Credit: Jonathan Hession

History’s ever-more-epic saga Vikings returns Wednesday night with the premiere of season 5, the cast larger and the global scope wider than ever. The show is set over 1,000 years ago, but for creator and sole writer Michael Hirst, describing the fifth season is its own form of time travel. The lengthy production process means that he’s already deep into writing next season. “I’m ahead of you by two years!” he says with a laugh.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the end of the last season, Ragnar’s sons had successfully avenged him — and then Ivar killed his own brother.
That’s brothers, isn’t it? It’s a family saga. As soon as things go well, they go badly. The family implodes. You also have such strong personalities pushing in different ways. Ivar becomes this huge driving force. He leads the great army. He’s absolutely intent on destroying the English armies.

How does the addition of Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character, Bishop Heahmund, change the show?
He’s a Christian fundamentalist. We’ve had a lot of insight into Viking fundamentalism, like Floki, his being all the time promoting a vision of the pagan gods. We had people wavering between conversion. The Saxons have been slightly less fundamentalist about their religion. Suddenly, you get this absolutely fundamentalist bishop, the predecessor of the Knights Templar by hundreds of years, someone who gets dressed in armor to fight for Christ. Heahmund will not back down. Here you have someone who will live and die by Christianity. I love teasing out the religious conflicts. Johnny is a wonderful and dangerous spokesman for Christianity — because he’s so mad! You’re dealing with an extreme world.

We left off with Katheryn Winnick’s Lagertha in charge of Kattegat, but with various forces arrayed against her. How does her rule continue in this new season?
I remember talking to Katheryn about the fact that she was going to be the Queen of Kattegat, and what did it mean: “You will be the ruler, but you will be a female ruler, and you will try and rule it in a different way from all the men.” It’s perfectly easy for a woman to step into a man’s shoes, and be ruthless and strong. If you were an intelligent woman, wouldn’t you like to rule in a different way? She wants to believe in people. And she f—s up in certain ways, but I want everyone to understand why she f—s up, and why she’s made these judgements.

Vikings season 5 kicks off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on History.

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