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The Real Reason George Blagden Left Vikings

It's been a long and bloody road to the final season of History's Vikings. As the surviving sons of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) grind toward their landmark series' epic conclusion later this year, they leave behind a trail of dead cast-mates that includes one fascinating monk-turned-Viking: Athelstan of Lindisfarne (George Blagden).

You'd be forgiven for forgetting about Athelstan. Out of sight is out of mind, after all, and the warrior monk who befriended his captor, the great Ragnar Lothbrok, has been out of sight for quite some time. In a shocking turn during season 3, Athelstan is murdered by pagan evangelist and boat-builder extraordinaire Floki (Gustaf SkarsgÄrd). This shocking twist arrives on the episode entitled "Born Again," just after Athelstan experiences a Christian epiphany that turns his heart away from the pagan ways he had embraced and back toward his native Saxon faith. This religious re-conversion offends Floki to no end, and the fear that Christian thinking might further infect King Ragnar is ultimately what seals Athelstan's fate.

At the time, Blagden's departure was one of the highest-profile cast shakeups that Vikings had to endure. As a Saxon monk who embraced the Scandinavian lifestyle in Kattegat, Athelstan had become a bit of a fan favorite on the series, and many viewers were sad to see him go.

For those wondering just why Athelstan had to depart with such finality, Blagden actually shed some light on the topic in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Apparently, Athelstan's gory dispatch was a simple case of the character's arc reaching its natural conclusion. Per Blagden himself, series creator Michael Hirst knew Athelstan was going to exit this mortal coil during season 3 long before Floki actually landed his ax.

Vikings creator Michael Hirst doesn't like his characters to overstay their welcome

Sometimes on a TV series, an abrupt character departure signals acrimony behind the scenes. This was not the case on Vikings, however. Creator Michael Hirst, who also penned the teleplay for "Born Again," is apparently loath to keep characters around after their arcs have reached a natural and satisfying conclusion.

Blagden recalled to EW the moment Hirst notified him that Athelstan's journey would be coming to an end at some point during season 3. "I remember the moment, actually! I was driving up to my mum and dad's house in Yorkshire," the actor explained. "I got an email whilst in the car from Michael Hirst. It's not often that you get an email from Michael in between seasons. I pulled over and thought, 'This is probably quite important, I should read it.'

"Lo and behold, it was a five-page email. [laughs] He explained his desire to kill Athelstan in season 3. He was very passionate in writing for television about not overextending character arcs. The worst thing you can do for a character is make it try and exist past the point where it needs to. He felt it was the moment, this midpoint in season 3. I totally agreed with everything he said in his lovely email. How he's progressed through the start of season 3 with Athelstan, it feels like a perfect moment."

Athelstan had one of the most dynamic character arcs on Vikings

Few characters on Vikings have had as tortured a journey as Athelstan. Originally introduced during Ragnar's inaugural raid on the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne (a historic event that marked the beginning of the Viking Age), Athelstan was taken captive by the Scandinavian horde and hauled back to Kattegat in chains. He became a slave to Ragnar, but eventually earned the Viking king's trust as well as his freedom. He learned to fight like a Viking, and even experimented with paganism, an act that earned him a brief, non-fatal crucifixion upon his return to England.

During Athelstan's second act, he became a close adviser to King Ecbert of Wessex (Linus Roache), and even impregnated his daughter-in-law, siring Alfred, a future king of Wessex. Although there is no evidence that the historical Alfred the Great was fathered by an adulterous monk, matters of paternity in the royal line of Wessex during the 9th century were spotty to say the least, and Alfred's claim to the throne was certainly contested at the time of succession. Athelstan eventually returns to Ragnar's fold, but he dies a Christian, which feels like a fitting end for this dynamic character.

As much as we miss Athelstan's presence on the show, we have to agree with Hirst on this one. The dude lived a life.