When we left Ragnar’s sons at the close of Vikings’ fourth season in February, they had just beaten King Ecbert (Linus Roache) on the battlefield, but suffered a major setback on the family front when the brothers quarreled over their next steps, Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) lost his temper, and he killed his brother Sigurd (David Lindström).
Going into Wednesday’s two-hour season 5 premiere, “The Departed” parts 1 and 2, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) sets his sights on exploring the Mediterranean, and Ivar, Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), and Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) have put Sigurd’s death behind them to raid York. But for those who’ve been paying attention, it’s clear that the brotherly alliance cannot hold and a civil war looms. Season 5, after all, is pegged to the question: “Who will rise?”
Rotten Tomatoes recently spoke to Vikings showrunner Michael Hirst and Andersen about what’s to come with the war, last season’s eleventh-hour introduction of Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and what roles Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) will play in this Ubbe-Ivar conflict. Hirst and Andersen dropped eight big revelations on us.
“At the end of any season of a TV show, you don’t know that it’s going to be recommissioned,” Hirst said. “I know that that sounds weird because Vikings is now officially the fifth biggest show in the world, so you assume that everyone would be happy to recommission it, but that’s not the way the world works.”
With that in mind, Hirst said that he isn’t at all thinking about future seasons to come when working on the season at hand. So even with a season 6 order coming while working on season 5, he focused on this season’s 20 episodes.
“I’m doing season 5 and I’m putting everything I can into season 5, and I’m not saying, ‘Listen guys, I’m holding things back because I want to do other stuff in season 6.’ I’m not holding anything back,” Hirst said. “I’m delivering the biggest emotional drama I can, and I think season 5 is very emotional and it is the biggest season we’ve done. I’m very proud of it.”
While Ivar’s slaying of Sigurd is eventually cause for an irreparable rift between Ragnar’s sons, we’ve seen in previously released clips and teasers that he, Ubbe, and Hvitserk unite on the battlefront in the premiere to raid York. Andersen revealed, however, that this initial collaboration is a result of his character’s finesse.
“In the beginning of season 5, you will see [Ivar] being genuinely sorry, and he tells his brothers that. But that may be a way of him manipulating them and trying to make them feel sorry for him or bringing them onto his team to be able to control them,” the Danish actor teased. “I think he’s aware of the fact that he needs them to reach his goals.”
Hirst disclosed that while Bjorn is fulfilling his destiny of exploring the Mediterranean this season, Ubbe and Ivar will split and eventually face off in the season’s central civil war. And they’re not the only unlikely adversaries.
“What we’re going to see is a lot of shifting allegiances, a lot of fluid political agendas, and people following their own agendas,” Hirst said. “For example, Hvitserk, who’s grown up with Ubbe and who’s been very close to Ubbe, suddenly jumps ship and joins Ivar. He is going to spend a long time trying to work out for himself why that’s true, why he did it. And it may be because Ivar is the son who looks likely to succeed as the most powerful brother, but there are other things going on that we know are historically true.”
After the demise of King Ecbert at the end of season 4, Bishop Heahmund fills the leadership void and vows to take down the Vikings himself, Hirst revealed. A recently released clip from Wednesday’s premiere, for instance, shows him face down on the ground praying to the fallen king to “let this war never end until not a single pagan lives or breathes.”
“After the end of season 4 when the Saxons were in retreat and had been defeated, I needed a Saxon figurehead, a Saxon warrior, who could stand up to the Vikings and to Ivar and Bjorn — these formidable warriors,” Hirst explained. “And my historical consultants pointed me in the direction of these warrior bishops. And they were real people, I mean, Bishop Heahmund was a real person who died in battle, but they’re also very learned and very spiritual people, but they also fought. They were the precursors of the Knights Templar.”
Heahmund goes on to join forces with Ivar and his Great Heathen Army against Ubbe and Lagertha, Hirst said.
“[Heahmund] fights on one side and then he fights on the other. And he finds different rationales for doing that. Because you know what the Vikings always say if they’re presented with a difficult moral question or any kind of problem: ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s the gods who decide how I behave.’ And Heahmund has been fighting against Ivar and [then] joins Ivar, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fight with you because it’s not me who’s decided this, it’s God. I am doing the work of God. I don’t understand what my mission is because I don’t need to, because I’m here and I’m doing the work of God.’ ”
“Whatever they do, they think they’re doing the work of God,” which, Hirst said, is one way that Heahmund and Vikings like Ivar can understand one another.
Andersen, meanwhile, noted that “you’ll see a lot of scenes with these two together” and that they understand each other because they “are very similar and come from the same place … There’s some mutual respect, and you’ll see that there’s mutual respect between these two guys. The dynamics between these two strong characters, I think, are going to be very interesting. I believe that some of the stuff that we shot when they were squaring off is going to be very, very good. And I have a great feeling about it.”
In the premiere when they’re fighting each other in York, Ivar and Heahmund first recognize the intensity, the fearlessness, and the extreme essentialism in one another, Hirst said. Ivar recognizes what Heahmund is about, “that he’s like him, that he won’t give in, that he’s extreme, that he’s so passionate. So the part that they recognize different gods and they speak for different gods is less important than their personal attributes and beliefs,” the showrunner revealed.
When asked how audiences are expected to sympathize with Ivar, Andersen said, “Is that even possible? That’s a big struggle with Ivar and [it] has always been … He is an antihero — with an emphasis on anti— and that’s a great thing about it, because I love to challenge the audience. There’s nothing more interesting I find [than] to make the audience guess all the time and sit down and actually think, ‘Do we like this dude or do we root for him?’ That’s the whole point of the art: to make people actually think and not to sit down and be relaxed.
“On the outside he’s a controlled maniac, but on the inside he’s a poor boy,” Andersen continued. “So for me, I’ve never had trouble having sympathy for him, and I think that if I ever lose that, the audience will as well — and the opposite way: [If] I will always have sympathy for him, I think the audience will as well.”
Given the way Ivar and Lagertha’s relationship has developed and the creative team and cast’s teases for what’s to come, the possibility that he will kill her is certainly on the table. After Lagertha killed Aslaug, prophesy revealed that the reigning Queen of Kattegat was to die by the hand of one of Ragnar’s sons. Given Ivar’s short fuse and the fact that he is Aslaug’s doted-on son and that we know he is squares off against allies Lagertha and Ubbe in season 5, the likelihood seems high.
“It’s great to see those two characters clash together and see this wild and crazy guy who’s so determined and probably only thinks about himself against this powerful woman who’s all about the people,” Andersen said. “It’s great to see those two characters clash. Yes there’s going to be a massive power struggle. But this whole civil war, as you can see it’s going to be very, very intense and it is Vikings fighting Vikings.”
It also helps that, as Andersen pointed out, Lagertha and Ivar are in a way complete foils for one another. While Ivar and Heahmund see eye-to-eye because of their barbaric furor and single-mindedness, Ivar and Lagertha clash because of their opposing ideologies in ruling and more.
“For a woman in that society or any society, it’s more difficult to deal with the realities of power and politics, and she just keeps dealing with it. She kind of surprises me in how wonderfully and effectively she deals with these things,” Hirst said. “But what she wants to do, I think, is she wants to rule like an intelligent woman. She doesn’t want to rule like a man. You know, there are occasions when a man might just say, ‘Kill them all.’ She wants to be intelligent about the issues and sensitive about the issues. She makes mistakes, and those mistakes can make her look weak, but I don’t think she’s ever weak. I think she’s trying this different way of ruling … Lagertha represents what was best about Ragnar, and that is conflict with Ivar.”
(Photo by Arnaldur Halldorsson/History)
Season 4 saw Floki left utterly alone in the wake of Helga and Ragnar’s deaths, and this season, he sets sail on the ocean to surrender his life to the gods.
“He got fed up and totally disenchanted from the way that people behaved in the world he was living in,” Hirst said. “He’s decided that he doesn’t want to live in this world and he would submit himself to the gods — just get into an open boat and hopefully end up somewhere where he could begin again.”
That “somewhere” turns out to be what we know today as Iceland.
“I think that Floki would’ve been happy to die,” Hirst continued, “and yet, he finds this new land and he convinces himself, he might be mad, I don’t know, but he convinces himself that the gods live here in Iceland. (And, by the way, if you ever go to Iceland yourself, you could well imagine that the gods were there. It’s an extraordinary place.)”
It’s here, Hirst revealed, that Floki tries to rid his present of the life of his past, of Viking violence and barbarism.
“He’s trying to create a new society where people don’t behave like they’re behaving in the rest of the world … where it’s endless revenge stories. He wants to get away from that. And he thinks that you can reinvent society, you can reinvent human nature. So he tries to do it, and it’s not necessarily a happy experiment.”
That Floki leaves when Ivar “really needs that support and that friend,” Andersen said, ends up hurting Ivar, making him “more cold and determinate and hard.”
“Floki has always been Ivar’s only friend. And in terms of everything that’s happening in the beginning of season 5, it is the absolutely worst timing when Floki decides to leave,” Andersen said “Imagine losing a friend in the moment you that you need him the most … It’s just another damn person that he loves that left him. So it just adds to this horrible, horrible line of damaging. Floki is also a friend. Ivar understands why he needs to do what he needs to do. He really wants him to stay but he also understands him. And I think he takes it as a sign that now he’s on his own and it’s only the Ivar show from now on up in his head.”
Between season 1 and season 4, 49 hour-long episodes of Vikings have aired on History. Season 5 adds another 20. Hirst said that they’re now “well into season 6” and that he’s “now written 80 episodes.” Does the showrunner have an ending in sight for the epic story of Ragnar and his sons? He played coy about the content, but revealed the count.
“I’ve always had an ending in mind. It’s changing a little bit in my mind, but I know where I’m going,” he said. “The great thing now is I’ve been given permission to go there. So we’re going to do 90 or 100 episodes, which is huge, isn’t it? I mean, god, can you imagine?”
Vikings season 5 premieres on Wednesday, November 29, at 9/8C on History.