Vikings is always brutal, but this week’s episode positively massacred the supporting cast, with significant deaths in Paris, among the Northmen, and in Wessex. The last death particularly stung — SPOILER ALERT, in case you haven’t guessed — as the desperate Queen Kwenthrith tried to end the life of her traitorous ally King Ecbert, before getting literally backstabbed by her supposed friend Princess Judith. (Kwenthrith was pregnant with Judith’s husband’s baby. How strange life is!) We talked to Amy Bailey about the end of Kwenthrith. (Click here for an interview with another exiting Vikings cast member, and click here for the full recap of the episode.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I am traumatized by the death of Kwenthrith. How did you find out this was going to be the end of your time on the show?
AMY BAILEY: We all knew there were going to be “big changes,” because we all knew that there was gonna be a big time jump. I also became pregnant with twins in real life. They are seven months old now. I was six months pregnant when we shot that fight scene. When I found out I was pregnant with twins, [Vikings creator Michael Hirst] had just written me an email and said, “I just wrote the most awesome fight scene for you!” In the past, I’d always really liked doing my own stunts, because I come from a dance/athletic background. I called him up and said, “Dude, I’m gonna be really big by the time we film that.” They knew that they had to write me out.
What do you think Kwenthrith was thinking when she went into Ecbert’s chamber? Did she think there was still a way out for her?
I think she knew that her life was at risk. I think she knew that Ecbert was gonna kill her and kill her child. It felt like an inevitable thing for her. Michael and I, we talked about the death scene extensively. I said to him, “I feel so strongly that Kwenthrith is going down fighting. She’s gonna take down as many people as she can.” She always has been so desperate for any kind of control of her life, her situation.
From the moment you appeared on this show, Kwenthrith brought such an incredible energy to the series. What was it like building the character over the last couple of seasons?
When we first came in in season 2, all I knew was that she was a crazy, voracious character with a never-ending sexual appetite. It wasn’t until season 3 that I got a little backstory, and a deep, important, poignant reason for her being so sexually voracious. And pretty sad, in a way. It was her always trying to gain control of what happened to her. When she had an interaction with someone, especially a man, she was always in control. She was never going to be that victimized child.
It gave me a lot more depth for why she was the way she was. Otherwise, I think you can see a character like that and think, that’s just a crazy, power-hungry, I hate to use the word but people call her “slutty.” That’s not really fair. She wasn’t slutty. She had a reason for the way she was.
It was an important thing for me, because it was a sexually liberated woman, which was unheard of in her culture. Maybe there was a little more of that on the Viking side. But Michael was showing the contrast between the female characters. You have someone like Lagertha, who’s in a position of power, and she’s able to express her sexuality. And then you have someone like Kwenthrith, who should really be her equal — she’s also a queen! — and she is vilified for being sexual.
She has that great final line to Ecbert: “Do you know what would have been better for me? Can you even imagine? To have been born a man.”
When I got the script, I thought that was such a beautiful line. It summed it up. It was so tragic. So sad for her, after all this clawing and scraping, her last thought is: “If only I’d been a man, my life would’ve been different.”
I want to hear a little more about filming that fight sequence in “Kill the Queen.” That would have been intense even without being six months pregnant with twins.
This season was really interesting for me, because I was becoming a mother for the first time. The whole season is about Kwenthrith’s fight to save her child — Magnus, and then the one she is carrying with Aethelwulf. I walked that line in making sure I didn’t get too caught up in the reality of, “What if I lost my own child?” I’m even doing these physical scenes where I have to be careful not to do anything to hurt my own pregnancy. I would do a really intense scene where I was screaming and crying, and then I’d go sit in my trailer, and the babies were kicking the crap out of me.
From the moment we met Kwenthrith, she was, as you said, constantly scraping. Was there any point in the show where you think she found something like grace, or happiness?
A turning point in my mind in creating this character was when she had Magnus. I think that was, until the day she died, the only true love she had ever known. I don’t think she was loved by the people who raised her, I don’t think she was loved by the people around her, I don’t think she even loved anyone back. If she did, it was a damaged thing. When she had her child in season 3, I played it that it was the first pure, reciprocated love in her life. She softened. There was a vulnerability to her. She was reaching out to Judith for friendship.
And her relationship to Aethelwulf felt the same way.
She saw in Aethelwulf that he had a lot of devotion. He was definitely her protector, which she needed. And she has known him for years. She’s seen his sad, confused relationship with his father, which she understands. She had a terrible relationship with her father. There’s a symbiosis there. They’re both abused children, essentially.