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Netflix Historical Drama Concludes, Leaving Much Potential Untapped

Netflix Historical Drama Concludes, Leaving Much Potential Untapped

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The third season of Netflix’s “Vikings: Valhalla” continues to be the historian’s answer to all those “Game of Thrones” fantasies: Populated with characters who actually existed, grittier in appearance, and minus the dragons.

Yet Jeb Stuart’s “Vikings” spin-off series continues to manipulate actual timelines much like a zealous Christian convert tortures an obstinate pagan. The show brings together famous 11th Century personages in melodramatic ways that are historically inaccurate. The narrative is filled with coincidences, narrow escapes, and heroic confrontations that feel exaggerated, making one long for the relative realism of a White Walker attack in “Game of Thrones.”

Despite these historical liberties, “Valhalla’s” inventive take on a fascinating period in history proves to be clever and consistently engaging. Each episode should intrigue viewers enough to delve into the real events and people depicted. For those not inclined to further research, the series offers a wealth of political intrigue, family resentments, pageantry, and bloodlust. Even though some larger battles are marred by jittery editing, the multiple storylines ensure that the narrative never stagnates or dwells long enough to become dull.

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Set seven years after the events of Season 2, this eight-episode run starts with a bang in the Mediterranean. Norwegian Prince Harald Sigurdsson, now a respected leader of the Byzantine Empire’s Varangian Guards, strategizes the best way to seize Syracuse and expel the Saracens from Sicily. He is assisted by his close companion Leif Eriksson, who has become the ultimate medieval autodidact while maintaining his charismatic appearance.

Leif invents the infamous incendiary weapon called Greek fire, a decision he regrets when the jealous Greek General Maniakes uses it against civilians. After their triumphant return to Constantinople, Harald and Maniakes head for a brutal collision course, while Leif decides to sail west with dreams of reaching the American landmass he once saw as a child.

But first, Leif wants to locate his sister. Freydís Eiríksdóttir is now a high priestess and leader of Jomsborg, the last European Viking colony untainted by Christianity. She fiercely protects her son, whom Harald unknowingly fathered, and plans to lead her people to the green land her brother once described.

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Meanwhile, in Rome, Canute the Great is negotiating with a corrupt Vatican. His second wife, England’s Norman Queen Emma, and her advisor Earl Godwin play key roles in the papal intrigues. Visits to Normandy, Denmark, and London introduce various young individuals destined to claim English and Norse crowns.

By the season’s conclusion, many key characters end up in Kattegat. The series hints at future historical figures such as Harald Hardrada, Edward the Confessor, and William the Conqueror, setting the stage for significant events like the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, though viewers must wait to see if these will be explored in potential future seasons.

This season also delves into the power of the Church as an instrument of control, an intellectually rich theme that sets “Valhalla” apart from other medieval dramas. While earlier seasons focused on fanatical Christians, this one explores the Church’s consolidation of power. The protagonist Leif grapples with his dual nature as a man of science and a warrior, reflecting more profound moral dilemmas.

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The season also touches on Islamophobia through the character of Maniakes, serving as a reminder of historical, and contemporary, religious tensions. Despite these deep themes, the show occasionally falters with clunky dialogue and some implausible scenarios.

Yet, as viewers binge through “Valhalla’s” plot, the impressive locations, and battle scenes, the show’s shortcomings fade. The series may stretch historical accuracy, but it provides an entertaining depiction of the Viking era.

“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 3 premieres Thursday, July 11, on Netflix.

Source: Netflix