At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con 2013, we had the opportunity to speak with the delightful Michael Hirst, the creator and writer of History Channel’s hit show Vikings. The first action-filled season resounded with viewers, and season two sounds like it will be bigger and more brutal than the first. Viewers will have to wait until 2014 to catch the second season, which is still currently in production
Q: What’s the general overall fan reaction been to the first season? Do you know, have they been telling you, “Oh you guys did this wrong,” or “Oh, this is where you need to go next season,” or what was it like?
MH: Um, it’s been surprising to me from my experience, because it’s been overwhelmingly positive. And people thought it was interesting in the whole this evening when I answered a question about the gods and the people really responded to that. There’s something in the atmosphere at the moment, the Christian pagan thing is working so well. That’s getting a big response from people. I don’t know why in particular. I think the reality of the show appeals to people. Um, I think you know, it’s a great cast. And it’s finding out about something you think you know but you actually don’t know anything really. Everyone thinks they know about the Vikings, but it’s all mostly bullshit the Christian monks told us…I think it’s been interesting for a lot of people to find out what the Vikings were really like and find out that a lot of their prejudices were wrong.
PK: Do you have a story arc set over a certain period? Do you know where you want it to end?
MH: Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, thinking, sketching out things. And I’ve kind of learned from experience not to set sail on an open sea without some port. You have to know where you’re going because you can get very lost. So what I tend to do now is very detailed outlines. So sometimes the actual writing I can do quite quickly. You know, I can do an episode in ten days or two weeks. But that’s because I know more or less exactly where I’m going. I always leave a little part of it that I leave open, that I don’t know what’s going to happen myself and I want to be surprised by the people. You know or something that pushes me, because that keeps it fresh for me.
PK: Will you be able to keep to that story arc if it lasts, say eight seasons?
MH: Yeah, I can go on. I mean Ragnar had a lot of sons. And the sons are quite extraordinary. You know one of them sailed on the Mediterranean. They attacked Paris. They went to North America… at least Canada. Oh, there’s plenty. The Viking period, that is the pagan Viking period lasted about four hundred years as we know it. From the first attack on. But the pagan gods are much older than the Christian gods.
Q: Is there any character that you like writing for more than any others?
MH: I love writing for Floki. And that’s a character who’s developed partly talking to Gustaf and watching how he does this. It’s interesting how characters develop. Henry James used to talk about characters as being either fixed constituents or free spirits. And by fixed constituents, he meant characters who do a job for you. So you put them in place and they do what you want them to do. And free spirits are people, characters who are more real and who you are not quite sure always what they are going to do. And for a writer that’s much more interesting obviously. So I try to keep as many free spirits going as I can. And I’m interested in the dynamics, the continuous dynamics between these characters that are very close. Even with people who know each other, there’s always the unexpected. In fact the better I feel I know them, the more I can allow them to do things that might be out of character. It’s very important for me. It is a lot of work, so I have to be interested all the time. I have to be passionate about it.
Q: So, do you like writing for the character Floki enough that you won’t ever kill him off?
MH: (Laughter) Sometimes, you have to kill the thing you love.
PK: I have a question about the seer character. He’s so creepy and supernatural. Will we see more of that?
MH: Well you say that it’s supernatural, but it’s not fancy. I mean because in the sagas you read about the seers or prophetesses, sometimes they were women. And I read one saga in which Odin goes to see a prophet, a prophetess, a seer. And I just quote part of it because the seer complains bitterly that he or she has had to get out of the ground. In other words they’re dead. And they come out to answer Odin’s question and Odin asks a question about his son and it’s very terrible. So, I had this question in mind, it was real for me, not a fancy. To the Vikings, a very real person in their society. And it was just, I think, our first director that decided what he would look like. He’s hundreds of years old. You know, he’s seen everything. Or he’s not. He’s just a grumpy old man. But you know what I’m saying. (Laughter)
PK: So we will see more of the seer?
MH: Yes. You’ll see more of the seer. Because it’s part of their culture.
Q: That being said, the history of Vikings had been kind of distorted and somewhat vague. As a writer, did that help you in creating the outline knowing that? Or did it help you being creative because there wasn’t as much of a source material?
MH: It was quite liberating because I occasionally got into trouble writing Henry the VIII for the Tudors. Lots of English historians were like, “it wasn’t like that.” You know, since they were there. (Laughter) Because actually, I was remarkably scrupulous about it, so I could defend most of the things I wrote in Tudors. I was still attached. But here, it’s wonderful because I just go “Hey buddy, it’s the Dark Ages.” I had a radio interview in Boston, with the head of Scandinavian studies at Harvard. He watched the first two episodes, and I thought he was going to chew me up. And he said, “Listen, this is the first time my culture has ever been taken seriously. So thank you.” There probably are mistakes and stuff. But hey, it’s the Dark Ages. He said that.
Stay tuned in 2014 for the exciting second season on History Channel.