‘Vikings’ Season 4 Finale: Michael Hirst on Shocking Deaths, Series’ Possible End (SPOILERS)

Vikings S4 Finale
Jonathan Hession/History

Spoilers for those who haven’t seen Wednesday night’s Season 4 finale of “Vikings.”

The sons of Ragnar, different and yet all so like their father, have been united by a single purpose these last few episodes of Season 4: to avenge their father’s death at the hands of King Aelle and, by proxy, King Ecbert (Linus Roache). But they all seem to have different ideas about what to do next — settle down in East Anglia, go back to raiding, sail to yet further shores. And it’s all complicated by Ivar (Alex Høgh) throwing an axe into his brother Sigurd (David Lindström), bringing the finale’s main character body count up to three. “Vikings” creator Michael Hirst called up Variety to talk about what’s next.

Will anything happen to Ivar? One would think kinslaying would be a pretty serious deal.

Ivar’s in a special position, he always has been. I think if memory serves Season 5 begins with the burial of Sigurd, and Ivar is weeping and saying he never meant to do it. But his murder of Sigurd splits the brothers — they split up into different camps. A large part of the next season will be about, will it be like this great Roman conflict after Caesar’s death, the great Roman civil wars with Brutus and Cassius and Octavian? These people are playing for possession of the known world. It’s not like a little local fight — these are huge territories. The Great Army has conquered a huge part of England. How do we behave now? That’s what Season 5 opens with.

Viking society is all about winning and being famous, and it’s very aggressive and ambitious, so you kind of know they’re going to be in conflict with each other. The historical Ragnar had many, many more sons he adopted, because to be a son of Ragnar was the biggest calling card in the Viking world. It was much worse than just the five brothers in the show. They all wanted to be the true successor of their famous father. Almost immediately after they succeed in revenging their father they pave the way to, essentially, world war.

Was it important that Ecbert get to go out on his own terms?

He’s too important, too clever, not to go out on his own terms. However devious he was, however corrupt he was, he always had some ideal in mind. He always had the ideal of unifying England into one country. He behaved badly and deviously. But I think he’s a genuine person.

I knew he had to die. And that was difficult for me, too, but I wanted him to die with dignity. He was a bit like an amalgam of me and Linus and our experiences. For me, he gave me the opportunity to represent a nuanced and difficult and corrupt and wonderful character.

Speaking of Ecbert’s deviousness, he wasn’t actually King of Wessex when he signed over those lands to Ragnar’s sons. Will that come back to bite them?

That’s huge. That will definitely come into play.

Floki has now lost his daughter and his wife Helga, who was played by your daughter Maude Hirst. What will become of him?

Helga’s death was hard for me because Helga was my daughter. But that was the end of that storyline — she was broken by the death of her daughter. And Floki was similarly destroyed by the death of the three people closest to him: his daughter, Ragnar, and Helga. Floki is going to commit himself to the gods. His previous life is over — he might as well be dead. The new season will find him submitting to the will of the gods.

For me, it was hard killing my daughter. There was a lot of tears. But it was the storyline. You can’t cheat the story. If you cheat the story, the whole show falls apart. You have to be authentic. If you kill someone and bring them back, like in Game of Thrones, the cheat is so big you can’t believe the show anymore. I couldn’t do that even to my own daughter.

We got our first glimpse of Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Bishop Heahmund at the end. What more can you tell us about him?

I knew that I needed a big new Saxon hero, a new warrior, someone who could potentially stand up to the vikings, and I found out about these warrior bishops who were real people — Heahmund was a real person. They were the precursors of the Knights Templar. They were very clever, very well-educated, but they were warriors, they would go into battle against spiritual opponents, like pagans.

So I had this character, but I didn’t know who would play him. I had a relationship with Jonny from “The Tudors,” and History had him in “Roots,” so it worked out. Jonny is just compulsively watchable. If he’s on screen, there’s nothing else on screen. He’s fantastic.

What do you think is the natural endpoint for this story?

Honestly, I think people did think when Travis died everything would change and yet on we went, the machine went on, we had so many great new actors. I’m pretty sure we can go on for another two seasons. I’m just writing the last two episodes of Season 5. I could tell you things that would blow your mind — things we’ve shot in Season 5 are amazing. I think we will be able to end the show the way we intended to.