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Netflix Series Ends Too Early

Netflix Series Ends Too Early

The third season of Netflix’s “Vikings: Valhalla” continues to be the historian’s answer to all those “Game of Thrones” fantasies: full of real-life characters, tougher (some might say cheaper) looks and no dragons.

Yet Jeb Stuart’s “Vikings” spinoff tortures real-world timelines like a die-hard pagan turned zealous Christian convert. The “Die Hard” writing team brings together famous 11th-century figures who might have met in melodramatic ways they certainly didn’t. The series mixes coincidences, hair-length escapes and Hollywood-style heroic showdowns so thoroughly that you miss the relative realism of a White Walker attack.

Overall, “Valhalla’s” creative take on ultra-interesting history is clever and reliably exciting. Each episode should motivate enthusiasts to learn the truth about the events and people depicted here. The crowd that hasn’t done their own research will be more than satisfied with all the political intrigue, family resentment, panache, and bloodlust on display, even if the larger battles are overshadowed by tense step-by-step pacing. With at least four, distant plotlines at any given hour, the narrative never drags or hangs in one place long enough to become too silly.

Leo Suter and Sam Corlett in “Vikings: Valhalla.” (Bernard Walsh/Netflix)

Set seven years after the events of Season 2, this eight-episode series opens a new theater of operations in the Mediterranean, and it does so with a bang. Now the revered leader of the Byzantine Empire’s powerful Varangian Guard, Norwegian Prince Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter) plots the best way to capture Syracuse and drive the Saracens out of Sicily. He’s aided greatly by his best friend and traveling companion Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett). Eriksson has evolved into the ultimate medieval autodidact, while still maintaining that Hot Jesus look.

We are expected to believe that Leif invented the infamous incendiary weapon called Greek fire, which he guiltily regrets when the jealous Greek General Maniakes (Florian Munteanu) uses the compound on helpless civilians. After their triumphant return to Constantinople, Harald and the hissy fits of Maniakes plot a sinister, bloody collision course while the troubled Leif decides to sail west—with the ultimate goal of finally setting foot on the American landmass that the Greenlander once glimpsed as a child.

But first, Leif wants to know what happened to his sister. It turns out there was a lot. The warrior shieldmaiden Freydis Eiriksdottir (Frida Gustavsson) is now the head priestess and leader of Jomsborg, the last non-Christianized European Viking colony. She is also the overprotective mother of a son she doesn’t know Harald shares with her, who is constantly being caught and escaped, and who wants to lead her people to the truly green land her brother told her about when she was a child. Their father, Erik the Red (Goran Višnjić), is not too keen on the idea.

Frida Gustavsson in “Vikings: Valhalla.” (Bernard Walsh/Netflix)

Meanwhile, in Rome, Cnut the Great (Bradley Freegard), ruler of the Denmark/England/Norway North Sea Empire and none too happy to give up his Asgard-worshipping ways for political ends, engages in entertaining, decidedly non-religious negotiations with a corrupt Vatican. His second wife, England’s Norman Queen Emma (Laura Berlin), and her Machiavellian Saxon advisor Earl Godwin (David Oakes) — both multi-dimensional in their quietly calculating ways — lend their unique skills to papal intrigue. Visits to Normandy, Denmark, and London ensue, where we’re introduced to a variety of young villains destined to usurp the English and Scandinavian crowns. In the season’s climax, most of the surviving cast winds up in the show’s fictional Norwegian capital of Kattegat.

These include younger versions of Harald Hardrada, Edward the Confessor, and William the Conqueror (a young boy named Harold Godwinson is also seen). They’ll all be major figures in 1066, the year that both the Viking Age and Anglo-Saxon rule in England ended, with everyone’s French cousins ​​taking over. But where this “Valhalla” series ends is decades away—I’m not sure exactly how long, considering these fractured timelines. This is the final season of the series, which is more disappointing than most shows that Netflix pulled the plug on too early. Perhaps a third season could show us the history-changing battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings—but Leif and Freydis still need to find Newfoundland, dammit!

Pardon the profanity, but dare I say that “Valhalla” is an increasingly sophisticated examination of religion this season, its smartest thematic element and the way it sets this show apart from the plague of medieval swordswingers. Where previous seasons emphasized fanatical, cross-wearing barbarians, this instalment explores how the Church’s power is used as a tool of control and consolidation. For all the brilliant charisma and strength of character Gustavsson brings to Freydis, we know that the monotheists’ power will eventually overwhelm Odin’s (canonizing St. Olaf, whom Freydis killed last season, requires some delightfully wild inventiveness). And while Corlett doesn’t exactly sell Leif’s dual nature as scientist and unstoppable swordsman, he does convey the troubling moral dilemmas of his Catholic-curious hero.

Leo Suter in “Vikings: Valhalla.” (Bernard Walsh/Netflix)

Munteanu portrays Maniakes as pure evil in every conceivable way, so it’s no surprise that the character is also the show’s number one Islamophobic. It’s not a big part of the season, but it’s a notable acknowledgement that some things don’t change until today — and a reminder that the Crusades would continue to be downright horrific well before the end of the 11th century.

So yes, there’s plenty for history buffs to drink in, despite the hangover it may give the purists. Language buffs may rightfully wince at clumsily written lines like “Vikings NEVER disappear” and “Take these to the kitchen, there’s plenty of cooking to be done!” Still, “Valhalla’s” flaws are outweighed by its eventful plot, impressive locales (Ireland for the Nordics, Croatia for the Mediterranean), and a read full of longboat-sinking, battle-axe-whacking action. I still don’t believe that drunken crows can set imperial cities on fire, but other than that, I believe in “Valhalla” like Norse warriors believed in their rewards in the afterlife.

“Vikings: Valhalla” Season 3 will premiere on Netflix on Thursday, July 11.