'Vikings' Cast, Creator Reflect on Successful First Season

Michael Hirst and the stars of History's hit drama appeared at a Q&A at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on Friday.
Travis Fimmel, Clive Standen, Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgard, George Blagden and Jessalyn Gilsig

Vikings may not be known for their humility, but that’s the exact what many of the cast of History’s breakout hit displayed when they took the stage for a panel in Los Angeles Friday night.

“It’s extremely humbling,” Vikings creator Michael Hirst said of the success his show has had in its first season.

The TV series about Norse hero Ragnar Lodbrok was History’s first serialized drama, and it paid off for the cable network in a big way. It premiered in March to 6.2 million viewers, helping propel History to No. 1 in the show's 10 p.m. Sunday slot. The show averaged 4.3 million total viewers over the nine weeks it was on the air.

VIDEO: 'Vikings' Star Travis Fimmel Teases Season-One Finale

Hirst was joined onstage by castmembers Travis Fimmel, Clive Standen, Katheryn Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgard, George Blagden and Jessalyn Gilsig for the event at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on Friday night.

Hirst, whose previous work includes Showtime’s The Tudors, spoke to the crowd about making the first season of the show, which started off with difficulty casting the leads of Ragnar and his shieldmaiden wife, Lagertha.

He said he was offered a lot of “pretty faces,” but that wasn't enough for these roles of physically strong characters who weren't afraid to run into battle, or race off on a horse.

“Most of these guys couldn’t lift an axe,” he said of the applicants, getting a laugh from the crowd.

Eventually, he found Fimmel, an Australian actor who had grown up on a farm, to play the role of Ragnar, and Winnick, who is a third-degree blackbelt, for Lagertha.

Hirst was challenged with making a people who approved of fighting, pillaging and human sacrifice seem likable to the audience. He revealed that he was allowed great freedom and trusted by History to take Vikings, which has already been picked up for a 10-episode second season, in the direction he wanted.

“A lot of TV shows, like films, are destroyed by executives,” he said.

Hirst told the crowd that he’s had an interest in Vikings culture since he was a young boy and his father bought him a figurine of a Viking. But he feels that he waited until just the right time to bring his story to television.

“This is the time of television,” he said, adding that many film actors and directors have been moving over to TV. “This is a renaissance.”

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com
Twitter: @Beccamford