EW – With just a few episodes left to go in Vikings‘ fourth season, “The Great Army” began pulling the show’s far-flung cast together. The sons of Aslaug sought local vengeance against their mother’s killer Queen Lagertha and simultaneously built up a great army to seek national vengeance against the Saxons for the execution of their father. Bjorn Ironside returned from the Mediterranean, leaving his Uncle Rollo behind in his adopted Frankish home. And while Lagertha builds up the defensive walls around Kattegat, the ambitious King Harald began actively plotting a coup against her. We spoke to Vikings creator and writer-of-every-single-episode Michael Hirst about how “The Great Army” sets up this season’s big climax. (We’ll be talking to Hirst after every episode for the rest of the season, so come back every week for a deep dive into the world of Vikings!)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I have to ask about the moment that ended the episode, with Bjorn kissing Astrid. We’ve seen some tangled relationships within the Lothbrok family, but this definitely took me by surprise!
MICHAEL HIRST: Bjorn is struggling with the impact and consequences of his father’s death. He’s been trying for quite a long time to be his own man. Ragnar used to tease him, and he was quite cruel. And Bjorn has found it difficult to escape from the shadows of both his father’s and his mother’s fame. I actually feel sorry for him in that respect. To me, it’s like the son or daughter of a famous rock star. How do you deal with that legacy? If you do the same thing, you get compared, and it’s usually a bad comparison.
So when he gets back to Kattegat [in this episode], he’s back in a family situation, where his mother is now powerful. His mother has become Queen. She never mentioned this, she never shared the idea that she was going to take over Kattegat. She just did it. And he’s going to live with the consequences.
Now, she’s got a female lover. He loves his mother, but part of him is saying: “I can take this woman away from you. You can’t dominate me. I’m as strong as you are.” He does that — I think, I may be wrong — he does that to prove a point. He’s not gonna just sit at her knee. He’s gonna take what he wants. And I think that that’s an issue that Bjorn is gonna struggle with and finally resolve. But for the moment, he’s still in the shadows of his father and mother. He’s saying, “I’m gonna take what I want! I’m Bjorn Ironside!”
I want to talk about the earlier scene between Lagertha and Ubbe, where she tells him that he looks exactly his father did at his age. What is Lagertha trying to communicate with that comment?
I don’t know who first said it to me, but on the set, someone said: “Doesn’t [Jordan Patrick Smith, who plays Ubbe] look like Travis [Fimmel] used to look? The moment someone says it, you realize you’ve been half-aware of it, but now it’s sort of in the open. You realize, “Yes, he does!” That’s an extraordinary thing, and it chimes very much with a lot of the ideas I already had for Ubbe’s character. All the sons inherited different aspects of Ragnar, his psychology or his philosophy or whatever. Ubbe, for me, was always going to be the closest to him, psychologically, and the one who was going to be most compelled to try and achieve his vision of a settlement in England, or somewhere else. It was in my mind that Ubbe was the inheritor of Ragnar’s philosophy, and in strong ways, his temperament. Jordan’s also Australian [like Travis], so he does have a slightly more laid-back atmosphere about him. I think Lagertha recognizes a lot of those things anyway, about Ubbe.
Season 4, Ep. 17 | Aired Jan 11
They build, they build, they build. Kattegat has grown and it has grown large, from an earl’s village to a King’s capital to a merchant metropolis. It is a modern city, and it is a prize, and Queen Kattegat will defend it. She has set her people to building, building, building. They will build defenses. There are enough enemies within already.
Ragnar Lothbrok is dead, but he lives on. (I talk about that with Vikings writer Michael Hirst in this week’s postmortem interview, where he also answers your question about Bjorn and Astrid and explains why he doesn’t like gritty realism.) He lives on in his dying words, carried by wind and rumor and legend to his sons.
Ragnar’s youngest son, Ivar, seeks vengeance against Lagertha for the death of his mother, Aslaug. But his brothers Ubbe and Sigurd pull Ivar’s focus toward on another vengeance. Should they attack King Aelle, in tiny Northumbria — or, following their father’s wishes, take on King Ecbert in grand Wessex? To do so would require a large army, twice the size of the coalition Ragnar led to Paris. But is it an army they can assemble, with their father’s memory as their rallying cry. “In the name of Ragnar Lothbrok, in the name of Odin, we declare war on the whole world,” says Ivar Boneless, hate and joy in his eyes.
Ubbe relays their plan to Queen Lagertha. He asks her to join them. But Lagertha has a reason to stay. The sons of Ragnar are inviting other rulers to her city. “They will see the size and understand the value of this trading station,” says Lagertha. The city has to be defended. “I know what your father would have wanted me to do,” she says. Lagertha remembers when Ragnar was a young man, ambitious like his sons, and remembers one of Ragnar’s great ambitions: to build something that lasts. Lagertha has seen many great men brought low. She saved Kattegat from Aslaug, didn’t she? She will save it from any assault, won’t she?
But can she save herself? Perhaps she doesn’t want to. The seer says she will be killed by a son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ivar certainly would like the opportunity. His brother, Sigurd, disagrees. “We have different memories of mother,” he says. “She doted on you and she ignored me.” Sigurd baits his brother; he calls him a mama’s boy, and mommy’s little favorite. Ivar lifts his axe to his brother, aiming to kill. Only the ready arm of a humble blacksmith stops him. Will brother kill brother? Can Ragnar’s sons survive Ragnar’s legacy?
EW – Vikings recap: ‘Crossings’
Season 4, Ep. 16 | Aired Jan 4
Words travel slowly from the lonely ground in Northumbria, where the great, legendary, cursed Ragnar Lothbrok lies buried beneath earth and snakes and ambition. In Kattegat, his first wife Lagertha cannot believe he is dead. But her responsibility is clear. She must pick up the burden of rule, no matter the cost. “Ragnar hated it,” she tells her lover Astrid. “It weighed him down, perhaps it even killed him.” But she cannot disappoint her women: Not Astrid, not Torvi, not the shieldmaidens who fought and died for her. And she thinks Ragnar is watching her.
In Wessex, Ecbert mourns his friend, while his son Aethelwulf fears the worst. Ecbert had an agreement with Ragnar, a promise the Viking’s sons would seek vengeance only against Aelle. “Ragnar and I were alike in many ways,” says Ecbert, suddenly looking like an old man, or like a man who has begun to outlive his own time. He agrees Aethelwulf should raise an army; he will stay right where he is, at the seat of his power, teaching young Alfred the ways of this cruel world.
Lagertha assumes her own seat of power, sitting in the high throne at the center of Kattegat. She sat up there once before, next to Ragnar — and, briefly, next to Aslaug, Ragnar’s second wife. Lagertha, in charge, has some new ideas. Kattegat has become large, “the largest, richest trading center in Norway.” Others will be envious; the time has come to fortify, to dig ditches, to turn this small overgrown village into a true defended city.