'Vikings' Boss on Bjorn's 'Lose-Lose' Decision in Season 6 Premiere: Why Fans Should Pay Attention (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Ragnar Lothbrok's legend has loomed over Vikings, nearly two years after his death. But according to showrunner Michael Hirst, we may have been paying attention to the wrong king all along.
Wednesday's two-hour season six premiere saw Ragnar's first-bjorn, Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig), stepping into his role as king following his battle with his half-brother, Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen), in the season five finale.
Tough decisions came quick, like whether to kill or release those who backed Ivar. Bjorn chose to banish them from Kattegat, but as Hirst hints to ET, that "lose-lose" decision might come back to haunt him and could have implications for the rest of the series.
"I only realized this recently, but probably the whole show is more about Bjorn's journey than anyone else's," Hirst says. "We saw him when he was a boy, we saw his parents separating and he went off with his mother. We saw that he wanted to prove that he was a man, later, by going off into the wilderness and fighting bears and so on. We've seen him trying to find out about love and now with seeing him trying to find out about kingship."
"His story is threaded through the whole show," he continues, "and he's got this wonderful storyline in season six with a wonderful payoff."
In a chat with ET, Hirst reveals what to expect for Bjorn's ruling style, whether Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) has really hung up her shield, and what to look forward to from the other cast of characters as Vikings airs its sixth and final season.
ET: The premiere really showcased Bjorn trying to determine what kind of king he'll be. We've already gotten a taste of his more lenient style, what can you tell us of his journey this season?
Michael Hirst: Well, as you remember, there was a scene earlier on where Ragnar told Bjorn when they were sitting up on the mountain looking down at Kattegat, that to rule was not a piece of cake, that you had to stoop pretty low to pick up power and that power corrupted everyone. So Bjorn had taken that on board, but Bjorn still wanted to fill his father's shoes.
Bjorn loves his mother, but he deeply admires his father, who is, after all, the most famous man in the Viking world at the moment. Bjorn has waited for this moment and he's thought about it, and what he has thought is that he can make a success of being a ruler because he's going to be tolerant, accepting, liberal and not make the mistakes that his father made or the mistakes his mother made, which is all well and good. The problem is, of course, that the first two big decisions that he has to make once he's become king are very problematic and difficult and kind of lose-lose decisions. And he's agonized about them and it's just the beginning of his journey of discovering that his father was right at least insofar as it's no fun being a king. You have to make these huge decisions that may have unintended consequences, which indeed both these decisions to have.
It's putting him in a new position.
What is also extraordinary is looking at him, if you go back and look at what he looked like in season one, he looked like a puppy. He was a young kid. And now on the poster of season six, he looks -- not old, but certainly experienced -- a little grizzled by experience, and we've watched this happening to him. We've watched him grow up and go through all these experiences, which is a great tribute to Alexander, the way he has changed physically and mentally.
Bjorn is also forced to make these decisions alone, as his mother, Lagertha, decides it's time to slow down a bit and get in touch with her roots. There's this huge symbolic moment of her burying her sword, but is her shield maiden life actually behind her?
She wants to retire, and you can understand why. She has struggled all her life. She's struggled. She's been in endless battles, killed a lot of people, struggled with bullying husbands, with rivals and she's nearly died. She's had a tough life, but she's also famous. She's a famous shield maiden, and in Viking society, there was nothing more important than fame, not celebrity, not something cheap, but fame for doing real things. So, she cannot retire. She cannot walk away from a kind of public life. People are always going to recognize her and ask her for things.
The premiere also reveals what happened to Ivar. He's in a new place and facing new challenges of his own. You previously told us that this season would really showcase a different side to him.
Ivar, as we know, escaped from Kattegat during the battle with Bjorn and his loss of his little kingdom. We catch glimpses of him traveling incognito on the silk road, and eventually ending and being captured in Rus. Russia is called Russia because it was founded by the Rus Vikings with their capitol in Kiev. So, Ivar is taken to Kiev and meets its Rus ruler, Prince Oleg, the prophet. And one of the things that's interesting about Oleg is he's much crueler, much more vicious, much more ruthless, much more careless with human life than Ivar.
In season five, we got used to the world of the tyrant, the vain, callous ruler, but the circumstances are completely different now. Right from the start, when we first saw Ivar, Ivar was always capable of cruel and mean things, but we knew that he was a cripple, that his father had left him out to die, that he was disadvantaged in Viking society. So although we couldn't approve of his many cruelties, we could understand why he was angry. But in season five, when he became a ruler and when he declared himself to be a god, I pushed that side of Ivar a long way, and I wanted, really, to pull it back. I wanted to humanize Ivar again, and I wanted to like him as I'd always liked him for so many years.
He is in a position where he's now powerless, when he's threatened and used and compromised by this Rus leader, and it's the way he deals with that, and the choices he makes and the way we look into his soul again, that I think is redemptive. So Ivar goes on his own journey, but it's less of a geographical journey. It's more of a journey into his own heart and into his soul. And actually in the end, it has very unexpected results.
The season has really pushed each character's individual storyline. What are you most proud of?
I hope and I think that I've given all the remaining major characters a really fascinating and deep storyline that really pays off for the series and their lives. And I'm actually -- I'm proud of that, and I'm proud of the way the actors realized these storylines perfectly.
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.