'Vikings' Boss on Season 4 Premiere: "Everyone Seems to Have Their Own Agenda"

Showrunner Michael Hirst on Ragnar's most famous sons, Rollo's takeover and more.
Courtesy of History Channel

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Vikings' season four premiere, "A Good Treason."]

Ragnar Lothbrok may have evaded Valhalla for now, but it seems as though his days in Kattegat will be much darker than those of his past as Vikings unrolls its fourth season. In Thursday’s premiere, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) took his time healing following the raids in Paris, while his son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) imprisoned their longtime co-conspirator Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) for the death of Athelstan (George Blagden).

Meanwhile Ragnar’s first love, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) continued her alliance with Kalf (Ben Robson) away from Kattegat, while current wife Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) made an ominous trip to The Seer (John Kavanagh) and hired a foreign slave girl Yidu (Dianne Doan) that caught Ragnar’s eye. And over in Frankia, Rollo (Clive Standen) made a deadly move that permanently pitted him against his brother should they ever meet again.

By the closing moments it was clear Ragnar was fast out of friends when his last ally, Bjorn, made off to live on his own in the wilderness in order to prove to his father that he had what it takes to make it on his own.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with creator Michael Hirst to find out where it all leaves Ragnar, whether this means Bjorn is finally coming into his own, and what these Vikings are seeking next now that they’ve conquered Paris.

If season three was about fulfilling prophecies, what does that mean for season four?

One of the things is about finding yourself or who you are. Bjorn needs to go into the wilderness to find out who he is, to justify himself to his overachieving parents and become a man. Rollo needs to know whether the gods really do think it’s his destiny to rule in Frankia and achieve great fame. Ragnar never wanted to be king and what he finds about being king is that the burden is almost insufferable. He knows he has to confront his brother again. King Ecbert is trying to realize his dream of being king of kings, not just of Wessex but of England. There are a lot of people fighting for their identity or their love or whatever, so it’s very human.

The doors to Valhalla closed on Ragnar. Is that a question of faith as much as it is unfinished business?

Faith is completely an issue and it resolves itself in the long, long term in a totally unexpected way. But it’s not only an issue that is alive and central to him, it’s an issue that is still very central to the show. I’ve always said that I couldn’t have written Vikings unless I could have explored the religious, spiritual dimension of Christianity and paganism. I thought for a long time [that] would maybe turn the audience off, that it might be slightly too intellectual as opposed to the battles, but I think it’s one of the things people like and respond to about the show.

Is Bjorn going off sort of a passing of the torch to the sons?

The saga of Ragnar and his sons is all one piece. I always thought I would want to move beyond Ragnar eventually because I knew historically that the sons became more famous than he did; that Bjorn went to the Mediterranean and Ivor the Boneless became the most talked about famous warrior ever to invade England. And so we are preparing all the time for the next generation. I like the idea of watching and being invested in the children, who they are, how they grow up, what they inherit, what they go on to do. I’m interested in that personally. I have a lot of children, it’s part of life. It’s sometimes weird when you watch shows and there are no children or they don’t talk about what it means to have children or the struggles to be a parent. Part of our show is not just being a king or how to be a king; it’s about how to care for the kids.

At this point, is there anyone left that Ragnar can trust?

He doesn’t really trust anyone, which is one of the things he’s learned about kingship. Ragnar finds it very difficult to trust people now that everyone seems to have their own agenda.

Kalf and Lagertha seemed to enter into an agreement. How much of that is legit?

Sometimes those things are so intertwined you can’t make a definitive judgment. It’s true to say that Kalf really loves Lagertha and has for a long time. He saved her life and then she saved his life in Paris and when they come back, he does want to share power with her and he does want to marry her. He’s discovered that what matters to him is not power so much as her. Her feelings are more ambivalent; it’s always more difficult for a woman. She said she could never forgive him for taking away her earldom and that’s a problematic area. It’s not really based in history, it’s based in life and observation and it has an interesting conclusion, but it’s a situation that could go many ways.

How much do you plan on playing Rollo in Frankia for comedic relief?

It’s not a deliberate thing to say we need some comedy there, but nonetheless everyone likes a bit of comedy. I could see the comedic possibilities because I didn’t want to be so dour about Rollo and Gisla getting married. If you show people not getting on, it’s better they don’t understand each other’s language and they don’t understand each other’s cultures. In fact, in the scene when they go to bed, there’s a lot of anger on her part and then she produces a knife. She’s very upset, but then she’s even more upset when he just goes to sleep. That’s funny to me. Morgane [Polanski] was telling me that she did a reading of that scene at home with her father [director Roman Polanski], and he laughed and said, “That’s such British humor.” I’m happy to go with that; I found it funny.

Does Rollo slaughtering his own people truly signify that he’s officially against Ragnar for good this time?

You’re supposed to feel that he does realize earlier on in the episode that he’s in a different place, that he’s made a commitment that most of his own people aren’t happy with. He’s done it in a way for the best of reasons, he’s fulfilling his own fate and he thinks the gods are with him. It’s also easy somehow as a writer to forget some of the things you put in the script earlier. It’s like, “Oh, Michael, do you remember that you left a big camp of Vikings down the river while Rollo’s eating croissant in the palace? What are they thinking?” So then you think, of course. They’re not dressed up as Franks. They’re not getting huge amounts of money. When Ragnar comes back upstream, they’re going to join him. He’s their hero, their king. It’s a huge, huge call from Rollo to kill his own people in the interest in his own fate. And you can read that how you want. I just went with the logic of it, and it was rather gruesome, but you can understand why he does it. In the long term I guess you could say it was justified. But if you really think about it, it’s so nasty. It's horrible. These would have been people he knew, whose families he knew, whose children he knew. So there you go.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on History.

What do you think is in store for Ragnar this season? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

comments powered by Disqus