The Lothbrok saga is coming to a close. Vikings' sixth and final season debuts on History with a two-hour premiere on Wednesday, Dec. 4. The epic drama began by following the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a curious and intrepid Viking farmer who rose to become king. Over the years, the world of Vikings has greatly expanded, with the final season tracking the lives of Ragnar's sons across Norway, Iceland, and Rus, as they each hope to position themselves as the true heir of their famous father.
Season 6 will pick up shortly after Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) was crowned King of Kattegatt, but his plans to bring the city into a new, more peaceful era are quickly challenged when Bjorn is faced with a few difficult decisions very early into his reign. Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) will be itching to branch out and lead his own explorations — as well as discover the truth about what happened to Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) — while Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø), unmoored after failing to kill Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) during the battle, will try to escape his fears that his brother will seek his revenge through drugs and alcohol. Hvitserk has a right to be scared too; Ivar will make it to Rus this season where he'll team up with a ruthless prince, Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky), to wage war on Scandinavia and enact bloody justice on his brothers. Meanwhile, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), tired of years of fighting and the losses she's suffered, will attempt to retire from public life and return to her roots as a farmer.
TV Guide spoke with Vikings creator Michael Hirst about what fans can expect of the final season, as well as the upcoming Netflix spin-off Vikings: Valhalla. Read our full interview with Hirst below!
Now that he's king, Bjorn really wants to be a better, kinder ruler, but right away he's faced with decisions that might threaten his legacy. How will Bjorn struggle to reconcile what he wants to do versus the reality of the situations he's forced into?
Michael Hirst: You might remember that Ragnar once told him about how problematic it was to be king. He said you have to stoop pretty low to get all that power and that all power corrupts. But at the same time, Bjorn wants to fill his father's shoes. He wants to inherit the mantle. But he also believes that he can do the job probably better than his father because he has the best of intentions. ... Ragnar became king almost by default. It was part of other things he wanted to do and he never enjoyed being king, but Bjorn has, throughout his life I think, thought about that. So he thinks that he can do the job and he'll be far more liberal and tolerant and empathetic than Ragnar was.
But as you say, he's immediately faced with least one, if not two, very significant decisions to make, which are sort of almost lose-lose decisions. ... And you can't escape from those decisions. And the two big decisions that he makes in, really, the first few days of his kingship are incredibly crucial decisions. And it would be fair to say they don't necessarily work out the way he anticipated. So he is plunged into political realities and he's got to learn to swim very quickly or he'll sink.
One of the things, actually, I would like to add to that is that I've been thinking recently that in many ways Bjorn has been at the center of this whole show, in the sense that you saw him as a young boy right at the beginning in the first season. We saw him growing up, we saw his parents splitting and that he went off with Lagertha, and therefore he's always had this deep love, loyalty for Lagertha. But also he admires his father. We see him becoming a man. He went off into the wilderness to prove to himself, against his father's taunts, that he was a real man. We've physically seen him age. I'm astonished at how he looks. If you look back at the first season, you see how young and puppy-like Alexander was. And then on the poster for this new season, you see that he's a grizzled, experienced warrior who's had bad times as well as good. So until I thought about it, I didn't realize that he's been one of the main, if not the main anchor of the show. And one of the things that totally shocked me, the other day someone sent me a picture of what [Ludwig] looks like now. Right now. He's back in California. He was photographed with his friends and he looks like a young kid again. It's still amazing. It's fantastic.
So much of this series so far has focused on the in-fighting and power struggles between various Viking rulers. So how will Olaf's plan to unite everyone under a single king of Norway be received?
Hirst: Well, it's a sort of logical move. ... Norway, even though it's a small country, was divided into many, many small kingdoms. And when you get to the stage which they're now at, when they're sending out martyrs off to fight in foreign countries when they have to have collective action, it's essentially a waste of time that all the individual kings and princes and jarls are constantly in-fighting. It's much more logical that they combine in some ways and the logic of that is so they have a king of all of all Norway. And in some respects, the most obvious king would be son of Ragnar Lothbrok, the most famous warrior so far in Viking history. So all that on the surface is logical and reasonable. Of course, nothing ever works out the way it's supposed to work out but because people are jealous of those in power and jealous of that position and people won't give up power easily.
This season is a very transformative one for Ivar. What can you say about how his new circumstances will help Ivar evolve and show off sides we've never seen of him before, and maybe ones Ivar didn't even know he had?
Hirst: Yes, it's a very important season for Ivar as well. From the beginning, Ivar has always done terrible things. But one has been able to almost forgive him because of his personal circumstances — because he's a cripple, because his father left him out to die, because he's disadvantaged in a very physical Viking world. So, you know, you couldn't forgive him but you could understand his anger. ... But I think that in Season 5 I certainly pushed that element of Ivar a long way — that his anger and vanity got the better of him, that he became, I think, a lot less sympathetic, that it was harder to forgive him for the things that he was doing.
So Season 6, in a way, puts him into a different context, a context in which he's forced into a relationship with a ruler, Oleg of Rus, who is by any standards crueler, more rapacious, more bloody that he has ever been. And in fact, it's hard to think that Oleg considers human life of value at all. And I think that in dealing with that relationship and his new context and now his lack of power, for me, I think Ivar is humanized again, is a lot more sympathetic to him, you understand things he's doing again. And it was wonderful to write scenes with this somewhat redeemed character, or a character that you can again sympathize with and feel for. So yes, again, it's a very, very strong storyline for him in Season 6 and one that I enjoyed writing very much and has an extraordinary payoff that you would never see coming in a million years. And I was pleased to do justice, or what I felt was justice to the character of Ivar, because who didn't want to write a story about someone called Ivar the Boneless, probably the most famous Viking of all who was a cripple. I mean, that's a great challenge for a writer but also great challenge for the actor, and I think Alex's is absolutely magnificent, and I'm glad that I've given him this great storyline.
Lagertha hopes to retire to lead a quieter life this season, but the trailer shows her suited up in her battle armor once again. What can you say about how Lagertha gets dragged back into being the person she tried to leave behind?
Hirst: Well, for obvious reasons I think, at the beginning of the season Lagertha wants to retire. She wants to become un-historic. She's tired of fighting. And if you ever see — we put together a little film of her through the seasons, and she's nearly always fighting. She's fighting husbands, she's fighting men on the battlefield, she's fighting for this, and she's fighting for that. She's had to struggle and she's been betrayed so many times. And it's been a hard life and she's nearly died. So it's not a surprise that she would like to retire from all this. And the problem is that if you're as famous as she is — certainly in the Viking world because in the Viking world fame is everything. Not celebrity, but real fame, the fame of having done significant things — you cannot become un-historic. You would be sung about in the halls. Your exploits would be talked about in the sagas. So it's absolutely impossible for her to disappear. And fate just comes knocking again. It's not her doing. She doesn't choose to put her armor back on and pick up a sword again, but she has literally no — especially being Lagertha — she has no choice and she has to be a warrior again and re-energize herself.
And I know I keep saying this, but she has a great storyline in Season 6 too. I mean, a really great storyline which she owns. She owns this storyline and Katheryn has been so brilliant in this role, I think, and she's spoken to and about a lot of issues that still face women today. I mean, abusive husbands and female rivals and being accepted as a ruler, lots of things like that. Situations I told her in the beginning I put her in. And she's just come through all of them magnificently, and it's no surprise that she and Ragnar were equally popular when Ragnar was still in the show. And it's no surprise to me. But it is fantastic that the in History Channel, which was a male-skewed channel, now has very, very significant female viewership and audience. And so I was glad again to be able to give her this very special, this extraordinary storyline.
Hvitserk's existential crisis really intensifies this season. How will his struggle to decipher his fate and identity continue to play out?
Hirst: Hvitserk's really interesting. I think when I got the sons up and running ... I had a very strong sense of who they all were, of what kind of guys they were. But I didn't have that kind of sense of Hvitserk. He was slightly an unknown quantity to me, and I wanted to do — I know it sounds strange for a writer to not kind of quite know some of the characters — but it became an interesting issue because it meant that Hvitserk, as a character, was free to do some strange things and to have some contradictory things. And even when he did that amazing thing when he was close to Ubbe but at the last moment he abandoned Ubbe, he jumped ship and he joined Ivar, and he himself didn't know why he'd done that. And I didn't really know. I knew it was the right thing for him to do, I felt absolutely sure that that's what he needed to do and would have done.
And Season 6, it's him and me coming finally to understand why he did that. It's such an interesting journey that he's been through because he's gone down so low, his search for an identity, search for himself, his search for meaning has left him as sort of an addict and junkie, a Viking junkie. And he does extraordinary things in Season 6. But he answers the question and it's an extraordinary answer. I think it's totally satisfying. It certainly satisfied me. I was thrilled and I also think that he's just put in such a great performance. It's very strong. Early on I wondered about it. I kept thinking, does Marco know what he's doing? Is he too laid back? Is he hanging back too much? But his performance has been so subtle and elastic and sinuous. And in Season 6, as the last season, he absolutely comes into his own and he finds out who he is. Taken over all the seasons that he's been in the show, it's a quite remarkable journey that he's been on and ends in this in an equally extraordinary way.
In the trailer, Ubbe is shown looking into what happened to Floki. Where will his quest for answers take him and what will he encounter along the way?
Hirst: So Ubbe and Torvi, Ubbe especially, wants to try and find out what happened to Floki because Floki's death has been wrapped in mystery and confusion, and lots of contradictory accounts of the Icelandic settlement. And I wanted to go back to Iceland anyway and I had further plans for that. But it's something Ubbe learns from someone else, from another traveler, that there's more than meets the eye to the death of Floki and what happened Floki and what happened in the settlement and in Iceland. So Ubbe and Torvi go on a journey [that] takes them to Iceland and then takes them somewhere else, which I can't tell you where that is. But it's a journey.
We recently got our first details on the Vikings spin-off Valhalla. What can you say about what fans can expect and how you're going to weave together the stories of some of history's most famous Vikings?
Hirst: Well, it's fantastic. The kind of vote of confidence that Netflix has picked up the show and wants to continue it. As you probably read, it's set 100 years from the end of my show and it will feature more famous Vikings, or at least Vikings that people have already heard of. I have a kind of oversight of it. It's still in the sense my show, but I'm not going to write it or at least I'm not going to write whole episodes. Jeb Stuart is leading the writers team now and he did the Die Hard movies, and I like it very much. I just I wanted it to have the same values and virtues that the first 89 episodes had because it's not just a violent feast. It does have poetry and it does have spiritual and it does have women characters who are just as great as male characters. And I know that Jeb intends that to continue. So I think it's hopefully starting shooting next year and I'm looking forward to going back to Ireland and watching and contributing what I can.
Vikings returns with a two-hour premiere on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 9/8c on History.