Michael Hirst: “I’m not interested in accuracy; I’m interested in truth”

Michael Hirst, the writer behind History Channel’s Vikings, discusses Season 3:

History Channel's Vikings writer Michael Hirst (Photo Credit: GamerHub.tv)

For fans of History Channel’s Vikings, the show starts and ends with the writer Michael Hirst. Every scene, story line and plot arc is researched, developed and written by Michael. But does he have a favourite character in Vikings?

No I don’t have a favourite one. They are very real to me, and so I feel that when I go to my study in the morning I go to talk to them, and to find out what they have been up to, what they are going to do, who’s going to be brutal, and who’s going to be naughty.

I have always liked writing about Athelstan [portrayed by actor George Blagden] because he’s Christian, and he was originally our way into a different world. I could imagine that he would share a lot of our values and our outlook – here he is going into a very different Pagan world. We could feel with and for him, and then of course he develops this spiritual crisis which is wonderful to write about, and which is really rich.

Hirst may base his scripts on research, however, when the Vikings had very little written work and all the historical evidence of them is based on what the Christians wrote of them, how does he balance fact and fiction? He had this to share:

The things that I do are really well researched, and are based on realities although they are not completely true. One thing is drama and the other is documentary, and I’m not writing documentary. Everything I do starts life as research. Ragnar [played by actor Travis Fimmel] was the first real Viking leader to emerge from myth and legend, but he was real and he had at least two wives and he loved his children. We know certain things about him. We know certain things about Viking society, but we don’t know a huge amount because they are the dark ages.

So I have certain given material that I like to use, and I always like to add to the drama and things that are real and plausible. I’m not interested in accuracy; I’m interested in truth. So I’m trying to tell the truth as I see it, as I’ve discovered it in my research in the story. So I would never take it into fantasy – I’m not interested in fantasy. So whether it is absolutely accurate or not a) I don’t know, b) You can’t tell and c) the head of Scandinavian studies at Harvard University who’s a Swedish professor who we showed him some of the first series to said, this was the first time his culture had ever been taken seriously.

Many people have suggested that the History Channel’s portrayal of women in Viking culture is incorrect – a point that Michael is quick to rectify:

I was pushing for … Lagertha [played by actress Katheryn Winnick] to be a major character, but to also have a lot of other women in the show – Shield Maidens. I’m really pleased to say that Lagertha is a feminist icon across the world. In American TV there is nobody like her – she’s a mother, wife and she kicks ass. It’s totally unique, although I got into a little bit of trouble because I read a couple of people telling me that wasn’t true, and it couldn’t be true. Women couldn’t really fight in the Shield Walls, because how could they fight these big hairy guys? They would have been killed easily. The show was pushing that too much, but recently – only a matter of a few months ago, a Viking grave was found from a battle and fifty per cent of the corpses were women. So we were right; we were absolutely right.

While Vikings is shot on a very tight budget, there is still room for epic portions of CGI when needed – especially when Ragnar Lothbrok takes on Paris in Season 3:

There will be a lot of CGI when we come to Paris, because we built a huge wall, and what we call two cheese graters – ladders to get up the walls. But when you see it there will be a hundred ladders, there will be a hundred boats because that was what actually happened.

You can read the full interview Michael Hirst did with Flickering Myth by clicking here.

(Photo Credit: GamerHub.tv)

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