'Barbaren' aka 'Barbarian': 'Game of Thrones' meets history lesson in retelling of Battle of Teutoburg Forest
History, I believe, is only one side of a sorry that often paints the winners as being noble, right, and exemplary while the losers as barbarians, people with no ethics, and their culture and traditions with distaste. 'Barbaren' or 'Barbarian' is a historical war drama that portrays this particular sentiment in an exemplary manner. The Roman empire seems to impress everyone with their achievements, but those came from killing, rampaging, and oppressing different sections of their empire.
In the latest offering by the streaming giant, what we see is the oppressed taking control and making a stand. No, not all of them have the right intentions, not all of them are moved to make a choice for the greater good either, but all of them meet halfway to make their dreams and desires come true. If one of them is interested in power, one is interested in glory and another in love. Different emotions drive the three main characters of the show and each of them takes us on a journey that is personal to them.
The part about this show that reminds us of 'Game of Thrones' is the way the different tribes of Germany are forced to put their differences aside and make a choice. Do they want to be ruled and kneel in front of the Romans, or do they take the power away from the empire that took advantage of all of them by using their fear against them? This is like Baratheons squabbling for the throne while the Lannisters had a stronghold and there is a shamanic equivalent of Melisandre in this show as well and all of it is tied together to make up for one fast rundown of how the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest came to be.
This battle was a result of methodical planning by a Germanic officer who had acquired Roman citizenship, trained in the Roman army thereby making it possible for him to anticipate the moves that the Romans would make in case of an attack by the collective Germanic tribe.
This man is based on the real-life figure Arminius, whose wife Thusnelda was captured by the Romans. The show has, of course, given its own twist here by making Arminius the product of the infamous swapping of sons as he gets taken away by the Roman Governor Varus as a sign of peace. His father, who happens to be the Reich of the Cherusci Tribe agrees to give his sons away to the Governor who then brings the two kids up as his own.
Over time, Arminius develops affection for the man who separated him forcefully from his real family. Very Stockholm syndrome, and the fact that he was brought up in Rome, for the most part, doesn't help either. However, the moment he gets closer to where his home was — the Cherusci settlement — situations arise and they prove to Arminius that he must side with his blood, his family, and friends and after losing his biological father, Arminius gains conviction that he hadn't had all this while.
Meanwhile, Thunelda, who is also based on the real-life figure is introduced as a young woman who is brave, unlike her manipulative father who is on the side of the Romans as he perceives them to the victorious side. There is a lot that Thusnelda loses by standing up one time against the Romans and that is what pushes her to seek revenge. To make this work, she involves her lover and friend Folkwin Wolfspeer, and her actions cause him to lose his entire family. However, the more we see of her, the more we understand that what drives her beyond revenge is a thirst for power. It is invisible at the beginning. However, when she abandons Folkwin to become queen, it is clear that there isn't a line that she will cross. Sure, she started the fight with good intentions but somewhere along the way, she has lost sight and can now only focus on what it feels to be celebrated and adored as the one with the sight.
Of course, claiming that she is a seer is something that she had done to gain the support of the other Germanic tribes, but now that is the very thing that has helped her gain a sense of power over all the tribes. She has become even more of a power to reckon with than Arminius. He will always remain an outsider, a traitor who betrayed his tribe and a traitor who betrayed his men after he planned the ambush in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Folkwin, on the other hand, has sacrificed his life as the first swordsman, sacrificed his love and his family to make way for Arminius to gather the support that he would need.
Arminius and Thusnelda had both promised him that she would return to him but now that they have successfully waged war, their promise doesn't seem to be a priority and that makes us wonder. Will we see more of the Chirusca with Folkwin planning the downfall of Arminius and Thusnelda? The first season portrayed a defeat so catastrophic for that Romans that it threatened their survival and even halted the empire’s conquest of Germany. So what will the second season be about?
'Barbaren' aka 'Barbarian' Season 1 can be streamed on Netflix.