While the snow has finally melted here in New York City, we’ve still got some frigid forecasts ahead of us. Gray skies and freezing temps are the perfect excuse to curl up with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa (or a hot toddy) and binge some Nordic thrillers. The genre is known for cerebral, complex murder-mystery plots that are often entwined with political corruption, understated performances, and subtle, efficient writing that packs an emotional punch without heavy-handedness. There aren’t a lot of car chases, explosions, or fight scenes. The violence is more psychological in nature, which often makes it even more haunting.
What makes Nordic noir series especially great for winter viewing is their amazing scenery; Think snowcapped mountains, sweeping aerial shots of frozen fjords, pristine snowy forests, and ice shards floating in dark rivers. These series will transport you to a winter wonderland without leaving your couch — while also keeping you on the edge of it.
While The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher’s movie based on the best-selling books by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, catapulted Nordic noir into the Zeitgeist, the series that set the blueprint for television was Denmark’s The Killing. Veteran detective Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) is getting ready to retire and relocate to a quieter life in Sweden when she’s snarled into a case involving a missing teenager, later found murdered. The investigation reveals a connection to a powerful politician’s inner circle, with the influence to cover things up. Set in dreary Copenhagen with a cast of characters who all could be suspects, there are red herrings galore. The tight pacing and cliff-hangers will keep you guessing to the very last moment. (An American remake, centered in the moody, rainy Pacific Northwest, starred Mireille Enos.) The Danish version was never available to stream until last summer, when Topic got exclusive rights.
The Killing is streaming on Topic.
Another Nordic hit that was remade in the U.S., The Bridge is shot between Malmo, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark. When a body is found on the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen, Swedish detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) — who is socially awkward and emotionally distant — is paired with a Danish detective to solve the case. Saga’s lack of emotion allows her to focus solely on details in a logical, no-frills manner. That style has its disadvantages — she often seems dismissive and unsympathetic to people experiencing sadness or grief. In the first two seasons, her partner Martin (Kim Bodnia) served as a buffer and became one of the few people who actually understood her. (He was replaced by new partner Henrik Sabroe in seasons three and four, who helps Saga discover she truly does have feelings.) The scenes of the Malmo bridge enshrouded by fog and the performances by the cast, especially Helin, are the standouts here.
The Bridge is streaming on Topic.
Set just north of Helsinki, in Lappeenranta, Bordertown is full of snowy fjords and spooky forests, and everyone seems to live in a swanky house or apartment with minimalist Scandinavian-chic interiors. The series centers around another brilliant but socially awkward detective, Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen), known for his nearly photographic memory and success at solving impossible cases. And this series does have some twisty-turny, nearly implausible plotlines, including a serial killer whose weapon of choice is anesthesia, a supervillain who attempts to poison a city’s water system, and a killer who locks victims in an ice-fishing cage. The show is strongest in seasons one and two when Kari’s kick-ass deputy Lena (a former secret-police operative based in Russia played by Anu Sinisalo) is featured prominently, though season three is by far the snowiest; Kari’s deputy turned boss and series eye candy, Nikko, consistently has ice embedded in his goatee.
In January of this year, Bordertown: The Mural Murders was released on Netflix. It’s a one-off movie based on the killer Kari chased in the first three seasons. No word on if a fourth season is happening.
Bordertown is streaming on Netflix.
In season one, detective Sofia Karppi (Pihla Viitala) returns to chilly Helsinki from Hamburg, Germany, two months after the unexpected death of her husband. She is faced with a new, inexperienced (but not at all unattractive) partner named Nurmi (played with anguished restraint by Lauri Tilkanen) and the murder of a woman linked to a high-profile development company. As she gets deeper into the case, she forms an unlikely bond with Nurmi, who has demons of his own, and finds a web of adultery and political corruption. Set against the muted palette of harsh winter months, Viitala plays the part of a newly widowed single parent who chooses to throw herself into work as a way to cope with her loss. But the star of the show is the complicated relationship between Karppi and Nurmi, which starts with animosity and develops into something achingly deep — perhaps even love — over time. Season three premiered in Finland this past fall, so it should hit U.S. screens any day now.
Deadwind is streaming on Netflix.
The weather is a character in Trapped. Season one features blizzard conditions resulting in an avalanche, keeping the townspeople trapped (hence the title) and forcing the small police squad to fend for itself when reinforcements from Reykjavik aren’t able to reach them. The brutal Arctic tundra, rare glimpses of sunlight, and eccentric small-town characters are the draw here. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson plays the rumpled, newly divorced detective Andri, while Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir plays his sour-faced and sardonic partner Hinrika. Look for a “sequel series” called Entrapped to premiere on Netflix this year.
Trapped is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The Valhalla Murders
Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, who also has a small but important role in Trapped, stars as Detective Katrin “Kata” Gunnarsdottir, a tough, no-shit-taking star on the Reykjavik police force. Snubbed for a deserved promotion, she seethes through an investigation of a series of ritual murders that are connected to a school for troubled boys on the outskirts of the city and struggles to connect with her new, Oslo-based colleague. Filippusdóttir’s woman-on-the-edge portrayal of Kata is gripping, but the scene-stealer is her partner, Arnar (Björn Thors), a man racked with secrets and shame. The outdoor shots are amazing, too, from Kata’s routine of swimming laps outside in a pool surrounded by snow to aerial scenes of lonely country highways that cut through snowbanks like gray snakes.
The Valhalla Murders is streaming on Netflix.
Forever stomping through snow, William Wisting (Sven Nordin) is the epitome of a stoic, weatherworn Scandinavian. Still grappling with his new life as a widower and trying to connect with his grown children, he becomes embroiled in a case involving an American serial killer hiding in Norway. Wisting teams up with FBI agents (including one played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) sent from the U.S. to track the killer down. The case complicates his life on many levels, especially as his daughter is covering the case for a newspaper and finds herself in danger. This show is a bit faster-paced and more action-packed than others on this list, but still feels more Nordic than Hollywood. The second season is reported to arrive on streaming services this spring.
This very topical political thriller with an ensemble cast is set in the “near future” where the U.S. is no longer dependent on foreign oil and the E.U. is in an energy crisis. Russia “softly” invades Norway by taking over its oil production and begins to install a shadow government that controls the country. The show is set in numerous locations throughout Norway (and Lithuania, subbing in for Russia), from the brutalist architecture of Oslo to quaint villages in the Norwegian countryside. The writing and character development on this show is stellar, especially as the characters wrestle with the conflict of “choosing” to resist the Russians or embrace them out of necessity. The most sinister part about this well-crafted series is how eerily plausible it all feels.
Occupied is streaming on Netflix.
Not Nordic but still chilly
This Quebec-based thriller stars Isabel Richer as the keen DS Céline Trudeau who acts on intuition — and often independently — to the chagrin of her colleagues, but is given leeway by top brass for delivering results. Her character is refreshingly uninhibited, easily seducing a fellow cop 20 years her junior early in the series. The first season finds Trudeau working the complicated murder of a stripper in a mining town buried in snow and secrets. The second season, which just premiered in January, is based in and around the famous Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City.
The Wall is streaming on PBS Masterpiece.
An all-star international cast (including Stanley Tucci, Sofie Gråbøl, and Sir Michael Gambon) brings this gripping show to life. Fortitude is a small, isolated Arctic town, known as the “safest place on earth” where you can watch the northern lights and the wonders of the wild. (And it’s never not snowing.) But when a research scientist is found murdered, it suddenly isn’t so safe after all. While this is a Nordic-style slow burn and touches on many real issues — crime, climate change, class structure, corporate greed — it also incorporates supernatural elements that provide a number of jump-out-of-your-seat moments.
Fortitude is available to buy on Amazon Prime Video.