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There are a lot of period dramas on television these days, but there are none quite like History's Vikings. The show has set itself apart not only because it is set in a time period not often explored onscreen, but also because it strives to be as accurate as possible when it is creating its storylines. But if you've ever wondered exactly how accurate Vikings is, show creator Michael Hirst has broken it down for us. Here's what he had to say in a recent AMA.
It's all based on actual history. It starts life with my research into the sagas and into the history and I have historical advisers who helps me. And even though I'm not writing a documentary everything is based on historical fact and I would only say that Vikings is the second biggest show across Scandinavia and they think that it is pretty authentic and pretty real. I had a conversation with the head of Scandinavian studies at Harvard and he said to me, 'This is the first time my culture has ever been taken seriously and intelligently.' I went to the Vikings ship in Oslo and the curator said, 'I just want to say thank you. Because of your show twice as many people come to the museum. You have reawaken[ed] the interest in our history.'
It's pretty cool. It's cool that Vikings is using major players from history to flesh out its story and reference actual historical facts and events. However, anyone familiar with the Vikings will know that the the group's sagas were frequently written down a long time after they happened. In many cases, this was hundreds and hundreds of years after the Vikings in question were actually around. So, Michael Hirst also admitted that sometimes his job is about filling in the gaps to make a cohesive story, not to mention a good drama. Sometimes he has to make decisions about how to interpret the historical record, too.
One example of this has been with Ivar the Boneless, which Hirst readily admits could have been interpreted in numerous ways.
There are various interpretations of what 'Boneless' actually meant. If I was writing a documentary, I would cover them all. I would say all of these were possible. But, I'm not writing a documentary, I'm writing a drama. So I'm looking for the most dramatic. So, a 'cripple' became one of the most feared warriors of all time. There's a lot of evidence that Ivar was carried into battle on a shelf.
Other times he will take an idea that happened, like the crucifixion of members of Viking society, and will apply them to a particular character on his show. There are a lot of ways to stay true to the time period and to still be able to be creative with the storylines. If you look at a lot of other historical dramas, one basic similarity between other shows is that a lot of them are trying to be historically accurate but get picked apart for nitpicky things, as there is a vast historical record for a lot of time periods. However, Vikings gets to slide right into a time where there is not an overabundance of written facts. In a sense, Michael Hirst gets to be accurate, but also gets to be creative. It's kind-of the best of both worlds.
New episodes of Vikings air on Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET, only on History. If you'd like to learn more from Michael Hirst, you can take a look at his full Reddit AMA.