George Blagden Talks Vikings Season Two and Athelstan’s Journey

George Blagden Vikings Season 2 Interview
Athelstan (George Blagden), once a devout monk living a peaceful and humble life, Athelstan is spared by Ragnar after his monastery is pillaged by the Vikings. (Photo by Jonathan Hession/HISTORY/Copyright 2014)
History’s Vikings returns for a second much-anticipated season two on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10pm ET/PT. The series features a clan of Norse warriors led by Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a fierce warrior eager to go West and seek out new lands. Among the show’s many colorful characters is a monk named Athelstan (George Blagden) who was captured by Ragnar at the beginning of season one and who, by the time season two rolls around, has gone from captive enemy to trusted friend.
 
Athelstan’s journey is one of the more complex of the Vikings characters, and during a conference call in support of the season two premiere, Blagden said, “I’ve gone on record before as saying that Athelstan goes through more change in the course of one and half seasons than Walter White [Breaking Bad] does in five. I will probably be chastised for ever having said that, but there is some sort of belief in me that there is that much change that he has to go through.”
 
Added Bladgen, “From episode five in season two onward, you see how this journey that Athelstan has gone on, how it really starts to affect him mentally and it’s not anymore about survival. It’s not about, ‘How do I make sure I’m not cut to pieces by some Viking in the town square?’ It’s not about, ‘How do I withstand this bizarre festival Uppsala?’ It’s about, ‘How do I keep my mind sane after all this?’ and coming back full circle where he started season one, but very changed.”

George Bladgen Vikings Season Two Interview

Your character’s had some big changes and shifts in his arc since he was first introduced. How do you feel you have changed as an actor along with your character?
 
“Great question because I find that on Vikings, what we’ve been able to do is actually mirror character changes and actor changes, fascinatingly. When we are on set, we get scripts maybe two or three weeks in advance of shooting them, so as an actor you are unaware of what will be happening to your character in more than a month’s time, in terms of the shooting schedule. So, had I known what you’ve seen up to the end of episode four, had I known that that was going to happen to Athelstan when we started shooting the start of season one, I really doubt I would have been able to portray the character as well or as accurately as I have done. It’s a real bonus working in that way, and it’s what’s great about episodic television. So we’re very lucky that we sort of work in that way with Michael [Hirst] and his writing.”
 
Why do you think it is that we still find this era and Vikings so fascinating?
 
“I think the Viking age is one of those periods of history that a lot of us think we know a bit about, and the reality is that really we don’t. It’s kind of a household name; you say ‘Vikings’ and everyone goes, ‘Oh yeah, those barbaric men that lived 1,200 years ago, raiding and pillaging and being very, very naughty.’ And what Michael’s brilliantly done with the show is that he’s showed you the real human side to them and the family drama that we’ve created now over the course of two seasons. I think being able to show that to the public has kind of brought about an amazing response in people, going, ‘Oh my god, I never knew that sun stones existed. I never knew that that’s how they sailed west. I didn’t know that women were regarded so highly in that culture.’ All of these things, I think, that Michael has been able to introduce is what keeps people coming back week after week. And of course the complex relationships he’s developed throughout all of the characters, really. It’s really exciting to be a part of it as an actor. It’s a real gift.”
 
What will we see in season two as far as Athelstan’s Christian attitude and beliefs?
 
“Brilliant question. When we set off shooting season two, we leave Athelstan at the end of season one in a very, very conflicted place. We’ve just had the festival at Uppsala in episode eight so when we hit season two, speaking to Michael when we started shooting, the most interesting characters to play as an actor and to watch as an audience are the ones that have deep conflicts running throughout them. It would have been far too easy for us to have made Athelstan just completely converted pagan and sort of gung-ho into Viking life.
 
What you see throughout the first three episodes of season two is maybe this attempt, and potentially a bit of a bluff on Athelstan’s part, but what I think hopefully we’ve really been able to capture throughout season two is this ongoing conflict that Athelstan has. I wish [you journalists] had seen past episode four because you’d really see that enter into a completely different paradigm and a big shift up another gear for him. To answer your question, it’s absolutely ongoing for Athelstan, this very deep internal religious conflict.”
 
How has Athelstan and Ragnar’s relationship changed since season one?
 
“It’s changed quite a lot, I would say, as we’ve moved throughout season one into season two. Ragnar captures Athelstan at the start of season one and we have this very complex master/slave relationship that develops into sort of friendship and companionship by the end of season one. What we have at the start of season two is a four year jump at the end of episode one. After this four year jump, we really see Athelstan integrate into the society.
 
Potentially, the way Travis and I decided to play it was Athelstan was the one figure in his life that he really could trust. With all of the marital issues that [Ragnar] has to deal with in episode one and moving into episode two after the four year jump, he really is his only sort of strong point to anchor on to. I think where you find their relationship at the start of season two is somewhere that’s very, very a deep friendship for each other. I think as we move through season two to get to the end of season two, you really do understand how much these two men are connected and how important they are for each other, and what choices they make to try and make sure they are always a constant in each other’s lives.”

George Blagden Vikings Season 2 Interview
Athelstan (played by George Blagden) has undergone a physical transformation since Season 1- where do his loyalties lie? Is he a Christian or is he a Viking? (Photo by Jonathan Hession/HISTORY/Copyright 2014)
Physically, how did you prepare for Athelstan’s greater involvement in the action?
 
“It’s a very good question. There’s a sort of a panic, maybe, at the start of shooting season two – or there was for me – of sort of getting Viking ready. It’s quite easy to have this six month hiatus between season one and season two where you may do odd jobs here and there, but you come back and suddenly Michael gives you the script for episode one and goes, ‘Right, here we go. You’re going off raiding to England with the rest of the Vikings and you need to be battle-ready. So there’s lots of fight training. There’s trying to get into shape, desperately. It’s great. It’s very real and there’s no sort of pretending about it.
 
The fight sequences that you see in the first four episodes…I remember the fight sequence in episode two at the end where there’s an ambush in England just after we’ve landed in Essex. It’s Athelstan’s first experience of being in a shield war. I remember the first take we went for it and everything you see is real. There’s a 100 Anglo-Saxon warriors running at you and they charge toward our shield wall and we had this big battle with steady cameras in amongst the shield wall. The director shouted, ‘Cut!,’ and there was just silence. You could hear this giddy laughter, like soaring over the forest. Everyone is like, ‘Who on earth is that?’ And it’s me standing amongst the shield wall, just off my face on some adrenaline high because there’s no pretending. When they smash into the shield wall, they really smash into the shield wall. It was adrenaline-filled preparing for Athelstan’s journey for season two.”
 
What sticks out most about shooting the season two opener and getting back into Athelstan for this second season?
 
“I think the big thing for me was trying to pick up the character of Athelstan when he was in a way, halfway over the hill on an arc that Michael had written for him. We leave Athelstan at the end of season one obviously very conflicted, but it’s not final in any way how we leave the end of season one for any of the characters, but particularly Athelstan. So to have six and a half, seven months off and then come back and hit the ground running again, I think as an actor – I’m just talking about the challenges for me as an actor – that was quite hard for me to kind of re-plot in my mind the arc that the character had been on and think, ‘Okay, here we are now. After this first episode we’re jumping ahead four years and what does that change about him?’ I think that was really the most challenging thing.
 
I think the season opener as well is very much about the plot, resolving this very, very intense conflict between brothers Ragnar and Rollo. I watched it literally a couple of days ago, I don’t know what you think, but that whole opening 20 minutes just… I obviously didn’t see any of it, I didn’t see any of it shot. I wasn’t there, it was words on a page to me in a script. I watched it a couple of days ago, mouth open, it was just so sort of epic and amazing. I think the season opener for the show really is about resolving that and finding out where all the characters are once that’s been resolved, and how it affects all of them. Athelstan is very much sort of that man at home who has to deal with all the repercussions that that big battle brings home with Ragnar. But yeah, it’s very challenging as an actor. It’s very challenging to come back to shooting a second season if you’re on a big journey like Athelstan’s.”
 
What’s it like on the set among the cast? Do you get to have fun on your downtime?
 
“Yeah, absolutely. [Laughing] It’s probably the prank-heaviest set known in the television world, probably. It’s so much fun. We’re such a family, especially coming back for season two it really did feel like coming back to work with your family in a way. I’ve only just recently seen some footage from season two, but the footage I have seen, I can just see how hard everyone has worked to create something that has just gone up a level this year.
 
Whilst we work very hard to make sure season two is something more for everyone to watch, we also had a load of fun doing it. And this year we got a bit better at getting back at Travis and his pranks. It wasn’t as much one-way abuse towards the dweeby little monk that Athelstan was in season one, tying him to things. We managed to pull a few pranks on him. I remember Katheryn [Winnick] tried to get a goat into his dressing room at one point, which he didn’t find very funny. Yeah, it’s good fun. Really, really good fun, a good set to be on.”
 

 
-Posted by Rebecca Murray

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