7:00am PT by Amber Dowling
'Vikings' Boss Previews Season Finale: "I've Always Seen the Show Without Ragnar"
It's been a rough few weeks for History's Vikings characters. Between Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) losing his confidant in Athelstan (George Blagden) and the leaders' failed attempts to raid Paris, the body count has never been higher.
As the show prepares to say farewell to season three with Thursday's “The Dead” episode, there could be another body to add to the pile. With Ragnar baptized and ready to accept that he might not recover from his illness, the question of whether the drama can continue without its lead in season four is top of mind.
To discuss the possibility of a Vikings without Ragnar and find out what's in store for Thursday's finale, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Michael Hirst and star Fimmel.
We ended episode nine with Ragnar's baptism. How does his new religion affect things with his followers?
Fimmel: It's pretty hard to have a king who's a pagan that gets baptized, but I don't know. Ragnar's always got a plan and a reason why he does stuff, so it's going to be very interesting to see how the other Vikings react.
Hirst: He took that baptism seriously because for him it was personal. It was a way of trying to make sure that when he dies he'll see Athelstan again. So in that sense you could say it's human and it's personal, much more than religious.
Is there a part of him that would like to die in that moment, in order to see Athelstan again?
Fimmel: Yes, 100 percent. There are a few things he's doing and there are so many reasons he's doing them. But the audience will find out eventually why he truly did what he did and if it's to see Athelstan or not.
How has Athelstan's loss affected Ragnar?
Fimmel: Athelstan was the only fellow he could talk to. He was his confidant and he didn't have the objectives that the other people around Ragnar do. He's the only one Ragnar could be honest around and not have to act like a king or a leader. So he was such an important character to Ragnar. And we learned so much through him. Without Athlestan we wouldn't have been able to learn the Saxon language. We wouldn't have been able to know where Wessex and other places in England that we raided were. We wouldn't know anything about them and we wouldn't even know about Paris if it wasn't for Athelstan. So he was a huge part in this show of making the Vikings what they are and their reputations and their dominance.
Is there anyone left that Ragnar can trust?
Fimmel: Bjorn [Alexander Ludwig] is the only one who isn't into the power as much as the others. He's not into the earldom as much; he's not jealous of anything. His motives are only for the people and not for gods and power and status. And he really proved himself in episodes eight and nine. He really grows up these last three episodes.
Prophecies have been a huge part of the season. How will they come into play in the finale?
Hirst: In some ways the whole season had a lot to do with prophecies. We started off with prophecies in episode one and somehow it became by default an important part of the texture of the season.
What have Ragnar's motives been in letting others lead what looked like a hopeless mission into Paris?
Hirst: The cynical view, which I have to say Travis subscribes to, is that he could see it would be virtually impossible to attack this citadel, and of course Athelstan had told him that it was impregnable. So he gave other people the opportunity to fail. He knew that it was very unlikely Paris could be stormed successfully, and so by allowing the others and Floki [Gustaf Skarsgård] and others to lead the operation and to think they were in charge was a way of avoiding humiliation and defeat for himself. It shows that Ragnar is always thinking and he's thinking ahead of everyone else. Let's say he already knows that Floki killed Athelstan: He wants to punish Floki in lots of different ways, and what better way than to give him command of an operation that's almost bound to fail? You can feel Floki's pain in episode eight; that's one of the highlights of the whole season for me, Floki's ranting against the gods.
Fimmel: He wanted Floki to suffer because of what he did to his friend, but he didn't know how to get in, and he knew no matter who led they were going to fail. Athelstan told him it's impenetrable.
Paris is his last big conquest for Ragnar in the battle books. Travis, had you thought much about his future beyond that raid before filming?
Fimmel: No. We're sticking to history pretty well. We'll find out on Thursday that we stuck to history pretty well.
Does knowing how Ragnar's journey ends affect how you play him?
Fimmel: Yes, for sure. One of the pagan gods is Odin, who hung himself because he was so curious to see what death felt like. I think a lot of Ragnar's journey now is about what it feels like to be dead and what happens to you.
Is there a Vikings without Ragnar?
Hirst: I've always seen Vikings without Ragnar. I thought it was very important when I started thinking about this whole thing that Ragnar had many sons and some of his sons became more famous than he was. So I can perfectly well envision a world without Ragnar and further adventures for the sons. Absolutely. That's something I really, really want to do.
Fimmel: This was a year where we felt like we were trying to introduce other people, we were trying to “man up” certain people and all that sort of stuff — having other people take more of a bigger role. Michael's always been amazingly collaborative. He doesn't have an ego about that stuff, and we work together all the time.
Do you think you would ever have a future on Vikings behind the scenes as a producer or director?
Fimmel: Oh no. It's too cold over here!
Is there anything else you'd like to tease?
Fimmel: The finale will be unexpected and viewers will be surprised and happy or sad — but yeah, there are a lot of surprises. I'm very pleased with the final product.
The Vikings season finale airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on History. Do you think there could be a Vikings without Ragnar? Sound off in the comments below and stay tuned to The Live Feed after the episode for more coverage.