History’s Vikings returns for an expanded fourth season on Thursday, February 18, 2016, kicking off with an episode titled ‘A Good Treason’ that finds Floki paying for his crime of murdering Ragnar’s close friend, Athelstan. Season four is going to be complex, action-packed, and once again full of intense relationship dramas, with Maude Hirst’s character, Helga, faced with life-altering choices. In support of the new season, Hirst took part in a conference call to talk about Helga’s journey thus far, what Vikings viewers can expect, and why she believes Helga is so incredibly loyal to Floki despite his increasingly tenuous grasp on sanity.
Is Helga 100% behind Floki in all his decisions or does she have doubts about what he’s doing? Does she think maybe he’s just a little bit crazy?
Maude Hirst: “Interesting question. I think up until the end of season three, […]I think she genuinely was 100% behind him, and I think it’s so complex. He does struggle with mental health. In real life, dealing with some dude that is problematic, I think she really wants to be 100% behind him but until the very end of three, actually, it’s even too much for her and she does have a switching moment that she questions what he’s doing and how far he’s willing to push himself and the people around him. That’s going to continued to be explored this next season. Whether she does stay loyal or not is to be revealed.
There’s definitely as a couple, there’s something spiritual connecting from them both, I think. Ever since they’ve been together there is definitely a bond there. I definitely think that in time, especially by the end of three, that he did push it so far that for her it was quite scary. She always thought that he was on the right side of crazy, and I think he pushed even her limits. But she is still loyal, definitely, or maybe that’s the wrong word to use, but she’s definitely still loyal to him but she did waiver, I think, in her understanding of him.”
Can you talk a bit about how the relationship with Ragnar and Helga will evolve this season?
Maude Hirst: “Yes. The first few episodes is exactly that, it gets explored. It was really interesting, and I think it comes out of the blue, but they do have a bond. I think their two characters, they have a real love for Floki and they’re the only two people I think that could understand the love for him and so I think they bond over this understanding. I think he understands what I’ve been through, really, more than any of the other characters because he sees Floki’s whole journey as well. They have a real male love, I think. So he reaches out for me and it’s been great to explore that both as the character, and working with Travis [Fimmel] is amazing.”
How much input have you had on Helga’s journey? Do you get to provide your two cents on what you want to see happen for her?
Maude Hirst: “Now, four years in, you feel very connected to your characters and you all want to have your say. I think there are definitely parts of me that come out in her, and I definitely had a say in the past, but no. I mean, we have to also respect the writing and just go where the characters are taken, so I guess tiny bits of me and my ideas come through but generally speaking, Helga gets taken in a way that’s interesting.”
Do you ever have moments when you read the script and can’t believe what your character is going to have to go through?
Maude Hirst: “Absolutely. As I read the script, especially in season three when he really did push me and kept pushing me, it’s hard because if you imagine Helga loves Floki so much and so she just wants to keep him down to reality and stop him going completely off the rails and so she’s trying everything. I think one of the only things that keeps him grounded is the fact that she manages to stay calm through it all, because I think lots of other characters probably would’ve walked away so much sooner. I think it’s interesting generally just with mental health, that people actually need people to stay close to them, and it’s very helpful when somebody has a calming influence. Yes, I think it does show Helga’s strength, but it has been difficult, I think on her journey, to keep that levelheaded, especially when he admitted that he murdered Athelstan. That was quite a shocking moment for Helga to go through, but yes, it’s been really interesting to go through her journey.”
What kind of a change should we expect from Helga’s character this season, and what challenged you the most?
Maude Hirst: “I don’t want to give too much away from this season, but definitely I will say that there are dynamic changes. I think it started to change at the very end of three that when she eventually flips and says to Floki, ‘Enough!’ I think what that did and what continues into season four is make Floki realize that actually, it’s always until this point being that Helga looked like she was more dependent on Floki, and that dynamic is going to switch because he realizes, I think, that actually together they’re a lot stronger than he can possibly be by himself. He can’t really deal with his own emotions, so I think having me as his prop to lean on and as a partner is very important to him, so that definitely adjusts our dynamic going forward.”
What was Helga’s view on Athelstan’s murder and why did she react so strongly that Floki did this act?
Maude Hirst: “Good question, actually. Firstly, just human to human, I think she’s a very empathetic human being and she had just bonded with Athelstan over the years. So just on a personal level, the idea that somebody who had been part of us and been present with us for years and years and years, he was capable of doing it and not having any regret – it didn’t seem to me at that time. I also am very aware of what the consequences of that would be and so the protection of both Floki and Helga at that time is obviously at risk because knowing that he’s killed Athelstan, there’s going to be consequences. I think the main reaction then is just I know that something terrible is coming our way after that realization.”
You said there are parts of you that you find in Helga or you’ve been able to infuse in the character. What exactly is that? What do you relate to so strongly with Helga?
Maude Hirst: “I think Helga and I feel very empathetic towards people. I’m fascinated with how human beings work. I try and always look for the positive in people rather than jump to conclusions. I think Helga’s quite like that and quite an observer. She has relationships with people but it’s almost silent. She bonds with people without having to…it’s not necessarily about big dialogue moments, but I think the empathy through both of them is what connects us. I definitely think we differ in some ways. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to bite my tongue as much as Helga has done here throughout the years, especially when Floki, last season, properly lost it. I think I would’ve been slightly more vocal, but yes, we definitely are similar in a few ways.”
Shooting the series is always physically challenging, but was there anything in particular this year that you had to go through that was a little worse than previous seasons?
Maude Hirst: “Just with the corsets and extended season this year, it’s just been through all the months of the year, and Irish weather is so unpredictable. We normally filmed over the summer which had its problems anyway, but we’ve been coming through the winter here as well. So just weather here is crazy and having whole days outside and on boats. When you’re out in a boat, you’re out for a whole day and that really just means all you have to cover you is just your costume, really. Yes, it’s hard, it’s freezing cold. That’s mainly the problem, it’s weather in Dublin, really.”
How do you think the female characters are negotiating this transition to a more modern culture?
Maude Hirst: “I think the show in general is so interesting because there are so many pretty strong female characters, but they’re completely different from each other. I think Floki and Helga’s relationship is interesting because it has always been on a very level playing field. They are both complete and equal in their relationship. Going forward from this, I think the women just become stronger. The Vikings generally were hugely forward-thinking with how they treated the women. The women could own land. I think that goes on to history. Christianity came in and actually changed that, so I’m interested to see if the series continues, where that would go.”
Is there something that could cause her to not be able to be there for Floki?
Maude Hirst: “I think they have a real fundamental bond. They both connect in a real spiritual level, and they have ever since they met. I think that’s something that she can’t walk away from and something that keeps pulling her back. I think there is a lot of love there. I know that his internal craziness has no relation to their relationship. I think it’s in his own head. I don’t think he’s ever necessarily treated Helga badly, and I think she feels almost as she can fix him by being there, she makes him better. I don’t know how far he’d have to go to push her away, but it’s definitely a complex relationship. But I think fundamentally there’s just a lot of love between them.”
Did you ever see Helga as an outsider herself and that’s part of the reason she might have been attracted to Floki?
Maude Hirst: “Yes, absolutely. I think that’s why and how they met, actually. I don’t know if you remember back in the first season where they first met. We were just in the hut, in the middle of the woods that later became our home. But to have found that place… Helga’s definitely a bit of an outsider. That’s, I think, one of the bonds that they have over the years that they are both just a bit different from everybody else. All the other female ladies in the show are different to Helga and it’s what connects them together, I think, is that they see something in each other, even if it’s not discussed, that’s different from the rest of them.”
Is there anything you found that you’re surprised to learn about yourself as an actress through playing Helga?
Maude Hirst: “Yes. I think going through all the ups and downs that I have and suddenly on a day being able to portray it. It’s always terrifying when you read a script and you’re confronted with something that in life, you haven’t actually gone through and wanting to do it such justice especially when it’s things about children and what real people go through and how much their lives would be affected by it. You need to probably really do your research and try and get into the places. It’s always shocking and then when you do it, you feel it so much, and it’s amazing that humans can understand other humans like that and get into a different headspace.”
We’ve seen the fan base for Vikings grow by leaps and bounds over the years. What do you feel it is about the series that resonates well with viewers?
Maude Hirst: “I think it brings two different things. It brings the family aspect of Vikings which has never been seen before, and I think it still has the fighting and it still has all the brutality of what the life would’ve been but it also humanizes all the people. It’s a world that I don’t think has really been discovered that much. I think that and also think each of the characters has a lot of complexity and growth every season, and I hope that all the fans have seen that and grown to love each of the characters and wanted to continue following their journeys.”
At the beginning of season four the ladies are all separated and off on their own journeys. Are they going to come back together at some point?
Maude Hirst: “I don’t want to give any spoilers away but there are a lot of unexpected friendships this year and not necessarily just with the women but just throughout the whole cast, actually. There are a lot of friendships that crop up that you’re not really expecting.”