[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the midseason finale of Vikings. Read at your own risk!]
As if losing Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) wasn't enough, the Vikings midseason finale may have just killed off the last original character left standing. Although Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) was able to convince Harald (Peter Franzén) to unite together in battle, many of the other Viking leaders didn't send their forces to aid in the fight, leaving them ill-prepared for the massive Rus army led by Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky), Ivar (Alex Høgh), and Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø).
But even if all of Harald's vassals had sent their warriors to help, it's unlikely they would have been able to defeat the Rus, who were able to surround the Vikings thanks to Ivar's strategic plan to scale the mountainside. The battle was brutal. Eventually Harald was forced to tell his people to retreat, but by then it was too late. The Vikings were slaughtered, and Harald was among those to fall in battle — but he wasn't the only one. After viewers were shown visions of Ivar and Bjorn discussing the battle and what has driven them to this place, Ivar surprised Bjorn on the battlefield and stabbed him through the chest. Bjorn collapsed and was seemingly left for dead.
But is that really the last we've seen of Bjorn? TV Guide spoke with Alexander Ludwig about that tragic twist, whether we'll see Bjorn again, and saying goodbye to the show that changed his career.
Is Bjorn really dead, or does he miraculously survive that wound?
Alexander Ludwig: That's the big question, I guess. It'll have to bring the fans back to keep watching. It certainly doesn't look good for him. I'll tell you that.
Do you think this is the right time for Bjorn to die, and is Ivar the right person to kill him?
Ludwig: Do I think — I mean, no. In the context of his character, no. But it's also kind of why it was perfect. Nobody would be expecting that, which is why I think it's a genius move. It's something that I had spoken to [creator Michael Hirst] about in a lot of ways, and I said that I wanted Bjorn to go at the hands of somebody like Ivar. If it wasn't Ivar, then it would have been by his own hand or something so tragic that the audience was just kind of floored by it. Because it's so obvious for Bjorn to finally come up and achieve all this greatness and take his brother down and save the day, and it's kind of what everybody secretly wants. And that's kind of what I loved about the choice is that he goes — I'll tell you this though. He doesn't go without a fight. And whether or not he is still alive, you will see a version of Bjorn is some way, shape, or form.
Do you think the unpredictability of Bjorn's death mirrors Ragnar's a little bit?
Ludwig: Totally. Absolutely. I think that the difference between them is that Ragnar had more to do, you know. And I think Bjorn has come to this really tragic realization that he's done all he can and that obviously there's always more that he could do in terms of traveling and seeing more, but it's very tragic for his character because he wanted so badly to make his father proud. And essentially in his death he did do that. He got Kattegat back, he's inspired his people, he traveled to unknown lands. And I think it's only up until his death when he finally becomes the man that he's been searching for this whole time.
Do you think Ivar will regret anything that's happened?
Ludwig: Absolutely. Yeah. If I know Michael, and I do very well, Ivar is not just a caricature. None of these characters are. And that's our job as actors: to make sure that we show their humanity. They're not just some big, roaring Vikings. They're people. And even a sociopath like Ivar has some sort of depth to him, and I think that towards the final 10 episodes you will see that.
Ivar says the gods abandoned Bjorn. Do you think this is true or do you still think they're on his side?
Ludwig: In the next 10 episodes, you'll see that even in death the gods are on his side.
Bjorn insists he's going to defeat Ivar even when it's clear that the Vikings will lose the battle with the Rus. Do you respect that fighting spirit or is it sad that he couldn't recognize the direness of the situation?
Ludwig: No. I love that part of their culture. It's kind of what made them so intimidating in the first place. Death was only the beginning for the Vikings. Not only were they not afraid of death but they were actually welcoming it. It was a part of their culture that they wanted to die in battle. That was their way to Valhalla. And that's what made them so terrifying to all the westerners — is that they suddenly see all these people who aren't afraid of death, who actually seek it out, and they're supposed to go up against them? It's insane. So when you see this magnificent clash of clans between the Rus Vikings and Ivar and Bjorn's forces, it's such a magnificent battle because everybody in that fight, in a sense, wants to die. They just want to die the right way. Though he lost the battle, in death he's also won because he died the way every Viking wants to die: in battle.
Do you think this battle marked the end of an era for the Viking people as we knew it?
Ludwig: So, this is the interesting part about the show. In the context of history, there have been liberties that have been taken, and more and more so as the show has progressed. ... So this battle between Ivar and Bjorn, I'm not even sure if this actually ended up taking place. I am positive that in history, Bjorn actually ended up living a very long life. But if we just followed history there would not necessarily be as much excitement for the fans because they could just Wikipedia what happens to the characters. So to me, this is way more interesting ... But I think when they start fighting amongst themselves in any culture it kind of starts to emulate the beginning of the end. I think we can all learn a lesson from that.
So much of Bjorn's conversation with Ivar boils down to who will best carry on their father's legacy. Of all the brothers, who do you think truly does upload Ragnar's legacy the most?
Ludwig: I would have to say Bjorn's character [and] Ubbe's character. They both did certain things and they wanted certain things that their father wanted. But I would say that Bjorn is more of a traditional Viking in terms of his pagan beliefs, his unwillingness to become a Christian. He really does love the whole spirituality aspect of it and he does keep up with those traditions. But I would say more often than not, those two usually seem to share most of what Ragnar has stood for at the beginning. Ubbe's character is maybe more on the grassroots [side] in terms of how Ragnar started off, whereas Bjorn is more taking over Ragnar's dreams of expanding and ruling a people in a just way.
You've played Bjorn through so many stages of his life. What was it like getting to develop this character over the years and how do you see him having changed the most?
Ludwig: The most tremendous gift I think any actor could be given — I mean, I don't know many actors who can say that they've shown this sort of growth in a character and this kind of arc over so many years. I started this show when I was in my early twenties playing a very young Bjorn and now the character is almost 40 and he has four kids — something like that. I can't remember now. That was incredible and such a weird thing for me as well, because I also grew up on that show in a lot of ways. So as my character was growing, so was I as a person and as an actor. So the two parallel each other, and you can really see that transition on screen, which is pretty remarkable to always have that. Again, I couldn't be more grateful for this experience. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined it would have the kind of global recognition it received.
How do you hope Bjorn is best remembered? And do you think he has any regrets?
Ludwig: Oh, totally. I think we all have regrets. But I hope he's remembered as a man who followed his heart and as a just leader. I think his regrets stem from his ambitions to expand and to be a great leader, while at the same time his abilities as a father kind of fell to the wayside. And I think that's a thing that a lot of people struggle with. And that's why I think a lot of people have really taken to this show. ... I think the show has really reinvigorated peoples' interest in a culture that otherwise would not have been spoken about nearly as much. But also at the end of the day, the foundation of this show is it's about a family, and it's about human beings, and I think we can all relate to that. That struggle between following one's passion and dream and at the same time still being able to raise a family and be the kind of father that you hoped you could be. So I think most specifically for Bjorn, I think he could have wished he could have been a better father. And he admits to that later in the show. And that's something I spoke to Michael about in depth — was how important it was that we had that kind of closure, that he admits his wrongs before he goes. And I think in that sense the fans will certainly feel some sort of finality in his death.
What were your last days on set like?
Ludwig: Very strange. The show is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me in my professional career. The crew and the cast is family, really. I mean, leaving that is inane. I still don't even know if I've fully processed it. When I signed onto this show, it was 10-episode seasons, four months out of the year in Ireland. Then it was 20-episode seasons, 11 months out of the year in Ireland with a month break for Christmas. I couldn't go home because I was basically working every day. I couldn't see my friends or my family. So there was a part of me that was also relieved. I'm so unbelievably grateful for the experience and I wouldn't trade it for the world. But by the end of it I was really ready to go home and move on from it. So it was very bittersweet and I think when the final — I'll never forget it actually — when they finally said cut on my last scene it was like I was in a dream. I was like, Oh my gosh, this is done. This whole part of my life is gone. It's just done. And I'm not only leaving this character and this amazing show that I've been a part of, but I'm leaving my home, which was Ireland for so long, and these people who are my family. That was a very trippy experience. But the show has led to so many opportunities for me. I'm so lucky. To be an actor working is a success, so to be an actor working on something you're proud of is just the cherry on top. I'm just so excited for what the future holds. And you know, never say never. Who knows? This might not be the end of my time with Bjorn. Netflix has just picked up a new spin-off series and I know there have been chats about possibly doing films about it. And I do think that there's a lot more story that can be told with this show if it was done the right way. There's just so much incredible history in the Vikings culture, so who knows?
Reporting by Kelsey Pfeifer