Monday, February 22, 2010

Deadliest Warrior: Viking!

Everybody knows Vikings as the bearded guys who talk funny, wear horned helmets, and sing really loudly in Wagnerian operas. What you might not have known, is that they also kicked a lot of ass. They were intrepid explorers, setting out in their longboats, discovering new lands, (including a strange, America-shaped continent hundreds of years before Columbus) and raping and pillaging almost everyone they encountered.

When they weren’t raping and pillaging, they could be found in almost every Scandinavian country. Some of my ancestors were Swedish Vikings. Some Vikings can be found in Minnesota today, but that’s a subject for another time.

Part of their ferocious behavior can be explained by their religious beliefs. In Old Norse mythology, it was believed that in order to go to Valhalla, you had to die in battle. If you didn’t, you went to Hel, which was not the same as H-E-L-L, but it wasn’t much fun. In Valhalla, warriors became spirits called einherjar, and battled each other all day. This was done so that they would be ready for Ragnorok, the final battle. Then, when all the battles were done for the day, the warriors would retire to Odin’s mead hall, where they ate and drank their fill.

Mead was served to them by the Valkyries, beautiful and dangerous warrior women. When they weren’t keeping deceased Vikings entertained, the Valkyries would fly above battlefield, invisible to the eye. They decided who would live, and who would die. One way of honoring the Valkyries was to take a slain opponent, split his ribcage open, and spread it out like a gory pair of wings.

A special class of Viking warrior was the berserker. Going into battle with nothing but a bearskin coat to protect them, the berserkers fought without fear, and without mercy. It was believed that to “go berserk” was to be possessed of a kind of courage that made the warrior invincible. Some berserkers gave themselves so fully to this battle-fury that they even turned on their comrades if they got in their way. Whether the berserkers actually had some supernatural power, or if they were just high on magic mushrooms, is up for debate, but either way, they were not to be trifled with.

So it’s no surprise these guys would wind up on Deadliest Warrior. The Viking experts were Casey Hendershot, a Viking weapons instructor, and Matt Nelson, a Viking combat expert, and descendant of Danish Vikings. You’re in good company sir!

The weapons tested were the Great Axe, the Long Sword, the spear, and the shield. These are pretty common weapons in most ancient cultures, so they don’t much description, but the thing that characterized Viking weapons is an emphasis on sheer power. Mostly, these were weapons that would kill in one blow.

While Vikings did use the bow and arrow, the only distance weapon in this simulation was the spear. Used in melee combat, or thrown, Vikings would often hurl two at once. The shield was a typical round wooden shield with metal studs. In addition to protection, it could be used to bash an enemy’s head in.

Another trick they’d use in battle was to block an enemy’s attack with their long sword, and then quickly draw their dagger and stab them with it. This was usually employed when taking an enemy ship, overwhelming the crew before they could set up a defense.

They also wore thick animal hides, to protect and against the cold, and chain mail, to protect against stabbing. In fact, their chain mail defeated one of the most awesome weapons of all time: the Katana! That’s right, the sword Uma Thurman used to kill a buttload of bad guys in Kill Bill, Vol. One, couldn’t cut through Viking armor.

Another Viking subject worth addressing is music. Specifically, the music style, Viking Metal. That's right, there's Death Metal, Speed Metal, Black Metal, now there's Viking Metal. For a song that totally kicks your ass, check out Into the Battle, by Ensiferum. It's crazy.

So, even though the Viking lost on the show, we at least got to see why you wouldn’t want to mess with these guys. Unless of course, you wanted to be killed. In that case, see in Valhalla!

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