The long-running historical drama series Vikings concluded its six-season run last December. And while a lot of fans thought that Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) would be one of the characters that would survive the series, Ragnar Lothbrok’s (Travis Fimmel) firstborn son met his demise in season 6, episode 11, much to the shock of many viewers. So why did Ludwig leave Vikings just a few episodes before its series finale?
Like most cast member departures on Vikings, Ludwig’s exit from the series was a creative decision made by creator Michael Hirst, and Ludwig had known way ahead of time how and when his character’s journey was going to end.
“He’s such a collaborator, and when it came down to our characters and their arcs, he’d really bring us into the process, which was so generous of him,” Ludwig said of Hirst in an interview with Entertainment Tonight before the season 6B premiere of Vikings on Amazon Prime Video.
Ludwig’s final Vikings episode revealed that Bjorn survived the battle against the Rus and his half-brother Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) at the end of season 6A. Though seriously wounded and was expected to die from infection, Bjorn mustered the energy to put on his armor one last time and ride into battle with all the Viking armies of Norway at his back. Though his leadership ultimately saved his home country and forced the Rus army to retreat, Bjorn took a round of arrows to the chest during the fight and died a hero atop his horse.
According to Ludwig, Bjorn’s death scene was loosely inspired by the 1961 historical drama film El Cid. “[Hirst] sat me down and we had a big talk about Bjorn’s demise, and he referenced El Cid, which is not only one of my favorite movies [but] it’s really funny because one of my best friends since I was a kid purely just by chance is actually Charlton Heston’s grandson, Jack Heston, and Charlton obviously was the star of El Cid,” Ludwig shared. “So I just thought it was poetic justice getting to do a little nod to that. It’s obviously not the same, but it definitely is reminiscent of that event, and he just wanted to do the character justice and I did too.”
As for Hirst’s decision to kill off Bjorn at the start of season 6B, Ludwig told Rotten Tomatoes: “I felt like it was such an ingenious idea for Bjorn to leave at the beginning of the season as opposed to the end, because I don’t believe it’s nearly as predictable. It [also] gives room to really conclude the story for the other brothers.”
Since leaving Vikings, Ludwig has starred as Captain Andrew Jantz on Netflix’s romantic comedy film Operation Christmas Drop and appeared as tech expert Dorn in the action-comedy movie Bad Boys for Life. He is also set to appear in the upcoming films Night Teeth and Swing as well as on Starz’s wrestling drama Heels.
The Vikings saga, meanwhile, will continue in the form of the spin-off series Vikings: Valhalla, which will stream on Netflix.