'Vikings' Creator Breaks Down Show's Death-Filled Midseason Finale and [SPOILER'S] Return! (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
WARNING: Spoiler Alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday's episode of Vikings!
No, not Ragnar -- but it might as well have been, because seeing Rollo's (Clive Standen) face sail down to Kattegat was the only thing that could have cheered us up after Vikings' devastating midseason finale on Wednesday.
Ivar's (Alex Høgh Andersen) quest to kill Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) finally came to a head on this week's episode, titled "Moments of Vision," as their armies fearlessly battled it out in a stunning hour featuring different characters' points of view. Ivar's thirst for blood was clear and consequential, as the massive battle took several lives, including Astrid (Josefin Asplund), Halfdan (Jasper Pääkkönen) and Torvi's son, Guthrum (Ben Roe). And if that wasn't enough, over in Iceland, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) also offered to give himself up as a sacrifice in order to appease his failing settlement.
But will Floki actually go through with it? And why exactly did Rollo return? ET caught up with the show's creator, Michael Hirst, who broke down the shocking episode -- and what it means for the rest of season five and beyond.
ET: What was the inspiration behind this midseason finale and jumping between characters' points of view?
Michael Hirst: Well, the jumping off point was probably me trying to think of a different way to do a battle, because we pride ourselves, I think, on doing battles differently, where we're always trying to do them in more interesting ways, but always actually centered on the characters. So I was thinking about that, and it occurred to me that people must experience battles very differently, that no one's experience will be the same. Everyone's experience will be unique. It's a very intense moment, so it must be, you know, full of different emotions and fears and images and memories and things.
We also say goodbye to several characters. How did that factor into the episode?
I knew that in this battle, quite a few major characters would die, [and] I thought that if I told that battle from about five or six different points of view, and if the first person whose point of view you shared actually died in the battle, every other time you started again [with a new point of view], you'd kind of assume that they would die too. But then they didn't die, so you would never know who was going to live and who was going to die, and that's the nature of battle. That was where it came from, and then the challenge was to get the director to buy into that. People in extreme settings, it must warp and distort time, so lots of things can happen in your head in a very short period of time. I was experimenting and thinking about different ways of doing something that we see all the time on shows. We see battles all the time, and they're nearly always shot in the same way, and I just wanted to break open those conventions.
When I started writing the episode, I wasn't 100 percent sure of who would live and who would die. So that was an extraordinary position to be in, having the state of all these characters in my hands, including a lot of them that I loved as characters very much. Astrid was one of them. Halfdan was another... but I thought there were some storylines that I'd almost said as much as I could say about these characters. Astrid was in this really difficult position...and that was forced upon my consciousness, like, Astrid has to die, and Harold has to kill his own brother.
The death that seems to have the most impact, of course, is Astrid, and we see the effect it has on Lagertha at the end of the episode. Lagertha has always been so strong throughout this series -- how will this change her moving forward?
Astrid forces Lagertha to kill her, and it's going to have an extremely profound effect on Lagertha. If you think back on Lagertha's history in the show, she's done, you know, a lot of things, terrible and beautiful. She's been through intense experiences, and she's been through battles. That stuff takes its toll, and part of what I wanted to do with the show was humanize Vikings, and say, 'Look, they're human beings.' Human beings can't be in those extreme situations forever without it having profound influences and effects on their psychology and their minds. And because Lagertha is at the center of the show, I wanted to show that she too is certainly not immune of the effects of what she's doing, of the terrible things that happen.
We also saw Lagertha's new relationship with Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Was that always the plan, to intertwine them romantically?
Bishop Heahmund is a real character. He was a real guy. He was a man of God, but he was a warrior. So he came into the show [because] I needed a strong Saxon. But he's also a deeply sensual man, for which he punishes himself. So I thought, 'Who is a deeply sensual man going to be attracted to when he's introduced to Pagan society, to Viking society?' Well, Lagertha. Obviously the first time he met this famous shield maiden, he would be attracted to her, because he's a sensual man. So that was organic; I hadn't pre-planned that. It just occurred to me as I was writing the episodes, as I was embedding him into the show, that moment he set eyes on Lagertha, the moment he understood who she was, he would be attracted to her, with huge collateral damage on both sides, I must say. But their coming together was inevitable.
And Rollo returns at the end of the episode. What brings him back to Kattegat?
Like any other fan, I was thrilled to see Rollo sailing into the show, but he's come back to deal with things which were never dealt with in the past. And we're going back to season one here, where there were huge questions about his relationship, and Ragnar's relationship with Lagertha, and what had actually happened between them all -- and frankly, whose son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) was. So Rollo is sailing back to deal with things that have been on his mind for a long time, and it's pretty powerful stuff, I must say.
Like Clive, who went off to do Taken, Gustaf has also nabbed another TV show with Westworld. We see Floki offer himself up as sacrifice in the midseason finale, so what does that mean for his character?
Well, he ain't going anywhere anytime soon. The story of the Icelandic settlement may look on the surface like a slightly separate storyline, but in fact, it's a very important storyline for me, because I'm obsessed by the Viking gods and the Pagan gods, and you know, Floki is like the Pilgrim fathers, he's trying to set up a city on the hill, a place that's safe. And that storyline is only just developing. I can assure everyone that the payoff of that storyline is quite extraordinary, but it's a way down the line.
Back to the "war between brothers" that we've been following this season, we see Lagertha and her camp retreat after losing the battle -- is the war over?
The war is only just beginning, really. Know that one of the big things with Vikings was fame, fame for having done something extraordinary. And all the sons of Ragnar grew up with a father who was famous, and they want to be famous. So these contacts, these battles, these wars, these alliances, will go on until, in the end, one of them will survive, and one of them will be more famous. You know, the Seer said that the death of Ragnar would bring about peoples and terrors beyond imagining, and that's what happens. And especially if you have someone like Ivar the Boneless in the field, you are going to get some pretty extraordinary action. It's a momentum that's started that won't stop for a long time.
Speaking of Ragnar, it's been about a year since fans said goodbye to the character. You've said wonderful things about how Travis led the cast. How has the show adjusted since he left?
I sold the show on the basis that it wasn't just about Ragnar. It was about Ragnar and his sons. Nevertheless, it was a lot of nervousness, I think, from American executives about what would happen when your main character dies. And the fact was, after Ragnar died, the ratings went through the roof, because if a major, major character dies, everyone wants to know what's going to happen afterwards. Which is great, you can have a short-term burst of interest, and the ratings can go up, but they can fall down if you have nothing to replace it with. But I think we then have these amazing characters coming to the fore, so Alex Høgh, who plays Ivar the Boneless, is amazing. Jordan [Patrick Smith], who plays Ubbe... he's very much like Ragnar. We're now doing season six and he's a huge character. Bjorn stepped up.
And Ragnar never goes away, because people talk about him all the time. These people, for me, are living presences within the show, so I think it's organic. I think the show is the show, and people like different things about it -- well, I've met a lot of women who liked Ragnar particularly -- but still, I think that the show is bigger than Ragnar, and we've proved that.
What can we expect from the rest of season five?
Each season has gotten stronger, has grown, just in scale, apart from everything else, but also in every other way. Season 5B is full of the most extraordinary twists and turns, and deep, deep emotional storylines, and we'll just ask you to wait until you see episode 15, which will just tear your heart apart and blow your socks off.