The queen is dead, long live the queen? In the Dec. 21 episode of “Vikings,” “In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning,” Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) brought a swift and vicious end to the life of Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). It was a long time coming for Lagertha, who blames Aslaug for stealing her husband and her people in the settlement of Kattegat.
While Aslaug’s death will leave fans with a variety of emotions — from sadness over losing a character they’ve come to love, to joy at seeing Lagertha finally exact her revenge — there’s one feeling that’s overcome Sutherland herself: Satisfaction.
Screener spoke with the actress about saying goodbye to Aslaug, her feelings about Harbard and filming her final scene.
Screener: Before we get to Aslaug’s fate, I wanted to talk about Ivar. The moment he leaves with his dad, Aslaug has a vision that he’s died. What does that do to her?
Alyssa Sutherland: That’s the moment Aslaug gives up, not when Lagertha comes to town. Aslaug is no longer for this world. I thought that, she’s no longer for it, when she thinks Ivar has died.
I think Ivar is what kept Aslaug going. The relationship between Aslaug and Ivar is my favorite I worked on for her — because it’s so complicated, to me, and perhaps a little questionable. For me, Aslaug’s never been treated well by any male and Ivar comes along and needs her. That’s a big part of that relationship for Aslaug — and of course, it’s subconsciously as most of the time we’re not aware of these things ourselves unless we’re really good at therapy.
Ivar came along and needed her in a way no male needed her before, and that made her feel worthy. Her existence was justified when he came along. She had these other boys and Ragnar wanted sons. When you’re the leader of a town you have all kinds of slaves that are there to help you raise your kids. But when Ivar came along, the only person who wanted to do that was Aslaug. it gave her a purpose.
Looking at episode 14, Aslaug’s death came so quick it was shocking. What I found really interesting was how Aslaug kept her composure and class. It makes you believe she might walk away from this.
I think she knows that she’s not going to walk away. I think she knows it the entire time. So the last thing she does, she kind of gets the last word, and asks for safe passage in front of all those people, knowing that it’s not going to happen. She sort of gets the last world from beyond the realm of the living ,saying, “Ha ha — look what I made you do!”
But I think the interesting thing about Aslaug is, she came in with wit and intelligence. That’s what Ragnar was interested in. So I like that she went out with wit and intelligence. That was very fitting to me. I’m so thankful to Michael [creator Hirst] for writing the scene the way he did. It was such a fun scene to work on.
To get a scene like that comes along once in a while, right? I was really pleased with it when I first read it. And nothing changed from the first draft I saw. I begged and pleaded with him, “Please don’t revise any of this! I love it! It’s so great, please don’t change any of the words!”
I will say, “Vikings” has a lot of deaths — but they all mean something and carry a very specific weight, which Aslaug’s does as well.
Yeah, it does. I love that Aslaug says in the scene that she’s fulfilled her purpose. She really did — she believes that she did and she’s ready to go.
It was sort of that art imitating life thing that happens every now and then when you’re on a show. I was ready to move on, in a way where you work on a character and are in it for a few years, and you start getting itchy feet and want to do something else. I love the show and I’m so grateful for the time that I had on it, and the role Michael gave me. I was so lucky because I really hadn’t done a lot of work before and getting it was so unlikely.
As I said, everyone I worked with was so wonderful and I loved my time — but professionally, you start wanting to get out of the period dresses. “God, it would be kind of cool if I could do something in present day, and got to be a lawyer or a cop!” Just something totally different.
So I was ready to move on. It’s a big deal to get your first series regular role as an actor, and you want to do well — be able to perform, and show up, and have people rely on you. So there was this lovely part of that scene where Aslaug says I’ve fulfilled my purpose where I felt like, “I did my job. I did what I needed to do here, and I’m ready for what’s next.”
It’s a real-life moment you can weave into the scene, which happens now and then. Viewers aren’t going to know that’s what’s going on in my head, but it’s that little bit of reality that can work its way in at the time.
It was such a lovely day of filming — and it was actually my last day of filming, which doesn’t happen very often. You film things out of order and a lot of people, when they get killed off on the show, their last scene isn’t necessarily the death scene.
I remember one of the people that died on the show filmed a death scene, and then a couple of days later their actual final scene was a quick pickup of them walking from one room to the next!
But mine was really weird. That was my last day. I had this moment of that being it. The last show we filmed was me falling onto my knees and face planting into the mud. That was the last shot I filmed on “Vikings” — which doesn’t happen very often, and it’s a beautiful way to say goodbye to Aslaug, that was very moving and not anticlimactic at all. It was a really lovely day, and I will always remember it.
It’s a beautiful way to put it. When characters die on shows, fans often assume the worst. You’re leaving the show, what a horrible thing! But you look at it as having told her story.
…I honestly thought Aslaug would go early. I didn’t think she’d last this long. When people hate you on a show, and a beloved character is hurting because of your character’s actions, I think your days are numbered from the moment you come onto the show. That’s the nature of TV, right? If you’re not the good guy or the hero — and I don’t necessarily think of Aslaug as being a villainess, I think that waters it down. She’s not good and she’s not bad but she’s not one of the heroes of the show.
Donal Logue was on this show and he was like, “Yeah, I knew that was going to happen.” He was working against the heroes: You kind of know that you’re probably not going to last the distance, and I did. I kind of thought she’d go at the end of Season 2, or sometime during Season 3.
I also think you can’t take it personally. It’s a story, you’re telling a story. If you sign onto six seasons and you show up and went to work for a week and they came in and said, “Yeah, you know what we’re thinking” … Maybe take that personally!
For the benefit of a good story, that’s what we do. That’s our job. My job is to tell a story — so let’s make it a good one, you know?
I spoke with my acting coach about this. Somewhere in Season 3 I spoke with him and said, “I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like I should be working harder. Am I not working hard enough?” And he said to me, “You’ve lived in this character and you know her and feel her. You have an instinct for her now. So it’s less effort.”
There’s a beauty in that, because I think your work gets better. You’ve lived experiences that character has lived, that jump from you to them is less of a jump. You walk onto set, know what you’re doing and where things are. There’s a beauty to that. Your work is better, and your instincts are so much more on point. You don’t have to think about things so much. You just get to be that person.
At the same time, that’s the really fun work as an actress, to have all that stuff to think about and build the character. You get to where you’re ready to do that with someone else.
The last thing I wanted to touch on was Harbard, because his name came up just a few episodes back, care of Aslaug’s sons. He had this impact on her that’s clearly long-lasting. What can you speak to, regarding their history?
I love that Aslaug was never fulfilled by Ragnar. She really loved him, but wasn’t ever fulfilled — and that gave her motivation. If everything’s perfect, then there’s no drama and nothing to work on as an actress.
When Harbard came along, to me, there was kind of this humanity — in that he was showing her attention. She’d had four children, and was not feeling like an attractive woman, and her husband had no interest in her. All of a sudden this man came along that did — that was charming, and would tell these stories… I didn’t see it as … an incredible love connection. The fact that he helped Ivar was a really big deal for her. He took Ivar’s pain away and that was massive. I think she almost felt obliged to him, because of that.
But Harbard’s character is revealed to be this… [laughs] How do I say this? The way that I work is: We’re working on a period drama, and there are supernatural elements that we’re showing the audience — and it’s up to the audience to decide whether they’re real or not. The characters believe them to be real.
My work as an actress is psychological and based on human behavior. There’s this idea that Harbard is, in fact, a god. To me he had a god complex. The way he swept into town the second time, and the stuff he said. The confrontation between Aslaug and Harbard and the stuff he was saying was like the very worst kind of narcissist. He clearly believed he was helping women through sex. Those were his words.
Did anyone watch that scene and hear the words that I heard? Because I heard words that were outrageous.
He was quite the fan of himself.
It was like a deluded person, right? Here’s the thing, those people exist. You don’t want to be around them but a lot of the time they’re very charming when you first meet them and you kind of fall for them. Then there’s a moment where you’re like, “Hold up, you’re a horrible human being.” There aren’t that many that exist. If you’ve had any experience with a sociopath or a narcissist, you kind of know where I’m coming from.
She sees him sleeping with another woman and that’s hurtful to her, absolutely. But then the stuff he says… I hope people caught the look of disbelief on my face, with a man saying “I’m healing them. I’m doing them a service.” — Wait, what? I’m sorry, what?
I thought it was an incredible scene, and a take on someone that thinks they’re a god or the leader of a cult. That, to me, is where Harbard was coming from. In defense of Aslaug, I hate to think of her and Harbard having this beautiful love connection, because he’s a total narcissist — maybe a sociopath, there’s crossover — I think that ruined Harbard for me, that whole defense of himself and his actions. I felt more like she’d been fooled. She’d been totally fooled, and the penny dropped. Reality came crashing down back into the room.
Maybe other people believe he’s a god, and I think she did for a time. Anyway, I could go on and on forever because people fascinate me.
The cult leader idea makes so much sense. He has that sort of charisma and mysterious enough that you want to believe him.
Yes! And he comes in and says, “I want to heal you. All you vulnerable women, I know the answer, and I’m going to make you feel better if you follow me.” That’s how I saw it, because I always want my work to be grounded and rooted in a reality. I always look for something I can relate it to — I don’t believe I’ve ever met a god in my own life, I can’t relate to that.
“Vikings” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History Channel.