'Vikings' Postmortem: Series Creator on Ragnar Twist and Season 4 Time Jump

Showrunner Michael Hirst tells THR what’s in store when the drama returns for season four.
Courtesy of History

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season three finale of History's Vikings.]

After much bloodshed, History’s Vikings wrapped its third season Thursday when Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) reclaimed his leadership and faked his own death in order to finally achieve what everyone else had been trying to do for three episodes: infiltrate Paris.

By the closing moments when Paris had been looted, Ragnar realized who would actually miss him when he was gone — and the Vikings decided to set sail back to Kattegat, leaving only Rollo (Clive Standen) and a small gang behind to maintain a presence until the next spring.

But with Ragnar still lingering somewhere between life and death, and Rollo poised to defend the French against his brother thanks to an offer he just can’t refuse, things are far from settled for the pagan leader. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Michael Hirst to find out what’s in store for the historical figure and what can possibly come next in the show's previously announced fourth season

Ragnar’s baptism was part of a plot get into Paris, but is there actually a part of him that’s conflicted about his gods coming out of the season?

That’s ambiguous. He is clearly being influenced by Athelstan (George Blagden), he’s interested in Christianity, but above that all his priority is to get into Paris. Being Ragnar, he’s seen that you have to be more clever than just attacking it. So he understands something about the Christian mindset now. He understands that it’s very important for the Christian community to give Christian burials, especially to people who have renounced their paganism and become Christian. I can’t overestimate or overstate how important this was in real historical terms. Christian communities were desperate to convert the Vikings to Christianity as a way of absorbing them all or stopping them from raiding.

So of course Ragnar is clever enough to use that to his advantage get inside Paris. It’s more important to him to make the point that he can do it if he wants, rather than to go inside and loot and pillage and things. There are definitely complex views in his character and makeup and different things going on, but he hasn’t renounced his paganism.

By having everyone visit Ragnar’s “body,” he now knows what they think of him. How will that affect his relationships with Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick)?

He’s heard everything! He knows what people think about him. They were moving confessionals, really, and it’s not an entire surprise that Lagertha still loves him. But it was nice to hear her say that — I’m sure Ragnar was smiling a little inside the coffin. And Floki too of course. Floki confesses really that he loves Ragnar. The only ambiguous one is Rollo, who expresses surprise that perhaps the Gods didn’t favor Ragnar over him as they’d both thought. But otherwise it’s about love and it’s very deeply felt. They suffer from that later; there’s a carry-over because they’ve confessed things that they would have kept to themselves otherwise.

By the end of the episode Rollo is setting up to betray his brother again thanks to the offer from the French. Has he realized it’s pointless to get back into Ragnar’s good books by now?

The French make him an offer that he simply can’t refuse. It would be almost too much for anyone to refuse. On top of which, of course, he’s been trying to puzzle out what the Seer meant in episode five, when basically said if Rollow could see the future as he does, Rollo would be dancing naked on the sand. So he thinks this is what the Seer has offered him and that he has to take it, that it’s his destiny. In terms of Rollo it makes perfect sense.

This finale was the first time the Seer’s words came back to highlight “foretold” events. What went into that creative decision?

I loved the idea that only the dead will conquer Paris, not the living. I wanted to remind people that that was Ragnar’s cleverness. He figures out a way to make the prophecy come true. In case people hadn’t picked up on that I wanted to reiterate it. But there were a lot of prophecies flying backwards and forwards this season. I read a comment a while ago about how enigmatic the Seer’s words have become and I was sort of responding to that, too. Of course they’re enigmatic because that’s how Seers talk. But he’s not just talking rubbish, these things do come to pass, and they can come to pass in unexpected ways. So I was nailing that — I don’t just invent this stuff, meaning to be enigmatic and meaningless. I’ve actually worked out what the Seer is saying. That’s what the characters are trying to do all the time and it’s like the key turning in the lock at the end, when they figure out what he meant.

Back at Kattegat, Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) showed no mercy for the Christian way of thinking. How will that affect things with Ragnar when the Vikings return?

Aslaug was the daughter of a very famous, almost mythic Viking hero who killed a dragon, according to the sagas. She’s reconnecting herself to her Viking roots, which is to some extent making her a darker character but it’s also giving her a purpose and a strength. Ragnar’s got to bump up against that. She is much more her own woman. She’s had a taste for power while he’s been away and when we return in season four we’ll see that she’s enjoying that taste.

By the end of the episode Ragnar is still sick, and you’ve said you can see the series without him. How important is that to note?

It’s very important to note that he’s not only sick; he’s hovering between life and death. So that impacts hugely on the beginning of season four, which we’re working on now. It’s a big story point. It’s very important that Ragnar is weakened, ill and hovering between life and death when we come back for season four.

How much time will have passed when we return?

Some time has passed. The journey home took a little longer than they supposed. It hasn’t been an easy run across to Paris or a straight run back. They’ll have been away for a couple of years, something like that.

How do you think audiences will react to a Ragnar death?

It will be devastating for audiences to witness the death of a great character and the end of a magnificent role. Travis has been absolutely charismatic and magnificent. But by that stage, his sons will be young, hot guys and hopefully the audience will already be engaged with them and want to follow them. They’ll be different; each son has a different destiny and they’ll be different sort of characters. But they’ll be very powerful figures in their own rights. Instead of following one charismatic leader, hopefully we’re going to have four young charismatic leads to follow.

Vikings returns for season four in 2016. What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments below. 

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