Vikings’ Raid of Paris Might Be the Show’s Most Elaborate Battle Yet

Vikings Attack Paris
Bernard Walsh/HISTORY

Vikings’ Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his band of warriors have now set their sights on Paris — and the results, says series creator Michael Hirst, are “quite simply breathtaking.” Tonight, the Vikings start their siege of the city as well as a battle-filled, multi-episode arc that might be the most grandiose production the show has attempted thus far.

“The shooting of it was staggering in itself,” Hirst says. “Hundreds of extras and stunt people, and Vikings going up ladders, and then we’d set the ladders on fire. And the stunt men and stunt women would be falling from the top of the walls into the water below … Most of the time watching the show being filmed is boring, frankly. But this was anything but.”

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The episode, “To The Gates,” is the production team’s most ambitious work so far, with CGI effects giving it a greater scale than previous battles.

The raid on Paris loosely follows historical events: In the 9th Century, more than 100 Viking ships carrying thousands of raiders sailed the Seine and attacked. At that time, Paris was a highly defensible, walled city contained to an island on the river. Using what little historical record remains of the Paris of the Viking age, the show’s producers and set designers reconstructed as much as they could of the city’s Roman walls and medieval interior.

The only remaining pieces of the Roman-built exterior walls of medieval Paris are located in the basement of the Louvre. Since no one knows exactly what the island city actually looked like, set designers consulted artifacts and historical sources, including woodcuts created close to the time of the original attack, to give the show’s representation as much authenticity as possible.

To recreate the epic medieval battles, the show’s actors and extras underwent rigorous training. “If you’re having battles with 400 people or whatever, sometimes running at each other at full tilt, and all of them armed, it has to be very carefully choreographed,” Hirst said. “So everyone spends a lot of time preparing and rehearsing and getting the moves right.”

Vikings, Thursdays, 10/9c, History Channel

PLUS: We talked to Vikings newcomer Morgane Polanski about playing a princess and rallying Parisian troops.