Vikings
Darren Franich
February 01, 2017 AT 10:00 PM EST

A typical episode of Vikings is often fatal for minor or major characters. A season finale? That’s a guaranteed bloodbath. And History’s seafaring epic did not disappoint with the fourth season finale, which saw the rising generation of Vikings battle the forces of Wessex, seeking a final vengeance for the death of the great King Ragnar Lothbrok. SPOILERS FROM HERE, as we talk to Vikings creator Michael Hirst about the passing of one of the show’s defining characters.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In some ways, this episode marked the endpoint of a story that goes all the way back to season 2, with the introduction of King Ecbert (Linus Roache) and his interaction with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel). We saw Ecbert die, by his own hand, in this episode. How did the character change from your initial conception through to his final moments?
MICHAEL HIRST: It’s been a monumental season in the sense of losing both Ragnar and Ecbert, two massive characters in the show. Their stories were interweaved. They were very different, but they found that they had so much in common. The process of discovery, of finding out what they had in common, was organic. It never occurred to me in the beginning.

Ecbert was a cultured, sophisticated mirror image of Ragnar’s authenticity. He, as a character, grew on me. I was blessed to have Linus Roache to develop him with. Linus and I share a deep love for T.S. Eliot. And I was astonished at how Linus himself had taken this character and started to look broken and old by the end of his story.

What is going through Ecbert’s mind after he gets captured? In some ways, his death seems to mirror Ragnar’s: They both hang in that cage, and they both are clearly plotting for the aftermath of their own deaths.
Ecbert’s ambition and dream was always to unite these disparate English kingdoms under one monarch. And, in theory, his ambition was probably that he would unite them under him. But it was certainly his intention that they would be united under Wessex domination, by a Wessex ruler. He had a long-term strategic plan for that. Because of the Great Heathen army, and because of the rise of a Viking power, all those dreams were compromised and threatened. In the end, you’re looking at a man whose back is to the wall, who’s trying to do anything he can. In many ways, his dreams are actually shattered.

Although Ragnar’s death was horrific and cruel, it was also hugely symbolic, filled with meaning and spirituality that echoes, in some ways, Christ’s Passion. Ragnar never gave in. Ecbert’s [death] is much lower-key. It’s rather Roman, of course, and it’s typical of Ecbert to choose to die as a Roman would have died. It reflects his knowledge and his learning. Nevertheless, it’s not grand in the same way. It’s more about the death of a man who, to the end, is still plotting and scheming.

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As the show’s writer, what was it like for you to approach the end of this season, with the loss of Ecbert following so soon after Ragnar?
If I hadn’t been so excited by Ivar and what was coming next, that would perhaps have had an even more profound effect on me. It was out with the old, in a sense, and in with the new. Life changes. “This too shall pass,” as it says in the Bible. The death of these great characters paved the way and opened the window to another generation and a lot more adventure.

For more on “the new,” stay tuned for more postmortem interviews, and click here for details on Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ arrival.

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