If there’s one thing that’s been a hallmark of Vikings since the very beginning, it’s the deaths of major characters that viewers hold near and dear. Still, in the latest episode– titled “Hell”–a death came that was particularly surprising, even to the show’s creator Michael Hirst.
In a battle against King Harald Finehair (Peter Franzén) and his forces Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was killed, bringing his short story in the Vikings universe to a close. With his final breaths, as he was being pierced by arrows, he screamed out “Lagertha,” showing his ultimate allegiance to the former queen of Kattegat one last time.
It was only the end of Season 4 that saw the introduction of Heahmund, who became enamored with Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) in Season 5. So it comes as something of a shock that he was dispatched of so quickly. “It was a bit of a surprise for me,” Hirst told GameSpot. “These things sometimes, you have different possibilities in your head and then you think, not just about that character but how they fit into the pattern–the general pattern of where you want to take the other characters.”
And while Heahmund’s death will have a lasting impact, especially on Lagertha, his death also meant something to the tale being told about the bishop himself. In the episode, he saw visions of Hell that led him to believe his soul was doomed, after aligning with the pagans and falling in love with one. For Hirst, that’s what was so surprising. He didn’t realize that in writing Heahmund’s story the way he did, he was also crafting the most logical ending for a bishop and a warrior for Christ.
“Because he felt he was a great sinner and that he was bound for hell, itt was difficult for me then to think how I could regroup and where I could take it,” he admits.
In the end, though, Heahmund died in a way that was true to himself, regardless of where he may have ended up in the afterlife. “He’s not particularly, political and scheming he’s a warrior–a warrior for Christ,” Hirst said. “And so when all those things were added up, then it made sense, that he should die, spectacularly, and he should die recognizing that, although he was going to hell, he loved her. He loved her. To me, that was a beautiful thing that despite his real fear of going to hell he was willing to admit that he was in love and that was great.”
Still, Hirst admits it would have been nice to keep Heahmund around, should it have made sense in the story. “I thought Johnny was brilliant,” the writer said. “He’s absolutely wonderful, but it just seemed a kind of natural place to do that, poor guy.”
As is usually the case with Vikings, though, nobody is truly safe or eternal. Viking history is long and caked in the blood of the fallen. From Ragnar Lothbrok to Christian monk Athelstan. When the time comes, everyone in this world faces certain death and chances are it’s not going to be pretty.