Men O’War

For women who like their history a little more visceral than Bridgerton

Jana Van der Veer
Mar 23 · 3 min read
seated man guzzling ale and holding a sword
seated man guzzling ale and holding a sword
Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Unsplash

I don’t know what it is about me and lockdown, but this whole year my TV-watching schedule has been dominated by large, muscular men beating the crap out of each other, preferably half-naked.

Spartacus (gladiators beating each other), Vikings (Vikings beating each other), Black Sails (pirates beating each other)… you get the idea. Last week I even watched a documentary with re-enactments called Age of the Samurai with, you guessed it, samurai beating each other. And themselves: I don’t think one episode passed without a seppuku, ritual suicide by self-disembowelment. Frankly, the blood doesn’t bother me in the least. Heads lopped off, limbs flying, blood spattering like the work of particularly demented Jackson Pollack wannabes… I can eat dinner in the middle of this like I’m watching the news. Actually, with considerably less distress than watching the news these days.

As a middle-aged woman, I suspect I am not the target demographic for these shows. Something like Bridgerton is supposed to be more my style, long on flirtation and short on bloody stabbings (although I seem to remember a bloody stabbing in there somewhere). However, both bromance and romance are on view as well as blood and guts on the more “manly” shows. It is in fact what makes them most interesting: they are propelled by main characters who are deeply affected by their relationships, and the conflict is not just with the predictable scenes of battle but within themselves. In Vikings, Ragnar’s most meaningful relationship is with a Christian monk he first takes for a slave. In Black Sails, when Captain Flint faces his worst betrayal, it in fact leads him to the only possible reunion with the love of his life. These are deeply flawed men, but that is what makes them — and their struggles off the battlefield — such compelling viewing.

Not that I’d actually want to be married to any of them, even though my partnering prospects have been drastically curtailed by this year’s restrictions. Nor, I hasten to mention, am I generally looking for someone who tends to settle an argument with a short sword. Or who goes in for rape, pillage, plunder, torture, dismemberment, or general mayhem, for that matter. I am way low on the drama scale in real-life relationships.

But I suspect part of the appeal of these shows is that they take place in times when life was “nasty, brutish and short” as the philosopher Hobbes put it. Nothing is guaranteed and death can come for anyone at any time, something we’ve been painfully reminded of this year. How is this comforting? Against the invisible enemy of the virus, it’s nice to see an enemy you can take a good thwack at and see them go down.

And well, duh, it’s a show. No matter how savage, brutal, or bloody, when it’s over, it’s over, I can go relax in the bath with a glass of wine. Red, obviously.

Sign up for a Few Words

By a Few Words

Publication updates Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Jana Van der Veer

Written by

Writer and Book Coach at www.setyourmuseonfire.com. I’m all about firing up motivation, accountability, and strategies that keep writers writing.

a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

Jana Van der Veer

Written by

Writer and Book Coach at www.setyourmuseonfire.com. I’m all about firing up motivation, accountability, and strategies that keep writers writing.

a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store