It’s brother versus brother on the midseason finale of Vikings, airing tonight on History. Ragnar Lothbrok and his army of Northmen have returned to Paris via an overland detour. That means Ragnar will get one more chance to face off against his traitor brother Rollo, who leads the Frankish army in defense of his adopted city.
This first half of season 4 has been a transformative period for Rollo – and for actor Clive Standen, who plays Rollo (and is on tap to star in NBC’s Taken TV series). In season 2, he was stumbling through a years-long alcoholic stupor; last season, he seemed borderline suicidal, a ruined man with no real prospects. “Nobody – least of all Clive, least of all Rollo – knew how good things were going to get,” says Vikings creator (and sole writer) Michael Hirst. “He’s been under the rock for a long time. He had to rebel. In Viking society, fame is everything. It’s terrible if your brother is the most famous man in your society. I felt for him, you know? He became an alcoholic. He became a bum.”
Midway through season 3, Rollo went to the Seer, who promised him a grand future. Something similar happened in real life, according to Hirst. “Clive came to me and said, ‘Do I keep on playing this bum, and then I die?'” Hirst assured him better things were ahead. Sure enough, Rollo enters this midseason finale a changed man, happily married to Princess Gisla. Compare that to Ragnar, currently in the throes of addiction and suffering from a truly cosmic depression. “You’re invested in Ragnar. Ragnar is an amazing guy, he’s sympathetic, he’s tortured, he’s beautiful.” But it was important to Hirst that, in the brewing of this fraternal conflict, Rollo not become a villain, even after he routed Ragnar’s army in their first meeting a few episodes ago. “Rollo is successful, and you don’t begrudge it,” says Hirst. “I think it actually questions some of the assumptions that people have about the heroic character.”
Find out what happens to Rollo and Ragnar when Vikings airs on History tonight at 10 PM. For now, watch this exclusive clip of Rollo rallying the troops – and be sure to come back after the episode for a full recap of the episode, and a chat with Michael Hirst on the future of Vikings.