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Warning: Significant spoilers for the latest episode of Vikings Season 5B, entitled "Hell," lie below.
Heahmund is such an extreme character that he had to die and he had to die heroically in battle. He's the kind of character who is simply not interested in survival. He has an extraordinary presence and even thinking slightly of characters like Richard the Lionheart, who also could never have died in his bed, warriors of that ilk and passion are so extreme that they would have to burn themselves out on the battlefield.
Burning himself out is exactly what Heahmund did. He was killed on the battlefield but not before calling out "Lagertha." And that is something that Lagertha responded to before seeing him cut down in the latest episode of Vikings. Michael Hirst's explanation to Variety sheds light on his unexpected end and the backdrop for it.
Given the way the season was going, it was tough to imagine Lagertha also losing the lover she had come to care deeply for. However, Vikings is always full of surprises and Season 5B has been no exception in that regard. In further discussing the "why" behind Heahmund's demise, Michael Hirst said:
There's a lot of politics in the show, there are a lot of conspiracies, and Heahmund is not a man who does that. As soon as he found out that he'd been betrayed by an old colleague and his position had been taken away, he just murdered the guy without necessarily thinking about the consequences. He's not someone who follows an ordinary human path. He doesn't care as we would about dying. So I knew from the start he would have to have a glorious death. It's another amazing battle sequence and the way it was cut together and the way that Alfred talks about the battle on the back of the wagon before we even know that Heahmund was killed was really spellbinding. I was thrilled with the episode.
Heahmund's death certainly fits his story. He was a warrior and Vikings has tended to have warriors die where they are most comfortable. The lead up to the battle had played with tension in the episodes prior. One of the series' newer and most high-profile characters being killed off in this latest episode was not a predictable move.
The battle did not see Heahmund fall at the hands of a well-known character. For instance, Harald was not the one to do it. Instead, Heahmund died in the midst of the battle, a victim to the noise of it all. As for that death scene, Michael Hirst explained why he decided not to give a face to Heahmund's killer. Hirst said:
Because it doesn't matter -- Heahmund was bound to die in battle and he would have sooner or later died in battle. Who killed him wasn't particularly important, what was important was the resolution of his relationship with Lagertha and his death, his removal from the political scene.
In other words, that it happened was more important than how it happened. Still, it is slightly surprising Vikings would not seize the chance to have Harald be the one to kill Heahmund. It would have deepened the feud between him and Lagerth, giving them both ammo moving forward in the story.
Vikings tends to stick to the realism of not having one-on-one disputes necessarily settled in battle. It is unrealistic that with so many participants, two warriors with personal history would be able to confront each other face-to-face.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers weighed in on the death of his character. Explaining why there was no historical precedent for why Heahmund would have an extended run on the show, Rhys Meyers said:
Heahmund is only a footnote in history [so] there was no precedent to have his character continue. The nature of the character and his intensity means that he is much like a Roman candle: it must shine bright, have its effect and leave. The death scene was filmed in the snow and bitter cold in a rather enclosed field, and of course these scenes must be very intense and quite mechanical to shoot as we are dealing with arrows, but it does have a fluidity in its manifestation of the circumstances and consequences of his death and what it means for Lagertha.
Heahmund's time on Vikings was briefer than others. His impact will continue for some time, as he left a significant impression on one of Vikings' pivotal leads. The ramifications of Heahmund's death on Lagertha are already taking root.
With Heahmund dead, Vikings has arguably tuned its narrative over to Ragnar's sons. They are now the most prominent force that will be charging the events to come. Heahmund's death should not directly impact them, however, it will affect Lagertha. It is a major blow for her.