How Vikings' Creator Uses Real History To Inform The Show

Vikings Bjorn Ironside Alexander Ludwig History
(Image credit: Jonathan Hession / History)

How does Vikings’ creator Michael Hirst use real history to inform the show? The drama is based on the legendary tale of Ragnar Lodbrok (spelled “Lothbrok” on the series) and his sons and it is a story teeming with real-life figures and events. The historical accuracy of which has been explored through its myriad seasons on the air. But how much real history informs the show?

With Vikings readying for its Season 6 return with an intense trailer and teases galore, it is bound to bring up curiosity about the show’s historical context. As Bjorn embarks on his first season as the newly-crowned King of Kattegat, another chapter begins! Asked if there are any powerful historical figures that he used to help script Bjorn’s upcoming journey, Vikings’ creator, Michael Hirst has said:

Not specifically, but I am a history buff and I do a lot of reading of historical figures and periods. Somewhere down the line I have thoughts of Napoleon, particularly. I have thoughts of Hitler or Churchill … But I’m not basing any of my characters specifically on historical characters. I actually start with research and what we know about these real people, even if the details are few and far between.

What does this mean for Bjorn Ironside’s life as Vikings continues? Fans will have to wait and see, but it does not sound like what Google would tell you about Bjorn will necessarily be the fate that Vikings goes with for Ragnar’s son. The same goes for many of the series’ characters. It would not be the first time that Vikings took a narrative detour, but Michael Hirst says he still bases the research behind his idea formulation on history facts, according to his comments to Variety.

According to the legend, Bjorn is actually Ragnar’s son by Aslaug and not Lagertha. If Vikings had stuck to that telling, fans would have lost out on Bjorn’s unbreakable bond with his mom. So, a few changes should keep Vikings’ version of events fresh. Vikings’ creator explained how details about the real Bjorn have shaped the narrative. Michael Hirst continued by giving an example about how this works.

We know that Bjorn went adventuring in the Mediterranean, that he attacked places in Moorish, Spain. He reached the desert. So I can infer from that certain aspects of his life and his psychology. I can build a picture of what I imagine Viking Bjorn would have been.

What a three-dimensional image it has been! Vikings has spent time developing Bjorn’s adventurous side, which he shared in common with his father, Ragnar. As Season 6 gets underway, Bjorn is going to be taking on the responsibility of being King, arole that has already been teased to be taking its toll on him as navigates his new duties.

As a series, Vikings has been a combination of myth, legend, and history. There is undoubtedly a sense as a viewer that all of the characters have been viscerally cultivated. I find it compelling that Vikings’ creator mentions using what is known about Bjorn’s exploits to conjure his psychology.

In many ways, Vikings is a mosaic comprised of historical, legendary, and deductive pieces. The show stayed very close to the overall arc of Ragnar’s story, including his apparent death by snakes. Season 6 will reveal what becomes of the show's other characters, as it will be the series’ last. In it, Ivar is heading to new places and could encounter a new yet familiar face, so stay tuned for that, as real history will hopefully continue to play a role.

Vikings Season 6 has its two-hour premiere on Wednesday, December 4, at 9 p.m. ET on History. A release date that makes it one of this fall’s premieres. Vikings: Season 5 Volume 2 Blu-ray/DVD set is out now!

Britt Lawrence

Like a contented Hallmark movie character, Britt happily lives in the same city she grew up in. Along with movies and television, she is passionate about competitive figure skating. She has been writing about entertainment for 5 years, and as you may suspect, still finds it as entertaining to do as when she began.