Led by creator and showrunner Jeb Stuart, Netflix’s Vikings: Valhalla is now streaming. The historical drama features the end of the Viking age and serves as a follow-up to the hit drama Vikings.
“Set over a thousand years ago in the early 11th century, Vikings: Valhalla chronicles the heroic adventures of some of the most famous Vikings who ever lived — the legendary explorer Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett), his fiery and headstrong sister Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson), and the ambitious Nordic prince Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter),” says the official synopsis. “As tensions between the Vikings and the English royals reach a bloody breaking point and as the Vikings themselves clash over their conflicting Christian and pagan beliefs, these three Vikings begin an epic journey that will take them across oceans and through battlefields, from Kattegat to England and beyond, as they fight for survival and glory.”
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief spoke with Vikings: Valhalla star David Oakes about the show’s amazing sets, his work on historical dramas, and his character of Earl Godwin.
Tyler Treese: It seems like you do more historical dramas than work set in the modern day. How does this just keep happening?
David Oakes: I’m told that if I do one more, someone buys me a house. So I’ll keep at it.
What do you like most about doing these types of historical pieces and kind of getting transported into the past?
I think one of the best things about it is you don’t have to look at a tennis ball, or wear clothes that are made from green fabric. I think there’s something wonderful about sitting on a horse, dressed in a costume, holding your own sword as you actually ride through a courtyard out to the battle. That’s a kick that you won’t get if you’re sitting on a digital set, it’s just not the way it goes. I read a lot of books. I read a lot of history as a kid and I like to completely immerse myself. I don’t want to have to imagine that that tennis ball is a dragon coming to bite my face off. Not that there’s anything wrong with tennis ball dragons, but yeah, you know. [laughs]
The showrunner, [Jeb Stuart], summed Godwin up as a survivor. What did you find most interesting about this character?
I think that the fact that he’s a survivor is only one facet of his character. I think the truth is that he is surviving for a reason. It’s not just “Holy shit, I’ve got to stay alive through all of this.” It’s actually, “There’s something that I want to do. And in order to do that, I need to be very careful about how I make my moves in life.” And I think he’s blessed with an intelligence and a patience and the ability to wield a sword should he need to, that enables him to survive significantly longer than the vast majority of other characters in this universe, and I’m speaking historically, as well as in the Valhalla world.
This is such an interesting time period where it’s set, it’s kind of like the end of the Vikings era, and then you have the whole Christian/Pagan factions that war with one another. Can you just speak to that element of how religion is kind of boding all over the whole series?
Yeah. I mean, it’s something that I know the show explored before when it was just Vikings. I think that the message, that if [showrunner Jeb Stuart]’s trying to say any message about religion, and both of us are the children of religious men, I think his dad was a pastor, mine’s a vicar, you come to respect that a religious upbringing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good person. And that just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that you follow the Christian sense of morality or ethics and that it can be used and butchered, and distorted, and the same for the pagan faith. I mean, any single form of belief structure can be perverted by an ambitious mind.
The sets in this series are just incredible. How did they compare to all the other period dramas that you’ve done?
I think one of the nice things about this show was…take the Kattegat set, for example, that’s the same set that they’ve been using from the Vikings TV show. So it’s like a hundred years later, they get to revisit it, make it a bit bigger, make it a bit wider. And so you’ve got sort of six or seven years worth of television history, making [an] entire backlog resonate with those who love the show, but if they haven’t seen the original show, they’re going to see a village of the scale that just literally doesn’t belong on the first year of a new TV show.
How much research did you do into the actual history of Earl Godwin?
A lot. I read a lot of books. I found a lot of gaps, and I spoke to a few historians who tried their best to give me an idea of what might happen. But the truth is, a lot of the references that we’ve got are biased and written by people who wanted to distort how they were perceived across the years. Some of the information was written hundreds of years after the fact, and so isn’t necessarily that trustworthy. So, the interesting thing is seeing how Jeb has woven these points in history together. Sometimes whether he’s done it for dramatic effect or whether he’s done it to actually sort of contemplate what historically, genuinely, could have happened. And I think that that’s a fun game for Jeb to play, and a fun game for us to enact out for him as his glorious, well-dressed puppets.