This third Viking series has then an immediate political agenda.  We are indeed in eleventh-century England, but the script contains less than subtle parallels to genocides and ethnic cleansings in the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries that were “solutions” to eliminating racial and ethnic differences.  The earlier two series featured clashes between Christian and pagan, in which the Christians usually came off as the less sympathetic characters. In Vikings: Valhalla, religious fanaticism and its resulting sectarian violence are the narrative’s driving force. Again, the Christians generally come off as the villains in that narrative. 

Leif arrives in Kattegat as King Canute of Denmark (Bradley Freegard) has summoned all Vikings to avenge the massacre. Leif and his sister Freydis (Frida Gustavsson) are Greenlanders, and, as such, the butts of some jokes suggesting that they are the Viking equivalent of country bumkins.  Leif and Freydis have come to Kattegat unaware of the massacre. But they are steadfast pagans, and they seek their own revenge on the Christian Viking (Leifur Sigurðarson) who years earlier raped and branded Freydis on the back with a cross.

In the series, Leif arrives at Kattegat after Vikings have already established a settlement in what is now Newfoundland, and after Christianity has come to Greenland, though neither event is mentioned.  Vikings: Valhalla is also not hesitant to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Rather, because of his prowess as a sailor, Leif is swept up in the plan to avenge the massacre and conscripted by the devout Christian Olaf Haraldsson (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) to captain the invasion’s lead ship. Indeed, the series labels him Leif the Lucky, but for reasons different from those recorded in the sagas.

Kattegat here, as it was in several of the later seasons of the original Vikings, has become a matrilineal society ruled by Jarl Haakon (Caroline Henderson). Like her counterpart back in England, Emma of Normandy (Laura Berlin), Haakon is a thoughtful, just, and wise leader in contrast to her Christian and pagan male counterparts who are political animals, and often not very successful ones. Haakon adds further diversity to the series’ cast in that she is a woman of color—the daughter of a Viking marauder and an African mother whom he encountered in his voyages around the Mediterranean.

The scenes in each episode switch back and forth between England and Sweden.  Leif defuses a near mutiny on the voyage from Sweden to England. Vikings sack Kent. Aethelred dies, and he is succeeded by his immature and impetuous son Edmund (Louis Davidson).  The Vikings move against London pulling down much of London Bridge and defeating the English.  Back in Sweden, Freydis journeys to the pagan shrine at Uppsala to seek her destiny. We subsequently learn that she will be “the last daughter of Uppsala.” On her journey, Freydis encounters the series’ most fanatical character Jarl Kåre (Ashbjørn Krogh Nissen), a wild-eyed berserker intent on exterminating all pagans and destroying all traces of their religion.  Kåre will dog Freydis’s steps for much of the rest of the series as he nearly succeeds in destroying all that is pagan. In a final battle, Freydis, now a shield maiden, beheads him.

But before that deadly encounter, various plots and intrigues find Canute landing back in Denmark to fight the Vends, Sweyn Forkbeard (an always-snarling Søren Pilmark) landing in England to rule as regent, and Olaf seeking support from Canute’s wife Ælfgifu (Pollyanna McIntosh) to become the first King of Norway after his army and that of Jarl Kåre succeed in annihilating the pagans at Kattegat. Jarl Haakon’s plan for the capital’s defense includes the sacrifice of a willing young pagan (Adam John Richardson) to the gods who is assured that he will immediately enter the Halls of Valhalla—cf. the motivation of some contemporary suicide bombers.  On a more strategic note, Leif organizes a defense of Kattegat from possible attacks by land or by sea.  Haakon and many of her followers are killed, and Kattegat falls to Olaf, but only briefly since Sweyn soon arrives with the Danish fleet.  The first season of the series ends with a close-up of an enraged Leif covered in blood from head to toe bellowing over the loss of his beloved Liv (Lujza Richter) who died at his side in the final battle for Kattegat.


Sam Corlett as the blood-covered Leif in Vikings: Valhalla

The Viking legacy in popular culture is often an uneasy mix of the heroic and the violent.  The historical Leif is remembered annually on Leif Erikson’s Day (October 9) in half a dozen states and one Canadian province, and there are separate legislative attempts in both the United States and Canada to acknowledge the day nationally. The final shot of season one of Vikings: Valhalla is of a blood-covered Leif looking more like a berserker than the storied heroic European who brought Christianity to North America.  The most recent feature-length Viking film, Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 Valhalla Rising, was as violent and bloody as it was meditative.  Notices for Robert Eggers’ The Northman, due to be released in the United States on April 22, certainly suggest that the film does not shy away from depicting violence.

Since the late nineteenth-century American embrace of the Viking narrative as a pre-Columbian founding myth, the Vikings have often been elevated to an heroic status that glosses over any association that they may have had with violence.  Vikings: Valhalla opens and closes with massacres.  It depicts ethnic cleansing, sectarian strife, even a young willing martyr to his cause.  Throughout the series, pagans and Christians constantly fight, blood is spilled, limbs are hacked off, and the body count crises.  In some cases, characters recover from their initial wounds only to be killed in later battles.  Modern parallels are less than subtle. Television (and film) producers may indeed like the Vikings, but any attempt to sanitize their exploits is clearly no longer in vogue.  

Compared to Vikings: Valhalla, both the original Vikings and The Last Kingdom were restrained in their depiction of violence. Vikings was content to retell the multi-faceted history of Viking incursions across Eastern and Western Europe, albeit with a decided mix of fact with fiction. The Last Kingdom offered a fictional hero, a sort of updated Prince Valiant, whose nobility and steadfastness stood in stark contrast to the supposedly more civilized Christians whom he fought against or served.  Vikings: Valhalla, however, uses the character of Leif Erikson as a hook to ground its narrative in the familiar and then abandons any attempt to portray Leif as he is usually portrayed in the sagas or in popular culture.  In future seasons of Vikings: Valhalla, we can only assume that Leif as berserker will exact vengeance for the death of Liv. He will be a source for continued violence, and he will bear little resemblance to the supposedly heroic first European to land on the shores of North America.


Vikings: Valhalla created by Jeb Stuart for Netflix.  Produced by Metropolitan Films International and MGM Television. Season one of three, each with eight episodes, streaming from 25 February 2022 on Netflix.