Valhalla Murders (Brot), is the brainchild of Þórður Pálsson and will run early 2020 on Netflix.

A graduate from the UK’s National Film & TV School and 2016 Nordic Talents winner, Pálsson went straight from short filmmaking to this premium drama - the first ever co-production between Iceland’s pubcaster RÚV and Netflix.

The crime show was co-written by crime author Óttar M. Norðfjörð, writers Margrét Örnólfsdóttir (The Flatey Enigma, Trapped 2), Otto Geir Borg (I Remember You) and Mikael Torfason (Made in Iceland).

The story follows police officers Kata and Arnar, in charge of investigating gruesome murders from Iceland’s first serial killer. The unlikely pair slowly starts connecting the case to a mysterious and abandoned boys’ home named “Valhalla”. At the same time, we delve deeper into the investigative pair’s troubling pasts.

In the title roles are Nína Dögg Filippudóttir (Trapped) and Björn Thors (Woman at War). Concept director Pálsson shares the directing credit with David Oskar Olafsson and Thora Hilmarsdottir. The series was produced by Truenorth’s Kristinn Thordarson and Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, with Mystery Productions’ Olafsson.

A handful of European broadcasters – including DR, Yle, the BBC, VRT- who had acquired rights from DR Sales, will programme the series in January, ahead of its roll out on Netflix.

What was the very first inspiration and starting point for Valhalla Murders?
Thordur Palsson: In February it will be four years since I had the very first idea. The project got off the ground when I pitched it to Kristinn [[Thordarson] and David [Oskar Olafsson]. They took a chance on a guy who had only done short films. I have so much gratitude towards them.

The inspiration for the show came from the real story in the late 40s, of a state-run institution for troubled boys, in a remote place in Iceland, where kids between 7-14 were horrifically beaten and abused by staff members. The boys eventually received small financial compensations, but the scandal was pretty much swept under the rug. My co-writers were all familiar with the case. We didn’t want to exploit that shabby story but raise the topic and get conversations going.

In the show, the main thread is the investigation of a double murder by female detective Kata and her colleague Arnar, asked to travel back to Iceland from Norway, to help Kata with her case. Their investigation eventually leads them to an abandoned boys’ home named Valhalla.

How would you describe the main characters Arnar and Kata?
Arnar and Kata are true opposites, forced to collaborate. Arnar left Iceland many years ago for a specific reason. He is a real question mark, totally closed, you simply can’t get into his mind. But through the series, he is forced to face his past. Then you have Kata who never asks for help, and therefore doesn’t want to be paired with Arnar. She seems to be an open book, but also hides something. While at work, she is tough, but then once alone, she shows her vulnerability. Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir is perfect for the role as she has this mix of toughness and vulnerability, which is quite rare in an actor.

Did Björn Thors and Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir bring valuable input to their parts?
Yes both had very interesting ideas and took ownership of their parts. I didn’t direct all episodes so that really helped in the filming process.

What is the main theme of the show?
It’s about how family and the past affect you. You can try to hide but ultimately if you don’t face your past, it will haunt you.

Is it pure Nordic noir?
Well when you have a police case, brutal murders, snow and it’s dark, then yes it’s pure Nordic noir. But the main characters are quite unique. We often spoke in the writers’ rooms about characters’ development and motives. I would ask: is it popcorn and coke?? I really wanted to engage audiences and make them want more and more, but never at the expense of characters, depicted as complex, with flaws.

How was your collaboration with seasoned writers Margrét Örnólfsdóttir, Óttar Norðfjörður, Mikael Torfason and Otto Geir Borg? What are their specialities?
Margrét’s speciality is character development. But she left the show a bit early to work on Fangar (Prisoners) season 2. Óttar was working as a duo with her and took over when she left. He was the guiding hand through the scriptwriting from beginning to end and is credited as head-writer. His speciality is definitely structure and narrative. Then Otto and Mikael came in quite late in the game to help with some episodes and do a polish.

Your graduation film Brothers was anchored in British social realism. What were your influences for Vallhalla Murders?
It’s interesting because I never thought of the style of Brothers as social realism. For me stories take shape on screen very naturally. Here, the story is a true thriller. It’s much darker than anything I’ve done before.

A lot of my references come from film as this is my background. For Valhalla Murders, I had Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Prisoners in the back of my mind. I looked at the way he combined suspense with human dilemma.

Cary Fukunaga (of whom you're a big fan I believe) said that for every episode of True Detective, he tried to find one visual element that he could treat with the same importance as the dialogue. What was your visual style?
It’s hard to be compared to Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective that is one of the best TV shows ever (perhaps with The Sopranos). That said, with our DOP Arni Filippusson [Stella Blómkvist, Either Way], we tried to break down the scenes - we asked ourselves - what are the beats? How can we move the camera so that we feel in a cinematic world? Valhalla Murders is a small Icelandic show, yet it feels and looks much bigger because we took the time with the preps and had top collaborators in every department. Besides Arni, Heimir Sverrison [Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift, The Oath] was also amazing. He actually built from scratch in a studio the police station.

What were the biggest challenges for you as a first-timer on a major production?
TP: Obviously the length was a challenge. Sometimes we had to reschedule days, and improvise, jump into situations even if we hadn’t prepped. But I felt comfortable once I got into the rhythm and gained confidence along the way. I always say a short film is a sprint, a TV show is a marathon. Now I’ve done both and I know I can handle it.

Why didn't you direct the entire show?
Budget-wise and time-wise, the idea of one director doing the entire show was just not feasible. Therefore we decided quite early on to bring in our producer David [Oskar Olafsson] who had some experience in directing and had been deeply involved in the story. We also hired a young director –Thora Hilmarsdóttir who loves the thriller genre. As a female director, she was a very important addition. I directed episodes 1-2-5-8, David did 3-4 and Thora did 6-7.

When Netflix came on board as co-producers, what did this change to the creative and production process? What type of feedback did you get from them?
: It all went through the producers Kristinn and David. Netflix read the script, liked it and let us get on with our work.

What's next for you? Will you try to pull off your Nordic Genre Boost project The Damned?
Yes parallel to Valhalla Murders, I have been working on The Damned, with my producers Emilie Jouffroy and Kamilla Hodol of London’s Elation Pictures. After the Nordic Genre Boost, a brilliant Irish writer called Jamie Hannigan joined me. We’ve received two writing development grants from the Irish Film Fund. The feedback has been super positive. We’ll need quite a big budget as it’s a period horror film, set in 1850 Iceland, with scenes in the dark, on the sea, in the snow, with children and animals.

How important for your career kick-start were your Nordic Talents Pitch Prize (2015) and the Nordic Genre Boost (2016), both backed by Nordisk Film & TV Fond?
TP: It did help a lot. The Fund was the first to say-hey! Watch this guy! Between Nordic Talents and the Nordic Genre Boost selection, I was able to attract people’s attention. Nordisk Film & TV Fond was crucial for me.