‘Punish me, ravish me, cleanse me’ – Vikings returns

I know what happens next. They kidnap the Irish, send them to Iceland and create Bjork

Jonathan Rhys Meyers: a particularly appropriate acquisition for the Irish-Canadian show’s fifth series

Jonathan Rhys Meyers: a particularly appropriate acquisition for the Irish-Canadian show’s fifth series

 

For many it will have seemed inevitable, but the Viking invasion has finally claimed Jonathan Rhys Meyers. It was only a matter of time.

Since Vikings (RTÉ 1, Wednesday, 9pm), the battling drama series of longboats, battle-axes and precision grooming, first hit Irish shores to begin filming, it has steadily pillaged the nation for most of its creative artists – the set builders, costume makers and make-up artists, the technicians, armourers and actors. As the Irish-Canadian show begins its fifth series, Meyers seems like a particularly appropriate acquisition.

Because while we rarely acknowledge our debt to Scandinavian influence, there’s no way his cheekbones came from Celtic sources alone.

Actually, Meyers plays one of the besieged Saxons: a warrior bishop, pouty in devotion, who goes by the name of Heamund. With a heavy footstep and an unholy swagger, he joins forces with Mo Dunford’s Aethelwulf, now King of Wessex since the death of his father.

That was King Ecbert, who made his violent exit last season, now discovered pickling in a barrel, slain to avenge Travis Fimmel’s magnetic King Ragnar, upon whose legend the show is based. These deaths bring with them more anxiety than usual. Without these antagonists, where has Vikings to go?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is onwards, into endless battle. The eldest of Ragnar’s sons, Bjorn, has bailed for the Mediterranean, leaving the remaining sons from Ragnar’s second marriage – the rugged Ubbe, drippy Hvistserk and Richard III-wannabe cripple villain Ivar “the boneless” – to bristle over their shared leadership.

In an extended opening episode, filmed between gloomy forts, churned-up earth and shimmering seas beneath silver skies, it is fascinating to see the Saxons self-flagellating in defeat, while the Vikings remain religiously aggressive. For Dunford’s sturdy, sympathetic Ethulwulf, the Norsemen are punishment for “all our vanities, our wickedness, our abominable iniquities”.

Meanwhile, Meyers’ Heamund, an early proponent of the Gentleman’s Cut and artful facial hair, will prostrate himself at the altar, or lurch half-naked through brambles and thorns, asking God to “punish me, ravish me, cleanse me from my sins”. It’s a dirty way to get clean.

It is up to Floki, the Norse boat builder, to articulate the fears of the programme makers, though. “This world no longer interests me,” he says, as though, following the death of his beloved, he is threatening to flip channel.

Instead he sets sail without guide or destination in an early version of extreme tourism. This is how he later discovers Iceland, and in his delirious visions you can already see a Viking plan to populate it with their better-looking Irish captives in the hope of one day creating Björk.

Those that stay the course, however, are ruthless either by necessity or preference. At the sacking of York, a cackling Ivar pours molten gold into a bishop’s mouth. Outmanoeuvring her would-be usurper, Queen Lagertha of Kattegat imprisons King Harald, trussing him up with chains, and later ravishing him at daggerpoint. His revenge is to kidnap her concubine, Astrid. Vikings, historically, have never been clear on matters of consent.

On it goes, in this manner, with eyes for eyes, and spoils for spoils.

Competently made, easy to watch, and with no signs of stopping anytime soon, Vikings has turned into quite a saga.