Faith, love, power, vanity, loyalty, betrayal: the war never ends...With contentious 2016 presidential candidate primary debates under way, it's apropos to see how vividly religion and politics collide in the popular "Vikings" drama series as the History Channel's original TV show resumes broadcasting with its fourth season on Thursday (Feb. 18) at 9 p.m. CST. As a top-rated cable show, "Vikings" has 4.3 million average viewers and multiple Emmy nominations.
The show depicts early Scandinavian culture around A.D. 1,000 in the first three seasons, along with the violence, perseverance and spirit of human beings trying to survive. Various forms of faith, including pagan religions, are woven into the story, based on beliefs entrenched at that time.
One of the new season 4 trailers shows an Edward the Elder, King of Wessex (which now would be England), saying: "I would sup with the devil, if he would show me how to achieve my earthly goals."
However, the clash of religion, politics and conquest in "Vikings" slowly maps out how Nordic warriors gave up their gods and adopted Christianity after centuries of warring and raiding, wrote Paul Glader, an associate professor and director of the McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute at The King's College in New York City, for an op-ed piece in Thursday's The Washington Post.
As noted by Glader, this Vikings' drama is loosely based, or largely imagined, on the life of a Nordic farmer-turned-explorer named Ragnar Lothbrok, played by Travis Fimmel. It's partly a study in leadership, as Lothbrok gains power and must maneuver carefully, and violently, among Viking chieftains and European kings to keep that power.
Wars fill the show with axes, shield battles and gory torture scenes, points out Glader. "But, amid that violence, we find plot twists involving fraternal feuds, strong characters, including sword-wielding blonde women with fearsome haircuts, and beautiful cinematography from Ireland of stark fjords, fauna and flora."
"They were formidable warriors, but their culture, their gods, everything else about them was deliberately suppressed by the monks and by the Scandinavian Christians when, of course, after 400 years or so all the Scandinavian countries became Christian, and they pulled down the pagan temples," Vikings' director Michael Hirst said in an interview with Writer's Guild of America West in 2013.
"They made every effort to destroy any evidence of pagan life and beliefs."
Some viewers are upset that some Christians portrayed in the series appear cowardly in the face of the violent pagans, wrote Glader. But he pointed out the show portrays, among other things, the civilizing and inhumane practices of both the Norse men and the early English.
"Vikings" does not probe into the truth claims of either religion. Rather it focuses on human efforts to practice these religions in a time of civilization clash, cites Glader.
"The show doesn't present us with perfect Christians or sanitized Vikings. It shows us the messy, bloody, deceitful way of humans in a quest for power and in self-interest," he wrote.
"In that process, it also shows us how the idea of Christianity eventually won out over the pagan religions of the North, changing a fierce community of warriors into some of the most civilized and peaceful people on the planet."
As one Vikings' fan, Martijn Krol, posted on Facebook Wednesday: "I can't wait! One of the best series ever. It never bores me."