‘Vikings’: Get a First Look on Scenes From Season 4 (PHOTOS)

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The Vast World of Vikings

It’s two times the battles, betrayals and broken hearts when Norse saga Vikings returns to History Channel on Thursday, February 18 with 20 episodes instead of the usual 10.

Series creator and executive producer Michael Hirst reports that the cast and crew more than doubled their efforts to meet the challenge of an expanded Season 4. “There have been a lot of times this season when I've been (on set) holding my breath as we push the show to places we haven't been before both emotionally and cinematically,” Hirst says.

Hirst promises even bigger conflicts than last season’s spectacular raid on Paris and even more gut-wrenching moments than the final scene of Season 3 when gravely wounded Viking King Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) accused longtime friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) of murdering monk Athelstan (George Blagden).

Here’s our exclusive sneak peek at Season 4.

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King Ragnar and Yidu

Viking King Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and a mysterious newcomer, Chinese slave Yidu (Dianne Doan), share a journey this season. “The events in Paris took everything out of Ragnar and left him very sick. His mortality is certainly up for question,” Hirst says. “He gets involved with Yidu and there’s a romantic element to their relationship.” What will Ragnar’s wife and the mother of four of his sons, Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), have to say about this? Or will her affair last season with mysterious wanderer Harbard (Kevin Durand) keep her silent on the subject?

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Shield-maiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), Ragnar’s ex-wife and the onetime sole ruler of her own lands, kicked derriere in the raid on Paris but now faces a power struggle on the home front. “Lagertha is involved with Viking warrior Kalf (Ben Robson). There's a very complicated storyline coming up between them,” teases Hirst. “Kalf loves her. He’s also very ambitious. They saved each other's lives in Paris. He seems to take her side. He wants them to rule equally. The question is, ‘Is that enough for her?’”

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Bjorn and Floki

With Ragnar fighting for his life in the season premiere, his son and heir apparent Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) must decide what to do with Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) now under arrest for the murder of Athelstan (George Blagden). “Floki and Ragnar—it’s like another kind of love story, in a sense,” Hirst says of the longtime friendship between the genius boat builder and the Viking king. “Like every relationship this season, theirs is going to change.” Adds Ludwig, “With Ragnar ill, Bjorn has to step up.”
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Bloody Bjorn

“Bjorn has always felt that he's living in the shadow of his parents so he decides to spend a winter braving the elements to prove to himself and to Ragnar that he can be a man,” Hirst reveals. When Bjorn heads into the unforgiving wilderness, the young Viking faces many harsh challenges, including a deadly fight with a bear. Another of his tests was so brutal that History Channel almost cut the sequence. “There were arguments all over History about keeping that part,” Ludwig says. “A lot of people said it would be too graphic. Luckily, we had a champion who stepped in and said it's worth keeping in because it adds so much to the show."

Plus: Bjorn Goes Into the Wild to Prove Himself
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Duke Rollo, Princess Gisla and Emperor Charles

Ragnar’s brother, the Viking warrior Rollo (Clive Standen)—now Duke Rollo since joining the French court after the Paris raid—isn’t exactly getting along with his new bride, Princess Gisla (Morgane Polanski), who was forced into the marriage by her father, Emperor Charles (Lothaire Bluteau). Will Rollo, who doesn’t even speak the same language as his wife, eventually grow loyal to his new family? He’s turned against his people and his brother Ragnar once before. “Coming off the end of Season 3 there was the revelation that maybe Rollo was going to betray Ragnar again, big time,” Hirst says. “The brothers’ relationship is probably going to change in some profound way.”
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King Harald Finehair and Halfdan the Black

“They are extreme Vikings,” Hirst says of two major new characters introduced this season; Norsemen King Harald Fairhair (Peter Franzén, right) and his brother Halfdan the Black (Jasper Pääkönen, left), who are based on real historical figures. Ludwig reveals why the men might rock the Viking world: “Harald says, ‘I want to be the king of kings. I want to take over what you have. It's pretty badass. But Bjorn says, ‘Okay, buddy. We'll see about that.’”

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Prince Aethelwulf and Judith

“There are many more lead characters now. It's a much more ambitious show,” Hirst says. This season will follow storylines in Scandinavia, France and the kingdoms within England—where troubled couple Prince Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford) and Judith (Jennie Jacques) will play an important part in the future of Viking civilization. Expect major power plays from Aethelwulf’s father—and Lagertha’s former lover—King Ecbert (Linus Roache), Ragnar’s old nemesis King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) and the unpredictable Queen Kwenthrith (Amy Bailey) who claims that Ragnar is the father of her child.
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The Seer

In the premiere, one Viking’s questions for the oracle, known as "The Seer” (John Kavanagh), reveal a hunger for power. Viewers will see more pagan and Christian rituals this season. “I wouldn't have written this show unless I could delve into and examine different kinds of religious and spiritual beliefs,” Hirst says. No surprise then that Hirst could not completely do away with the one man who has always torn between the two faiths: Athelstan. “He doesn't totally disappear,” Hirst spills. “He’s still a major character, even if he's dead. He plays an important role in the lives of Ragnar and Ecbert.”
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Vikings, Thursday, Feb. 18, 10/9c, History Channel