Many Minnesotans can recite exactly how many yards Adrian Peterson gathered last season, how many interceptions Christian Ponder threw and how many Big Macs Jared Allen can pound down in one sitting. But when it comes to talking about the original Vikings, a hard-scrambling squad that took the field around 793 A.D., even die-hard fans are bound to fumble the facts.
The History Channel, which traded away the Emmy-winning “The Kennedys” before scoring last year with “Hatfields & McCoys, ” is betting big that viewers are ready for a proper education. Starting Sunday, the network is investing nine hours and a reported $40 million on “Vikings, ” the first pop-culture effort to debunk the notion that the medieval Norsemen who invaded Europe and visited America a half-millennium before Christopher Columbus were little more than drunken barbarians who raped and pillaged their way into history.
“The popular cliché is almost completely wrong, ” said “Vikings” creator Michael Hirst, whose credits include writing the feature film “Elizabeth” and the Showtime series “The Tudors.”
Not that the Vikings could be mistaken for pacifists.
Ragnar, whose real-life exploits as an explorer who dared to go west to England is at the heart of this series, is introduced to audiences as a blood-soaked warrior, vanquishing four foes in the North Baltic, then watching as ravens peck at their carcasses. His idea of a romantic line to his wife: “Last night I dreamed you fed me blood pudding, which means you’ve given me your heart.” Cue violins.
Most of his fellow Scandinavians look like they could use a shopping spree at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Their idea of negotiating with the enemy is letting the poor souls decide whether they want to die with an ax to the head or the chest.
But Hirst and his team went to great lengths to present three-dimensional Vikings, ones who were devoted to their gods, families, shipbuilding and even a primitive form of democracy. In one courtroom scene, a murderer is sentenced to death — but not before the attendees raise their hands in unanimous agreement on his guilt.