What was up with those Vikings from the beginning?
Gaiman's novel follows Shadow Moon, a soulful ex-convict (played by The 100's Ricky Whittle) who embarks on a road trip with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, brought to life by the roguish Ian McShane (Deadwood). But the writer also makes time for countless digressions, tangents, and cutaway scenes that plumb the depths of his fictional universe. It's the type of material that a more streamlined two-hour movie version of the story would inevitably cut. Green and Fuller bring it center stage.
The opening of the pilot introduces to a group of scraggly-looking Vikings sailing to America in 813 CE. (The story is actually presented with its own framing device: We first see actor Demore Barnes's character, Ibis, an ancient Egyptian god, penning the history in an old book in his study.) The Vikings, who worship the Norse god Odin, arrive on the sandy shores of America and immediately get struck by arrows, bugs, and a lack of wind. They deal with the situation by building statues, stabbing their eyes out with hot pokers, burning one another, and, in a limb-flailing bloodbath, killing each other with swords.
As the voice-over narration from Ibis notes, despite returning home for good these Vikings left their god behind for the explorer Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red, to re-discover when he landed in America over a 100 years later. But, more important than any plot point, this sequence establishes the show's tone: a heightened and absurd intensity that's unlike anything else you'll see on TV. Game of Thrones looks like dinner theater when compared to the frenzied, wild-eyed direction of filmmaker David Slade, who previously worked with Fuller on the surreal visual feast of Hannibal. It's the type of opening that says, "Climb aboard -- or abandon ship if you're going to puke."