Vikings has hands-down the best battle scenes of any network TV show. They’re consistently well-choreographed and thrilling, with haunting music and well-timed pauses to check in with each character to ensure that the viewer never gets lost among the action. From the siege on Paris to Ragnar’s infamous human head boat, let’s take a trip down memory lane to battles past before Season 4 brings in new battles on Thursday.
7. The human head boat
This isn’t so much a battle as a prelude to one, but it perfectly demonstrates how atmospheric Vikings can be. The scene is so damn eerie, as Ragnar glides in with his enigmatic smile surrounded by human heads while haunting music plays — we really can’t blame Princess Kwenthrith’s brother for pissing himself. Because we all know he did.
6. Ragnar versus Rollo
The Ragnar versus Rollo conflict resolved itself quickly at the beginning of Season 2 — we’ll have to see if it sticks in Season 4. But regardless of its brief life, it features lots of “shield wall!” shouting and Rollo at his Hulk-iest. It also provides a bit of Viking against Viking action, since they’re usually fighting outsiders.
5. The Battle for Kattegat
This battle is more emotional than the others, since Rangar & Co. are literally fighting to get their home back. It also marks the first time we see Bjorn in battle, so it packs the satisfying punch of seeing Ragnar, Bjorn, and Lagertha fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. Fun for the whole family! Accompanied by a fantastic score and just the right mixture of chaotic cuts and slowed-down sequences, it’s a solid battle debut for Bjorn.
4. The river ambush
The England river ambush is one of the only unplanned battles, when the Vikings are on the defensive. As such, it stands out because we get to see how lightning-fast they spring into action and call up a shield wall even in a more closed terrain that isn’t conducive to it. The cinematography could easily lose the viewer among the trees, but it does an excellent job of tracking the action and keeping you immersed. Horik’s words about Valhalla also nicely hammer in how little they fear death.
3. Torstein’s sacrifice
Another emotional one, Torstein’s sacrifice expertly sets the stage for an uphill battle. It shows how Vikings mixes up its terrain to keep it fresh, and Torstein’s death brings a gravitas to the proceedings.
2. The first Paris attack
Although Season 3 is widely considered to be flawed as a whole — thanks to the non-Vikings scenes like Count Christian Grey in his dungeon of Who Cares — the entire Paris siege sequence was up there with anything on cable TV: This was the “Hardhome” of Vikings. There was a lot going on here — Rollo’s berserker antics on top of the walls and that spiked wheel; Kalf’s surprising move to save Lagertha; Floki’s impassioned invocation to the gods as he burns in the tower; Bjorn and Ragnar’s injuries — but by hinging the episode-long battle on mini-arcs, Vikings ensures that the action is never mindless. It’s also a nail-biter, as it marked the first time we’ve really seen the Vikings get their asses kicked.
1. The final Paris attack
Although it’s not as epic in scope as the first attack, the second Paris attack tops the list because it contains everything a solid battle should: character development as Bjorn takes up the mantle of leadership, balls of steel in Ragnar’s death fake-out, and improbable odds. Even when they breach the walls, the Vikings are still outnumbered and facing a technologically advanced enemy. The entire Paris sequence solidifies Vikings place in the TV battle hall of fame.
With Rollo stationed in Paris, King Ecbert making trouble in England, and Kalf keeping everyone on their toes about his true motives, Season 4 could bring more battles than ever. At the very least, we can be sure to see Ragnar’s eye roll-backflip again. Season 4 premieres on February 18 on History.