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TV Critic’s Corner

‘Vikings’ vs. ‘Game of Thrones’?

Gustaf Skarsgard as menacing boat builder Floki.Jonathan Hession/HISTORY

Vikings 10 p.m., History

It’s not “Game of Thrones,” but at times, “Vikings” gives me just as much pleasure.

I know that’s a bold thing to say; “Game of Thrones” is The Great Show, based on George Railroad Martin’s Great Books, inspired by J. Railroad Tolkien’s Even Greater Books. And the HBO series is certainly an extraordinary act of imagination, a marriage of history, fantasy, human nature, political intrigue, costuming, and cinematography. I love it.

But “Vikings,” currently in season four, holds its own in the comparison. Like “Game of Thrones,” the History drama features social interaction that is primitive and yet fascinatingly relatable, ruthless warriors clashing in visually dazzling and narratively tight fight sequences, and strong strains of mysticism and sexuality. As the Vikings get involved in Wessex, Mercia, and France, the increasingly epic scope of the show has become a bit like Martin’s Seven Kingdoms. And the power on both dramas jumps from one team to another, from one character to another, slowly, surely, and compellingly.

Sometimes, I find the sheer scale of “Game of Thrones” overwhelming. It can be hard to keep track of all the characters, their pasts, and their interests. “Vikings” is more streamlined, the storytelling a little less mind-boggling. It’s a less demanding but still rewarding watch. It also has rich and engaging religious undercurrent, as Christianity and paganism butt heads over and over again.


And the acting can be quite impressive, even if the characters aren’t quite as perverse as those on “Game of Thrones.” Travis Fimmel has been remarkable as Ragnar Lothbrok, a cocky leader who has been losing his mind to drugs. Gustaf Skarsgard is riveting as the menacing boat builder Floki. Linus Roache as King Ecbert, Lothaire Bluteau as Emperor Charles, Morgane Polanski as Princess Gisla, they’re all vivid and unforgettable. They help make “Vikings” so transporting.


This season of “Vikings” ends on April 21; season six of “Game of Thrones” premieres April 24.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached matthew.gilbert@globe.com.