Writer Michael Hirst talks about the closing act of his Northman saga.

By Darren Franich
December 31, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
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Credit: Amazon

The final ten episodes of Vikings launched today on Amazon, ending the six-season tale of conquest that began back in 2013. Vikings covered decades of generational conflict, beginning with the modest explorations of eventual king Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his wife, the shieldmaiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). Decades passed, and Ragnar's sons Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) took center stage, alongside an ever-shifting supporting cast of heroes, monarchs, and monsters. EW spoke to Vikings creator Michael Hirst about the end of his saga. Anyone waiting to watch the series on History in 2021 be warned — there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Years ago, you told me the last shot of Vikings would be when the Vikings saw America. That is not, in fact, where the season ends, since we actually see a lot of Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) and Torvi (Georgia Hirst) settling in the golden land. When did you decide the show would end with Ubbe talking to Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) on the beach?

MICHAEL HIRST: That evolved. I knew that Ubbe and Torvi would find Newfoundland, and that's where they would be reunited with Floki. I wondered whether Floki might die. I decided to make that much more ambivalent, and much more of an up ending than a down ending.

Floki's always been at the core of so much of the series, especially the spiritual part of the saga. Can you talk to me about rediscovering him in this final phase?

He's been a very extreme character. He never did anything modestly or simply. I always called him a pagan fundamentalist, pushing himself to the limit on each occasion. Which I've always felt was one of the reasons I could allow him to survive extreme situations. I knew he would turn up in the New World. He was too important of a character to just leave him at the bottom of a volcano. He's like the soul of the show, in some way. I had to finish his story off in a satisfying way.

I think he has found peace. One of the lines that I wrote for his last little speech on the beach was a line that Gustaf cut. In the middle of him telling Ubbe what happened to him — as he's describing how he lives among the Indigenous people, and how they comforted him — he suddenly says: "My mind's not right." Which is actually a quote from a Robert Lowell poem called "Skunk Hour." Just inserted into the middle of the poem, it gives you a shiver. I wanted him to say that, which I thought would be very honest. But Gustaf didn't want to say that, so I respected that. But I still feel, in a way, that he's found peace, but it's not like the old Floki. He knows he's dying, I think. But he's not so troubled. He's been a troubled soul for so many years. He pinned so many hopes on setting up a godly society in Iceland, and it just didn't work. it stressed him out, it devastated him. He is quite a broken man, finally. But, there is a gentleness to him, certainly, an acceptance, a mildness. I wouldn't mind going like that myself.

Floki is the last link back to the show's origins, since so many of his contemporaries are long dead by the end of the series. Vikings definitely had a high fatality rate, and I'm just curious: Were there any main characters you wished you had kept around for longer?

I can honestly say no. I felt, in every case, that the storylines had run their course. Take Lagertha, for example. Lagertha had been through so much. She wanted to retire from being Lagertha the great shieldmaiden — and she wasn't even allowed to do that! She had to fight again. She has this mind-bogglingly wonderful last fight with White Hair, which is still one of my favorite fight sequences in the whole show. And after that, there was nowhere for her to go. She'd been so fundamental to the story. Vikings had a more-or-less 50-50 male-female audience. I think that was largely due to Lagertha. So I wanted to give her an amazing funeral.

And obviously, I always knew that Ragnar was going to die. This was the Saga of Ragnar and His Sons. My very first outline of the show, Ragnar died at the end of season 1. He actually died halfway through season 4. So he hung around a long time.

Can you talk a bit about the upcoming spinoff, Vikings: Valhalla?

It's set 100 years from my show, and it features actually some more famous Vikings. People might have heard of Harald Hardrada and Erik the Red. It's a new kind of heroic age, a very different canvas. The Christians and the Christian Vikings are making huge headroads. What Floki always feared is coming to pass. And also, Jeb Stuart, who's writing the show, is essentially a thriller writer, so it is going to be different in many ways. It's a great tribute to the show, I think, that Netflix wanted to do a spinoff.

Looking back over the series, it seems like there was this incredibly optimistic period for the characters around season 3, when Ragnar pursued a diplomatic deal to settle new land in Wessex. That optimism faded throughout Ragnar's life into the wars that dominated his sons' generation. Did you always intend for the second half of the show to move into a violent, dark phase?

It was where the story led me. I recognized that Ivar was going to take me down some dark paths. Of course, when he ruled Kattegat, he was horrific, tyrannical, and cruel because, I think, he's always been angry at what he is. We talked to some people with brittle bone disease, and not surprisingly, they admitted to being angry a lot of the time. So we saw the worst in Ivar. But these last ten episodes give him a chance at some kind of redemption. He had developed a protective sense toward the young Russian boy, Prince Igor (Oran Glynn O'Donovan), which perhaps even he didn't know he possessed. He's slightly paternal towards the boy. I see that as a very positive shift.

I was thinking about Bjorn, too. Things haven't always worked out for Bjorn. I know he's done sort of heroic things. He sailed around the Mediterranean. He's become quite iconic. But he screwed up in so many ways. He was a very bad ruler. He's made some very bad choices, very bad decisions. And he was just terrible with women. If he died without doing what he does at the end, he might as well have been almost forgotten, and certainly not in the pantheon of heroes like Ragnar and Lagertha. But I think he's given this chance to redeem himself by saving his people. Ragnar, well, Ragnar would have been sarcastic, but I think he would have felt that all his sons had done something worthy.

So, funnily enough, even though there are many deaths and tragedies, we come out of this show with, I think, a kind of qualified optimism, with a sense that we've been watching heroic deeds.

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