The fabulous backstory to seasons 1 and 2 which constitutes Norsemen season 3 takes the show in stranger and darker humorous directions as well exploring the origins of key characters including (among others) Orm, Froya, Liv and Varg. The show mocks our fantasies and imaginings about the sacred and social dimensions of Old Norse society as well as our contemporary social obsessions and behaviours. Any direct parody of Vikings is diminished as we explore the selfish, small-minded, power-hungry and generally odious yet funny personalities of the show.
There are only two truly likeable characters: Kark the slave and the new lynchpin with Vikings: Jarl Bjørn. Casting of Thorbjørn Harr has Jarl Bjørn is fabulous as he had played the similarly named Jarl Borg in Vikings. His performance and presence is phenomenal: brooding yet hilarious as he tries to instil some common sense in the irrational characters and ridiculous world around him as he seeks revenge on Jarl Varg.
Interwoven deftly through these dimensions, the storyline does actually take on and adapt dimensions of saga literature and Old Norse religion mixed in with Viking stereotypes from our popular culture to great comic effect. So, we get to see hall-burning (Varg in revenge for Bjorn and his own wife mocking his hair-loss), pitch battles (between Jarl Bjørn and Jarl Varg) and the challenges they bring in shouting inaudible insults at each other and forgetting to urinate before battle), a Viking raid (on Lindisfarne: ‘Lindisfarne: what an insignificant place. A classic example of the kind of place that never will be mentioned in any history book.’), male hirsuite vanity (Jarl Varg’s baldness), multiple dimensions to Viking slavery (Arnstein and Liv and their family, and the heartbreaking tale of the runic tattoo on Kark’s back, and human sacrifice of a slave at a wedding; Vegard gets ‘voted’ to be sacrificed by the other slaves and before he dies he asks that the marriage works out as he is sacrificing his life).
Old Norse mythology enters the jokes repeatedly: I appreciated the ridiculously simple riddling in the hall (‘how many times the Midgard Serpent go around Midgard?’…’One turn is right’) and the joke around Old Norse personal names (Vidkun the Treacherous given an ‘ironic nickname’ because he is so trustworthy). The Viking cliche of mushroom eating is parodied (using slaves to taste whether they are poisionous or not). The sexual practices and prejudices of the Vikings is a constant obsession in our popular culture and this gets parodied in the stark discussions of rape as a dimension of ‘equality’ between female and male warriors (in the case of Froya) as well as attitudes towards social deviance and homosexuality (Orm’s ‘violation of trust’ revealed in the ‘shitting-log stalker’ and his network of secret tunnels, plus Orm’s disturbing tips for how to pleasure women). The gullibility of the Vikings in regards to magic is also mocked, such as the nithing pole that curses anyone it is raised in the direction of, including those that stray into its ‘beam’ who are summarily executed because… ‘Nith works, they’re dead men walking.’ Further hilarious moments mocking Viking combat is Arvid destroying Varg’s ‘war table’ and the ‘senior battalion’ embracing Orm as their leader because he is most likely to lead them to their deaths and thus he is their ‘ticket to Valhalla’.
There is also a pair of Game of Thrones parody themes, ravens and dragons:
Varg: “Send for our allies”
Torstein: “Send the ravens!”
Varg: “It is a mystery to me that those ravens know exactly where to fly.”
Torstein: “We have come so far technologically that we no longer know how anything works… Everyone sends ravens but no one knows how it really works. If all the technology suddenly disappeared, we’d be pretty much left high and dry. Almost no one can manage to make the things we just take to granted in our modern world.”
The twist about dragons I’ll leave for you to explore without ruining the plot.
In regards to archaeological themes, there is actually less to specifically comment on in this series than in Seasons 1 and 2. Gift-giving is indeed a well-articulated dimension, especially at Orm and Froya’s wedding: Jarl Varg gives a box of teeth as a gift. My main joy is when Orm is gifted with a 6th-century glass claw beaker!
Archaeological sites also appear in the show. For while mainly filmed around Alvaldsnes in western Norway, with the background of fabulous forests and fjords, the show also features scenes at the 16th-century Lindisfarne Castle where Rufus of Rome is captured during the raid led by Chieftain Olav.
Tragically, I’ve learned that Norsemen will not be renewed for a 4th season. This is sad, since the show was a true joy and had so many things to tell us about past times – or more appropriately our dubious grasp of the period – via a comedic medium. Still, at least it finishes on a high, since in many ways season 3 is the best of the three.