Lest there ever be a shred of doubt, Ragnar of Lothbrok means business.
This Thursday on History’s Vikings, the Jarl of Kattegat followed through on making Jarl Borg pay the piper for his recent actions – and via “the cruelest form of death,” a ritual known as the Blood Eagle (a brutal punishment that actually figures into the historical Ragnar’s story).
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Vikings creator Michael Hirst — whose show has already been renewed for Season 3 — spoke with TVLine about the driving force behind Ragnar’s act of vengeance, as well as weighed in on other new story points.
TVLINE | As you see it, what is the significance is of Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel) following through with the execution of Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr)?
Ragnar has never forgiven Jarl Borg for threatening his family. For Ragnar, his family, his sons are everything, and anyone who comes between him and his sons is going to suffer. So he pretended to go along with King Horik (Donal Logue), but he never was going to forgive Jarl Borg. Instead, he ultimately was going to subject him to the cruelest form of death known to the Vikings. If you saw Episode 8 of the first season, where they did the human sacrifices in Uppsala, this episode is the equivalent of that, because it gets you very close to the deep, dark hearts of the Viking experience. But the amazing thing is that Jarl Borg knows that he’s going to be Blood Eagled, but if he screams in pain, he won’t go to Valhalla. And if he suffers it, he has a chance of going to Valhalla. I think there was an article published in an American newspaper saying that Vikings is the only network show that takes religious belief seriously, and I think that’s true.
TVLINE | King Horik had a difficult decision there, and I wouldn’t have faulted him for going either way. Why did he ultimately not spring Jarl Borg?
We’d shot a scene, which isn’t in there in the end, where someone asked him, “Why did you say that you would save him?” and Horik says, “I never would have saved him.” [Horik] once said, “Unless someone has hope, they don’t really suffer,” so he went in to give him this false hope, and I liked that scene. He made Jarl Borg believe for a moment that he was going to get out of there.
TVLINE | Because ultimately, wanting to do away with Jarl Borg was more important than the perceived threat that Ragnar might ultimately prove to be?
Yes. I think probably Horik felt that he should deal with Jarl Borg first, and then he should deal with Ragnar afterwards — and the rest of Season 2 is, in a sense, about Horik trying to deal with Ragnar.
TVLINE | What should we make of Floki’s (Gustaf Skarsgård) wavering affinity for Ragnar?
Well, that’s interesting… That becomes a huge issue through the rest of the season. I can’t tell you [what's ahead], but it does all come to a climax — “Who is loyal to Ragnar?”
TVLINE | What do you want to say about Lagertha’s status as Jarl?
The wonderful thing about Lagertha, for me, is that I never anticipated how big that role would become. I have to be honest about that. [The historical figure] was Ragnar’s wife, and she was a shield maiden, she had kids and everything. And when we were casting, we had lots of possibilities, lots of beautiful young actresses, and I said, “We have to have someone who’s tough and looks convincing.” Katheryn [Winnick] came on board pretty late in the day and she said to me, “You know, I’m a black belt,” and that was fantastic and sexy, so I cast her. And then she started to define the role and now she’s as famous as Ragnar. The thing about Season 2 is she became, as you know, involved in an abusive relationship, and Katheryn said, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to, because I’ve established a reputation out there as a tough woman and warrior and everything.” And I said, “Look, if you think you’ve got a big female following now, wait until they see how you deal with being bullied!”’
TVLINE | Does Lagertha have any hidden agenda in offering to be Ragnar’s ally?
No. No. The important thing for Lagertha is her son Bjorn, like for most mothers. She’s going to make sure that he is treated properly and becomes the inheritor of whatever it is that Ragnar achieves. That’s her thing, and now she can help Ragnar in a physical, military way.
TVLINE | And lastly, are we getting to the battle against King Ecbert this season or…?
Oh, god, yes, we are. In Episode 9, there’s this huge battle. And the important thing to know is that because King Ecbert has studied the military techniques of Caesar, he knows how to defeat the Vikings. So, it’s a wonderful battle sequence, it really, really it is. It’s exciting.