The third season of "Vikings" begins Thursday, and it's only fair to warn you about the effects the show may have on your life.
I was a slow convert to "Vikings": I didn't truly warm to the frosty tale of Nordic raiders until midway through the show's first season. By that point, it had sunk in that this show was not only fun but was doing some exceptional things, and the strong second season of "Vikings" only solidified my affection for it.
If you just want tales of seafaring derring-do and Ye Olde Odin-inspired battles, "Vikings" will supply what you need. This is a show that knows exactly what viewers expect of it, and over the course of its three seasons, the saga of reticent raider Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) has shown increasing assuredness and has unpretentiously and reliably supplied exciting and bloody adventures.
But there's more to the drama than boats and battles, and whether you check out the first two seasons (which are available on Amazon Prime), or jump in with Season 3, you may find that "Vikings" worms its way into your brain in surprising ways.
- You will want a goat. Ragnar's home village of Kattegat seems so tactile and so homey that if you binge on episodes, don't be surprised if you begin wanting to live in a rough-hewn cabin with a big fireplace, sturdy benches and the occasional farm animal wandering through. The show's production designers have done an impressive job of making Kattegat and other locations look realistically medieval and yet also warm and inviting. Although, as King Ecbert of Wessex (the entertaining Linus Roache) found out last season, his lands are a little too inviting to the fierce Vikings.
You will want to accessorize like a Viking. One of the main reasons to watch "Vikings" is to enjoy its visual bounty: The fjords, fertile valleys and seascapes are gorgeous to behold, and the show's striking visual palette of grays, browns and greens is expertly deployed. But it would be a mistake to focus too much on the big picture, not when there are so many small details to appreciate. The carvings inside various interiors, the tooled leather breastplate worn by the brave Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), the illuminated manuscripts in Wessex, the finely worked weapons: All of these beautifully wrought items contain feasts for the eyes. But what I want most is for History to start selling replicas of the jewelry worn by the princesses and shield-maidens of "Vikings." Whether they're cooking raw meat, sitting on a throne or charging into battle, those ladies usually look amazing. You will want as many GIFs of Floki as the Internet can supply. Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) is one of Ragnar's best friends, and though he's got an extra letter in his name, he certainly recalls the trickster god Loki. Floki is a genius at building boats, but he's too free-spirited to restrict himself to one career path. Floki also enjoys the occasional raid with Ragnar and the rest of the Kattegat crew, and, though it takes place off camera, he must also spend a fair amount of time on eyeliner application. Floki is both wise and irresponsible, he's both a warrior and an unpredictable free spirit, and it's worth watching the show just to hear him giggle. Basically, Floki wins at being a Viking. You will think a lot about Valhalla. "Vikings" creator Michael Hirst has pulled off one of the most admirable bait-and-switches on the current television scene: The show is ostensibly about raiding and political dealmaking in the age of Viking exploration, but underneath that is a thoughtful and deeply felt story about the clash of two established civilizations with very different spiritual beliefs. The Vikings find the dogma of the Christians in England incomprehensible, and the Christians' response -- when they're not fighting off the ferocious invaders -- is basically, "Likewise." Yet "Vikings" is one of the most sincere and earnest shows on television when it comes to religious devotion; neither side is depicted as having the "right" beliefs, and Hirst finds credible ways to have the characters' faiths deepen their motivations. For instance, the moral struggle of the former monk Athelstan (George Blagden), who comes to know Viking culture intimately, is one of the best aspects of the show. Ragnar and a number of the Christians he encounters are genuinely curious about how the other side sees the the afterlife and nature of good and evil, and the show also does a good job of showing how dreams, portents and symbols help the Viking folk feel personally connected to the will of the gods. You may want to raid a village in Wessex. But don't -- that would be wrong. Instead, watch this satisfying show, which conveys what it must have been like to sail off beyond the edge of the known world and risk death to see what lay beyond it. Every season, "Vikings" finds a new way to frame these journeys, and fans of the show know it's not all war, blood and portents: One of the big controversies of the third season concerns how the Vikings should divide their time between farming and raiding (if you're an ancient farm-implement enthusiast, this may be the perfect show for you). But don't worry, the Viking adventures aren't coming to an end any time soon. I spoke to Hirst after Season 2 ended, and he revealed where Ragnar and company would be heading in Season 3, and it sounds like that trip could be, well, epic.
If all that sounds appealing to you, pack an extra goat and get on board.
"Vikings" airs Thursday at 10:00 p.m. ET on History.