After six seasons and 89 episodes, Vikings is coming to an end with a final half-season streaming on Amazon Prime. This is an impressive accomplishment, particularly in an era of peak television where seasons are getting shorter and shows are less likely to hit the once-important 100-episode landmark. It is particularly notable in the case of Vikings because creator and showrunner Michael Hirst has written every single episode of the show, giving the series a unique and distinctive authorial voice across its extended run.
There is an epic sweep to Vikings, as its six seasons cover over a quarter of a century in the lives of its characters. This allowed Hirst, as architect of the series, to make long-term series-spanning plans. “I had always known that Bjorn would one day be the protagonist of the show,” explained actor Alexander Ludwig of his character, Bjorn Ironside. “It was something Michael had talked to me about when I first signed on. Whether or not we were going to make it there was another story.”
However, Hirst made it clear that whatever roadmap he had at the start of the production was subject to change. “As a writer, you fall in love with your characters,” he explained, citing the fate of the show’s first protagonist, Ragnar Lothbrok, as an example. “In my first outline, I thought and wrote that Ragnar would die at the end of season one. However, Ragnar died at the end of the middle of season four. Once he was up and running, there was so much to say about him. He took over the narrative for quite a while he dictated to me.”
The cast praised Hirst as a creative collaborator. Actor Ragga Ragnars recalled talking to Hirst about key scenes featuring her character, Gunnhild, and Hirst eagerly folding those ideas into the narrative. “I called Michael up after I read that Gunnhild would lose her baby,” Ragnars recounted. “I asked Michael if we could give Gunhild a moment to say goodbye to the baby. And he thought it was a good idea.” Ragnars remains proud of the resulting sequence. “I think that’s one of my favorite memories from shooting Vikings.”
Of course, working on a show with such an epic sweep presented its own challenges to the cast as performers. Actors Alexander Ludwig and Georgia Hirst joined the show in its second season, making them veterans of the shifting and changing cast, but also allowing them to portray decades in the lives of their characters. “As an actor, just getting to play these milestones in a life was so important to me,” Ludwig explained.
“It was tough,” conceded Georgia Hirst. “When I started, I was eighteen and Torvi was meant to be seventeen-ish. So, we started at the same age, and we definitely grew up at the same time. Then there was that big age jump, which was tricky for the audience because – let’s be honest – there was no way that they were going to hire a whole cast of new actors who were ten years older; it was always going to be us.” She acknowledged, “It was hard getting older with her.”
Vikings has a high turnover in its cast, even by the standards of the prestige television age. While Ludwig and Hirst were seasoned veterans of the cast, many other actors cycled in and out in the years that followed. “That was so scary in the beginning,” admitted Alex Høgh Andersen, who joined the show in its fourth season. “I’m a young Danish boy at that point. I’m 21 years old, no idea what I was going into.”
However, like the rest of the cast, Høgh Andersen was quick to single out the cast and crew. “Thank God, I had the nicest family around me,” he said.
Actor Eric Johnson echoed that gracious sentiment. He is one of the latest arrivals to the series, joining Vikings in the first half of its final season as Erik the Red. Johnson is a screen veteran, with a career including Legends of the Fall and The Knick. He singled out Vikings as “one of the best experiences I’ve had working with a crew anywhere in the world.”
He recalled, “From a work standpoint, I had the most epic day I have ever had on camera on this show. There was an amazing battle scene that we shot in season 6A, where we had 300-plus people on camera and we had almost 600 people there to make the day work. We had helicopters, and horses, and boats, and people on fire. And it just was absolutely epic.”
However, all things come to an end. The show’s final half-season was picked up by Amazon Prime and will wrap up its long-running story threads. “I just never really believed it would end,” admitted Georgia Hirst, who recalled thinking to herself, “I’ll be doing Torvi until I’m old and wrinkly, and it’s amazing!” Asked how she felt about the ending, she confessed, “It still didn’t sink in until weeks or months after I finished filming. It’s taken me these two years for it to really sink in, that I’ll never play her again and I’ll never see those people on set again.”
Co-star Alexander Ludwig felt similarly, acknowledging, “What I’ll miss is not only just this world that we got to be a part of, but the people. This incredible crew (was) about the best crew I’ve ever worked with.” Johnson agreed, “Some of the hardest days were the days I didn’t get to go to work because I just really enjoyed the people. It definitely felt like they embraced me, and I got to be part of it — even for a short while.”
Vikings will live on. The show will launch a spin-off, Vikings: Valhalla, that will stream on Netflix. Michael Hirst is producing. However, the series is co-created and will be show-run by Jeb Stuart, who is best known for his work on action classics like Die Hard or The Fugitive.
“I’ve basically said what I want to say about Vikings,” Hirst stated, which seems reasonable. “But I do have oversight. I do talk to Jeb a lot. I like him. He’s a friend of mine. But it will be slightly different, because Jeb is more of a thriller writer. I think it will lean towards that more than mine did.”
Still, for the cast and crew who worked on the show, Vikings will remain a singular experience. “I’m so unbelievably grateful,” Alexander Ludwig said, summarizing his experience of the show. “To be an actor working is a thing of itself, so getting to work on something you’re proud of — and not only that, but to show the range, emotional depth, and complexity that came with this character and what the character demanded — was just an absolute dream come true.”
Asked to sum up what Vikings means to him, Ludwig did not hesitate: “Vikings will forever be the greatest decision I ever made.”
Vikings will release its final half-season on Amazon Prime on Dec. 30, 2020.