Ask the Fans: 'Vikings' creator Michael Hirst responds to your answers

Kelly Woo
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Katheryn Winnick as Queen Lagertha in Vikings. (Photo: Jonathan Hession)

On Vikings, great power comes with great responsibility — as the sons of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) are learning after the king’s death in Season 4. But which one of them is truly fit to take on the great ruler’s mantle?

The finale saw Ragnar’s family and friends scattered, with eldest son Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) raiding the Mediterranean, Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) murdering brother Sigurd and taking control of the Great Army, a grieving Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) sailing into the unknown, and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) ruling over Kattegat. Now, the focus shifts to the next generation and new perils, conflicts, and antagonists.

In advance of Season 5, which premieres Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. on History, creator Michael Hirst participated in our Ask the Fans series, where TV producers pose questions they’ve always wanted to ask viewers. He submitted eight questions, and Vikings fans responded in droves. We collected viewers’ thoughts and reported them back to Hirst.

He thanked fans for the overwhelming response and promised, “Season 5 is the best yet.”

“If you thought that you’d seen the best of Lagertha, just wait until you see what she does in the new season. I’m very proud of it,” Hirst added. “There are some absolutely amazing episodes in this new season. I’ll see people on the other end.”

Now, here’s how he responded to your answers.

Michael Hirst asks: What did you think of Ragnar’s death last season?

Analyzing the answers: Many Vikings fans are also history buffs, so they knew Ragnar’s end was coming at some point. That didn’t make his death any easier to watch. As Neo said, “It was very brutal for me. … It was a beautiful death but so devastating. This is a true story, though: the day after that [Dec. 28] episode, I was rushed to the hospital because I had severe dehydration. I don’t know if it was because of the tears but I definitely blame the tears. I spent my New Year’s hospitalized.”

Constantino wrote, “I knew that this was coming, it was no surprise to me. However it was well executed in the show.”

Michelle insisted, “Ragnar’s death affected me more than any other character on a show I’ve watched. It doesn’t matter how many times they kill off someone in Game of Thrones.”

Michael Hirst and stars Alexander Ludwig, Winnick, Gustaf Skarsgård, and Alex Høgh Andersen attend the Viking Funeral Ceremony at San Diego Comic-Con 2017. (Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for History)

Hirst responds:

“I share their devastation. I knew that I had to kill Ragnar at some point. I’d always said that this was the story of Ragnar and his sons and I meant that, and I wanted to move on to the sons, some of whom became actually more famous than he was. But nevertheless, you’re talking about a lot of time, a lot of years I’d spent with the cast and with Travis. And Travis was the most amazing and beautiful Ragnar, who was my ideal Viking because he wasn’t loud and shouty and stupid. He was deep and thoughtful and beautiful, so it was difficult for me to write and to say goodbye to a friend.

“Travis and I spent a long time together working on the final scenes, what he would say, what he wouldn’t say, how he wanted it to be. It was shot in the worst conditions in Ireland at the time — it was winter, it was pouring with rain, poor Travis is up in the cage. At some point, he did rock the cage and say, ‘I hate Michael Hirst,’ because he was stuck in the cage for about three or four hours.

“But for both of us, it was a deeply emotional experience. As a writer, you do get to love your characters, so I was killing someone that I loved. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Whatever the fans have felt, I have to say I probably felt that and possibly more.”

Hirst asks: Who is your favorite character on Vikings?

Analyzing the answers: Of course, Ragnar’s name popped up a lot in the emails, tweets, and comments. Andreia wrote, “He set everything in motion, he dared to go against the custom in so many ways, sailing west, learning a foreign language and religion, talking and making alliances instead of just raiding … and again, amazing casting of Travis Fimmel for this role!”

But almost every major character was represented, and Lagertha was a particular favorite, with Jill gushing, “Lagertha is the BEST character on the show. Her strength and grace surpass anyone who has been on the show or in the cast. She is truly the first TV fictional character I have loved.
I cannot imagine her anything but victorious.”

Evelyn said, “I have a crush on Floki and my fiancé is ok with it. I think Floki is the perfect man.”

Meanwhile, Paul wrote, “I love Ivar as he’s cruel, damaged, vulnerable, vicious, and multi-faceted.”

Hirst responds:

“That’s a good reaction. It would be disappointing if everyone had chosen two characters. I’d think, ‘Well, why have I wasted time developing all these other characters that nobody likes particularly?’ The fact is, Vikings is an ensemble piece. That’s why I felt very confident when I killed Ragnar, that people wouldn’t turn off. It wasn’t about Ragnar, it wasn’t about Ragnar and Lagertha — it was about this world we created and the world is full of really interesting characters, including a lot of interesting female characters.

“So, I can’t say how thrilled I am that people like characters across the board. I don’t have a favorite character, because I’m in love with all my major characters, even the ones who aren’t necessarily lovely. Ivar is in so many ways a monster, but I love him. He’s amazing to write about, he has the worst childhood and he’s crippled; I’m fascinated by him. I adore Lagertha, of course, and I’ve thrown everything at her. And I’m amazed how she deals with all the terrible things, the political and power stuff she’s had to go through. And of course, I loved Ragnar.

“I suppose if I had to identify with a character at all it would be the Seer. Because the Seer and me, we quote T.S. Eliot together, we’re kind of on the same wavelength. We read the same poets.”

Hirst asks: If you could fight alongside one Viking, who would it be?

Analyzing the answers: This, too, provoked answers across the board. The king himself was a popular choice, with Nancy saying, “Ragnar was a fearsome warrior. He was what you think of when you think Vikings.”

Christine begged to differ: “If anyone says anything other than Lagertha, they are lying.”

Meanwhile, Mel chose Ivar, “Mostly because I don’t want to fight against him.”

And Lukas said, “I would fight alongside Rollo. He is awesome with a big axe.”

Hirst responds:

“I would say Lagertha. Let me put it like this: All our actors do physical stuff. The guys are huge and strong and Travis was a farmer from the Outback in Australia. The only one who actually had martial arts experience is [Winnick]. She’s a black belt in tae kwon do. I don’t care how big Rollo is or Ragnar is, I’d want the girl who can do martial arts. I think she’s the one who’d actually protect me the best.”

Hirst asks: If you could bring back any character from Valhalla, who would it be?

Analyzing the answers: With Ragnar’s death so fresh in fans’ minds, many wanted to bring him back, but they also nominated characters from the entirety of the series.

Liam said, “I would definitely bring back Athelstan but he probably ended up in heaven rather than Valhalla. It was always fascinating to watch him being torn between these two worlds.”

Megan would try to help poor Floki, who’s experienced so much tragedy in his life: “I would bring back Helga so that Floki could be happy again.”

John would prefer to reunite two enemies: “Aslaug. A proper fight between her and Lagertha would be epic.”

Hirst responds:

“I think the guy who said Athelstan is right — I’m sure Athelstan is in heaven, so you can’t bring him back. But I kind of identified with Athelstan. When I first started writing, Athelstan was the bridge from my world — a Christian world — into a distant, lost Viking world. And then, Athelstan became a character and he became a real person to me. Then, Ragnar connected to him and the scenes between them are so amazing.

“In fact, I think it might’ve been Episode 10 of Season 2, where it finishes with Ragnar and Athelstan together. There was a lot of dialogue Ragnar had to do, and Travis came to me privately and said, ‘I don’t want any of the dialogue, give it to someone else. All I want to say in this episode is the Lord’s Prayer, that Athelstan is teaching me.’ I said, ‘OK, Travis, but you can’t tell the Americans [laughs] because they’re paying you to say a lot of words.'”

Hirst asks: If the Seer gave insight on how your future was going to be shaped, would you want to know?

Analyzing the answers: Fans were split. On one side were people like Teresa, who said, “No. I don’t think so. I fear if I knew what was going to happen to me, I would try to change it and force fate to become true. See what happened to Macbeth.”

On the other side were folks such as Jessica, who wrote, “I would absolutely want to know. I’m one of those weirdos that even likes to know my Christmas gifts.”

Hirst responds:

“I wouldn’t want to know, but I’m constantly fascinated by this idea of fate. If the gods had already written your fate, you could just sit in a chair all day and not do anything, because it’s going to happen to you anyway. But I’m not sure it works that way — maybe it’s taking into account your actions, your attitude towards the gods, your fighting ability, whatever it is that can influence your fate. So it’s a very complicated situation. Personally, I want to view the future as a totally open-ended book. And I’ll be very sad that the book closes.”

Hirst asks: Which son do you think is the rightful heir to Ragnar’s throne?

Analyzing the answers: All of Ragnar’s sons had their supporters, including the ruthless Ivar. Emre said, “He is a natural leader with ability to rule with logic and much less emotions. He is also a great strategist and a very clever guy.”

Some, like Raluca, think it’s Bjorn’s right as the eldest: “Not only is Bjorn Ragnar’s firstborn, but I believe he’s the most experienced and wisest of them all. Also, out of all his sons, Bjorn got to spend the most time with his father and learn from him.”

Others pointed out that Bjorn doesn’t seem to want to be king. Julianne wrote: “I don’t see Bjorn ruling, he’s more of an adventurer. Ubbe, being the second oldest, would make an excellent ruler of Kattegat. He was born and raised there and was witness to the transformation of Kattegat over the years. He’s grounded and possesses a sense of responsibility, he cares about the people and would make an excellent King.”

Hirst responds:

“Again, that’s interesting, that people are investing in the different sons, which for me as a writer is incredibly important that they all carry weight, that they’re all inheritors of Ragnar. The last answer about Ubbe is right; Ubbe is in many ways the most like Ragnar. He’s on the liberal wing of the Viking party — he’s the one who wants, like his father, to establish farming land for the folk. He even looks like the young Ragnar.

“The deeper question is, would you want the throne? Unlike in Game of Thrones, where there seems to be this idea that everyone wants to be king or to rule, I think Vikings asks this more important question of why would you want to be king? What does it mean to be a king? And Ragnar hated it. It happened to him by circumstances; he didn’t want it.

I think all the sons, in one way or another, are attracted to the idea of power and would like to rule in Kattegat, but most of them have grown up knowing it’s also a poisoned chalice. There’s no doubt that Ivar is the one who is most committed to rule and of course he is, because he’s the most disadvantaged, so he wants to be the most advantaged as we move forward.”

Hirst asks: Do you want Lagertha to find love again after Ragnar?

Analyzing the answers: While many fans were captivated by their tumultuous love story, most seem to want Lagertha to do her own thing now that Ragnar is gone.

As Mat said, “Maybe, but I’m not sure she really needs to. Lagertha is a strong independent woman and maybe she’ll decide not to get too attached to anyone.”

Then again, others feel she should get to enjoy another romance. Carter wrote, “Absolutely. Lagertha’s freedom (and the freedom of Viking women in general) is one of the things that makes the show (and Scandinavian culture) great.”

And then there’s a small contingent, including Amber, who said, “I want Lagertha to DIE.”

Hirst responds:

“I have a kind of Wuthering Heights attitude toward romantic love. I think that nothing would replace the love between Lagertha and Ragnar, even though they screwed it up between themselves. I don’t think either of them ever stopped loving each other. Lagertha’s had relations with other men and women, but personally, deep down I don’t think anyone ever came close to what they had. That’s because they fell in love when they were younger and they were just farmers and all that rubbish about power and politics didn’t impinge on them.

I’m just romantic about them and I take very seriously Lagertha’s last remark to Ragnar that in my dreams we’re always together. I’m not sure she’ll ever find anything as intense and beautiful and consuming as her love for Ragnar, which is kind of sad, but beautiful.”

Hirst asks: Snake pit or Blood Eagle?

Analyzing the answers: By 2 to 1, the fans overwhelmingly chose Blood Eagle, which they felt was the more honorable way to die. Lisa wrote, “I want to go out like a king.” But Kelly chose the snake pit, saying, “At least it’s fast.”

Hirst responds:

“I don’t know how to answer this, in a way. Here’s an insight into the show: Some people might have thought we showed the Blood Eagle because we were being sensationalist and wanted to show horrible things. But no, I wanted to show it because it was an opportunity for the guy who was being Blood Eagled to show he felt no pain, which made sure he’d go to Valhalla. That was the drama. The drama was on the face of Thorbjørn Harr that played Jarl Borg — slightly named after Bjorn Borg, one of my heroes. It was an opportunity for Jarl Borg to show he was so brave that he deserved to go into Valhalla.

“I would not like to be Blood Eagled, for obvious reasons; it just doesn’t look like a nice way to die. But I don’t think dying by snake bites is a particularly nice way to die. I think the best way to die is when you’re like 103, and you’re walking on the beach with your wife and you just keel over and fall in the sand, having admired the beauty of the sunset.”

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