Given the crowd at the Television Academy last night for History's "Vikings," you'd be hard pressed to guess that the season 2 finale didn't score the numbers of the first (3.4 million, representing a drop of 6 percent from last year). Still, the network is making a solid play for Emmy nods. Given the dark twists of this season, from an unexpected final betrayal to a demanding and brutal character arc for Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), a little recognition doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility for this cast, many of whom were in attendance. I'll be posting my one-on-one interviews with them soon, but here's the download on a panel that went from jovial to emotional and, in one case, very personal. 

Winnick, Clive Standen (Rollo), George Blagden (Athelstan), Jessalyn Gilsig (Siggy), Donal Logue (King Horik), Gustaf Skarsgard (Floki) and Alyssa Sutherland (Princess Aslaugh) joined creator Michael Hirst on the stage. Though Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) couldn't make it, that didn't mean his castmates couldn't talk about him. 

"I stole Floki from Travis Fimmel," Skarsgard joked, noting that everything about the actor while out of character informed his quirky boat builder. "He's so far out in his pranks... he put a live chicken in a car. By the time it was found, there was shit everywhere."

"One time he got a production phone and changed all our call times," Gilsig added.

While everyone agreed it's impossible to prank the prankster, there are ways to get under his skin. "You treat him super normally. That freaks him out," Skarsgard said. 

The making of the show was the primary topic, with major props given to both costume design and the make-up department. "The make-up is more dirt and sun spots," Gilsig said, noting she tried to convince the make-up artists to put her sun spots along her jawline and cheekbones. "You try to maneuver the make-up to be more flattering."

Still, Winnick finds the process of getting into a "chain mail dress that takes 25 minutes to get me into it" a "transformation process... It's more of a ritual to get into character."

Logue noted he didn't have to do much to transform into a Viking. "I was super hairy, so it didn't matter. I was watching footage and I thought someone in the scene was one of those biker dudes we had for background, and then I realize, oh, that's me." 

Surprisingly, everyone in the cast was eager to give props to the on-screen talent most of us don't think much about -- the background players. "Watching other shows, you can sense the royalty of the cast, and there's a disconnect between the main cast members and the background. You need that sense of connection, and we had it." 

"Female cast members were contacting me, wanting to find out what other training they needed to be shield maiden," Winnick said. "It was amazing how passionate they were."

"When I'm whining, I remember there's always one guy who didn't get in the heat tent and didn't get passed coffee," Skarsgard said. "I know I have to get over it."

"There's no complaining in 'Vikings'," Gilsig joked.

"We were a family," Logue added. "These people are in there with us rowing the boat all day. There's a real camaraderie between the cast and the background. I remember one day in a fight scene I'm running toward this guy and I say, how's it going? He's this big Polish guy, and it's 4:30 in the afternoon, and he looks at me and says, 'I haven't eaten today, but it's okay.' And he's just smiling and happy to be there."

The conversation took a serious note when, in discussing Rollo's decision to fight then submit to brother Ragnar, Standen talked about where his motivation came from. "When it becomes apparent he can't kill his brother, he's been ripped open. I've been married for ten years, and at the time we were [separated], so it mirrored it for me. He [realizes] his brother is his one rock, the one he can trust and depend on. Thankfully, we're back together now."

Gilsig also talked about the scene in which King Horik demands a show of loyalty from Siggy by making her have sex with his son. "Reading it, everyone in the cast was giggling, but in the room we felt the humiliation and the power struggle and what he was doing to his son... I'm prone to kinky, but I didn't get to go there."

Logue also discussed the death of his character. "The last episodes were intense. I knew I was leaving this show and this group of people, so it's emotional."

Winnick leaned forward and smiled. "It was hard to kill you."

Logue then had a question for the audience of mostly Emmy voters. "Do you guys watch [the footage sent out]? Or is it just, hey, Robin Williams did a 'Homicide,' that must be pretty good!" The only response he got was, of course, uncomfortable laughter. 

The final twist of season two (spoiler alert) was also a topic of conversation. Skarsgard talked about the challenge of convincing the audience Floki had turned on Ragnar. "When people go back and watch those episodes again, there will be clues... Floki Method acted his way through this. This is vast mafia shit. He couldn't tell his wife, because if she knew, she could be tortured." 

Sutherland also hopes fans go back and watch for her storyline leading up to the birth of Ivar the Boneless. "I think people may have projected stuff onto this character, and some of that is because of how much people love Lagertha, but I think they'll see I give a shit about my kids." On a similar note, she said she's petitioned the costume department to consider making a Viking maternity line. "I think there's a real need for it. Everything was so detailed and flattering."

As far as a favorite episode, Hirst decided to answer for Fimmel. "I think I know Travis' favorite scene. As much as he loves scenes that don't have any dialogue at all, it was the scene when he talks to his dead daughter." Mentioning how he fought to keep the use of music to a minimum in the scene and how it made him think of his own daughters, he added, "I really wept the first time I saw it." If Fimmel can make a reserved Brit show creator cry, he probably has a better shot with Emmy voters than he knows. 

Are you a fan of "Vikings"?