Have you heard of Norsemen, also known as Vikingane? Here's why you should take a look at this binge-worthy Viking comedy series.
With one million viewers in Norway – and you should bear in mind, there’s only five and a half million of them in total! – Vikingane was a huge hit when it debuted back in 2016. So much so that Netflix bought the streaming rights to the series and introduced it globally as Norsemen.
Described by the Guardian in London as a cross between Monty Python and Game of Thrones, Norsemen instantly started delighting audiences around the world.
Telling the everyday tales of a tribe of Norse warriors, their slaves, and the peasant farmers who remain at home, Norsemen is easy to love if you have the right sense of humour!
But what is it about this quirky Norwegian TV comedy that makes it so binge-worthy? We delve inside and pull out the best reasons for why Norsemen is worth your TV viewing time.
There’s minor spoilers but don’t worry, I won’t tell you ‘Orm is stabbed to death by Rufus in episode 3’* or anything that will completely ruin it for you!
*(he isn’t, I made that up! Or did I?…)
1. A known time commitment
First, the slightly sad news that Norseman has actually been cancelled. The third series released in 2020 will remain the last series. Like the Vikings themselves, the world of TV can be pretty cut-throat and while popular, Norsemen failed to make it through the pandemic unscathed.
Read more: The Best Viking Movies
But this sad news can actually be a positive thing! As we now know exactly how many episodes there are, we can start the series knowing we won’t be sat there trying to steel our way through the 27th season where none of the original characters, humour or enjoyment remain.
Watching Norsemen will take you around 9 hours. Three seasons – 6 episodes each – 30 minutes per episode.
You can devour it in less time than it takes to compete in the Norseman Triathlon. And in the modern world, with so many things competing for our time, it’s good to know how long a series is going to take.
2. A great introduction to Norwegian comedy
In terms of culture, Norway has often been overshadowed by its near neighbours. Nordic noir series such as The Killing and The Bridge have taken over the world from Sweden and Denmark. On the big screen, Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was much better received than the rather terrible adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman.
A lot of this may be in the telling but one area where Norway has been outpacing her scandi-siblings, however, is in comedy. The found-footage movie Trollhunter, Joachim Trier’s recent Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World and the Netflix series Lilyhammer have all been very well received around the world.
Norwegian humour, for the most part, is pretty dark. With deadpan delivery, the Norwegians manage to wring comedy from the unlikeliest of sources and find the wry, ironic hilarity in both the mundane aspects of everyday life and the bottomless depths of human tragedy.
It’s often surreal too, and in the vein of Monty Python asks absurd questions such as ‘what would Vikings be like if we painted them with modern sensibilities?’. And that’s exactly where we find ourselves with Norsemen.
In the very first episode, the Vikings are returning from pillaging with a slave in tow – Rufus – who was an actor in Rome.
Instead of acting like a slave, Rufus treats the experience as if it’s a package holiday and complains about the conditions, demands better treatment and effectively applies modern concepts like the Geneva Convention to the slavery of the Viking Age!
If you haven’t already started down the road to becoming familiar with the best of Norway’s dark humour, then Norsemen is the perfect primer.
3. It’s very funny
Following on from that, it’s worth stating out loud that not only is Norsemen a comedy series but it’s one that’s genuinely funny from start to finish. I’ve certainly seen a few comedy series in my time where I could see what they were trying to achieve but was very sure they had failed. Norsemen, however, does not fail.
As mentioned earlier, Rufus, with his failure to truly grasp the seriousness of his situation, provides a rich seam of comedy to mine. There’s some great stuff around health a safety and working conditions that manages to highlight the brutality of life in the Middle Ages while also poking fun at our modern obsession with ensuring no one ever comes to any harm in any situation!
Other topics are also treated with much more nuance than a lot of Western comedians manage. In one memorable scene, two characters encounter a dead body with a rock on its head.
One refers to the body using gender-neutral pronoun and the other character asks why? The first character explains that he couldn’t be sure whether the body was male or female, so he didn’t want to assume, which his colleague accepts instantly.
It might be seen by some as poking fun at gender, but it’s more poking fun at the fact that it’s literally that simple to deal with that even uneducated Vikings can understand it!
That said, some of the humour is very dark indeed. Vikings were warriors, and this is not sanitised. The jokes around rape, while well crafted, will not be to everyone’s taste, so anyone who might find that upsetting should steer clear.
4. You can learn Norwegian
The producers of Vikingane, in the early days, clearly had plans for world domination. Rather than choose to film in Norwegian and make the rest of the world read subtitles, or film in English and betray their native tongue, they said ‘why not both?’.
It’s only fair to Norwegians for their stories to be told in their language. But the rest of the world, by and large, doesn’t speak Norwegian and does speak at least some English.
It also happens that Norwegians speak English as well as, if not better than, most native English speakers! This gives an obvious answer. To satisfy both markets, simply film each scene twice: once in Norwegian and once in English.
This may be time consuming but overall, especially when the series is quite simple in terms of scenery and set pieces, it can actually be easier than dubbing, and the end result is so much better.
How does this help you learn Norwegian? Well, one of the best ways to improve your Norwegian from a basic level is to start watching and reading the language widely.
As there’s a Norwegian and an English version, you can watch the English version first, so you know what’s going on and then watch the Norwegian version to pick up the actual language that conveys the same concepts.
So, all you need to do is watch both series through and you’ll be fluent! Well maybe not, but if you are currently learning the language, Vikingane/Norsemen could be very helpful.
5. Great actors make great characters
Across the board, the acting and characterisations are excellent. This is especially impressive for people acting in a second language. All of the main players are well-known in Norway for their comedic or dramatic performances.
If you watch Lilyhammer as well as Norsemen you’ll see a huge crossover in actors between the two series.
Orm is the brother of the Chieftain who, early on, rises to be the Chieftain himself. Unfortunately, Orm is a closeted homosexual who is much more interested in arts and culture than pillaging and conquering. Orm is played by Kåre Conradi, who international viewers may have seen in the recent TV series Industry. He also provides a voice for a character in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
Arvid is the Chieftain’s right-hand man, who should rightly become chieftain. He’s a bloodthirsty warrior who is secretly in love with Frøya even though he’s married to Hildur. Played by Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, Arvid is perpetually stymied by the law and the schemes of Orm and others.
Rufus starts out as a slave and finds his stock rising and falling throughout the series. An actor from Rome, he’s not really one for manual labour and would much rather be entertaining the locals. Rufus is excellently portrayed by Trond Fausa whose face alone conveys more than many actors manage!
As chieftain’s wife, Hildur is used to a certain luxury so she’s most put out when her husband ceases to be chieftain! Through the rest of the show she plots and schemes to regain her status as First Lady of the Village. Hildur is really well acted by Marian Saastad Ottesen.
Frøya is Orm’s long-suffering wife; a fierce warrior who would be much better suited to Arvid, with whom she is having an open affair. Silje Torp plays this role with incredible gusto and finds real depth to the bloodthirsty character who is a much better Viking than most of her male colleagues.
Liv starts out as a simple farmer’s wife but, when Arvid decides he needs to settle down, becomes his wife after Arvid beats her husband in a duel. Liv is power-hungry to the point of being sexually aroused by it!
She’s much more of a social climber than Arvid and they’re hopelessly mismatched. Of the main actors, Kristine Riis has the smallest back catalogue but with a performance like this, that is sure to change.
6. It’s quite accurate
One of the biggest complaints about Viking productions is that, certainly in the past, they got a lot of the basics wrong. For example, while it has been fixed in most shows and films in recent years, there’s still a misconception that Vikings wore horned helmets!
Norsemen’s depiction of the Vikings is pretty much spot-on, to my amateur eye. They even go so far as to poke fun of the usual tropes. In one scene, as the Vikings gather together to set out on a voyage to Britain, one Viking turns up at the ship with a horned helmet. Arvid and Frøya make fun of him as he tries to explain that it’s fashion and that he’s simply more refined than they are!
Costumes in general are pretty accurate, showing heavy cloaks pinned closed with ornate brooches. Living conditions, such as the chieftain’s longhouse and the peasants’ tents are also accurately shown.
One other aspect, that would probably go unnoticed by most people, is that the series is filmed in the western village of Avaldsnes. This was a known Viking village and centre of power in Norway right through the Viking Age.
Some even describe the village as ‘Norway’s oldest capital’ because it was such an important centre for exploration and trade in the Viking Age and was also the birthplace of Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway who unified the country.
Accuracy too comes in the form of a lot of the humour derived from the fact that the Vikings have raided the East – the Baltic nations – so often that they don’t even bother rebuilding between raids.
Passage to the West – where Britain offers much richer pickings – is the basic quest that motivates the whole show, and show how the Vikings were ruthless in their raiding activities.
7. The stunning Norwegian scenery
Unless you are brand new to the concept of Scandinavia, you’ll know that the region, and especially Norway, is famed for its incredible scenery. Avaldsnes and Karmøy, just North of Stavanger in Western Norway, provide great examples of this natural beauty as a backdrop to Norsemen.
You have the pure waters of the fjord, wending its way through the rocky, mountainous scenery where the Vikings come and go on their voyages of discovery and plundering. The local forests provide an excellent location for chases between the men of Norheim and their enemies from further afield.
As such a stunning country, the scenery will always play a role in making Norwegian productions worth watching. And in this case, Norsemen is certainly no exception.
Have you already discovered Norsemen, or will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comments.