History Channel’s show Vikings is a smart piece of storytelling nonetheless, borrowing a lot from real history but also making a lot up as it goes. In the second episode of season 2, the totally nails the concept of the so-called shield wall.

The violence in Vikings feels grounded and realistic. One-on-one duels need to stay smart and are always brutal. With violence being a central part of the program, every fight needs to have it’s own distinct flavor and feeling.

We’d seen the Vikings on the attack numerous times, sometimes against unarmed victims, but in this case in we get to see the English on the initiative as they ambush a Warband. The English launch the attack on the Vikings as they lounge near a river, a surprise designed to shock them as much as inflicting damage.´

The Vikings quickly rally, however, and form the famous shield wall. They clump together in several smaller shield walls and anyone outside the wall is hit with the arrows. The turtle-style defense is solid, however, like the testudo formation of the ancient Romans before, or the phalanx formation in ancient Greece – overlapping shields formed a solid battle line.

The ambushers move in, knowing their foes are weaker while separated. The shield walls hold, however, with much groaning and poking with sharp things. With the English soldiers attacking with melee weapons, they are hacked to pieces. The men behind the first-line use axes and swords to hack against unprotected legs or faces of their opponents.

The disparate shield walls reform into one, which reduces the attackers’ strength enough so that the Vikings can abandon the wall and finish them off in a rush. The see-saw battle is written on the actors’ faces, as the Vikings go from surprise to fear to confidence and then joyous victory. Again, fortune favors the smart, the tough, and those that believe in the notion; You get to Valhalla if you die in battle. Horik’s words about Valhalla also nicely hammer in how little they fear death.

“Do not be dismayed. Meet everything head on. Whether we live or die today is already in the hands of the gods. They already know if we sup with them tonight, so fear not. Fight well. And if you fall, fear not. Surely Odin will take you to Valhalla.”

– Donal Logue’s Horik

The battle stands out because we get to see how lightning-fast the Vikings spring into action and call up a shield wall. The cinematography is great, despite the closed terrain that could easily lose the viewer among the trees, it does an excellent job of tracking the action and keeping you immersed.

The Wessex river ambush is the first confrontation between the Vikings and the Wessex. It marked a decisive victory over the Saxon soldiers, which subsequently followed the invasion of Wessex and the looting of Winchester by the Vikings.

Floki Vilgerðarson wielding an axe, portrayed by Gustaf Skarsgård.

The River Ambush Battle in Vikings (2013-2020)

8

Television Series

7.5/10

The River Ambush Battle in Vikings

8.5/10

Overall

8.0/10

We like:

  • Vikings is one of the most visually striking shows on TV -- is simple but not simplistic.
  • The show makes compelling use of its color palette both in the gripping sea voyage and the Vikings’ eventual battle on a lovely, serene riverbank.