'Vikings' Boss & Stars on Bjorn's Fate and Giving Series a 'Worthwhile' Ending (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
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Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched Wednesday’s season six midseason finale of Vikings, "Best Laid Plans."
The end is near.
Season 6A of Vikings came to a close on Wednesday night, as Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) and the Rus vikings brought the force of their full army to Norway. In Kattegat, Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) fought to hold onto his homeland, with the other kings of Norway and their necessary support nowhere to be seen.
The emotional episode saw the sons of Ragnar go head to head in a test of strategy and battlefield strength. After a telling dream-like discussion between Bjorn and Ivar about their father's legacy and who was the best man to uphold it, Ivar appeared to come out on top, stabbing a sword through Bjorn's chest.
But is Bjorn really dead? "We don't really know that, do we?" Ludwig asked ET over the phone. "I've been ordered by the powers higher than me that I'm not allowed to speak on the subject," he added with a laugh.
Vikings creator Michael Hirst, meanwhile, offered a little more optimism.
"It's obvious that both King Harald [Peter Franzén] and Bjorn are at the least very badly wounded," he said. "We haven't actually seen them dead, but you would imagine that their wounds were grevious enough to probably mean they wouldn't survive very long. But I wouldn't be quite certain that they're dead yet, until you actually see that. So, I'm not saying that they are both still alive, but they could absolutely still be alive, because we haven't seen them dead yet.”
While Wednesday's episode may not be the last we've seen of Bjorn, with just 10 episodes left of the series his time is coming to a close. In an interview with ET, Ludwig, Hirst and Alex Høgh Andersen open up about reaching the beginning of the end, where the show's remaining main characters will go next and what they hope fans glean from Vikings' series finale.
ET: The talk Bjorn and Ivar have on the beach about Ragnar's legacy was a powerful one to include in this final season. While it wasn't necessarily based in reality, it felt honest and vulnerable. Talk to me about shooting that and why it was important to include.
Michael Hirst: I try and do different things in battles, but clearly in this case, although it involves huge armies -- I mean, the Rus army is, as we see, formidable and huge. But it still comes down to in essence, a battle between Ivar and Bjorn, because they're pitting their wits against each other, that Bjorn is trying to second guess that Ivar is going to do, and similarly with Ivar. So, the battle is happening in their heads, as well as in reality, so I felt that was a good opportunity, to, as it were, cut them out of time and have them talking on a beach, as they would have been talking if it were in their heads.
Of course they do talk about the thing that has always haunted both of them, and that is Ragnar's legacy and who is the true heir of Ragnar. Even though he's still Ivar -- he still taunts Bjorn, he still teases him, he still boasts -- but there's a new kind of respect between them. They talk more like brothers than they ever have before, that they recognize each other and each other's strengths, and that's one of the beautiful things about it. It's not brutal and cynical and argumentative. It is a real conversation between sons who've never been close before, who've never really recognized each other and who suddenly find themselves in a pitch battle between life and death, talking to each other seriously and philosophically. It was beautiful to write, it was beautiful to shoot and I'm glad that you think it's worked, because I certainly did.
Alexander Ludwig: This whole season in itself has been incredible. It's come full circle, because when I signed onto the show initially, this had all been stuff we had spoken about… this is the trajectory the character would go in. What I loved is that though Bjorn's intentions are great, he makes mistakes that are very human. Even in life or in death, Bjorn's ultimate goal has always been to make his father proud. And this final season has been about coming to terms with the fact that tragically, he may never do that. But in many ways, he's done everything he can to carry his father's legacy as far as he can, and also, forge a path for himself.
Alex Høgh Andersen: I loved the stuff on the beach, because it's very intimate and it's a very quiet, almost surrealistic moment between the two, and I like those almost symbolic, inner dialogue moments, because it establishes a moment for them to talk to each other without everything else going on and without everyone else listening to them as well. They always have and always will have a mutual understanding and respect for each other. But I love shooting those scenes, and it was just fun and it was nice, and my heart beats for those scenes.
It was actually funny, when we shot those scenes. We were sitting so far from each other that Alexander and I actually couldn't hear what we said because the waves were coming in and the wind was going off and all that. So, I was looking at him, and the moment his mouth stopped moving, I said my line then, and then that's how we kept on going. Even though it seemed like we really felt each other in that moment, I think we did -- we also did a good job of pretending to hear each other. That's one of those film magic moments where you cheat a little and it works out in the end.
Michael has said that this season, and maybe the show as a whole, has been about Bjorn’s journey to becoming a king. Alexander, did you feel the weight of that this season?
Ludwig: Absolutely, and it's a challenge that I've embraced with open arms. I felt like it was the right time for Bjorn to go through all of this, and obviously from an acting perspective, it was the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me because I had so much more to do. He goes through so much this season, from his mother's death to the death of his son, to not becoming the king of all of Norway, and then his potentially ultimate demise. I felt like there was still more to Bjorn's story that I wanted to show, and I feel like in these last 10 episodes, I've been able to show that. I was able to leave that show knowing -- not saying I'm leaving yet, but we are done with the show now -- with entirety we did that character justice.
Michael, Bjorn's rise and apparent fall came pretty quick. Would you have liked to have spent more time on his reign?
Hirst: I think exactly it went at the pace I wanted to go out. When we pitched the show in the first place to History, I told History where it would end. We first saw Bjorn when he was a child, and we've watched him go through many, many changes, and finally he's become king. But as I say, it's not over yet… Bjorn's legacy is much greater, much more profound than you think it is, just having watched 610. So your whole attitude toward Bjorn I think will change.
Ivar has also experienced a lot of growth this season, and Michael has previously said he wanted to re-humanize the character. Alex, what has that been like for you?
Høgh Andersen: That is exactly what it has been. It’s been me as an actor realizing that my character can do other stuff than just yell and kill people on a regular basis covered in blood and stuff like that. After the ending of season 5B when Ivar gets beaten and he loses control of Kattegat, Michael and I really talked about trying to redeem this character, trying to get him to learn from his mistakes and show that he's not just 100 percent an untouchable god who loves himself and has no wrongdoing. I really needed him to be human again, because he is probably the most human of all the characters on Vikings. I have to believe that, because I have to protect and defend my character at all times, as an actor.
He's a little boy on the inside who is broken, probably more than on the outside. And I really needed for him to show that he can step back and take a look from the outside, and maybe experience a little bit of a mirroring between him and Prince Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky), who is, just as him, very powerful and very ruthless and vile and all of that. I think sometimes you need to look yourself in the mirror, and that's when you realize what you've done and how wrong it was. So, that's exactly what this season has been all about, and I'm really enjoying it.
This season has been really jam-packed. A few episodes earlier we saw Lagertha's (Katheryn Winnick) death. She was the last original cast member on set. Did the energy shift after she left?
Ludwig: The blow was softened by the fact that she was directing the next episode. When you lose a character on the show, it's' really hard, but what I find even harder is when you lose the people themselves, because we truly had created a family on that set, and fortunately for me, Katheryn lives about five minutes away from where I live, so we get to see each other pretty often. But yeah, at the time, it was more of a reminder that this show has come to its conclusion and that's hard.
It's also bittersweet because I knew this show was coming to an end. It was the greatest experience of my life. It was also one of the most trying experiences of my life. I grew up on this show. I learned so much about myself, both as an actor and as a human being, and I'm immensely grateful for it. There is a part of me who was really excited at the time to move on to other things, but without forgetting the fact that right then and there, I had to deliver in a huge way, because the whole show, in a lot of ways, was resting on my character's shoulders, at least for this half of the season.
Katheryn spoke to me about learning a lot about acting on this show because she went through so many phases and ages as Lagertha. What has that been like for you?
Ludwig: I wish every actor had the opportunity to be on a show this long and get to show this kind of an arc, because she hit that on the nose. It truly is eye-opening in so many ways, and in ways you wouldn't expect. Being able to have that room to be comfortable and get my footing as an actor was amazing, and I feel like in so many ways, it has contributed to so much of my growth. The other things we learned are things you wouldn't expect, like how important hair and makeup are to really adding to your character. I wanted to not only show that in my performance, but also in how I looked on screen. And that comes down to the makeup and hair department, and talking about adding prosthetics under my eyes, and things that would add an extra hour and a half in a makeup chair but in terms of how it would be portrayed on screen was invaluable.
Alex, you went through a big transformation this season as well, turning into a serpent for Lagertha's death scene. What was that like?
Høgh Andersen: (Laughs) Five hours in a makeup chair, that's what it was like. Oh my gosh, that was fun. I mean, I'm always up for that stuff, and Tom McInerney, who is our head makeup artist, he's crazy and phenomenal at what he does. He did a crazy job with that, and I found it so much fun. I mean, not the five hours in the makeup chair. I felt like a diva afterwards, and when I looked myself in the mirror, I didn't look like a diva, so I was a little sad about that.
But I actually got stuck in the costume, because he had glued the entire inner piece of the costume so it would stick to my body when I got it on. I got stuck in there with my long, shoulder-long hair getting everywhere, and I had to pull myself through all the glue with my hair stuck to the inside of that costume and glue, and I lost a handful of hair on that. It was super claustrophobic as well, because you're stuck in there. There's nowhere to go and it's really tight and it's completely dark, and everyone is yelling and screaming and panicking because they just stuck the lead actor in a serpent costume and it was fun. I did prank a lot of people on set that day. "Rawr! Boo!" I had so much fun, always taking the piss on everyone. All that stuff for one take.
And while Ivar and Oleg are working together in this midseason finale, Ivar's got something up his sleeve. What can you tease about that?
Høgh Andersen: Obviously Ivar is always planning. And I love the relationship he has with Oleg, because you never really know what is going on. They are frenemies and that describes their relationship pretty well. Ivar started doing his whole manipulative trick of trying to get Igor on his side, and all that little political planning, House of Cards kind of thing. But I can't tease too much. I can just say season 6B is going to be very interesting and there's stuff going down. Ivar is Ivar and Oleg is Oleg, and that calls for trouble. There's a lot of stuff happening next season. It's massive, probably the biggest one ever.
Well, you have to go out with a bang.
Høgh Andersen: We need to, yeah. No pressure at all, either. But we shot that for six months. We spent extra time on that last one, we really did. I know we had the longest shooting battle scene as well, that we've ever done on the show. Trust me when I say next season is absolutely going down. I know we say that all the time, but as you said, we need to go out with a bang, and we are bringing explosives.
Ivar also now has Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) on his side. What's in store for them?
Hirst: They were always sort of bound to be together, in one way or another, and when Hvitserk jumped ship and left Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), he didn't really know why, and I suppose at that stage, I wasn't sure either, though I knew it was the right thing to do, because they were fated, in some ways, to be together. Whether their fate is to kill one another or to betray each other or whatever their fate is, it is bound together, and so it was inevitable to me that they would get back for our last season, and play out whatever their destiny is, and it is quite an extraordinary destiny.
And again, you're dealing with a different Ivar. You're dealing with a somewhat redeemed Ivar, a more empathetic, a more emotional Ivar, and when he gathers Hvitserk from near death in the forest and takes him in his boat, he says that he loves Hvitserk, and you have to believe that. I think he does love Hvitserk. Many things will flow from that. So, whether they hate each other or they love each other, or love and hate each other at the same time, the fact is that destiny brings them together and means them together, and means that their endings are connected.
Høgh Andersen: Ivar is aware of the fact that Hvitserk is in the state that he is because of Ivar. He can see now that he's in a horrible state and I know Hvitserk is still alive, but being such a heavy heavy drug addict, that's not your real brother. And that's what Ivar sees, and that's why Ivar is going to take care of him. They do have that interesting connection that they don't know how to explain, and it's almost like, destined that they're meeting each other in the woods out of nowhere. But I also have to add to that that Ivar is really, really happy to see Hvitserk. He needed that friend coming in, that extra support, even though it's tough support and it's troublesome support. But he needed that. He was also a little homesick.
There's this powerful line Hvistserk delivers to Ivar about how he was the one to finally kill Lagertha. Talk to me about the significance.
Hirst: For the audience, it's probably a shock, because they haven't thought about that. It immediately reminds you that Ubbe made an attempt to kill Lagertha, that Ivar has always said that he's going to kill Lagertha, and that even in his demented state, it's the unexpected son, Hvitserk, who kills Lagertha. Hvitserk has always been a conflicted person, and that's made him very interesting to me. He's always been searching for his real identity and who he is. But now he knows that the gods have been involved in his life in a practical and possibly a positive way, and I know that he gathers strength from that, that as we see things develop in the last 10 episodes, in 6B, we'll see the kind of strength that he develops, and he finds his true role and his true identity, that he's spent a long, long time searching for.
Høgh Andersen: It also saddened him more than it makes him jealous that it wasn't him to finish Lagertha off. It actually saddens him that he forced his brother to do it.
Like you've said, Alexander, you've been through a lot with Bjorn this season. I loved that scene between him and Hvitserk, when he confronts him for killing Lagertha in the episode Katheryn directed. Do you have any scenes that will stick with you from the show?
Ludwig: You hit that on the nose. That, for me, when I read that and I read my goodbye to Katheryn as well, it's those scenes that I was like, “Wow.” Even if you do a film, you maybe get one of those, if you're lucky to do something like that, where you really get to dig deep and explore your own emotions, and that for me was it. That scene absolutely will stick with me forever as one of the greatest opportunities Michael gave me to go into unchartered territory with my character. You've never seen Bjorn have to confront this sort of tragedy in his life, to this extent.
Michael, we didn't see any of Ubbe and Torvi (Georgia Hirst) in this last episode of 6A. What can you tell us about where we'll see him when the show resumes?
Hirst: In the last half of the season, there are three different storylines. They're all connected. And they happen in Kattegat, in Wessex -- there is unfinished business in Wessex with some of our Vikings -- and the third storyline involves Ubbe and Torvi and it's a storyline about a journey, which is quite proper since the word Viking means journey. So the journey starts, and we know that it starts with them going to Iceland. Ubbe's obsessed with this story about the man who found the golden land, but he's also obsessed with finding out what happened to Floki. So, it's a profound journey to an uninhabited land and other places. It is one of the biggest strands of 6B. It's a wonderful journey and a great payoff for Ubbe.
Alexander, are you happy with how things end for your character?
Ludwig: Absolutely. I couldn't be more thrilled with the way Bjorn's ultimate finality came to a close. They saw him go from being a child to being a leader and then a king, so we all felt this immense pressure to do right. I'll tell you this though, the unexpectedness of this season is what I was so in love with. Like, just the way that our characters end up going are not ways that I, as an audience member, would have expected, which I like. Though you want so badly for it to go another way, sometimes it doesn't, and to me, that's very revealing about life as well.
How are you feeling about the way the show is wrapping up? What do you want audiences to pay attention to, or to feel as they say goodbye to Vikings?
Høgh Andersen: It's going to be extra emotional. We don't take that last season lightly. Everyone came together and you could feel it on set, shooting that last season. It was like every single scene mattered more because we knew we were heading towards the end. I think that you might be able to feel that nerve when you watch the very last season. I hope that translates because that's absolutely beautiful. Everyone came together and it's going to be a lot bigger than everything else. We're going back to the roots as well. It's going to be interesting and I think we knocked this one off in the right way.
Hirst: I wanted to make the end of the journey extremely worthwhile. So many shows fizzle out, and I was quite determined that this would end strongly, properly and satisfactorily, so that all the audience is satisfied with the endings of their favorite characters, whether they live or die, that they're still happy with the logic of it and the emotion of it. Because there are so many significant deaths, it was hugely emotional for me to write. I love these characters. Even some of the bad guys, and Harald Finehair is not the bad guy, but I love him so much, and I feel I've brought him back from the dead at least twice because I just couldn't bear to let him go. So, when I do kill characters off, it's a huge effort in letting go to people that I love and spent a long, long time with.
I hope that people will get a thrill from the storyline. There's a lot of story to come. There are a lot of surprises. There are also a lot of heartbreaks and a lot of tragedy. But in the end, I just want people to feel that it's totally and hugely satisfying. After 89 episodes, that's what I really, really hope for.
Editor's note: The interviews were conducted separately and combined into one. They have been edited for length and clarity.