INTERVIEW – creator Michael Hirst pillages the world of HISTORY’s ‘Vikings.’


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This spring audiences were introduced to the wild, dangerous and unexpected world of HISTORY’s Vikings. The show follows the epic exploits of Ragnar Lothbrok and his family while his fame and power is on the rise, and it’s one of my favorite new shows of the season. Vikings is the brain-child of Michael Hirst, who also writes every episode and is no stranger to historical drama, having taken the same duties on The Tudors, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Brent spoke with series star Clive Standen before the season premiere, and with the season finale airing this weekend, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to pose a few questions to Michael about the final episode, what to expect from Season 2, and the relationships that make up the addicting show.

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Michael Hirst, creator and writer of ‘Vikings.’

I have to ask about the show’s opening credits sequence. It’s absolutely gorgeous. How much of a role did you play in designing that and choosing the Fever Ray song that goes along with it?

The Fever Ray song was chosen by our Scandinavian director, Johan Renck. Johan is also one of the world’s foremost musical video directors and he knows a lot about music. We wanted to do something different, we knew that we were saying something different about the Vikings, that we were going to surprise people.

[pullquote_left]I have to say that one of the joys for me is to always be able to work with other creative people at the top of their game.[/pullquote_left]There are so many clichés about the Vikings that we wanted to dispense with and really get people thinking a different way. We wanted a different kind of music, we wanted a different kind of approach. We wanted a slightly more contemporary edge to it so people didn’t think that this was a museum piece and it did work out.

We got a great company to make that credit sequence and of course it’s collaborative, quite a number of people discussed the images we wanted and how we were going to do it. I have to say that one of the joys for me is to always be able to work with other creative people at the top of their game, and so that’s who we were dealing with. And I agree, I mean it’s incredible. I never get bored of listening to that song or watching the introduction.

Vikings fans were pleased to hear the show was renewed for Season 2. Did you write the finale, “All Change,” with Season 2 in mind, or were you simply trying to wrap up everything that started in season 1?

I was trying to write it with Season 6 in mind. [laughs] I don’t want to be facetious, I certainly didn’t want it to end. At the end of Season 1 we got these great characters up and running, and there’s a lot to say and to tell about Ragnar. There are [lots of] unresolved issues at the end of Episode 9 that needed another season at least, to resolve and deal with, so as you could imagine I was extremely happy that it was picked up again.

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Clive Standen as Rollo in “All Change.”

Ragnar’s ambitious brother Rollo has become one of the fan favorites of the first season. How does Rollo reconcile his desire for power and his relationship with his brother?

Well that’s a very, very big issue in the finale. You can feel for the guy to some extent, because he does live in the shadow of his extremely successful sibling who has become increasingly famous, and in Viking society fame and renown were very, very important. So you have a guy who is clearly a great warrior, and clearly a great fighter, and he’s suffering in comparison with his outstandingly gifted brother.[pullquote_right]He has lots of unresolved issues including, of course, his continuous love for Lagertha, his brother’s wife…[/pullquote_right]

He has lots of unresolved issues including, of course, his continuous love for Lagertha, his brother’s wife. In Viking societies, again, families were very, very important, they fought together in the shield wall and were very close-knit, and as I said, the relationship between Ragnar and Rollo comes to a head in the last episode.

Another late but great addition to the cast is Donal Logue as King Horik, who rules all the clans, including Ragnar’s. Can you talk a little bit about this character and what we can expect from him going forward?

King Horik is, again, a historically based character. He’s a very important character, and I was delighted with Donal’s casting. He does develop very, very significantly in the new season as a major player, a major character. I have to say, without giving too much away, he’s a very complex character and a somewhat unexpected character.

It’s very difficult to read him. I think audiences will find him full of contradictions and to me as a writer, [this] makes him very fascinating. He’s obviously entered as a sympathetic character, by and large as an ally of Ragnar, but things will develop from there. It’s not going to be such an easy ride. Yes, I can absolutely promise that this is a major character that came onto the scene carrying a chicken [laughs] and he’s going to be a very major force in the coming season.

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Donal Logue as King Horik in “Sacrifice.”

In the previous episode, “Sacrifice,” King Horik bids Ragnar to visit Jarl Borg, which will presumably take place in the finale. What can you tell us about this character?

An inspired piece of casting, I have to say, because here’s a real Viking with real Viking roots. Horik sends him as an emissary to another land which is Gotaland, which I think Gotaland is today Sweden or somewhere, I’m not sure, but as you know the countries are not called what they are now. I needed him to go and meet someone there, someone interesting and important, so Borg is one of the few characters that I’ve almost completely invented. He’s my creation.

He’s a very interesting character played wonderfully by [Thorbjørn Harr] and to let you into a little secret, I couldn’t think of what to call him. My favorite tennis player of all time is Björn Borg, so I called him Jarl Borg – Jarl is another word for Earl, so he’s Earl Borg.

But he’s very, very important, again, like King Horik in the second season, there are lots of unresolved issues at the end of episode 9 with Jarl Borg. He’s a complex man. A lot of things have happened to him and indeed a lot of things will happen to him. I’m very happy that he is in the show.

As the creator and sole writer of Vikings, what inspired you to begin working on this show? 

Just say the word “Viking” to anyone, and it immediately conjures up a lot of amazing thoughts and images – it certainly does in my mind. And most people, when I said I was working on Vikings, got excited. For promotional material, I know we have great posters and things, but all you really need to do is a big poster with the word “Vikings” on it. They’re inspiring people.

[pullquote_left]I wanted to tell the story from their point of view.[/pullquote_left] I just happened to have a little history with them myself. I’d done some work on them a few years back, and I realized that we didn’t know a lot about them, and most of what we knew about them was wrong. I wanted to introduce the world to this race of people who were amazing, their technology, their social life was amazing. I find them inspirational, and they mixed with most Western countries and they were assimilated into most Western countries. So we all know Vikings and we’re all a little bit Viking ourselves. They’re not a foreign people. They’re very close to home.

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The Vikings season finale, “All Change,” airs Sunday, April 28th at 10:00pm ET (7pm PT) on HISTORY.

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