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THE TV COLUMN

History’s swords and sex series, Vikings, returns

By Michael Storey

This article was published February 27, 2014 at 2:55 a.m.

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Vikings, History Channel’s bold adventure thriller, returns at 9 p.m. today and stars Katheryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel.

Welcome back to Game of Thrones lite.

Season 2 of Vikings charges in with a gut-wrenching roar at 9 p.m. today on History Channel. Fans of ax-wielding action, political intrigue, lusty adventure, comely and fierce shield maidens, raiding and pillaging should show up with their armor on.

The series is based loosely on the historical adventures of Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok (or Lodbrok or Loobrok), a bold and ambitious farmer/ warrior who lived in the ninth century and rose to become a ruler and the stuff of myth and legend.

The series, which plays fast and loose with history’s finer points, is nonetheless compelling, with memorable performances by a talented and exceedingly telegenic (if generally mud- and blood-spattered) cast.

As with Game of Thrones, the period costumes are a big draw. The epic battle scenes (and they are many) are painstakingly choreographed and (parents take note) the blood flows freely.

If Vikings was simply an excuse for sanguinary escapism, it would be passably entertaining. But the series, for all its action and bloodshed, is also a warmer tale of family and brotherhood.

At the center of Season 1 was the love and affection between Ragnar and his wife, Lagertha, a renowned and respected warrior in her own right.

It was also the tale of rivalry between Ragnar and his brother, Rollo, a fierce warrior with rapacious appetites who simmers with sibling jealously.

It was a saga of visionary ambition that puts Ragnar at odds with the provincial local chieftain. And it’s a story of the clash of cultures - pagan and Christian - as the Norsemen spill from their ice-bound fjords to overrun the Medieval English countryside.

Season 2 continues all that, but ratchets up the political intrigue, personal betrayal and the resurgence of a scorned wife.

Ragnar, now allied with King Horik, has more power than ever to fuel his burning desire to sail west and raid new kingdoms. But there’s a heavy price to pay for Ragnar’s ascendancy. Loyalties shift; unlikely alliances are formed.

At the center of all this drama is Ragnar’s indiscretion with Princess Aslaug last season, when he betrayed Lagertha. Do not expect the proud and strong-willed Lagertha to meekly accept Aslaug or her baby in her life.

It’s great stuff.

There will be 10 episodes this season. Here’s a quick and handy guide to the players.

Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) - Having dispatched the old leader, our hero is now the earl.

Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) - Ragnar’s beautiful and fierce wife is also the mother of his children, but recently miscarried a son.

Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) - Shrewd, clever and beautiful, she’s Ragnar’s new love interest and baby mama.

Rollo (Clive Standen) - Ragnar’s feral brother sides with Jarl Borg against Ragnar and King Horik.

Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr) - The cunning and devious leader of what is now Sweden is a rival to King Horik.

King Horik (Donal Logue) - He works to keep the increasingly famous Ragnar as an ally and supporter.

Athelstan (George Blagden) - The young monk captured in England is having a crisis of faith.

Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) - The beautiful widow of the late earl has latched on to Rollo and still lusts for power.

Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) - Ragnar’s friend is the genius builder who designed the new generation of ocean-going Viking ships.

Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) - An intelligent and bold warrior, he is the oldest son of Ragnar and Lagertha.

Ecbert (Linus Roache) - The sophisticated ruler of Wessex is a man of strength, knowledge and undisguised ambition in England.

Thrones date. The 10-episode Season 4 of Game of Thrones kicks off April 6 on HBO.

Shows returning. Showtime has picked up 12-episode seasons of Shameless and House of Lies for 2015. Currently, the programs air Sundays beginning at 8 p.m.

Downton news. Three new cast members are joining Downton Abbey for Season 5 next winter.

British actor Richard E. Grant will play Simon Bricker, who visits the estate as a guest of the Crawleys. Anna Chancellor joins in a guest role as Lady Anstruther, and Rade Sherbedgia will play a Russian refugee.

The fourth season of Downton Abbey concluded Sunday.

Cult fave. Syfy says Kelly Osbourne, Judd Hirsch, Andy Dick, Judah Friedlander, Vivica A. Fox and Mark McGrath have joined the cast of the eagerly anticipated Sharknado 2: The Second One.

“In this sequel,” Syfy tells us, “a freak weather system turns its deadly fury on New York City, unleashing a Sharknado on the population and its most cherished, iconic sites - and only Fin (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid) can save the Big Apple.”

Sharknado 2 will chomp down in July. Get your chain saws ready.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email: mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Weekend, Pages 32 on 02/27/2014

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