History's Vikings loves to make time jumps. While the term has become something of a dreaded phrase amongst TV fans, thanks to some poorly handled flashes forward in more than a few shows, the Norse drama from creator Michael Hirst has used the device several times, with each jump more or less fulfilling its dramatic duty. The first time jump came in season 2, when Ragnar's then young son Bjorn became a man almost over night, just as the future king found himself with several more mouths to feed with his new wife, Princess Aslaug. Since then, the series has jumped forward again, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, and each time bringing compelling dramatic changes.
Perhaps the most dramatic jump occurred at the end of the first half of season 4, which concluded earlier this year. The super-sized fourth season saw plenty of upheaval regarding Ragnar's reign as king. Ragnar would eventually find himself on the losing side of a massive battle, the aftermath of which sent the king into a self-imposed exile that he only returned from after – you guessed it – a considerable time jump.
Now, as Vikings gets ready to begin the long marketing journey towards the second half of season 4 (or 4B, if you like), Hirst spoke to EW about what's going on in a handful of new images, how the events of the season 4A still linger in Ragnar's mind, and just who has captured Lagertha's heart. According to Hirst, the narrative around Ragnar won't seek to answer the question of where he was during his time away, but rather what motivates him to return and how he will be received when he does. Hirst said:
"Obviously, time has passed. Ragnar had lost a huge battle, and actually, normally, in Viking society at that time, if your leader, Earl, or King had lost in that way, they would quickly have been killed and replaced, because it was a meritocracy. But Ragnar was different, because he was the most famous Viking in Scandinavia. But for him, the shame of losing was too great to stay around. He absented himself. But he was too famous to immediately replace."
As Hirst points out, the key reasons for Ragnar's sudden and surprising return are his sons and his desire to resolve some business in England regarding the settlement in Wessex – which, as the season kicks off will be what brings the king back together with his ex-wife, his first son Bjorn, and the often-jealous Floki. That puts Floki's relationship with Ragnar back into focus in an interesting way, as the unrequited love that the one-time ship-builder felt for his king was turned into antagonism following the murder of Athlestan. All that's set to change, as Ragnar's return has apparently softened his feelings toward Floki, which will lead to an intense aftermath for the character:
"Floki is now going through very deep and profound changes, and reevaluating his life, his relationships, and this will continue. This is a very big thread in the story moving forward. I can’t exaggerate how big these changes will be. It’s Floki having to reimagine his whole life, who he is, what he’s here for."
New feelings are something that will come into play with Lagertha's story as the season continues as well. The shieldmaiden and earl will have a new love interest when things pick up, and this time it's a woman named Astrid, played by newcomer Josefin Asplund. As Hirst points out, Lagertha's history with men has been a string of disappointments, and now she finds herself with someone she can trust.
"She’s a ruler, she’s got lots of responsibility, she has ambitions beyond that, but in terms of her personal life, if she can help it, she’s not gonna get involved with another guy who’s gonna want immediately to take her earldom away from her. So she’s with a woman, who’s not going to want to do that – at least initially!"
Like Ragnar, though, Lagertha has some unfinished business to attend to in season 4B. Hirst says that feelings of resentment the earl has toward Kattegat's Queen Aslaug will come to a head as well.
"If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Lagertha says to Aslaug, “I will never forgive you for taking away my husband, my world, and my happiness.” Viking society is, you know, pretty much based on revenge. There’s no point in me denying that this is a culmination of a storyline that goes back to season 1, that Lagertha has clearly never forgotten, or forgiven, Aslaug. And Aslaug has been, since Ragnar disappeared, has been sort of the ruler of Kattegat. But to Lagertha’s eyes, not an effective ruler, not a real ruler, not a proper ruler, for whatever reason. She hates her."
So it sounds as though the return of Vikings season 4 will be met with plenty of potential conflict as the return of Ragnar sends many of the characters into a surprisingly emotional space. Given how much the series has allowed its characters to grow (literally and figuratively), it will be interesting to see where this development takes the show ahead of season 5.
Vikings returns to History in the fall of 2016.