'Vikings' Star Discusses Surprise Death: I Was Ready for a "New Challenge"

Vikings -History Channel- Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of History Channel

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Vikings, “In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning.”]

It took a few decades, but Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) finally got her revenge on History’s Vikings. After losing her husband Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and her entire world to the princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) way back in the show’s second season, Lagertha has spent many years plotting her moves and building herself up as a female leader in the Viking world.

But it was on Wednesday night’s hour that Lagertha took her biggest move of all, when she stormed back into Kattegat while Ragnar and her son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) were away. Once there, she shot her nemesis in the back with an arrow, despite Aslaug attempting to bargain her way to safe passage by reminding Lagertha that her four sons, including the mentally unhinged Ivar (Alex Hogh), would avenge her death.

“Aslaug took away Lagertha’s husband, love, belief, future, everything. And so she was always bound to do something about it,” showrunner Michael Hirst tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Lagertha wouldn’t be Lagertha unless she did that. And by doing it of course she challenges the gods because she knows that revenge is basic to Viking society, and the sons of Aslaug will be damned to try and avenge their mother. So she makes this huge decision, but it’s a decision to kill that was based on her love for Ragnar.”

To break down the behind-the-scenes events leading up to Aslaug’s final days and to find out more about the tumultuous Aslaug-Ragnar relationship, THR caught up with Sutherland. Here the model and actress talks about how she was "ready for Aslaug to be done,” whether she’d ever return to the show and her next project, Spike’s The Mist

Did you always know that Aslaug’s days were numbered?

I thought that she’d be gone sometime in the second season, like when I first signed on; I didn’t think she’d last as long as she did. Once the boys were going to be older I thought it would be interesting to see what Michael would do with the older mother. Obviously at the beginning of season four when she went to see the Seer and he told her a woman will rule Kattegat, I said, “OK, I can’t imagine that would be Aslaug.” 

When did you officially find out?

One of the producers told me — he approached me on set one day and asked me to take a little walk. I made a joke, “Why, am I getting killed?” and he just kind of looked at me and didn’t say anything. I went, “Oh, wow — I’m getting killed!” So we went for a walk and he told me I was going to be gone. We were in the middle of filming episode nine or 10 at the time. I had a little bit of notice; it was right before we went on hiatus in the midst of season four. It’s hard to remember now because this was all over a year ago now.

What was filming that final scene like?

The last day was just incredible. A lot of people when they get killed off a show, because you don’t film in chronological order, a lot of the times they’ll film their death and then they have a couple more days of little things that they have to fill in. So the last day would be kind of anticlimactic. I got really lucky because my last day was actually the day that we filmed my death scene and in the list of shots the last shot that we had was me, like, falling into the mud on my face. It was this incredible thing; there were so many people on set because we had all the extras in. It was this heartwarming thing, when you’re finished with a role and you’ve been there for years and know everyone so well… I’ve never had people cheer for me like that. I’ve never done theater, I’ve never really performed in such a way and so to have all of those people start clapping and cheering for you is pretty moving.

Was it appropriate that in the end it came down to Lagertha versus Aslaug, woman-to-woman?

As a woman, I kind of question a little bit of that, but when you look at the storyline I don’t think it’s woman-to-woman. When I spoke with Michael about season four before I knew I was going to be killed and I kind of had an inkling, I sort of wanted to push Aslaug into a darker place. We don’t see a lot of women doing bad things on TV; we see a lot of men doing bad things but not women. I wanted to push Aslaug into this darker place and have her maybe have a questionable relationship with Ivar (Alex Hogh). I also didn’t want her to be a good ruler of Kattegat. I wanted her to be greedy and entitled and to not do it well and fair. I would prefer to think of it not as a woman against woman, “You stole my husband” thing, but as a, “You’re not good enough to lead this town.” I don’t love speaking for other people’s characters, but I also think Lagertha’s after her own control and power now. I would like to think of it that way.

Aslaug changed after having children. Did you ever play the character as being affected by postpartum?

Not so much in terms of having postpartum, but I thought very much about how her husband never gave her any kind of emotional support and was really kind of a terrible husband. I also thought about the fact that he went away so often and she was left with these kids and left to deal with them and raise them without their father around. How difficult that must have been emotionally to know that you may never see your husband again. He may not come back to his sons. And every time they leave it might be the last time you see them. I thought a lot about that because that’s what the reality was for these people. Saying goodbye wasn’t necessarily just for three or four months, but it may have been forever.

At one point Aslaug tells her sons to marry for breeding purposes and not necessarily for love. Was Aslaug in love with Ragnar or was she hunting for power?

She fell for him. She 100 percent fell for him. She was attracted to him initially because of his power and what he was doing, just like women are attracted to Mick Jagger. There was an initial attraction because of that and everything that I know of the Vikings, they really wanted to die honorable deaths and go to Valhalla. Your fame was important, so she would have been attracted to him for that reason, but she absolutely fell in love with him. It didn’t go the way she thought it would, and then she got kind of cynical about men.

Had Aslaug not had the visions of Ragnar and Ivar dying at sea, would she have put up more of a fight when Lagertha came knocking?

Yeah, maybe. Yes, she’s kind of done. She thinks she’s never going to see Ivar again. At this point with Ragnar, he’s given her this lovely apology, but they’re not in love with each other, it’s a really strange marriage. He left for 10 years! He disappeared. She’s going to have a chip on her shoulder about so much of that. She thinks Ivar is gone and I don’t think she thinks she has much more to live for. She knows what Lagertha is going to do, it doesn’t matter what she says, and I like that she’s really smart in the end by asking for safe passage. It’s this smart way of her saying, “I know what you’re going to do, and I’m going to say all of this in front of all these people and then they’re going to see you do it. They’re going to see what’s really going on with you.” I liked that it was a bit of a chess game.

So she knew she was dead either way?

Yeah, she knew. What was she going to do? Where was she going to go? She negotiated her death, is what I think. She negotiated it and chose her own way to die. I spoke with Michael about that and the fact that a lot of people don’t really get to do that. The idea of being able to choose how you go out and do it in a certain way, I liked that.

Is there a chance of Aslaug reappearing in a dream or vision given the nature of the show?

If that were to happen, it would be a very quick scene. And to me it would have to be Ivar that she would have to appear before. That’s up to Michael, but the door is always open like that on Vikings. I was ready for Aslaug to be done. Professionally, you’re in a role for many years and you kind of start itching for something new and you want a new challenge. I loved my experience with Vikings, it was so great for me personally and professionally, but you start getting itchy feet and so I’m OK if she’s never seen again. At the same time, there wasn’t really much more for Aslaug to do. She’d had her sons and fulfilled everything that she needed to do, just as she says in that last scene. She looks at the Seer and the Seer nods to her… I was done and Aslaug was ready to be put to bed as well. I’m not sure where else she could have gone.

You’ve now joined The Mist. What was it about that role that spoke to you?

I had only read the pilot when I signed on, but it’s a wonderful first season. There are some women’s issues that we talk about … repressed women’s sexuality, victim blaming of sexual abuse victims … just some things that I thought were really great to explore, especially on something you don’t expect it in. It’s Stephen King and horror so you think there’s going to be lots of action and scary stuff, but we’re dealing with some really topical themes. Right around when I was reading for it and going through screen tests and stuff, the whole Stanford swimmer rape case was out. It really spoke to me thematically and it was interesting that you think the show is going to be about this mist, but really it’s about the relationships of all these people in a small town.

What did you think of Lagertha taking over Kattegat? Sound off in the comments below.

Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on History.

Twitter: @amber_dowling