History Channel’s “Vikings” are ready to raid on Feb. 19, kicking off a bloodthirsty third season that will see Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his horde continuing their exploration of England before setting their sights on the treasures of Paris.
But while Ragnar is now king and thus, according to Fimmel, “has the power to say what we’re going to do,” it won’t be smooth sailing for the reluctant leader, says series creator Michael Hirst.
“He never wanted to become king. He’s never been driven by the ambition for power. His motivating factors are twofold: one is his great curiosity, like the god Odin. And the other is that he does desire fame. Fame was the biggest thing for the Vikings, not celebrity — fame for doing amazing things,” notes Hirst. “So he’s king, but he’s uneasy about being king. He’s acquired power that he never intended to acquire. He is very aware that power corrupts. But it does give him the opportunity to do certain things that he does believe in and he does want to do, and one is to establish the farming settlement in England on the land that King Ecbert [Linus Roache] has given him. That’s perhaps not a very sexy ambition, but it’s actually what happened. It’s what, in the long run, led to the Vikings establishing themselves in England and France and so on.”
Fimmel admits that Ragnar’s restless curiosity and hunger for notoriety are what drive him towards France and the domain of Emperor Charles (Lothaire Bluteau), after his ally Athelstan (George Blagden) notes how strong the French defenses are. “He challenges Ragnar in the way that he says it. Ragnar wants to see if he can beat them.”
He adds, “Ragnar wants to get back to raiding. He’s done the people-pleasing stuff, setting up farms and trying to be a good guy, but he wants to get back to the old raiding that [we saw] in season 1… There are so many issues that come with being a person in power and so many demands and a lot of trust issues. And I think there’s a bit of corruption in everybody, including Ragnar, but his spirit was always about discovery and learning more and that’s what he wants to do. And once he settles the farmers and gets all the political stuff out of the way, he’s going to head to Paris, and he meets his match.”
As a result of his wanderlust, Ragnar’s relationships will once again take a backseat, with his second wife, Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) left back home in Kattegat with their children. Hirst aptly compares the Vikings to rock stars who try to escape the issues in their home lives by going on tour: “[They] need to raid to get away from their girlfriends and wives and responsibilities and children,” he laughs. “I think that the Aslaug/Ragnar relationship was under a lot of strain anyway ever since she saved Ivar. And Aslaug is great this season, and [the story takes her] to different places, unexpected places, some dark places, ultimately, in which she’s reconnecting with her Viking heritage. Her parents, though she didn’t know them, were very famous and she takes hold of that. She stops being so pliant. She stops being apologetic, and it was a very interesting development and arc to write. The arrival of a stranger [played by Kevin Durand] who may or may not be a god, is also a catalyst for her.”
Ragnar’s ex-wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), is also an earl in her own right, and as Winnick notes, “she’s now a free woman. She’s now exploring different lands, and establishing a settlement in Wessex with King Ecbert’s help. She is trying to follow her original dream from season one — she and Ragnar had a dream to explore, and to be able to educate themselves, and to be able to try different resources and give their people more of an opportunity.” Being a free woman also means the possibility for new romantic partners, and this season brings a couple of characters into Lagertha’s orbit for the first time, including Kalf (Ben Robson), her second-in-command.
“That was a bit of a wild card to play, in the sense that the storyline is not fully devolved on camera yet, so me and Ben had to sit down and try to figure out how much do they really know each other? How many years have they worked together? And Ben’s great to work with. He brings a very light side to me,” Winnick previews. “We figured because Lagertha was in a position of power, and then became an earl, I feel like she’s really helped groom him into his position. She also has a very intimate relationship with him, in the sense that she trusts him. He’s probably spent many nights helping her plan, either different raids or just making sure there aren’t any people that are threatening her position. It’s interesting to create that, because we have to start as if we’ve known each other for so many years.”
Despite Lagertha’s new romantic prospects, Hirst admits that she and Ragnar are still inextricably linked: “Despite the fact that Lagertha and Ragnar are divorced, they’re still kind of a couple. They still think along the same lines and want to tell each other things.”
The same goes for Ragnar and Athelstan, whom Ragnar trusts above anyone else. “He’s the only one that [Ragnar] can be honest with — he doesn’t have to act like he’s in control,” Fimmel explains.
Athelstan has been in a state of constant evolution since the show began, but Blagden hints that season three might finally present him with some semblance of balance — at least initially.
“He is constantly changing and he never stops changing as a character, and Michael explained that he hoped this season that [Athelstan] would be reborn. I think that kind of summarizes his journey — we see him being a little bit mischievous at the start of the season,” Blagden teases. “At the end of season two we witnessed a kind of acceptance from Athelstan, with the help of Ecbert, of being able to a) forgive himself and b) find his place in between these two cultures, being content in the discontent; being comfortable in the middle of them… He’s starting to think, ‘actually, I can kind of swing both ways religiously. I can be a multi-faith minister.’ I think he’s a lot more comfortable in himself.”
Hirst maintains that “Vikings” remains “a family saga” which has now evolved into “an extended family saga,” admitting, “I set myself up with all these fractured relationships in order then to address them and find out what happens to them all. A lot of tragedy, I have to say, but I have to raise the ante. It wasn’t just how much bigger it’ll be going to Paris — it’s how much more important the personal issues are too. And the consequences of that are actually quite… ‘significant’ doesn’t even cover it. This season is heartbreaking.”
“Vikings” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on History.