Vikings is getting big. The pop for the show and the stars was the same you would see for any other hit show, with girls screaming as the men walked on stage and guys screaming "RAGNAR!!!" in their best viking immitations.
Moderated by Kate Hahn, the panel consisted of Travis Fimmel (Ragnar), Katheryn Winnick (Ragnar's wife: Lagertha), George Blagden (the monk) and History Channel EVP Dirk Hoogstra. After a recap of the season so far, Hahn introduced the panelists and dived into her questions, later taking additional questions from the audience.
Why Vikings was chosen as the first scripted series
I actually read about it in the trades. I looked around and saw Michael Hirst's writing and said, 'I should have thought of that.'
History has been around about seventeen years and we've done several viking's related shows, and everytime, it always pops in the ratings. So we knew as a subject matter it was perfect for us, and with the right actors and the right script and the right execution, you can see the kind of quality we get.
How the actors were chosen for their roles
On Travis Fimmel as Ragnar:
We were struggling a bit in finding a fit for the role and getting close to starting production. The folks at MGM called me and said, 'you've gotta see this guy. He just read for it, his name's Travis Fimmel and he's the right one. We looked at his read and everyone sort of knew and just clicked, this was the right guy.
On Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha:
Playing a shield-maiden is not easy to do. We wanted someone who could play the role of mother, play the role of wife, and also be that really strong warrior. Katheryn grew up on taekwondo, knows how to take care of herself. You have to have someone that can swing a sword around and you believe it, and she definitely pulls that off.
George Blagden as the monk Athelstan:
It's another key role and when Michael first explained it to us, what's great about the role, is it's kind of the go-between of the two worlds. He has to interpret for the vikings this other culture and belief systems and locations. It's really important. It has to be a person you can identify with and connect to. We really saw that with George.
"And we'll see how long he can resist tempation" the moderated responded, with Travis adding "The offer is still on the table George." (A reference to their characters of Ragnar and Lagertha inviting him to bed one episode and him standing fast to his morals and refusing).
How Travis Fimmel was attracted to the role of Ragnar
I'm a bit of a kid at heart. I wanted to run around with an axe, have a different hair cut and who wouldn't want to be married to this lady (pointing to Katheryn). But, it's such an amazing script, I was so lucky to get it, I'm so grateful.
Hahn jumped in, asking if Ragnar was equipped to get himself out of all the danger he's in so far this season.
He's got his axe, that's about all he needs. And if I get in trouble, she's got my back (pointing to Katheryn again). And we can always sell the monk for some money.
How much do you think he's worth, she asks.
Well, we haven't slept with him yet.
What attracted Katheryn to her particular role
When I read the script, just like Travis, I was blown away. The historical references and the fact that it's based on real characters. I'm sure many of you know at this point, Lagertha, Ragnar and Athelstan were real people. I was fascinated with the Viking culture, learning how they live their lives, it was an amazing opportunity.
I learn so much about myself playing that role. She's not only a strong individual, but she's also ("Sexy" Travis chimes in) ...in love with her husband.
"I'm gonna kill you" she quips back to Travis through laughter, him answering "and she could."
Yes, I love the fighting aspect, the spirit of combat. The fact that she was raised as a shield maiden and how that would be interesting to play.
Hahn tells the audience that Katheryn is not only a black-belt in taekwondo, but also a certified bodyguard and asks what attracted her to the art of fighting and how it helped her with the role.
It all started when I was seven years old, and I got my first junior black belt at thirteen and started a school when I was sixteen. For me, I loved the physical side of training, but also the mental side of training everyday for five hours a day. Being a shield maiden was completely different, I couldn't throw a side kick, or round-house kick, a shield maiden wouldn't do that. So I had to learn to fight with a shield and sword, which was brand new for me. It was fun. I was the only girl for the first three months with these hunky viking warriors. I was a big tomboy growing up, so I went back to my roots.
She then asks about a scene where Ragnar and Lagertha fight and how the fight chemistry was. Katheryn lets Travis take this one.
I thought it was just a big long sex scene, I didn't know we were fighting. That's foreplay in viking terms.
George's take on Athelstan as a character
Circling back to Athelstan turning down the offer to join Lagertha and Ragnar in bed, Hahn asks him what it says about him as a character.
It was actually the first scene I filmed, and the first time I met them. So there wasn't much acting required, I was terrified with these two amazing, half naked people in front of me asking me to sleep with them.
He's a really devout religous man and this is this is the first time he's ever really seen a woman at all, because the monastary he's from is an all male environment.
Two actual replica viking ships were built for the show
Hahn narrows in on the historical accuracy of the show, telling the audience that two replica viking ships were built for the series. Each fifty-six feet long, weighing two and a half tons, one of them sea-worthy and put in the water in Ireland. She then asks Travis what it was like having the boats to work with.
It really makes you feel like an actual viking... It made for amazing scenes, during the storm they were dumping huge buckets of water on us with wind machines going, the gimble broke one night when we were shooting a night scene and we all fell to one side... that was the funnest night I had shooting, it was the coldest night too. Loki is such a great character, it was great watching him do his thing, but it was very windy, very cold, and I loved it.
George's personal research into playing Athelstan
To get ready for the role of his monk, George Blagden traveled to the Lindisfarne, the monastery that the vikings sacked.
I went to Lindisfarne in Ireland, I had three or four days before shooting to explore. I didn't really know what the environment would be like for these monks. It was so different from what I had imagined. There was this little sliver of land off the coast that you walked over a bridge to... it's about three or four miles wide, the island, and about a mile and a half out to sea... twelve hundred years ago there wasn't any tarmac to drive across so, you have to wait for the tide to go out and run it. People used to die if they weren't fast enough, because it was a two mile run to the island before the tide came back in.
When you go to the island, you feel like you could get stuck there forever. You have to be off the island by four, otherwise you have to stay the night. They have these emergency hostels people can stay in. But it was amazing to see the monastery, see the ruins. There was a ruined staircase you could climb to this window looking out to the east, much like the view we had in the show, you can see this storm coming from the sea.
A few teasers for their characters for the second half of the season
Travis on Ragnar:
Shit hits the fan, really.
Katheryn on Lagertha:
Lagertha's character is definitely more challenged. The relationship is tested. There is a lot more responsibiliy with her and dealing with the community. I'm not sure what I can say without spoiling anything, but I think you guys will enjoy it.
George on Athelstan:
What I will say, is it's such a gift to be given a character like Athelstan. He is so different at the end of the series than the start, to be able to play a character like that, who goes through so many changes and adventures is really rewarding.
Will The Vikings return for more seasons?
Dirk Hoogstra doesn't offer much in way of specifics, telling the audience that "We are thrilled with the performance of the show so far." Travis cuts in, asking for a yes or no answer, "it's an artifully crafted dodge from my PR department" Dirk answers. "We aren't prepared at the moment" to answer. Adding, "this is by far my favorite project by far" on what I've worked on.