Main characters have died on Vikings before. History’s epic conquest saga offed its most famous cast member early, with Gabriel Byrne’s Earl Haraldson falling under the sword of upstart farmer Ragnar Lothbrok. Since then, the series has seen several characters come and go, typically in a bloody and vicious fashion. But in “Scarred”—SPOILERS FROM HERE—Vikings said farewell to one of its original cast members, and not a drop of blood was shed.
When we first met Jessalyn Gilsig’s savvy, scheming Siggy, she was the wife of Earl Haraldson, essentially the co-ruler of her land. She lost most of her family and all her power over the course of Vikings. In her final moments, as she rescued two of Ragnar’s sons from drowning in the ice, she had a vision of her dead daughter—before finally succumbing to the cold.
Gilsig talked to EW by phone to talk about Siggy’s sudden death and the long, winding road her character took through the show.
ENTERTAIMNET WEEKLY: How did you first hear that Siggy was going to die this season? Did Vikings writer Michael Hirst tell you?
JESSALYN GILSIG: It was the reverse. I went to Michael. At the end of season 2 I had some family issues, and living overseas in Ireland just wasn’t conducive to me feeling like I could do what I needed to do on behalf of my family. We’re over there for at least six months at a time—and I think, going forward, they might be there for almost a year. So I could see this was going to become really difficult. So I approached MIchael, who’s an incredibly compassionate man, and he was absolutely marvelous and understanding. He was disappointed, which was flattering to me, but he understood.
We talked about how he said that we wanted to resolve the character. So he came up with this storyline, and I thought it was so poetic, so beautiful, and showed you who Siggy really was.
Characters have died on Vikings in very bloody ways, but this felt very surreal and symbolic. What do you think is happening in Siggy’s final moments?
Suddenly, in this hole in the ice, she’s caught between these two worlds. She can fight to pull herself out of the situation, or she can let the fates take her, and hopefully be reunited with her family. She’s such a loner. She’s such a solitary figure. She’s lost so much. I think she makes that choice to give up the fight.
Harbard is present as Siggy dies, and at the end of the episode, he seems to disappear. Do you have any interpretation of who or what Harbard was?
I think that will continue. You will find out…[pauses, seems to choose words carefully] that it plays into the beliefs of the Vikings. He may exist in many forms.
Siggy has fallen so far from where we first saw her, sitting next to Earl Haraldson on their thrones. How do you feel about her overall story arc, looking back at where she started on the show?
I always thought of Siggy as somebody — if this hadn’t happened, if the children hadn’t fallen through the ice, the suggestion is that she would still be figthing to get back on that throne. Not because she’s power-hungry, but because she really believes they were good at it. They had brought a security, a kind of safety, to Kattegat.
Gabriel Byrne and I used to talk about how we were the old regime. We were the Bushes, and [Ragnar and Lagertha] are the Obamas. We’re like: “Things were working! Why can’t we do things the way we used to?” Not everybody can believe in the upstart. Siggy represents the establishment. She’s a woman with a lot of experience, and she’s dealing with these people who are so naive. If it wasn’t for her working two sides with Horik, where would Ragnar be today? What I’m saying is: It’s exhausting. [laughs]
It’s so hard to always be right!
It really is!
Did you ever talk to Michael about where the character might have gone, had you stayed with the show?
No. I know that he had a plan, and it would be too painful for me to ask him. It’s too hard for me. Maybe one day, we can have a drink and he can tell me. But it’s too painful for me to imagine what I might have played.
Siggy was usually right about everything. Now that you’re outside of the show, what would you like to see happen on Vikings?
Like everybody else, on a purely romantic level, I’d love to see Ragnar and Lagertha somehow reconnect. It’s got that moonlight feeling. I just love that storyline. Talk about trajectories for characters! They started as farmers, and look where they are now. It would be great to get them alone in a room and see what’s left.
You had so many of the great moments on the show—I’m thinking especially of the moment when Siggy executes her oafish son-in-law, or that great line about how “women should stick together…and we should rule.” Do you have any favorite moments that really defined Siggy as a character for you?
When Gabriel dies, and she immediately anoints Ragnar. She makes this political decision right as her husband is bleeding in front of her. Like: “Okay. Where are we gonna put our money? Let’s put our money on that guy.” She’s a master manipulator.
And there was a moment really early on. In the first few episodes, Siggy didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but I had these incredible scenes where I’d sit in the great hall on the thrones with Earl Haraldson. Gabriel Bryne was such an incredible scene partner. We would do so much in silence. He’d throw me so many looks. We’d stay connected. We talked a lot about how everything that happened in the Great Hall came from his mouth, but it was a decision we’d made in private chambers.
I remember when Athelstan, is introduced, and Earl Haraldson says to Ragnar, “You can take one thing from the spoils you’ve collected on this raid.” Ragnar says, “I want to take the priest.” And I got the giggles! I just started laughing. And then Earl Haraldson started laughing. It was like we shared this cheeky moment. “What an idiot! Who would take the priest?” But really, that was our downfall. We underestimated Ragnar.