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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Wednesday’s episode of Vikings, “Moments of Vision.”
Vikings has always been a violent show, and past seasons of History’s epic have featured massive battle scenes full of character fatalities. But Wednesday’s midseason finale, “Moments of Vision,” takes an unexpected approach to the climactic showdown between the forces of Ivar (Alex Hogh) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). The episode tracks multiple characters in a nonlinear fashion, cutting from the fighting to preparations for the battle. There are flashbacks, and sequences that could either be spiritual visions or dying hallucinations. “I was quite determined that we would just do a unique thing,” says Vikings creator Michael Hirst, who wrote this episode (and all the others.) “A battle scene told from different points of view, including points of view of people who died.”
EW talked to Hirst about the bloody, poignant episode, and what it means for the show going forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “Moments of Vision” saw a lot of long-running characters die, including Jasper Pääkkönen’s Halfdan and Josefin Asplund’s Astrid. How much did you plan out these character exits before working on the episode? In the writing process, did you save some characters, or write deaths you weren’t expecting?
MICHAEL HIRST: At one stage, I was sure that a son of Ragnar would kill another son of Ragnar. So that would probably be between Hvitserk and Ubbe. And I went into that final scene thinking that that was gonna happen. And then it didn’t happen, which was mildly surprising to me. A mirror image of that was Harald and Halfdan, and I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, but then [Harald] killed him. I knew that Astrid was going to die, even though I didn’t want her to die! I loved her.
What I want to show, as well as cool action, is psychological damage. A bigv thing is to try to humanize the Vikings, try to show they were just like you and me. They’re fighting battles every other year, or whatever it is. And it’s gonna wear them down. With Lagertha, I wanted to start showing the psychological impact of continuously being between life and death.
There were interesting moments near the end of Ragnar’s time on the show, when he would have visions of his past life or younger days on the farm. It felt like a lot of characters had moments like that in this episode.
I had a lot of friends who were gay who died in the early AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s. They died in their 30s, essentially. That is the typical lifespan of a Viking. They didn’t live for very long. So Halfdan’s death, and the death of Torvi’s first son in the battle, and Astrid’s very young. Young people dying is a very powerful part of that episode.
I’m warned constantly about saying this, but I do think that Vikings is a grown-up version of Game of Thrones. It actually deals really with mortality, really with the big issues. It’s not an entertainment in that sense. I hope it is entertaining! But it really drills down into things that are important. This is an episode I’m terrifically proud of because so many important things happened in it, and it was very honest. And Lagertha starts to break. One of our big characters starts to break in this sequence.
In the last shot of her in the episode, it looks like her hair has turned white!
It has turned white. The psychological impact is yet to be worked through. That’s a story in itself, Lagertha’s breakdown.
We also caught a brief look at Clive Standen returning to the show as Rollo. What happens when he returns to Kattegat?
Rollo has become a magnificent, hugely successful, hugely powerful man. There are things that have been unresolved in his life. He’s coming back to deal with things that were never dealt with in the past. Specifically, his relationship with Lagertha. And whether or not, frankly, Bjorn is the son of either of them. It was a big thing for a short time — it was brought up, and then it was hidden. But people with long memories will remember that it came up in [laughs] episode 1, season 1, of Vikings.
There are a lot of political and practical reasons why Rollo comes back to Scandinavia and wants to do a deal with Ivar. But the actual reason is deep and psychological and personal. He wants to find out things about himself and about Lagertha and about Bjorn. I was extremely happy and thrilled that Clive wanted to come back. He was busy doing his other show [Taken]. He loves Vikings so much that he made sure he could come back.
While the battle was raging among Ragnar’s family, we followed some dark turns in Floki’s colony. That story is separate, but it feels like it’s commenting on what’s happening back in Scandinavia. We left off with him offering himself as sacrifice. What can we expect to see with Floki when the show returns?
I remember talking to Gustaf [Skarsgård, who plays Floki] over lunch one day here in Ireland. He was talking about how his character had lost everyone, lost his wife, lost his best friend. What was left for him? I said, “Well, I had a thought. Do you want to build a city on the hill?” In other words, do you want to try to build a society in a new place? Referencing the Pilgrim Fathers and all that, but that’s not the only example of people who tried to set up ideal communities of perfect faith.
It’s a part of the main story, a reflection of the main story. I wouldn’t have even started down this line if there wasn’t a payoff. The payoff is so catastrophic, so extraordinary, so terrible. I wish I could tell you! It looks bad now, it gets worse. That storyline really delivers, and says something about the human experiment.
In the previous episode, we saw Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) become king. We’ve seen this character at every stage of his life, from birth onward. What are his next moves going to be, now that he’s sitting on the throne?
We get the first real inklings of why Alfred became known as “The Great.” Speaking very frankly, we cast a very young actor — inexperienced actor, who is a very good actor — in a very difficult situation. At a certain point, I said to him, “Look, you have to become someone who is known as Alfred the Great. I’m looking for you now, as we move forward, to take control, grab power, to seize the moment.” He does! There are scenes to come in 5B [the next half of the season] for Alfred which are mind-blowing. It’s the story of someone who really becomes his historical self. He becomes the king in a terrible situation, and he really, finally cracks it.
Ivar has now achieved everything he ever hoped for, and sits on the throne of Kattegat. Does everything turn out great for him?
All I would say is, be careful what you wish for!