Review: Barbarians (2020)
I accepted long ago that historical dramas are more enjoyable if I just accept from the start that it must take place in an alternate reality. Once I can do that then I can let go and just enjoy the production as a story. Because in my mind most historical dramas land on a scale of, 'Eh they took a few liberties', to 'Well, guess this is a slight alternate history', and finally at 'Oh Mel Gibson did this'. I kind of enjoy the middle ground a bit on that scale as it usually motivates me to do my own homework, so I got a little more out of this for that reason.
Barbarians is a German series that focuses on events leading up to the Battle of Teutoburg Forest during the Roman Empire's occupation of Germania. The core story mostly follows Thusnelda, a Germanic noblewoman who the series depicts as an active force in opposing the Romans. The story also splits its time with Armenius, a Cherusci who was given up as a child to the Romans as a peace offering. Armenius is an esques (a knight) in the Roman army and comes to aid his adoptive father, the Roman general Varus.
We also focus a bit on other key players such as the sword-bearer Folkwin Wolfspeer, a purely fictional character that acts as Thusnelda's love interest and inciter against the occupation. Thusnelda's father, Segestes, is also an interesting character as he's the power hungry tribe member who also moves chunks of the plot along.
Oh yah, that guy's gunna betray the shit out of some people.
The show's got some pretty great production value and acting, and while it definitely occupies that place of being an alternate reality history it does seem to follow the broad strokes fairly well. The main push of the series is to get us to the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, which is worth a quick read up on because the legacy of the battle is pretty interesting.
I think I saw some rumblings about the show's violence levels, and yes there's plenty of beheadings and stabbings and so on. But it's a historical drama taking place in 9AD, incredible bloody violence is part of the reason you showed up to this dance. This may also be my general desensitization speaking, but it really wasn't that bad either. We've all seen a lot worse at this point, is all I'm saying. Now sit back, chill, and enjoy a summary execution or two.
It's a pretty quick season with just six episodes at an hour long each, all off which move at a brisk pace. I'm also pretty interested in what they'll do with season 2, considering the liberties they have taken they can play around with things in some interesting ways. On the flipside, if they stick to what we know happened after the battle there are some fascinating plot paths they can follow.
If you're into any historical fiction then I think this will be a pretty enjoyable show for you, and at the least it might make you want to do a little more research. And while I don't think there's much evidence that Thusnelda did a lot of the things we see her do in the show, at least we can enjoy Jeanne Goursaud's entirely badass representation of her.