ZAP2IT – With Season 4 consisting of 20 episodes, “Vikings” is returning with quite the story to tell. After ending Season 3 with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) nearly dead and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) betraying him to side with Paris, the time has come for the show to expand its scope.
While the stories of Ragnar, Rollo and Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) are still a focus, the extra episodes also give “Vikings” the chance to spend more time developing Ragnar’s sons — which is important to creator and writer Michael Hirst.
In preparation for the Season 4 premiere, Hirst spoke with Zap2it about the identity crisis facing many characters on the show, as well as the evolution of Bjorn, the challenge of writing twice as many episodes in a year and life after Athelstan (George Blagden).
Zap2it: As we look ahead to a season that includes twice as many episodes as in previous years, how does the process change for you, the sole writer?
Michael Hirst: It was great. I’ve always imagined this was a show about Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. It’s one of the reasons I chose Ragnar as the hero. The historical Ragnar had sons who became as famous, if not more, than he was. Bjorn Ironside sailed around the Mediterranean, Ivar the boneless became the most feared warrior of all time, really.
To be able to push the show forward was, of course, a challenge but always something I wanted to do. I’ve made no secret that I don’t want to end this whole saga until the Vikings are in a boat and they’re all dying and this land pops up in front of them, this green land, and it says America. Then that’s where we stop.
I think that we were talking about initially a 15-episode run, but I knew something big had to happen in episode 10. Then, of course, it got extended to 20, so something big definitely happens in 10. What I like about it is it’s all organic. We get to know the sons more along the way. We are invested in all the issues they’re facing and there’s no sudden cut-off at all.
It’s part of a saga, you could call it. It’s my saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. For me, it was another amazing opportunity to develop all these interlinking storylines.
Coming out of writing movies, that’s the big challenge and pleasure of writing TV series drama. You get all these storylines running and you can just follow them and develop them.
We have children and I think it’s one of the few shows that has a lot of animals and children in it. That’s part of life, we watch the children develop. There’s obviously going to be a lot of tragedy in this season, but we do watch the continuity of the generation.
That’s actually one of the really interesting things about the beginning of Season 4. Obviously, there’s been a lot of attention on Bjorn in the past, but now his brothers are getting a chance to shine. As we get to know them, will they become major focuses of the season?
I think so. As you say, learning to understand and appreciate who they are a bit more individually — and that’s not just true of the Vikings, but in Wessex of Alfred, who we know is a significant historical character. We see how he develops and he goes on a pilgrimage to Rome.
I’ve added some more photos to different events and previous seasons as well as adding some photos to the upcoming season.
EW – On the new season of Vikings, Alexander Ludwig’s Bjorn walks into the forest looking for trouble in an attempt to prove himself to his parents. “Both Ragnar and Lagertha, in their own way, had tried to keep Bjorn as a child, not respecting him as an equal,” Vikings creator/writer Michael Hirst tells EW. “So Bjorn takes off into the wilderness to prove, both to himself and Ragnar, that he can survive in the most extreme conditions. He’s in the interior of Norway, over a winter.”
Vikings usually shoots in Ireland, but Hirst wanted Bjorn’s journey to feel extra visceral. “We sent Alexander to Canada, in the winter. We made him jump into an ice hole in the lake. We tortured him! Which,” Hirst hastens to add, “he was delighted by.” Filming Bjorn’s Revenant moment actually required two different bear actors trading off scenes. (Think the Olsen Twins, but bears.) “They’ve got a very good union, I guess,” laughs Hirst. “When they rear up, they’re like nine feet tall. Alexander’s about 6’5”, and they made him look small!”