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Loki series director Kate Herron weighs in on fandom’s big incest question

Plus: Tom Hiddleston’s infectious on-set pushups, and her Teletubbies Easter egg

Loki and Sylvie kiss in the Loki season 1 finale Photo: Marvel Studios

Yes, Loki series director Kate Herron knows about your fan theory about the show, the analysis you posted to social media. No, she won’t tell you what she thinks about it, or whether you were right.

“I follow all the conversations on Twitter,” Herron told Polygon in an interview shortly after Loki’s season 1 finale. “I don’t always weigh in on them, because I made the show, so they don’t want me weighing in like, ‘Actually, guys…’ I think that’s the whole point of art — it should be up for debate and discussion.”

[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for season 1 of Loki.]

Loki has been a hit for streaming service Disney Plus — episode 6 of the show, the final installment for this season, was reportedly watched by more households than any of the platform’s MCU finales to date. The series has been a popular source of fan conjecture and argument, with one particularly big rolling conversation focusing on whether the budding romantic relationship between trickster Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his alternate-universe counterpart Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) is a form of incest.

Herron is willing to speak up about that one. “My interpretation of it is that they’re both Lokis, but they aren’t the same person,” she says. “I don’t see them as being like brother and sister. They have completely different backgrounds […] and I think that’s really important to her character. They sort of have the same role in terms of the universe and destiny, but they won’t make the same decisions.”

Kate Herron discusses a scene with Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson on the set of Loki
Director Kate Herron on the Loki set
Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Herron says thematically, Loki falling for Sylvie is an exploration of “self-love,” but only in the sense that it’s Loki learning to understand his own motives and integrity. “[The show is] looking at the self and asking ‘What makes us us?’” Herron says. “I mean, look at all the Lokis across the show, they’re all completely different. I think there’s something beautiful about his romantic relationship with Sylvie, but they’re not interchangeable.”

Directing the final kiss between the two characters was a complicated process because it had to communicate something about each of them over the course of just a few seconds. Herron says the primary goal was creating a safe, comfortable environment for Hiddleston and Di Martino, and after that, she had to think about how to bring across Loki and Sylvie’s conflicting goals in that moment.

“It’s an interesting one, right?” she says. “Emotionally, from Sylvie’s perspective, I think it’s a goodbye. But it’s still a buildup of all these feelings. They’ve both grown through each other over the last few episodes. It was important to me that it didn’t feel like a trick, like she was deceiving him. She is obviously doing that, on one hand, but I don’t feel the kiss is any less genuine. I think she’s in a bad place, but her feelings are true.”

Herron says directing Hiddleston in the scene mostly came down to discussing the speech Loki gives Sylvie before the kiss. “That was really important, showing this new place for Loki,” Herron says. “In the first episode, he’s like, ‘I want the throne, I want to rule,’ and by episode 6, he isn’t focused on that selfish want. He just wants her to be okay.”

Loki writer and producer Eric Martin recently tweeted that he wished the show had been able to focus more time on two of its secondary characters, Owen Wilson’s Time Variance Authority agent Mobius M. Mobius, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer. “I wanted to explore her more deeply and really see their relationship,” he says, “But covid got in the way and we just didn’t have time.”

Asked if Loki and Sylvie’s relationship suffered from similar necessary edits, Herron says it’s true that the show’s creators and audience still don’t know everything Sylvie went through to make her so different from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s original version of Loki. “We’ve seen her as a child, but she’s lived for thousands and thousands of years, in apocalypses on the run,” she says. “I think there’s so much more to delve into with Sylvie […] You’re filling in the blanks. You see [her on the planet] Lamentis, and it’s horrific. And you’re like, “Well, what kind of person would she be, growing up in apocalypses? What kind of personality would that give her?”

Kate Herron on the Loki set with Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Herron says Sylvie’s backstory actually reminds her of the 1995 movie Jumanji, where a young boy is sucked into a magical board game in 1969, and emerges 26 years later as a full-grown man, played by with typical manic energy by Robin Williams. “It’s such a weird reference, but…” she says. “He’s a little boy when he ends up captive in that game, and when he comes out, it’s obviously been a life experience. With Sylvie, it’s similar. She was a child when she had to go on the run, so she’s had a very difficult life. I would love to see more of it. As Eric said, she’s a rich character, there’s so much to be explored.”

Herron says, though, that during her time on the show, material about Sylvie was added rather than cut — specifically, those scenes of her as a child, being kidnapped by the TVA. “This was before my time, but I know in the writers’ room, there were lots of avenues exploring Sylvie on the run and what her life was like,” Herron says. “I wouldn’t want to speak more to those, because I wasn’t there when they were being discussed. But something wasn’t in there that was important to me — I felt we should see her [history] in the TVA. Me and the team were talking about how it made complete sense, because episode 4 is all about twisting the idea that the TVA might be good on its head. And so that’s something that came in later, once I joined, was seeing her as a child. I think we needed to see that, not to understand her completely, but to get an idea of her motivations, why she’s so angry at this place.”

Talking more broadly about the series finale, Herron says the last few episodes weren’t as heavily referential as the first episodes, which she intended as “a love letter to sci-fi.” While early images like the TVA’s interrogation rooms had specific visual references from past science fiction, episode 6’s locations were drawn more from collaborations with the crew.

“The idea of the physical timeline being circular, our storyboard artists came up with that,” Herron says. “I had in the scripts, ‘We move through space to the end of time,” and then me and [storyboard artist Darrin Denlinger] discussed how we could play with the idea of time, while also adding MCU nods. He was like, ‘What if the timeline is circular?’ I think that’s such a striking image, like the Citadel at the End of Time is the needle on a record player. I just thought that was such a cool image, but it wasn’t necessarily taken from anything.”

Episode 6 focuses heavily on the mysterious figure He Who Remains and his citadel, a space she says was largely conceived by production designer Kasra Farahani. “I remember he brought in the art of the Citadel, and I thought it was beautiful,” Herron says. “He said, ‘The Citadel has been carved from an actual meteorite,’ which I thought was such an inspired idea. And He Who Remains’ office is the only finished portion of it.”

Loki and Sylvie at the Citadel Photo: Marvel Studios

She says there are only a few direct homages in episode 6, including the zoom shot through space, which directly referenced a similar sequence in Robert Zemeckis1997 film Contact.

“And then I have my Teletubbies reference for episode 5,” Herron says. “I wanted the Void to feel like an overgrown garden, like a kind of forgotten place. And I realized I’d pitched it as the British countryside. I remember trying to explain it to ILM, who did the visual effects, and saying, ‘Oh, you know, it’s like the Teletubbies. It’s just rolling hills, but they go on forever.’ That actually was quite a helpful reference in the end, which is funny.”

Asked for her favorite set memory from shooting the season, Herron says it comes down to Tom Hiddleston starting a mania for physical exertion before takes. “Sometimes he runs around set to get himself in the right mindset before he performs,” she says. “He does pushups. You know, you’re going into an action scene, you want to look like you’ve just been running. And it became infectious across all the cast. We’ve got so much footage of — I think Jack [Veal] ended up doing it, who plays Kid Loki. I’ve got [shots of] him and Sophia doing pushups and squats, just to get ready. It was so funny watching that echo across all the cast. I think all of them ended up doing those exercises with him at some point. It was so funny.”

“That might be my favorite set story, but it’s honestly, not a sweet one,” she adds. “I would say my favorite thing is his enthusiasm. He’s a very kind empathetic person. We were filming this in quite tough circumstances, a lot of people were far from home and isolating, and he brought this warmth and energy and joy to the set every day. And I think that made everyone feel very safe and very bonded. I’m forever grateful to him for doing that.”