Its sturdy narrative prow cutting through onrushing waters, the hit History series Vikings starts season 4 with consternation rising among the ranks: Following the Viking attack on Paris, warrior Rollo (Clive Standen) has been won over by the richer, more advanced Franks. Hey, civilization happens! Even Travis Fimmel‘s Ragnar, the Viking king, has allowed himself to be baptized. (More consternation rising among the ranks.) Now he dreams that the golden gates of Valhalla, the Viking resort destination on the far side of death, are closed against him.
But it’s better, isn’t it, to have Fimmel hanging around? Series creator Michael Hirst has said that this bloody, lusty saga could carry on even without the legendary Ragnar. And, true, the show isn’t called Viking, singular. But Fimmel, 36, has owned it – owns it – thanks to his …
1. Norse Style
When Vikings premiered in 2013, Fimmel’s look – tattoos, bangles, grimy beard, hair shaved close on the sides – was fierce and uncivilized, yet strangely runway-friendly. In a sense, he was one-upping Charlie Hunnam‘s bad-boy chic in Sons of Anarchy. By now, the “Ragnar” look seems almost ordinary, at least if you use physical trainers and baristas as your social barometer. Ragnar, meanwhile, has moved on, shaving and tattooing his whole head. He looks older, and sadder, but then the Viking lifestyle was known to foreshorten the pinup years. His eyes, though, are still icily seductive.
The Australian Fimmel delivers Ragnar’s lines in a light, calm voice topped with a thin layer of accent – a lilt that suggests the sound of ice cubes clinking in a gin and tonic. Ragnar cuts through the considerable clamor of Viking society by being quiet. It’s odd that a Viking’s soft-spoken allure could make you think of John Malkovich or even Presidential candidate Ben Carson, but – by the hammer of Thor! – ’tis so.
3. Je Norse Sais Quoi
Fimmel’s Ragnar effortlessly radiates regal power – it’s the lack of effort that’s key. If Game of Thrones is fundamentally mystical, Vikings is fundamentally mythical. That requires a central performance that projects more than strength or power. It requires a mysterious note of withholding, of otherness. Think of Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings movies. Standen’s Rollo has the brawny, in-your-face heft of a proper Viking, but Fimmel has an elusiveness and a slyness.
Let’s hope he hasn’t booked his boat for Valhalla.
Vikings returns Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on History.