Warning: contains spoilers for Vikings season five.
Season five of Vikings tells the story of the battle for Ragnar Lothbrok’s legacy, as the fall-out from his death continues to divide his sons and reshape the world as they know it. The complete fifth season boxset, as well as presenting every drop of rain and blood in blisteringly sharp Blu-ray quality, offers behind-the-scenes peeks at the people and places behind the show, and the truth behind the legends.
There are featurettes on Ivar the Boneless; bringing the appearance and customs of the Sami people to life; Heahmund and Alfred the Great; and the epic war of Ragnar’s sons, not to mention a smorgasbord of deleted scenes. Series’ creator Michael Hirst lends his voice to audio commentaries on two of the episodes, Moments Of Vision and The Most Terrible Thing, teaming up with producer Liz Gill and actor Gustaf Skarsgård (Floki) respectively.
We had a dig through all six discs in the set what we could unearth about the warriors wielding the swords, and the Gods wielding the pens…
1. When series’ creator Michael Hirst devised Floki’s Icelandic storyline he had no idea that the real-life Viking credited with ‘discovering’ Iceland was also called Floki. It was just a happy, and fortuitous, coincidence.
2. The man who plays Ketill Flatnose, one of Floki’s Icelandic ‘disciples’, is former WWE star Adam Copeland. Gustaf Skarsgård (Floki) was initially sceptical of the casting choice, but was quickly won over by the quiet strength and nuance of Copeland’s performance.
3. The show’s American executives weren’t keen on the Icelandic storyline, believing that it would detract from the more interesting machinations and skulduggery of the main Viking and Saxon storylines. It’s fair to say they were proved wrong.
4. Gustaf Skarsgård approached Floki this season almost as if he were a ‘new’ character – Floki 2.0. – figuring that the old Floki, shorn of all connections and possessions to his past life, had ‘died’ on Asgardian/Icelandic soil and been ‘reborn’ by the Gods.
5. Vikings isn’t the first time that Finnish actors Peter Franzén and Jasper Pääkkönen, who play King Harald and Halfdan, have appeared on-screen as brothers, having first done so in the 2003 Finnish movie Bad Boys.
6. Michael Hirst thinks that Ivar manages to hold on to a measure of the audience’s sympathy and forgiveness because the writers never cease to remind them of the hardship, indifference and torment Ivar had to endure growing up with a disability in 9th Century Scandinavia. Gustaf Skarsgård thinks it’s because Alex Høgh Andersen (Ivar) is a hunk.
7. Nobody knows for sure how the ‘real’ Ivar the Boneless earned his ‘boneless’ moniker. Michael Hirst felt that it was most likely bestowed on account of a bone disease, and crafted the character of Ivar accordingly.
8. While there is ambiguity over certain aspects of the ‘real’ Ivar the Boneless, one thing that is not disputed – and which his on-screen namesake shares with him – was his seemingly unlimited capacity for ruthlessness and savagery.
9. Bjorn and Halfdan’s adventure in North Africa was filmed in and around the actual Sahara.
10. The scenes where Floki first discovered and wandered Iceland, and a handful of later scenes, were all filmed in Iceland itself. Some of the backdrops were enhanced with a slight touch of CGI – an iceberg here, a volcanic plume there – but it was Iceland in all its scenic, awe-inspiring glory.
11. The camp where Floki and his plucky band of Nordic adventurers made their home was filmed in a quarry in a lesser-known part of Iceland called, erm… Ballyhorsey, Co. Wicklow. I suppose there’s only one letter of a difference between Iceland and Ireland.
12. Alex Høgh Andersen (Ivar) finds it frustrating not to be able to choreograph his own scenes, due to Ivar spending most of his time lying prone or sitting down. Ivar’s stillness or low position relative to the other characters also presents a challenge for the directors when it comes to framing their shots.
13. Michael Hirst spoke with people who lived with brittle bone disease to help understand the condition better, and add texture and humanity to Ivar. Michael learned that the tremendous and constant pain stoked by the condition can give rise to unbearable frustration and anger, especially in younger sufferers. Ivar’s volcanic fury, then, has a physical dimension as well as a psychological one.
14. Ivar’s costumes are designed with the actor’s comfort in mind. The gloves are padded, and his jackets have spines built into them, all to ease movement and prevent injury when he’s crawling; something that Ivar, despite his new smith-forged callipers, spends rather a lot of his time doing.
15. The climactic battle in episode ten, Moments Of Vision, was actually filmed in three entirely separate locations.
16. The long sequence in Moments Of Vision in which Bjorn’s bride Snaefrid prowls through the forest as Viking and Sami soldiers clash with and kill each other all around her, and culminates in her surprise death, was filmed in one take using Steadicam. It took an entire day to capture.
17. The script for Moments Of Vision follows a non-linear structure. The action flits backwards and forwards in time from the perspectives of several different characters, re-setting the battle every few scenes or so. One of the show’s American executives was so confused by the circling structure of the script that he kept printing it out, again and again, over and over, in the mistaken belief that his printer was malfunctioning.
18. In one version of the script for Moments Of Vision, Hvitserk was to die on the battlefield. In the finished version, of course, Ubbe is presented with the opportunity to kill Hvitserk, but lacks the will.
19. This wasn’t Hvitserk’s first rodeo. Michael Hirst revealed that Hvitserk has dodged death on the page many, many times. Michael must be a merciful God indeed.
20. Back in the time of the Vikings, the Sami people of Lapland, who lived in more northerly and inhospitable terrain than even the Vikings, were largely left alone. They weren’t conquered or subjugated or attacked, although they did pay tax to their southerly Viking cousins.
21. The Sami were known as the invisible people. They believed that every single object had a soul, and tried to be as silent as possible so as not to damage any of them.
22. Bishop Heahmund was based upon a real warrior-priest of the same name, who also died in battle. Little is known of the real Heahmund’s character and drives. Much of Heahmund’s personality, his inner-conflicts and torments, were borrowed from the autobiographical work Confessions that was first written by St Augustine, circa AD400.
23. Creator Michael Hirst says that each of the sons of Ragnar are trying to fulfil what they perceive as their father’s dream and legacy. Within each of them is a distillation of a different aspect of Ragnar’s personality and character, which is why they struggle so violently to reach an accommodation with each other.
24. He also says that Ubbe is, in essence, the liberal wing of the Viking party, while Ivar represents the Pagan fundamentalist wing.
25. Hvitserk is the son who possesses no obvious, readily identifiable piece of the Ragnar puzzle. He’s also the member of the clan who seems the most rudderless, and to know himself least. Perhaps that makes him the most Ragnar-like, after all.
26. Most of the first-hand accounts we have of King Alfred the Great come from a book written by a monk called Asser who was Alfred’s confidant and – for all intents and purposes – employee. Due to the inherent bias of the source we can never be entirely sure just how ‘great’ Alfred actually was as a human being (he may well have been an ignoble ass) though his achievements and victories were undoubtedly, and irrefutably, great.
27. Ragga Ragnars, who plays Gunnhild, is a former Icelandic Olympic swimmer.
28. The dress worn by Gunnhild in episode 17, The Most Terrible Thing, was inspired by a painting Michael Hirst saw on the front cover of a book by the artist Gustav Klimt.
29. Bjorn may be a mean and moody warrior these days, but when Alexander Ludwig first joined the show as a young man, Michael Hirst said he was like a puppy, and constantly had to be told to stop smiling.
30. No-one eats a sausage quite like Alexander Ludwig, apparently.
31. Michael Hirst has never returned to the scripts or the episodes from the earlier seasons to cross-reference the Seer’s predictions. So far, he doesn’t think he’s messed up/missed any prophecies that should’ve come to pass. [the sound of a thousand Den of Geekers dusting off their first and second season Blu-rays in a bid to prove him wrong).
Vikings returns for season six on Wednesday the 4th of December in the US. Read about why we love the show here.
VIKINGS: SEASON 5 VOLUME 2 out now on Blu-ray™ and DVD. VIKINGS: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON and VIKINGS: SEASON 1-5 also available now on Blu-ray™ and DVD.