'Vikings' Final Season: Eric Johnson on Erik's Surprising Ending

Vikings Erik the Red Eric Johnson Ingrid Lucy Martin Amazon Prime Video
Prime Video

“Vikings” Season 6B sees red – Erik the Red. Eric Johnson’s character may be fairly new to the machinations of the historical drama, but he more than makes up for “lost” time. In his interview with Eclectic Pop, Johnson breaks down Erik’s surprising ending, the most challenging part of filming the series, and much more.

Eclectic Pop: What made you initially want to join “Vikings” when the part of Erik the Red came up?

Eric Johnson:

I had been aware of the show for a long time and had been a fan and just the scope and scale of it. And my own family roots trace back to Norway. And so, getting a chance to strap on a sword, grab a shield, and play a Viking was something I’d always dreamed of doing as a young actor. So, when this came up -- Eric playing an Erik -- it seemed very serendipitous, so I was quite excited about the opportunity.

EP: Yeah. That is very serendipitous. So, at first glance, Erik the Red seems totally dedicated to Bjorn,  and after Bjorn dies -- he’s kind of out for himself. Numero uno. Do you think his commitment to Bjorn was legitimate? Or if Bjorn had lived, do you think Eric would have betrayed him in the end?


You know what, I think Erik is a bit of a complicated character. I think survival was more on his mind than anything else, and the best way to ensure his own survival was to be in the shadow of Bjorn, one of the most powerful people in the whole empire. So, it makes sense to have a strong allegiance there. 

Now, in the power vacuum, it’s a little challenging for Erik to be able to navigate this. He’s going to have to figure out who he needs to back to ensure his own safety because it’s easy to forget that he’s got a mark on his life too. People who would quite happily take him out.

EP: And speaking of taking people out. Erik ends up saving Harald’s life instead of ending it. What do you think motivated him to make that play?


Well, I think the biggest thing that Erik needs to do is, again, make sure that the powerful people at play are not trying to cut his head off. So, I think as much as it is a display of a bit of loyalty to Harald, it’s also saving his own rear end. Again, he’s aligning himself with powerful people for his own means.

EP: Yes. And before Harald shows back up, he’s playing Ingrid and Gunnhild against one another. If Harald had not come back. What do you think his game plan would have been regarding his vote? Who do you think he would have voted for?


Oh, it’s tough to say. I think Erik is very much the politician in there. Where he would have voted with what suited the moment and the crowd of what would have met with the most approval. He was going to wait to see who [was] winning the race before casting his vote.

EP: Do you think Erik ever had any genuine feelings for Gunnhild or Ingrid at any point or just playing ball?


No, I absolutely believe that it was authentic. I think, especially with Gunnhild, I think the challenge of it being Bjorn’s partner certainly complicated that, but I do believe that for him, that was authentic. And then, once things started playing out as they did, it was clear he had to make sure that he had his own rear end covered. He’s not without his own selfish nature, but I do believe that those feelings are authentic.

EP: How much do you think Gunnhild’s death impacted Erik in terms of altering his course?


I think it was very impactful. I think the idea, if he was playing the situation out that was obviously not the way he wanted that to end. And there’s a tragedy, and even in perceived success or stability, it’s not necessarily the way he wanted to go about it. And it really does. I think he kicked off something that he was sad. He came to that conclusion, living with a lot of guilt, I imagine. And things, obviously, are a downward spiral for him after that.

EP: Yes. One of those things that proceeded was him catching Ingrid performing witchcraft. When he comes upon that scene, what does he think she’s trying to use that witchcraft to do?


Well, I don’t know if he was fully aware of what she’s doing other than the fact that now he had leverage over her in terms of knowing a secret. And for somebody who had to survive out on his own, a Skogarmaor, where anybody could take his life, any bit of leverage that you have you’ve got to use. And in the end, we realize that -- spoiler alert -- it backfires on him.

EP: Yes. In a pretty big way. Considering that the real Erik the Red lived and had a super-famous son in Leif Erikson, were you shocked when you got to the part in the script where you get killed off the show?


Well, no. It was funny because we always said he’s Erik, just Erik. He was never Erik, he was red, but he wasn’t Erik the Red. So, I think a lot of the things in the show, there’s things that are based on history and then based on fiction and inspired by true events. The Viking sagas themselves are so epic it’d be hard to incorporate all of them into just one program. I think it was more of an homage than a direct link.

EP: Oh, nice. That’s interesting. And why do you think Erik chose to try to kill Ingrid instead of trying to find a rival witch to cure him of his blindness?


I don’t know why he would have made that choice. Again, he couldn’t really walk far, so it’s like he couldn’t necessarily go hopping off to the next village to go and find somebody. He had some limited resources, definitely was heavily compromised in terms of what he could do and the strings he could pull, not being aware who’s in the room and who’s listening in.

EP: Looking back on your whole journey on this show, what would you say was the most and the least challenging aspect of being on this historical series, where it can be a bit rough, I’d imagine?


It’s a big show and those big days we were out in the elements and doing battle scenes were some of my favorite[s]. It was epic and exciting, and as a young actor, the things that you dream of doing. One day we had 550 people on set, 300 people on camera and it was a massive battle scene. And it was one of the coolest experiences of my entire career. 

The most challenging stuff actually was the stuff right at the end when Erik was blind. The context that I was using actually made me pretty much blind. So, navigating, going in and walking around [the] set, having to be led everywhere, and not being able to see things, not being able to see the camera, it definitely made me appreciate my own eyesight a lot more.

One of the other wonderful benefits of shooting a show is just getting to spend that amount of time in Ireland. It’s a wonderful country. The crew is incredible. It was like walking into a family who had been working together for a long time. Some people, like second, third third-generation film kids have grown up doing this in Ireland, and that was phenomenal. 

It was tough being away from friends and family for long periods of time. But now we’re doing it again in a pandemic, so I would rather be doing it working on “Vikings.” All in all, it definitely delivered on my hopes for it going into it and more.


You can stream “Vikings” from the first season to the last on Amazon Prime Video. For more coverage, check out Eclectic Pop’s interviews with Eric Johnson’s co-stars Alex Hogh Andersen (Ivar), Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn), Ragga Ragnars (Gunnhild), and the series creator, Michael Hirst.