WC13 | History’s Vikings Panel
There were at least one Thor and one Loki (both female) at the WonderCon panel for History’s hit drama Vikings. The ballroom at the Anaheim Convention Center was packed as journalist Kate Hahn took the stage to introduce a recap of the first four episodes.
One impatient fan yelled, “Ragnar!” and was soon rewarded with actor Travis Fimmel, who stars as the visionary Norseman Rargnar Lothbrok. He was joined by co-stars Katheryn Winnick, who plays Ragnar’s wife Lagertha, and George Blagden, who portrays English monk Athelstan, along with Dirk Hoogstra, History’s executive vice president of development and programming.
Asked by Hahn what drew the network to the series, Hoogstra said he read about its development by The Tudors creator Michael Hirst and wished he’d thought of it, as Vikings documentaries are always ratings successes for History.
Fimmel said he was drawn to the role of Ragnar because, “I’m a bit of a kid at heart. I want to run around with an ax. And who wouldn’t want to be married to this lady?” he asked, turning to Winnick. More seriously, he added, “It was such an amazing script. I was so lucky to get this.” Asked about Ragnar’s ability to get himself out of trouble, Fimmel joked that “he’s got his ax.” Turning to Blagden, he joked, “We can always sell the monk for some money.”
Hahn asked Winnick what appealed to her about Lagertha, the legendary shield-maiden and love of Ragnar’s life. “When I read the script, I was just blown away,” she said. “Learning how they live their lives was really fascinating.” With her background in martial arts, she also was interested in the action scenes. “I also love the fighting aspect and the spirit of combat.”
Instead of asking Blagden about his initial impressions of Athelstan, the Christian monk turned Viking slave, Hahn went right to the infamous scene in the show’s third episode, in which Ragnar and Lagertha attempt to entice him into a threesome. “It was the first scene I filmed,” Blagden revealed. “There was not really any acting. I was terrified. I had these two amazing, lovely people half-naked in front of me.” For Athelstan, “This is the first time he’s even really seen a woman this close to him. He wouldn’t even know where to start.”
Hahn brought up the drama’s full-scale replica Viking boats, including one that was actually launched on the water. “It really makes you feel like you’re actually a Viking,” Fimmel said. He and actor Clive Standen, who plays Ragnar’s brother Rollo, actually had the chance to row the boat at one point. He said that the storm scene, as the Vikings sail for their first raid on England, “was the funnest night. It was very wet and very cold, and I loved it.”
Hahn then asked Winnick about her martial-arts background, and how that helped her in developing Lagertha. Winnick began training at age 7, earned her first junior black belt at 13 and even founded her first martial-arts school at 16. Despite all of that experience, “Being a shield-maiden was completely different. I had to learn how to fight with a shield and a sword, which was brand new for me,” she said. “I think I was the only girl on set for the first three months with these hunky men.”
Winnick also has fight scenes with Fimmel, who joked, “That’s foreplay in Viking world.”
“How can you not have chemistry with him and his piercing eyes?” Winnick said of her co-star.
Blagden described conducting research for his character, which included traveling to the tidal island of Lindisfarne, off the north-east coast of England, where the monastery depicted in the series is located. “It was a lot scarier than I thought it might have been,” he said. The island is accessible only across a two-mile channel, which has to be traversed at low tide. In early days, people would die if they couldn’t make it across before the tide rose again.
Before opening the discussion to questions from the audience, Hahn asked the panel to tease the rest of the season.
“Shit hits the fan, really,” Fimmel said. Ragnar “gets in some pretty bad environments and bites off a bit more than he can chew.”
Hoogstra said the upcoming eighth episode, which explores the Viking religion in depth, is creator Michael Hirst’s favorite of the season. “It’s a very different episode than the rest of the series, in a really good way,” he said.
A fan asked about the possibility of a second season, and Fimmel was eager to hear Hoogstra’s response. “What I can say right now is that we are thrilled with the performance of the show,” Hoogstra said. “It’s an artfully crafted by my PR department dodge,” he added when Fimmel pressed him for more. “This is by far my favorite project [on the network].”
When a fan asked about the sexual tension between Lagertha and Ragnar’s brother Rollo, Winnick replied, “What’s great about how Michael writes it is so much is unsaid. Even as actors, you don’t know everything.” Fimmel expressed mock outrage, but Winnick assured him, “Lagertha will never cheat on Ragnar. She will never cheat on him.”
Asked about the accents on the show, Winnick said, “No one really knew what the Vikings sounded like, so nobody had any idea how they would have spoke.” The cast worked with a dialogue coach to develop a consistent accent, as the actors come from different countries around the world. “They gave us some freedom to say that different villages of Vikings might have sounded different,” Winnick said. Hoogstra added that Swedish director Johan Renck, who helmed the first three episodes, had an accent that was closest to how the Vikings sounded.
The panel closed with the same guy yelling for Ragnar, right as Hahn introduced about eight minutes of footage from the show’s next episode.
Vikings airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.