"I wanted the viewers, like you say you were doing, to cringe," Blagden told me recently. "I wanted it to be very affecting. So hopefully that's what we've achieved."
In the episode, Wessex King Ecbert's men nail monk-turned-Viking Athelstan to a cross. The crucifixion is deserved, a priest says, because Athelstan is an apostate—a former Christian who has taken up the Vikings' pagan religion. Athelstan has struggled with his Christian faith ever since he was captured and taken prisoner by Ragnar Lothbrok's Viking raiders in Season 1. He adopted the Vikings' customs and in Season 2 is a full-fledged warrior who accompanied Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) on a raid of Anglo-Saxon territory.
Filming the crucifixion scene was something of a learning experience for the young actor. He decided he wanted to be in the entire scene without the use of a stunt double because he wanted to experience what his character would have experienced.
"I remember it being the most emotionally and physically challenging day I've had so far as an actor in my very brief career," he said. "It really was."
Blagden spent the better part of an entire day up on the cross, being fake nailed and then lifted 10 feet off the ground for long shots and closeups at various angles. Scaffolding was attached to the cross to capture Blagden's reactions as he is lifted, a shot that wouldn't have been possible with a stunt double.
"They hung me from my loincloth on a ring on the cross," he said. "It was like the biggest wedgy known to man. Let us just say it helped the performance considerably."
Blagden has more emotional scenes coming this season. Athelstan's troubles aren't over simply because King Ecbert saved his life and he is free to return to his pre-Vikings home in Northumbria. As you can see in the exclusive clip above from "Answers in Blood," which will air at 9 p.m. March 27, Athelstan is lost and utterly shattered.
"Athelstan is not only completely physically broken, but he's mentally very, very disturbed. I think the most interesting part about moving forward with Athelstan is his psychological downturn and how you will see his mind alter," Blagden said. "I don't want to give too much away, but viewers will be able to see this man very changed by his experiences."
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