Time flies on Vikings. Years pass by between episodes. Boys grow into men, and men become warriors. The past fades away – but some sins are never forgotten. When the midseason finale aired in April, the show took a wild leap forward, time-jumping to a whole new era in its characters’ lives. Ragnar Lothbrok has returned after long years away. Everyone is older: Friends, old lovers, enemies, sons. What awaits us in the second half of the fourth season? Vikings creator Michael Hirst is already deep into writing the fifth season of the show, but he got on the phone to talk about the next half of season 4, giving us an in-depth look at four images from the new episodes and how times have changed for our main characters.
Obviously, time has passed. Ragnar had lost a huge battle, and actually, normally, in Viking society at that time, if your leader, Earl, or King had lost in that way, they would quickly have been killed and replaced, because it was a meritocracy. But Ragnar was different, because he was the most famous Viking in Scandinavia. But for him, the shame of losing was too great to stay around. He absented himself. But he was too famous to immediately replace.
I was never particularly interested in where he went to. He probably was licking his wounds somewhere. He probably never intended to come back. But there were a couple of things he wanted to come back for. We know what his sons mean to him. One was to find out what had become of his sons. The other was to deal with unfinished business, which was the settlement in England, in Wessex.
So, in this picture, Ragnar has returned, unexpectedly, shocking everyone. He wants to recruit people to go back with him to Wessex, to right this wrong. He talks to his oldest friends, his deepest friends, the people we’ve known from the start of the show. Lagertha and Floki are people we saw in episode 1, season 1. These are people embedded in his life, people he’s loved, people who’ve loved him and have been on a journey with him. But there’s been this extreme disruption of collective relationships. He’s disappeared, no one knew where he’d gone. Things have changed.
So there’s a recognition, I think, in that photograph, of both change and continuity. There’s a recognition of Ragnar reconnecting to people he loves, and who’ve loved him, and seeing whether he could still work with them, and whether there’s a future there.
The normal age when Vikings would die was 29. So if you’re above 29, you’re doing very well. You probably do feel old. These are older guys thinking about their past and wondering how much of a future they have.
Floki is now going through very deep and profound changes, and reevaluating his life, his relationships, and this will continue. This is a very big thread in the story moving forward. I can’t exaggerate how big these changes will be. It’s Floki having to reimagine his whole life, who he is, what he’s here for. It will lead to quite extraordinary outcomes.
The thing that Floki has always wanted was for Ragnar to say that he loved him. For Floki, Ragnar has always held back from that. Ragnar teased him when they went to the first raid on Paris, when Ragnar made Floki the leader of the raid, in order for Floki to fail. From Floki’s point of view, Ragnar has slightly manipulated their relationship. Floki has been very open about his love for Ragnar, and it’s never quite been reciprocated, and Floki feels bad about that. Ragnar sailed to victory on boats Floki built!
In this scene, Ragnar says to Floki, “I love you.” Even now, I’m welling up slightly. It’s a huge moment. Floki cannot believe it. That is something that comes out of the blue, slightly, but it’s what Floki has wanted to hear most of his life.
That’s a new female character called Astrid [played by Josefin Asplund]. She’s become a part of Lagertha’s life. They are in a relationship. You can well imagine why Lagertha might now be in a relationship with a woman, because all the men she’s been involved with have betrayed her and let her down. And no one could really expect her to live totally alone, she’s not that kind of a woman. And I’m not saying that she’s suddenly discovered that she’s a lesbian, that’s not the point. The point is, she’s in a relationship with someone she feels more comfortable with, someone she feels she might be able to trust, and it’s a woman.
She’s a ruler, she’s got lots of responsibility, she has ambitions beyond that, but in terms of her personal life, if she can help it, she’s not gonna get involved with another guy who’s gonna want immediately to take her earldom away from her. So she’s with a woman, who’s not going to want to do that – at least initially! It becomes a refrain: “I’ve been cheated on, betrayed, all my life. And I’m fed up.” She is the most wonderful, powerful, strong, independent, clever Viking woman, in a society that did allow women to rise, to have some authority. But even so, for a woman, there’s still barriers to get through, and the absolute ambition of men that would just trample you down. It is still harder for a woman. I kept saying to Katheryn [Winnick], “I’m gonna make it harder and harder for you down the line.”
If we say that Ragnar and Floki consider themselves to be older now, and they have much to reflect on, and they have a history, Lagertha has a history too, now. She’s had a lot of different experiences. She’s with a younger woman. She can teach this younger woman.
Astrid is partially based on that wonderful German student existentialist [Astrid Kirchherr]. She and her boyfriend went to see The Beatles when they were playing in Germany. They were playing 12 hours a night, and they were just kids, really. But that’s where they were formed, really, The Beatles. These students, called “exies,” existentialists, went to see them, were slumming it with all the sailors. They were very talented students. Astrid got to know The Beatles, and took the iconic pictures of them in their leather jackets, and gave them the Beatle haircuts. She was a very free spirit.
It really f—- the Beatles up, because they came from Liverpool, you know? An old-fashioned society. Germany was a much more vibrant, challenging, contemporary society. Astrid had affairs with a couple of them, and married Stu Sutclliffe, who then died. She’s still alive, Astrid. I’ve always admired the hell out of her. She designed their look. And in the introduction of this Astrid, at one point, she actually says to the sons of Ragnar, “I would love to change the way you look.”
The first time we see her, I think, is in Lagertha’s great house, and Ragnar has come to see Lagertha. Astrid appears, and isn’t in awe of him at all, and kind of teases him. He loves it, of course. She appears really modern, in that encounter.
Astrid is a breath of fresh air into the show. The Scandinavian society is growing up, too. Vikings is one of the few shows in which children actually grow up. On other shows, no one changes, no one grows older, there are no children, it’s not real. In our show, we’ve followed Ragnar’s kids since they were born. We leaped forward in time, we see the kids grow up, we see how society change, we see how affluent Kattegat has become. We started with a single boat full of warriors attacking one monastery, and now we’re showing huge armies. The world is changing, and the world is getting slightly more sophisticated. I’ve read this great book, called “The Silk Road,” which was showing that in the Dark Ages, it might have been the Dark Ages to the western culture, but to the east, there was trade, cultural exchange. The Vikings were on Silk Road. So a character like Astrid, who appears to be slightly more modern? She is more modern.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Lagertha says to Aslaug, “I will never forgive you for taking away my husband, my world, and my happiness.” Viking society is, you know, pretty much based on revenge. There’s no point in me denying that this is a culmination of a storyline that goes back to season 1, that Lagertha has clearly never forgotten, or forgiven, Aslaug. And Aslaug has been, since Ragnar disappeared, has been sort of the ruler of Kattegat. But to Lagertha’s eyes, not an effective ruler, not a real ruler, not a proper ruler, for whatever reason. She hates her.
All I can say is that that very, very deep and divisive relationship will culminate. We’re dealing with the endgame.
If you think about it, Ragnar, Lagertha, Bjorn are on the liberal wing of the Viking party. They believe in cross-cultural relationships. They believe in trying to find farming, land for their peoples in other places. They are open to compromises with Christians. And then there’s the authentic Vikings spirit, represented by Floki, and Aslaug chooses to re-identify with that, and gives her son, Ivar, to Floki to bring up, in the true religion. So she nails her colors to the mast, she says basically, “I Am Viking, I Am Not Part of This Liberal Thing.”
How that manifests itself in ruling, I think, is actually that it just freezes the society in the Iron Age, from which we started. Whereas the liberal wing wants to move forward on the Silk Road, into cultural exchange. Aslaug has just said “No.” We’re going back to the old ways, the old gods. It’s a little Taliban, if you want to think about it that way. “I’m gonna destroy all the music cassettes.”
Vikings season 4B is set to return to History in the fall.
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