Vikings Season 5B Bjorn and Lagertha
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Vikings Season 5B Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick)

Michael Hirst on the big beats (so far) of Vikings Season 5B

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Dec 14, 2018, 12:26 PM EST (Updated)

The current season of History Channel's Vikings has been all about change, and that's made for some big developments.

For example, celebrated warrior and former Viking Queen Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith), and Torvi (Georgia Hirst) are stranded in Wessex and at the mercy of the Saxons. Their hopes and — perhaps ironically — prayers rest on what Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) can broker with the inexperienced King Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Can either of them be trusted to help out our lead Vikings?

Meanwhile, back in Kattegat, King Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) is becoming deified while still thirsty to dish out revenge on Lagertha for killing his mother. He's even put his own brother Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) on the sacrifice block, further distancing him from whatever family he has left.

Can the young and inexperienced King Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) do what's right for Wessex and help out our beloved Vikings? SYFY WIRE spoke with Vikings creator, showrunner, and writer Michael Hirst about this season's biggest beats (so far) and the important themes moving forward.

First let's talk about bringing Rollo (Clive Standen) back, and dropping the big bomb that Bjorn could be his son.

Michael Hirst: I had no problem in wanting to see Rollo again. In theory he wants to deal with the new rulers in Kattegat. The Holy Roman Emperor had Viking bodyguards, so Rollo could be forgiven for doing a deal for a Viking bodyguard, but his motives are personal. [Standen] asked, “Can we deal with this question, because I think I'm Bjorn's father, and I did have a relationship with Lagertha. She's not being honest with that, so if I'm going to come back, it's because I want to deal with that.”

It's a tough reunion for Rollo and Bjorn, given how loving their relationship once was. Also, for Lagertha, we are opening some old wounds, aren't we?

I've thrown everything at Lagertha. I've told Katheryn I would put her in lots of situations that women have been in. After she's left Ragnar in the second season, we see her married to an abusive guy. Katheryn said that she didn't like that story, that [she's] got a following who see Lagertha as a strong, powerful woman. "What are they going to think of me?" I told Katheryn that strong, intelligent women often find themselves in abusive relationships. A lot of women will relate to your situation, it's how you deal with it that matters. I'm going to put you in lots of different situations that resonate.

So I'm not only thinking of Rollo coming back, proclaiming paternity of Bjorn, which is going to f*** with Bjorn's mind of course. Lagertha was obviously sleeping with the brothers, and while she believes that Ragnar is the father, there's a possibility it's Rollo. Of course, she's fantastic, strong, beautiful, and all of that, but it's that little glimpse — there are those other aspects that aren't clean, or so admirable, but are common. I put that in there because I felt it was very human. Katheryn has been fantastic and brave in tackling these issues. But I have to say, it was great to see Rollo again.

Vikings Season 5B Floki

Vikings Season 5B Floki (Gustaf Skarsgaard) spared by the gods in Iceland.

Floki keeps questioning why he has been spared by the gods while trying to settle Iceland, in what I believe to be a significant storyline. What about it did you want to enlighten the audience?

It's great that you say that, because initially when I wrote this storyline, there was quite a lot of resistance from our American backers, who said that no one was going to be interested in Floki's little community. I don't believe that; Floki's one of the big characters in the show, and wherever he went was going to be a big issue for the fans. So I told them, "I think you should wait and watch and find out, because I think it's an important story."

It's about someone who tried to find a godly society. So I said, "Have you Americans ever heard about that before?" What normally happens as people try to found a godly society, is that the problem in doing that is the other people. People tend to f*** up your best plan. I'm telling a story about a beginning of life, a new world, and an idea that Floki has to create a spiritual environment, along with the struggle to do that. He was tired of all the compromises that he's had to make in the old world. He wanted to see if he could start again, and there's lot of examples of that in history, and they usually end in failure in one kind or another. But I wanted to explore that. Believe me, the payoff at the end of the season is totally shattering — it will be quite incredible!

Also, you shot in Iceland, which is significant in that the Vikings were the first to settle on this land, which we see used as a location for everything.

We have the best production, but I attested that we could not shoot Iceland in Ireland. We had to go there! That landscape is so unique, so bizarre, so obviously full of the gods, and the Icelanders are still the last true Vikings. I defended that storyline in its early inception. We've taken the production to the Mediterranean and now Iceland, just like the actual Vikings did.

Both King Alfred and King Ivar get married by the end of the episode 513, what were you looking to compare and contrast between the two?

With Alfred we have more historical footage, because so much is known about him and written about him. We know less about Ivar, but we sped up some relationship between them, which will pay off much later down the line.

Vikings Season 5B King Alfred

King Alfred (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) in Vikings Season 5B

Alfred the Great gets overlooked when we have these larger than life Vikings, doesn't he?

I've never seen Alfred portrayed like this before. When we first see Alfred, he is very much under his mother's thumb. He doesn't really want to be king and his mother is somewhat more powerful than he is. His country is under threat the moment he becomes king, so that's a really interesting dramatic situation. But I spoke to Ferdia [Walsh-Peelo], the actor — who is very young — about his character.

The most important thing I said is, "You'll get to go on a journey with this character and at the end, you'll have to convince people that you have the right to be called Alfred the Great. There are few kings or queens — ever in history — that've been called 'The Great.' So somewhere along this journey, you have to take control and become the king, you have to claim that title. I'm waiting for you to become that character." That's what's happened, and it's fascinating.

He's the third character that we've seen you develop from a boy to adolescent to complex adult.

We saw Bjorn as a boy, along with his mistakes and development. We've known Ivar since he was a little boy. That's the beauty of long-form drama, that you have the time to explore their contradictions. As someone who was used to writing movie scripts before Vikings, that I can take characters from the point of being children, to their middle age, and to their death, and explore all of the factors that contradict, was the liberation.

Vikings Season 5B Baptism

Vikings Season 5B Baptism of Torvi (Georgia Hirst) and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith)

Is a larger story developing out of Ubbe and Torvi's baptism, in which Vikings are reluctantly converting from paganism to Christianity?

It's a big issue and it's true. In the early stages it was expediency. If you go through ritual baptism, it really does change you. It comes down and changes your heart. It's not just amateur theatrics. So at the time, Christians absolutely believed if a Viking went through a ritual ceremony, he would be a Christian, forever afterwards. Of course, the Vikings didn't take that point of view. They were slightly more relaxed about the gods, so they thought the Christians were quite funny and would go along with that.

For a long time that was the story. If they were ever beaten in battle, Vikings would say go ahead, take your hostages, I'll convert, then they'd kill the hostages and disappear. Christians find that hard to believe, but this is the beginning of something that was very important in the long run. The Viking Age lasted about 400 years and ended with the Christianization of all of Scandinavian countries and were the last pagans. So we're seeing the first tentative steps in that way. I'm not saying Ubbe necessarily believes what he's done is huge, but certainly Torvi knows that it's significant.

This whole show is underpinned by that conflict between Christianity and paganism. That's what everything is about in the end.

Vikings airs Wednesdays on The History Channel at 9/8c.