Vikings returns with a hot new season

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Vikings returns to the History channel last week for an expanded S4 (growing from its usual 10-episode order to a meaty 20), and creator Michael Hirst promises a season full of twists, betrayals and even a harrowing encounter with a bear that gives Oscar nominee The Revenant a run for its money.

Variety has an exclusive first look at said encounter from Episode 403, which features Alexander Ludwig’s Bjorn coming face-to-fuzzy-face with the fearsome beast – a logistical feat that Hirst promises was in no way prompted by Leonardo DiCaprio’s big screen battle.

“Hand on heart, I didn’t know they were making a movie about someone fighting a bear,” Hirst tells Variety with a laugh. “I remember talking at the end of S3 to various people at the studio saying, ‘I need a test for Bjorn. I want to send him into the wilderness. What kind of trials could he possibly have in the Scandinavian wilderness?’, and the bear came up. I said, ‘wow, can we actually do that?’ And they said, ‘well, only if we send Alex off to Canada’, because there’s no snow in Ireland, really. It’s a temperate climate, so we sent Alex off to Canada and the snow with a small unit. And we had two bears, absolutely awesome things, you know, 10 foot tall when they stood up. So the coincidence is entirely coincidental, but it’s funny. It’s very strange.”

Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) was in a vulnerable place, physically and emotionally, at the end of last season – where do we find him when S4 begins?

Ragnar’s a very sick man. He’s physically ill and I think comes very close to death, and he’s mentally in a tough place because he knows that Floki was the one who killed Athelstan, who in a sense was his best friend. He’s in a tough place now, because who does he talk to? He’s in what amounts to a bad marriage. He was able to talk openly to Athelstan and now there isn’t anyone obvious around to whom he can unburden himself.


Travis Fimmel plays Ragnar in Vikings.

A large part of this season is about identity and people trying to find out who they are and what they are and what they should be doing. So (with) Ragnar, it’s a lot to do with the burden of kingship. It’s the heavy burden that he carries that he didn’t in a sense choose. He wasn’t an ambitious guy. He didn’t choose to be earl or king – these were due to circumstances.

And he certainly has never been interested in power for its own sake. And he does find carrying the burden of kingship almost unbearable. I think it’s one of the great things, frankly, about the show and about Ragnar’s character – that he’s a fairly unwilling king, and that he’s interested in the nature of power rather been in power itself, and obviously in faith and the larger questions.

He’s a very curious guy. He’s always been motivated by a great curiosity, but he’s now at the stage in life when he’s thinking about the deepest things, about love and death and life and death. So he’s in a very dark and difficult place when we start S4.

Rollo (Clive Standen) is now separated from his people and tangled in the web of political intrigue in Paris; what are some of the challenges he’ll face this year?

It’s another fable of identity. Rollo is trying to find out whether it’s true that the gods have intended this. In a sense, not that it’s a joke at his expense, but he’s following the logic of what the Seer told him: If he knew what was in store for him in Paris, he would dance naked in the sand. And he’s made this huge jump … being left in a kind of limbo in a society he doesn’t understand, with a language he doesn’t understand, and all these things are fearful possibilities, even for a strong man like Rollo. At the same time, they obviously had comedic possibilities …

I think that that’s one of the things that’s good about Vikings, is that you can very rarely second guess what’s going to happen. It’s not formulaic and so it’s a very interesting storyline and it has unexpected consequences, I must say.

You have an extended season this year – did the extra episodes change anything about how you approached it, logistically?

I’m trying to remember the exact sequence of things, but you can imagine that doing 20 episodes has been challenging. I think that we started off thinking it might be 15. And so I was already pressing ahead, at least in my mind, about where I was going to take everyone, and actually hoping that we could go on to 20 … So it didn’t throw me and I didn’t think of 10 and then go, ‘Oh my God, there’s another five. Oh my God, there’s another five’.

And in any case, I think the truth is, from the very start, I’ve tried to think long term. It’s not about one man. It’s about Ragnar and his sons. And I want it to go on. I want them to go to new places.

I’m really ambitious for this show and I always have been, and I have these wonderful characters to take with me who I’ve lived with now for a long time. Unfortunately, I have to kill some of them sometimes, but that goes with the territory. – Reuters

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