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Our man hangs out on the secret set of Vikings in Wicklow

Around IrelandBy Daragh Keany
Daragh Keany is initiated into the clan by Fimmel and Ludwig during his visit to the set of Vikings
Daragh Keany is initiated into the clan by Fimmel and Ludwig during his visit to the set of Vikings
Our man hangs out on the secret set of Vikings in Wicklow
Our man hangs out on the secret set of Vikings in Wicklow
Our man hangs out on the secret set of Vikings in Wicklow

ONE hundred extras, three herds of goats, two enormous Viking ships in the middle of a forest, several burning campfires, a gang of make-up artists, hair stylists, assistant directors, researchers, producers, one director, a disgusting bucket of fake blood and guts, three portable smoke machines, an articulated crane, several acting megastars from one of Ireland’s most popular shows and one over-dressed giddy journalist.

Set visits don’t come any better than last week’s exclusive trip to a secret location in picturesque Wicklow. I’ve been on TV and movie sets dozens of times throughout my career but nothing prepared me for the five hours I spent ogling RTE Two’s Vikings as it was being filmed. 

To the uninitiated (shame on you, by the way), Vikings follows the graphic, senseless, bloody and shamelessly violent endeavours of warrior Rathnar Lothbrok and his band of men as they pillage and plunder all around them. 

Series 3 kicked off on RTE2 last Monday night and so the kind people at the national broadcaster invited me and  our photographer along to see the action for ourselves.  

From the moment the gates opened at the studio (built entirely to host the joint Canadian/Irish production) we knew this was like no other show we had ever been given behind-the-scenes access to. 

For starters, there was a 10-minute drive just to move between sets. Over the course of the afternoon we saw at least a half dozen gigantic Viking ships, two of which were being transported through a forest. 

There was a temporary shed built exclusively on set to house the hundreds of props, including shields, swords, bows, arrows and goblets used for various scenes. 

Grown men were randomly wandering around in full Viking attire and not a single person batted an eyelid, except for us. Eventually we were brought by jeep to the secret location - hidden among the lush Wicklow forests - where we first met the stars of the show. 

“This has become just an average day for us,” laughs Swede Gustav Skarsgard, who plays fan favourite Floki. “We are lucky today with the weather because some days it has been much colder than this and pouring down.”

The last Irish fans saw of Floki was the amazing twist at the finale of season 2 when we all thought he had been turned by King Horik but he remained loyal to Ragnar.

“Ah yes,” the huge grin springs across his filthy made-up face. “I bet you didn’t know if I was good or bad in those episodes. We are actually already working on season 4, so it seems like a long time since I filmed that stuff.”

While we are chatting with the least famous but just as talented Skarsgard brother, the real star of the edge-of-your-seat show, Travis Fimmel, is filming another intense scene with his on-screen son Alexander Ludwig.  

Take after take rolls by and it seems the short scene will never be completed. When we are told (off the record) why the scene is so important, we understand why the director is adamant he gets the shot. 

As the extras entertain themselves in between shooting by throwing rotten food and branches at each other, we manage to grab both Travis and Alexander for a quick chat, even though they are more interested in harassing each other. 

“We have been doing this now for four years so we are like one big happy family. It sounds cheesy but even the crew are like family now,” Fimmel explains while smiling at his enormous TV son. “Except for this guy. I kind of hate him,” he puts him in a joke headlock, which results in the man mountain punching Travis back. 

The 6ft 3in Ludwig continues: “I know this seems like a long day but it is what I would call an easy day. Other days we can be fighting in a huge war for hours on end, sometimes in the rain. 

“Today we hang out here in this cool forest and just try not to forget our words and mess up.”

So without spoiling it for myself and the readers, Magazine+ just wanted to know how the relationship between the Viking father and son moves on in season 3 and 4?

“I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you,” Fimmel says in a scary deadpan I-could-actually-kill-you kind of way. “Seriously though, Bjorn grows up a lot now that he is back fighting alongside his dad. He is a warrior but you can see that he wants to become a leader.”

Ludwig agrees: “He is not a little boy. There is no place for little boys in Kattegat [the fictitious village where a lot of Vikings is set]. I love this job because I get to hang around with these guys, dress like this and shoot a lot of incredible scenes. I absolutely love it here in Ireland. I want to come back and work here for as long as they’ll have me.”

And with that, the huge hunks are called back. But not before the obligatory photo with the very overdressed journalist, which came with the not-so-obligatory punch to the family jewels just as the pic was taken. A Viking punch no less.

Vikings season 3 continues on RTE Two tomorrow night at 9pm