One of the neat things about the Kentucky Theater is that not only do they show a mix of mainstream and independent movies,
Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart is adapted from the Rayden Valkyrie series written by Stephen Zimmer. Zimmer also wrote and directed the adaption. This is fantasy series that follows the titular Rayden Valkyrie (played by Sól Geirsdóttir in the pilot), a deadly warrior who “walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home” (raydenvalkyrie.com). I have not read this series and was going into this premiere with no familiarity with the characters or storyline.
In actuality, this is not quite a TV pilot so much as a proof of concept pilot. This is an important distinction only because the production value isn’t as high as you’d want a pilot you’re shopping around to be. The sound was often inconsistent in volume in the same scene and sometimes out of sync. There would have been some benefit in decreasing some of the background nature sounds, though I did appreciate hearing the birds and rushing water. Some of the coloring and lighting was not great. Some scene cuts were jarring to the point where they should have been removed.
That said, the drone footage was very nice, and overall the pilot was well put together. They had some nice special effects, excellent makeup and costumes, plenty of shots and scenes that were beautiful, and a great score. This was shot entirely in Kentucky, but I could have easily believed it was some other world. With a little more polish (and maybe a few reshoots), the pilot could really look impressive.
The script needs more attention. Understandably, a pilot will be full of exposition since you want to get your audience interested in your story. And especially in a fantasy you need to do as much world-building as possible. Here, exposition brought the action to a halt. Characters sat or posed when speaking to each other or delivering plot point information. The majority of actual movement was fighting. But these characters were meant to be on the move – we never saw any camping or getting food or cleaning weapons or any movement. You can develop characters a lot this way while also sharing stories and explaining the world.
And speaking of cleaning weapons, Ragnar Stormbringer (Brock O’Hurn) never cleaned his ax. At the very least, other characters would wipe their blades on their sleeves (I also had issues with this), but Ragnar Stormbringer was pretty much, “That’s a no from me, dawg,” on cleaning his weapon.
Ironically, there was a lot of exposition but at the same time not for the right points or with transitions. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but sometimes I had no memory of why a scene was occurring. For example, a woman is captured by the bandits and a decision is made regarding her fate; I have no memory of this woman being captured. Her appearance was a surprise to me. As another example, some dialogue early in the episode made me think that Valkyrie was a recent addition to the mercenary group and that her participation was actually not guaranteed. But later it seems like not only is she the leader, but there is a lot of trust in and history with her. I’m not sure if this pilot is meant to be her origin story with the mercenary group or the mercenary group’s origin story as good guys? The group’s dynamic and where they are in their own story is a little unclear.
The cast performed well enough, but I really think they would have been much better in motion and with a tighter script. I applaud the diversity in the cast in that it wasn’t just a bunch of white dudes. There’s a good opportunity to develop them all. I’m sure they’re fully fleshed out in the novels, but the pilot still does a great job of making each character distinct within the time.
Some cast and crew were in attendance at the premiere and had a brief Q&A session afterward. It was nice to see how much they seemed to enjoy the experience (despite shooting in Kentucky in the summer) and each other. Most of the cast are made up of Kentucky-based actors, so I’ll try to keep an eye out for their future projects.
If they plan to pursue production on the series, I’d like to see it pared down a bit. Reduce how much the creatures are actually seen on screen to add to their creepiness and myth. Cut the sex scene. It wasn’t well done, and the plot point could have been executed in some other way. There’s a lot to be intrigued about. I want to know more about the mercenary group. I’d like to see their origin story, or at least how Valkyrie joined. I want to know more about where they’re going. This is a series I could easily binge if it was worked on a little more.