Vikings, and how much I despise Ragnar Lothbrok

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Synopsis: The overly ambitious Ragnar Lothbrok rises through the ranks of society and leads his people in plundering England.

Series: 3 seasons, with a fourth on the way.

I’ve Watched: Assorted bits of season 1, and all of season 2.

Verdict: S1: No. S2: Worth watching.

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Once upon a time, I tried watching the first episode of the first season of Vikings, got through ten minutes, then could no longer continue. Recently, I gave season one another chance, but had to abandon it pretty early. My main problem with the series, the one that made me stop watching the first time, is the main protagonist (Ragnar). I can’t stand him. Everything about him grates on me, and though his actions vindicate my dislike, I hated him before he even did anything to earn it. It’s the way he holds himself, the way he talks to other people, his entire demeanor. He’s a condescending jerk, and I can’t stand him.

My second attempt at watching the show, I tried to get past my irritation with this one character. But the first season was uneven enough not to be worth it. So I skipped right to season two, and Ragnar still sucks–but at least the premiere episode makes him pay for how much he sucks. Seriously, he created this whole situation, and now he expects everyone else to take responsibility for his mistakes while he gets to sacrifice nothing. And demean everyone he’s wronged with his mistakes in the process. But it is glorious to watch people not take that from him, though I do feel bad for all the people he’s hurting.

(Spoilers galore, because I’m going to rant about all the totally not-smart things this man has done.)

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Through Ragnar is for some reason treated as a great man by his people, he does consistently keep screwing up and hurting the people around him. When it comes to how he’s treated his wives, if the show was hoping to make this a historical depiction, pointing out that people back then had different values (despite its own inconsistent depictions), it really shouldn’t have picked the character who is just a natural asshole. It’s easy to imagine if Ragnar had been raised with modern values, he still would be so full of himself to pull this kind of thing, so sure he deserved whatever he wanted with no consideration for anyone else.

And of course, he made one huge mistake with consequences for his people–inviting a previously hostile rival leader on a raid with him, then at the last minute breaking his agreement with the guy. Thereby taking all of his able-bodied fighters and those of his allies far, far away from his home, while leaving this freshly insulted rival with all of his fighters right next door to where he left his wife and children defenseless.

Seriously. What did he think was going to happen?

Sure, the other guy attacked and that’s totally on him, but as a leader it is Ragnar’s responsibility to protect his people from threats, especially the ones he should see coming. It’s like humiliating a bully then asking that bully to babysit your baby brother–not technically Ragnar’s fault, but he should have realized he was putting his people in the path of danger while leaving them defenseless. He spends so much time looking forward he can’t be bothered to guard what he leaves behind, and it’s not the first time this has happened either. This man is not a good leader.

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And yet, when the English king Ragnar goes to parlay with meets him for five minutes, the man’s impression is that Ragnar is an intelligent man. Listen dude, I watched that scene too. I saw how he came off. Out of his depth next to your subtle power plays, sure.  Wild and unpredictable, maybe. An arrogant jerkass with an overstuffed opinion of himself, probably. But nothing in that conversation indicated intelligence.

And then when Ragnar goes back to England with new allies (after the English king he’s parlayed with attacked some of those allies), he continues being an idiot. He completely ignores the bad blood that would now exist between his ally and king and the English king. He works around his king’s wishes in a way that makes it totally obvious he’s being insubordinate. And then he’s somehow surprised that his king violently opposes the peace talks he’s trying to establish, despite doing absolutely nothing on his end to make the notion of peace more palatable to his allies. This is not smart, but the show acts like it’s the king’s fault for screwing up Ragnar’s plans. A smart man in Ragnar’s shoes would have been working to make a deal appealing to his allies, not expecting them to obey him unquestionably because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone, including his boss. It’s called diplomacy, and Ragnar doesn’t know what it is.

Literally the only thing this man has going for him is that he’s thinking towards the future, and trying to get good farming land for his people in a place they won’t be surrounded by enemies. That is the only remotely intelligent thing he ever does. But while he’s busy thinking of the future, he’s really good at ignoring the present and forgetting a lot of the past. And yet, for some reason, no one ever notices his total inability to manage his people or protect them. He’s just a terrible leader who creates most of his own problems, and yet for some reason, no one ever notices his flaws. He’s an idea person, not an implementation person. He should be advising someone in power instead of actually being the one in power, because what he’s good at is the theory rather than the practice. (And also, he’s an unlikable jerk.)

You know how when you watch a show, you’re supposed to be frustrated when the antagonists foil the hero and create a story problem, then happy when the hero finally overcomes the challenges? I’m kind of the opposite in this show. It’s more satisfying to watch Rognar’s plans fall apart due to his own stupidity. And since I rarely see Rognar overcome those challenges on his own, it’s not actually not that frustrating when the protagonists who are actually interesting characters carry him over the finish line. Just when they praise him, and he totally doesn’t deserve it.

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What really makes this show worth it is Lagertha. Because despite marrying (and for some reason being in love with) the suckiest asshole of a protagonist ever to grace TV, she still has self-respect, and makes her choices accordingly. While Ragnar is busy being a jerkish jerk who wants to have two wives, just because he can and thinks he deserves it, Lagertha is not putting up with that. She divorces him, and gives her young son a no-judgement choice about which parent to stay with (the kid chooses her). Even better, she doesn’t take it out on the other woman. Despite being totally confused about her husband suddenly bringing a pregnant mistress into their home, she tries to be not just civil, but somewhat kind to her.

When she and Ragnar reunite four years later, she’s coming to his rescue–and the rescue of his wife and children by his wife. And while he hasn’t learned anything in four years, again starting to wonder how to choose between these two women and why he should even have to, the show makes sure to point out to him that he’s an idiot for thinking this is his choice. And sure enough, Lagertha, seeing that her son is happy here and isn’t happy with her new husband, allows him the choice of staying once again. And then returns to her husband. Take that Ragnar jerk. (If only she were in a happy marriage with a guy who actually treated her with basic respect, instead of the two inferior specimens the show gives her to work with, I’d be happy.)

Then to make things better, she participates in removing her husband that everyone hated from power, taking the reins herself, making her Ragnar’s social equal. That’s how the show manages to work her character back into the story–not by having her compromise herself and go back to Ragnar, but by having her attain an equal rank, then form a political alliance with him. A move that still allows her to be in her son’s life, as well.

I only really have two problems with the way her character arch is handled. One, the sheer number of times she gets sexually assaulted is pretty ridiculous. I’ve seen maybe twelve episodes of this show, and she gets assaulted in four of them, which means each episode has a 30% rate of Lagertha assault. Two, why did she marry the second jerk in the first place? I mean, I don’t get why she married Ragnar either, but at least she isn’t even close to the only person with delusions about Ragnar. The second guy, though? It’s like he was made to make Ragnar look good in comparison (so they had to make him pretty bad). But that doesn’t explain why Lagertha would even consider putting up with him.

The other characters are fine, normal characters, that I don’t have particular problems with. And I really did like Ragnar and Lagertha’s son Bjorn, though much more so before he grew up. It’s just the lead character that is supposed to be our main hero who I can’t stand.


8 thoughts on “Vikings, and how much I despise Ragnar Lothbrok

  1. Filius Aeternum

    That’s how it is. Ragnar is just too much. It could be partialy the fault of the whole “north god on earth” thing, in which Ragnar is Odin, Bjorn is Thor, Floki is Loki, Lagertha is Freyja and so on that causes this. That the producer think they cannot act as normal people if they are the embodied gods. But that is still no excuse for Ragnars character.


    1. Yeah, I honestly can’t think of any explanation for why anyone thought Ragnar’s character as it stood was a good idea. He really needed at least one redeeming quality on display.


  2. VikingsSucks

    A01 was about war, rape, pillaging. S02-03 was boring political BS. Expect S04 to be political BS also. Went from Awesome to brain-dead boring.


  3. DeJay

    Ragnar is my favorite TV character of all time. He is calculating, strong and unapologetic. He doesn’t take no for an answer. If you created his character the show would be over because a weaker gentler Ragnar never would have left the farm. He is ambitious to the core how does one dislike that?


    1. Everyone is allowed to like or dislike whatever they want. But note that I never argue for a weaker, gentler, or less ambitious Ragnar (though he does not currently fit my definition of strong, character-wise). In fact, my main complaint–based on what I’ve seen of the first two seasons–is that there’s a dissonance between the reality of his character and how the other characters respond to him. He could have been a much more interesting character if the show acknowledged the breadth of his flaws. But every time he makes another easily-avoided blunder, no one calls him on it. He’s abrasive and condescending to everyone, yet only the bad guys seem to notice.

      Plenty of brutal, ambitious, or jerkish characters number among my favorites–Sarah Manning from Orphan Black, Lexa from The 100, Ward from Agents of SHIELD, Jessica from Jessica Jones, Klaus from The Originals–but they’re all held accountable for their faults and for their mistakes. People react in believable and varied ways to their actions. Ragnar got that treatment on only one occasion that I saw, and it was the best part of his story.


  4. He is the heart and soul of the show and he explains the morality of the times. It is not modern morality. The problem is everyone else seems so stupid and one sided. I guess that’s why they like him though. He is never confused and says at heart he is just a farmer. I think he is not a man, he is symbol of the culture. They are had their own way of doing things, as Athelstan says. Maybe it does not agree with you.


    1. Oh, I’m still judging him within the context of of the show. Admittedly, most of the post was an emotional angry rant–I felt very strongly about this at the time of writing–but I tried to get across the issue that Ragnar creates most of his own problems, but rarely gets the blame or takes any responsibility. Mostly, it’s his attitude and lack of aptitude I have a problem with, not his morality.

      Are you referring to my stance on his unsuccessful attempt at polygamy? I actually thought it was one of his best storylines, because it addressed his flaws instead of pretending they didn’t exist. But he is responsible for creating the situation, by the standards of the show. If he was going to have an affair, it didn’t have to be with someone of high enough social status that she couldn’t become his concubine. And he couldn’t possibly be so naive as not to realize he was undermining Lagertha’s position by adding another wife to the household.


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