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.