From the Sagas of Norway to an on-screen epic, History Channel’s first drama series, Vikings, has now completed its fourth season, with a fifth about to begin. From President & CEO John Weber and the producers that brought you The Borgias, The Tudors, Beauty and the Beast, and Reign, Take 5 Productions, began the journey to produce this ensuing hit. With their Irish co-production partners at TM Productions the goal was to explore a part of history through new eyes.
Preeminent European storyteller Michael Hirst had written many works around King Alfred the Great, the Viking Age in England and the impact of these foreigners on Alfred’s rule. Eventually he flipped it around to be from the perspective of the Viking invaders and an idea for a show was born.
All hail, Earl Ingstad! (Katheryn Winnick)
Averaging close to a million viewers per episode in Canada alone, the show’s popularity has continued to grow each season. This past year the cast and creators appeared at some major public and industry events. With the show airing in 150 countries around the world, they had huge audiences at Comic Con and the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers.
In order to put together a show of this caliber, the team received funding from the Canada Media Fund and the Irish Film Board. While History Channel broadcasts the show in North America, MGM does international distribution and marketing. As a staple show running almost year round, it employs over 125 Canadians alone; talent, at least 75 VFX people and plenty of Canadian directors. “We’re incredibly proud of the amount of Canadian creativity and employment that goes in the show” says Sheila Hockin, Executive Producer.
After it’s shot in Ireland, the post-production responsibility comes to Take 5 in Toronto. Thousands of hours go into each episode. From planning to finishing post, an episode can take up to six months to create! And each gets 10 weeks of scheduled VFX time. “It’s takes a huge amount of time and delicate effort to go back and find nuances - it’s extremely creative work.” No wonder the show has won 17 awards already and been nominated for 63, including 16 Canadian Screen Awards, 11 Directors Guild of Canada Awards, 8 Emmys and Critics Choice “Most Binge-worthy Show.” In Season 4, the show doubled its efforts, expanding from 10 to 20 episodes per season, and will create 20 more in Season 5.
A family that raids together, stays together!
The cast is truly international, with lead actors Travis Fimmel (Ragnar Lothbrok) (Australian), Clive Standen (Rollo) (British), Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha), Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn Lothbrok), Jessalyn Gilsig (Siggy Haroldson) (Canadian), and Gustaf Skarsgård (Floki) (Swedish). Making the top 10 on US Cable, there are surprisingly no Americans in the show. The biggest difficulty in casting this epic was in finding the perfect leads. Travis was cast at the very last minute – he had the understated yet riveting quality the producers were looking for. With Katheryn, it was also a late in preparation decision, but when they discovered that this beautiful and strong woman also holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Karate, the deal was sealed. As for Alexander Ludwig, the team had been looking at him since his role in The Hunger Games. Perhaps the most surprising audition came from Gustaf Skarsgård. When he came in he was fully in character. He seemed to be tilted and leaned to the right. When the producers asked what that was about, Gustaf explained that Floki is a shipbuilder and his dominant arm would cause him to lean from holding such heavy tools all the time!
Filming in Ireland can be tricky business as its weather changes with frequency. You can get can get rained out, end up in a sea of mud, and get equipment trucks stuck in a matter of minutes. But this is perfect for Vikings, with shooting taking place June to March to maximize sunlight. By October there are only eight hours of daylight to work with and they must always consider continuity. While the crew must be as brave as the cast, all this bad weather has a bonus for the actors – if they ever need inspiration to be cold and angry, they just have to look around. Yet all the hard work creates familial bonds. According to producers, Travis and Alex are practically brothers, and as brothers do, they have a rough and tumble relationship, with an on-going prank match for over three seasons.
The #Vikings hair and makeup department covers the walls with hairspiration!
Love for the show and the people and places it explores has expanded into a universe of fandom. Subtle influences having been making their way into the mainstream, from hairstyles to tattoos. A plethora of Instagram fan accounts share photos of the show and related culture. Feeding audiences’ desire for more, the team produced the Real Vikings documentary, now a series of its own, a Vikings comic book, a board game and even a new card game. Its newest expansion is a behind the scenes interactive journey Vikings: A World Revealed, where the stars guide us in the making of the show.
Amongst their 4.2 million Facebook fans are some pretty big names, including Toronto Blue Jay Josh Donaldson. He loves the show and was featured as a guest star in Season 4. To commemorate the event, Josh was presented with an Irish hurling stick by the crew. And he had such a great time that he decided to keep the haircut going!
As their kingdoms and fandoms extend, where will the Vikings end up? Heading into Season 5, it’s as uncertain as always… But if history remains on course, they may just end up in Newfoundland one day.
Catch Vikings on History, iTunes and DVD. Follow the show on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and read the latest Vikings news. Still not enough? Join the Vikings Revealed Insider Club for exclusive content and sneak peeks!
Bonus Feature: Katheryn Winnick at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards, nominated for her acting in Vikings Season 1.