Rather than ending the first part of “Vikings” Season 4 with Ragnar’s defeat, showrunner Michael Hirst decided to show us what happens after one of the most famed Viking warriors in the world is defeated: He disappears for years, then suddenly shows up at home to find his beloved sons grown. In Wednesday’s premiere, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) got to know these boys — now men, really — and laid his plans for avenging the destruction of his settlement in England by King Ecbert (Linus Roache). Hirst called up Variety from rainy Oxfordshire to discuss Ragnar’s suicide attempt and what’s coming down the pike for his crippled son Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen).
The conversation between Ragnar and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) at Hedeby feels like a very long time coming. What was it about this moment in time that felt right for that conversation?
Ah yes, “No regrets. And every regret”? This comes up all the time at places like Comic-Con: “When are Ragnar and Lagertha going to get back together?” As much as you want that, I want that, too. That would be perfect. But I could never manage it. Their lives have taken different trajectories. And through it all, like Ragnar’s relationship with Floki, these relationships are so deep and abiding, we know that there are deep emotional bonds. In Viking terms, they would be expected to continue in Valhalla.
Although, as he tells Floki just before trying to hang himself, he doesn’t know if they’ll meet in Valhalla. Was that a genuine suicide attempt, or more of a dare to the gods to send him a sign?
There are many answers to that question. In one way it was genuine. Ragnar has come back, and though I’m sure he didn’t expect to be welcomed back with open arms, most of his children have rejected him. He’s sort of out of time now. He’s depressed. But at the same time, you could perfectly well say he’s looking for a sign. Because if he does hang himself? If you don’t die in battle, you don’t make it to Valhalla. He’s testing his destiny, he’s testing his fate. What he really has to do is go to England and check out the wreckage of his settlement and have some sort of conversation with Ecbert. The two things that brought him back were that he loves his sons and wanted to see what becomes of them. But there was unfinished business in England. In some ways he knows that’s his destiny — whatever it is, it will be deiced in England. In one way I don’t take it too seriously, it’s a momentary thing that’s brought up by meeting with Lagertha and Floki. Feeling lonely and isolated and wanting to do something about that, but also kind of knowing the gods will not allow Ragnar Lothbrok to die that way.
Historically, Ivar does end up leading the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in the late 800s. But why does Ragnar ask Ivar to go to England with him?
This will come up later, as they’re dragging Ivar around England. But Ragnar says, “I know that, of all my sons, you will be best placed to revenge me, and everyone else will reject you. You are full of anger, but you can use that anger, and you can become extraordinarily special.” Having tried to kill him off as a baby, Ragnar recognizes something in Ivar that is valuable and good. Ivar will become, historically, the most famous Viking. In this season we’ll get to that.
In 4B, this is by far the biggest season we’ve shot, but it’s also the most emotional. I’m so proud of this season, all the characters, all of them suffer great changes. I think at least two of the episodes are the best I’ve ever written — 14 and 15. Ten isn’t far behind. One of those episodes is truly extraordinary because it’s unlike anything we’ve ever shot before. It’s very intimate, it’s not about battles or fights, it’s two guys talking about life and faith and women and getting drunk together: Ecbert and Ragnar. As characters and people they come from totally different traditions. And the actors, as well: Linus is very classically trained and Travis is a natural actor, but together they are just extraordinary.
I would actually like to reach out to those people who feel they can’t watch Vikings because it must be about macho posturing and violence, but it’s about much more than that. A show about Vikings should be about slaughter, and you’re getting a show about family and religious belief.