Jeb Stuart

Interview: Vikings: Valhalla Showrunner Jeb Stuart on Modern Day Parallels

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.”

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ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Vikings: Valhalla showrunner Jeb Stuart about the show’s modern day parallels, his love of human drama, and more.

Tyler Treese: One thing about Vikings: Valhalla that I found really impressive was that the show really feels distinctly its own show, despite being a sister series to the main Vikings. How did you go about that and make sure it felt different? Because fans are going to want something similar, but they also kind of want a different twist on it. That’s a very challenging thing.

Jeb Stuart: Oh man, that’s like riding on the back of a tiger [laughs] you know? It’s a cool ride, but you don’t want to get off because if you do, you know what happens. I was a fan of the original. So for me, I wanted to do right by people like myself. I wanted there to be a quality level that didn’t disappoint, but as the writer and creator of something new, I wanted something that was accessible to people who wouldn’t know the difference between a Viking and a Saxon, they didn’t have to have seen all of Michael Hurst’s shows and all those seasons to appreciate, they could just enter into the story and hopefully, they would see the wild ride that being in the 11th century and being a Viking would be.

So it was a little bit of a dance. At the end of the day, I’ll just tell you that I’m kind of a tough date. I need to be entertained, so that was my drive on this is, if I’m going to do a show that I think our audience is going to enjoy, with lots of action, good characters, historically accurate in terms of authenticity, and then just sort of hold onto your hat and hope everybody likes it.

This is set in a really interesting time in history, especially for Vikings, very much at the end of their era. What made you want to focus on this specific time in history?

I think because there were some relevant parts of it that just sort of spoke to me when I was doing the research. I mean, Tyler, you know, we think about these pagan Vikings and Christian Vikings, and they’re at each other’s throat. And it seems a lot like what we hear about today in the newspapers, the same thing about immigration, you know? It was amazing to me that an English king would order a genocide of the Vikings living in England. I found that that was just something that sort of would resonate with me and I think it would resonate with an audience.

So, to answer your question, picking this particular period of history was really important. Finding a place that would have relevant issues was important, and I think it’s something that makes it easy for the cast to kind of grasp onto.

You’ve shown so much range throughout your career. This isn’t really like Die Hard from a larger level, but all of your films, they’re all human dramas at their core. Can you just discuss your approach to stories and how they’re all kind of grounded in the realities of humanity?

Yeah. I mean, I want the audience to appreciate the sort of humanity of these individuals. I mean, they’re not superheroes. John McClane wasn’t a superhero, he was just a cop from New York in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so I feel like there’s a lot of similarity in all my writing, you know, whether it’s Richard Kimble, and he’s the wrong guy. You find that a normal person can reach really big heights. I think that you’ll see a lot of those characters in Valhalla. It’s character-based action, it’s not just action that comes from a period or some special powers. It comes from being human, and I really think that that resonates within. I think an audience sees themselves in these characters, and so you enjoy the action when it comes to you.

While doing all this research, did any facts about Vikings really just surprise you?

I just love the fact that the Viking society was an egalitarian society. I don’t care where you were born into it, if you had the ambition, and you had the bravery, and the courage to go out, you could succeed. And that’s a pretty neat aspirational thing to write for. So it’s easy to write characters in that.

Also, to be quite honest, it’s great to write good strong female leads because they were living in this society where they could divorce their husbands, or own property, or rule a kingdom, and you weren’t just making that stuff up. It was a very wonderful period of time. By the time we got to 1066, that sun had set. So, I’m enjoying this time to write in.


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