'Vikings' Boss on the 'Twists and Turns' of Season 5B Premiere (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven't watched Wednesday's midseason premiere of Vikings!
That's one way to bring a season back.
Ten months after airing its death-filled midseason finale,Vikings has returned with a vengence. The History drama aired its season 5B premiere on Wednesday night, and while there weren't any major deaths (we haven't forgotten you, Astrid), it doesn't look like our Viking friends will be safe for long.
The episode, titled "Revelation," was all about love and hate. Things kicked off with Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) reveling in his recent win on the battlefield -- and with his new love interest, Freydis (Alicia Agneson) -- but still on the hunt to kill Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). While out of Ivar's reach, our beloved shield maiden, as well as her son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), and his brother, Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) were not far away. But it took Rollo (Clive Standen) to find them.
That's right -- Rollo is back, but his attempt to smooth things over with Lagertha and Bjorn didn't exactly go as he'd hoped, especially when he brought up old theories that he might be Bjorn's real father (more on that here). Casting Rollo aside, with Bishop Heahmund's (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) counseling, the group decided England was their best bet to escape Ivar. The only problem is that Heahmund's old pal, Aethulwulf, is no longer in charge.
And things only seem to be getting worse for Floki in Iceland, as the group decided against his offer to be sacrificed. So, what's a Viking to do? ET spoke with the show's creator, Michael Hirst, who detailed exactly what we can expect from the rest of the season -- and its many twists and turns.
ET: The episode ended with Lagertha, Bjorn and Bishop Heahmund arriving in England, with their fate unknown. Where does their journey lead this season?
Michael Hirst: They're having to put their trust in Bishop Heahmund, who they don't really know, and they're putting themselves at the mercy of this king, the new English king, Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and they're immigrants. They're in a desperate situation, but at the same time, because there is a relationship between Lagertha and Heahmund, Lagertha is doubly vulnerable. She's in love, and she doesn't really know Heahmund. She identifies something about him that she sees as similar to herself. There's a kind of kindred spirit there, but she doesn't know him in any deep way, so the results of their journey will inevitably be extremely dramatic, extremely problematic, will lead to many unexpected results.
When I quickly looked at the short synopses of season 5B, my initial reaction was, "My god, so much happens!" So much happens in this season, the rise and fall of kings, queens and kingdoms and power and human affairs, it's always shifting and changing. So that's part of the patent, that these important Scandinavian figures are uprooted, and they have gone to another reality. So, of course, things are going to shift and change. You know, it's drama.
We also had this big development with Rollo returning to confront the lingering question of whether he was Bjorn's father, which Bjorn wasn't receptive to. Rollo pretty much left after that, but does the story continue? Could Rollo return?
'Vikings' First Look: Rollo Returns for a Tense Meeting With Ivar (Exclusive)
He might. For quite a long time, actually, while Clive was on the show, he would say, "You've got to deal with that situation. You left that situation in the air. I believe that Rollo was Bjorn's father, and that explains quite a few things that I've done in the show." So there were two things I could do. One was that Rollo could justifiably go and make a trade deal with Kattegat, that's the sort of thing that happened. At the same time, of course, he's going for private and personal reasons, and he wants to connect with certainly Bjorn, and to save their lives, obviously -- if they'll accept his version of the truth.
That was a beautifully dramatic moment... Bjorn's reaction is obvious. We know that he wants to identify with Ragnar, because Ragnar is a Viking hero, and he wants the Viking hero to be his dad. Lagertha is more complicated because I always thought that at one period in her life, she was sleeping with both brothers. But she believes that Ragnar is the father of Bjorn, but she doesn't actually know that. And that was a situation slightly more common than you might think. It made her character slightly more complex. His return was worth doing. And I love to see him in the boat at the end of 5A, that was fantastic. And as he says himself, "I missed the old place." But I'm not going to tell you whether he comes back again.
I recently spoke with Clive, who said that the idea that Rollo was Bjorn's father came from a note from the director in the pilot, and that it wasn't in the script. When did you decide to make it an explicit part of the story?
Certainly looking at a new season, there were lots of different ideas floating around in my head. I've got a lot of central characters in the show who I need to return to. They're great actors, so I need to attend to them. I need to develop storylines for them, and Clive was one of those. He's in the back of my mind, and I kind of felt that there was some untold, unfinished business there, which would be emotional and important, as well for Bjorn trying to define himself. Bjorn is struggling, all the time. His father was one of the most famous men in his world, and he struggles with that, as well -- just like the sons of John Lennon or Paul McCartney would struggle with having such a famous father. And all that is kind of interesting to me, because I constantly think of the emotional status of these characters, what's happening inside them, what do they look for? And a lot of this season is about Lagertha's emotional state, and I think she goes to a slightly darker place where she's questioning her own identity, and all that -- that's the beauty of doing long-form drama, you can take a character to some other place, physically, but also in their heads, and they can change, they can question, they contradict, they can do anything. So I have that benefit. I have that opportunity to explore my characters.
Lagertha, of course, has a new lover in Bishop Heahmund, but he told her things might be different back in England. What does that mean for their relationship?
Well, I think the relationship was born out of stress anyway. They've come together during conflict, they're both warriors. They're living in a time of heightened dangers. They recognize something in each other, and Lagertha, despite her disappointing relationships with men, is big enough and brave enough not to close the door on love or a future relationship. So she is open to that, and we hope, because he loves her and all that, and it's not just the danger that appeals to him. He's not just interested in the conquest, but clearly, that makes it a very dangerous relationship, because their lives also depend on how they behave.
There's no way that this can be allowed to be a conventional relationship, so a lot of things are going against it from the start. But they do seem to have this extraordinary, powerful magnetism between them, and I was interested in developing that, and to what extremes that might lead them. Lagertha and Bishop Heahmund are extreme people. And if you're dealing with extreme people, on the battlefield, they're extreme, and maybe in love, they can be extreme too. ... And the fact that Freydis flatters her way into Ivar's bed, we'll see the consequences of that too.
I was going to ask about Ivar's new love interest. Can Freydis really be trusted?
To put it in context, Ivar has had a difficult life since his father left him out to the wolves to be eaten. He's a cripple. He was mocked by his brothers. He is in pain most of the time, and as a result of being in pain, he's angry most of the time. He has been unable to have ordinary relationships and consequently, he's going to reach out to anyone who seems to offer him an intelligent... in other words, Freida is not stupid. She's clever, she's thoughtful, she's worked out how to approach him. She may well be doing it slightly for her own advantage, but from his point of view, he recognizes that she's intelligent, and she says certain things to him, and it's not just kindness, it's a recognition that his disability may not be a disability. It may be a sign from the gods that he is special, and this is a huge turning point for Ivar.
He struggles all his life to be accepted. He knows he's different. But instead of being thought of as different, to be thought of as special, that's something. So I don't think she's being completely cynical. She's being clever. He's clever. So certainly, it matters a lot to him, and I think it's one of those things -- Ivar, he does terrible things. But he's always interesting. You want to know what he's going to do next. The audience can't hate him, because you keep being reminded of how terrible things were for him, and what a terrible childhood he had. And who knew that a crippled guy could be the most famous Viking warrior of all time? It's just amazing.
We've seen in teasers that Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) might be changing sides and joining Bjorn. Is there anyone left on Ivar's side?
Hvitserk, who has a very good relationship with Ubbe, previously jumped ship and joined with Ivar. From then onward, Hvitserk is trying to work out why he did that. It leads him into a lot of dark places. He doesn't know until the end of his life why he did that, but it was very important to me when I wrote it, that I didn't know what the consequences of Hvitserk doing that. I just knew that he had to do it. So that's a major story plot point really, and emotional, very, very emotional point in the story.
And then we have Floki back in Iceland. When I spoke to you last, you teased the payoff to this storyline. Are we nearing that payoff?
Certainly, the payoff comes in this season, and it's absolutely shattering. It usually happens that anyone who tries to set up a spiritual, godly society, it fails, and often, it fails in terrible ways. But the struggle is always so interesting, and the normal problem is that this new world gets filled with people, and people aren't necessarily godly or nice or whatever. They bring their old world problems with them. I love this storyline, and as I said, it has the most shattering conclusion in this season. But in the meantime, it's interesting for the spiritual turmoil Floki goes through, the questioning that he goes through. It's in the same way Lagertha does, questioning their identity, and the reason they do what they do.
You also promised that season 5B had "the most extraordinary twists and turns." What can you tell us about how that's going to play out?
(Laughs) I think that there are always, I hope, amazing twists and turns, and when I read through all these synopses, I saw that there were, in fact, a lot of twists and turns. There is an extraordinary twist right at the end of the season, which brings about a change that you just haven't seen coming, that seemed impossible. So basically, you will experience, as you watch it, very unexpected twists and turns. But right at the end, there is something that -- a story changing, and you can't see that coming. I wish I could say more.
The tagline this season is "descend into darkness." Is that how you would describe this season?
That's a good tagline. A lot of the main characters go into darkness, and that is really true of Lagertha and Bishop Heahmund. There is a sequence, I think it's in episode 15, which is an extraordinary and visionary sequence that is very powerful, and it's definitely about going into darkness. The more I think about it, I think whoever wrote that line, that's a good line. I'm always pleased when someone else gets to do the writing.
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.