Even when there are scenes like the great battle on the bridge to London in the Netflix hit » Vikings: Valhalla «, the camera almost always quickly focuses on individual opponents. And usually the fights of individual warriors dominate anyway , as the first episode shows when Greenlander Leif ( Sam Corlett ) is challenged immediately after his arrival in the Viking camp.
This scene is emblematic of the action in Vikings: Valhalla in more ways than one, so it’s worth examining the particular approach taken by the creators of the Netflix series through this fight. This action in the new series success is characterized by two men with top-class Hollywood hits such as » Die Hard » and » The Dark Knight » in their vita.
1. The action tells us something about the characters
Behind Vikings: Valhalla is Jeb Stuart , who was long one of Hollywood’s top action cinema writers before taking a break for over a decade for personal reasons. He penned hits like » Die Hard » and » On the Run «, which have one thing in common with «Vikings: Valhalla»: A scenario is not built up first, but the characters are quickly thrown directly into the action and only then as the action happens, we learn more about them.
Stuart also confirmed to Slashfilm magazine that he took the same approach with «Vikings: Valhalla» as with these two cinema classics. It’s just not like Marvel, where a world is built.
The characters are in the center, which are thrown into the already finished world and then have to make ends meet there. And like dr. Richard Kimble ( Harrison Ford ) in «On the Run» or John McClane ( Bruce Willis ) in «Die Hard» , the characters in «Vikings: Valhalla» not only grow with their action challenges, but we as viewers experience these moments more about her.
Netflix Leif spares his opponent in the first fight and only knocks him out
We come back to the mentioned fight of Greenlander Leif in the first episode. Other Vikings want to kill him because his father Erik murdered their brother. Despite the danger to his life in this fight, Leif only uses the hilt of his sword and not the blade again and again. In the end, he KOs all opponents, but doesn’t kill a single one.
An action scene tells us that Leif doesn’t want to kill. He tries to avoid killing whenever possible. This scene kicks off his whole arc. Because on the crossing to England that soon follows, he has to kill for the first time, and even more so in the battles to conquer the foreign country.
When he goes wild, corpse-bouncing berserker in the season finale, this action-scene narrative arc comes to a tentative conclusion that puts the character in a new position for Season 2. What we expect there and why this change is so important, we have already explained in another article:
The end of «Vikings: Valhalla» on Netflix explained: That’s why the bloody berserk moment is so important for season 2
Even if there are of course a few dialogues in which Leif’s development and initial refusal to kill are discussed, Stuart mainly tells this about the action. Since he does this with other characters as well, it is so important that in «Vikings: Valhalla» one action scene often follows the next abruptly — unlike, for example, in » Game Of Thrones «, where these moments are usually carefully recorded over a season were distributed.
2. The action is close to the characters
In order to be able to tell it like that, Stuart had to distance himself from one thing as much as possible: In large mass battles you can tell little about the characters , but since «The Lord of the Rings» they have been much more intimate and character-driven fantasy for the past genre are now mandatory.
Therefore, there are hardly any mass battles in «Vikings: Valhalla» where thousands of opponents collide on both sides , but almost always a reason why only a few people are fighting now or why the battle is concentrated on a few individual duels. This allows the camera to get closer to individual figures and focus on a few faces.
Richard Ryan came on board to showcase this convincingly . He is the student and successor of William Hobbs , who died in 2018 and was considered the legend for the choreography of sword and fencing duels in films. Ryan celebrated his personal breakthrough with » Troy «, where the intense fight between Achilles ( Brad Pitt ) and Hector ( Eric Bana ) caused a stir in the industry.
During his career, the one-on-one specialist worked on films such as Sherlock Holmes and even as fight coordinator on The Dark Knight , although there is no sword fighting involved. But since Batman Begins ‘ titular character was also trained as a swordsman, director Christopher Nolan wanted an expert to help Christian Bale incorporate typical moves for a trained swordsman. Ryan was then able to draw his own elements from working with specialists in a wide range of martial arts fighting styles.
In «Vikings: Valhalla» too, the choreographies do not always necessarily consist of sword duels — as our example scene with Leif, which we have already mentioned several times, shows. Although he has the sword in his hand, in the end he mainly beats up his opponents. As with Christian Bale in «The Dark Knight», the main thing is that his fighting style is still recognizable as that of a man who was trained with the sword (and even grew up here).
3. Whenever possible, the action comes from the stars themselves
Ryan is also known for working with the actors themselves as much as possible, rather than stunt people, which again fits with Jeb Stuart’s approach as described in Vikings: Valhalla. Because only when working with the real stars instead of doubles can the camera stay close to the face because no other person has to be covered up. And so the actors in the fight can give another insight into the characters and tell stories through their facial expressions.
That’s where the last aspect of Ryan’s approach comes into play. Like his mentor, William Hobbs, he was socialized in the theater. There the actors have to be able to perform the whole fight choreography in one go.
In the film, the smallest passages of a duel are often filmed individually and then put together in the editing. Of course, that can still make for an imposing and powerful action scene, but it also makes it more difficult to maintain a consistent narrative of the character.
One of many duels in «Vikings: Valhalla».
That’s why Ryan also practiced with the «Vikings: Valhalla» stars to perform the action scenes in one go if possible. Even if they are cut again and again in the end for the dynamics and different perspectives are put together, there can also be longer and longer passages in «Vikings: Valhalla».
All of this makes the action in the new Netflix series so remarkable. Vikings : Valhalla Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix. A second season has already been filmed, with Richard Ryan collaborating again with Jeb Stuart. This will come to Netflix in early 2023. A third season is in the works and will begin filming in spring 2022.
How good is Vikings: Valhalla on Netflix?
If you want to continue reading the current Netflix series until then, we have another listening tip for you:
In their podcast stream browsing , our colleagues from Moviepilot discuss «Vikings: Valhalla» on Netflix and the sometimes negative fan reactions: