History’s first scripted series, Vikings, set sail last week with a full boat, carrying more than 8 million viewers. Airing Sundays at 10/9c, the series follows Ragnar Lothbrok, a warrior with ideas — namely the notion that, whether his lord Jarl Haraldson believes it or not, there are lands to the west of Norway to be “explored”/pillaged. At Ragnar’s side is his formidable wife Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick, who shared with TVLine her take on this epic, oft-brutal saga.
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TVLINE | What do we know about the women of this society, in this time, that is reflected in your portrayal of Lagertha?
It’s really interesting you say that because there’s very little information out there. The Christians wrote a lot about Vikings, saying that they were these barbaric warriors that just raped and pillaged villages. But what’s great about how Michael Hirst (The Tudors) wrote the series is that you get an intimate look at who they were as a culture but also their family life and their day-to-day interactions with each other. What I found interesting, doing my research, is how strong and empowering the women really were in the 8th Century, how they were allowed to not only be mothers and wives but also be warriors and have a say in the society and, eventually, rule. They were very strong and celebrated, very fierce and empowered.
TVLINE | So, the fact that Lagertha fancies herself a great maker of shields…. There’s precedent.
My character’s based on a real person, one who was raised a shield maiden. It was passed on to different generations, from her mother and her grandmother, and she fought in battle. A lot of people don’t believe that there would be female warriors in the time period, but we worked with a historian to get as much accurate information on there as possible.
TVLINE | Teeing up Episode 2: What is Lagertha’s stance as Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel) is about to leave her and embark on his first “rogue” voyage?
Lagertha is not one just to sit and do nothing about it. She definitely is someone that’s going to stick up for what she believes in, even though it does make sense that somebody has to [stay behind to] protect their farm and their land, since he’s going against Jarl Haraldson’s (Gabriel Byrne) wishes by going on a raid. But she’s not necessarily happy being at home, and I think a great example is when Lagertha really beats up her husband, testing him, saying, “Am I not good enough for you? Am I not strong enough for you?” And by saying that she saved his life in the past…. There’s a backstory of a true partnership, a real, equal relationship. Watch that scene here, then read on for more:
TVLINE | I was about to ask what backstory you and Travis have in your minds for these characters.
[In my view] it’s a marriage based on not only a true partnership but also chemistry and lust for each other. They’re very passionate people. They’re very raw and, I guess I would say, close to the earth, in a sense, where they’re not only amazing parents but they’re also warriors. They’ve been in the battlefield, and I think that he really respects her for that, as she does for him. That strengthens their relationship to the core.
TVLINE | What’s up with Ragnar’s brother Rollo, though? There’s certain subtext in one scene with Lagertha.
Michael is such a great writer because he kind of allows you to make choices. I do think that Rollo (Clive Standen) has hit on Lagertha many times in the past. I don’t think it’s gone very far, but I think she’s used to it. Lagertha’s very faithful to her husband. One of my favorite lines is, “No one would ever test you. You’re too great a warrior, but not so great a man.” That says a lot about who he is as a person and how she feels about him…the fact that he’s not respecting her relationship with Ragnar, his brother.
TVLINE | There’s a battle scene in the not-too-distant future where Ragnar calls out an order and everyone aligns their shields to create a “wall.” Is that based on a documented strategy?
The shield wall…yes, very much so. The way it was written and how it was shot, there were like 200 warriors against our group of less than 20. It’s crazy, but that’s the way they actually fought in battle. It not only allowed them to defend the oncoming arrows and swords but also to move together and shoot through the holes. It’s a really interesting, smart tactic, which really impressed me. Even where they’re fighting people whose weaponry was more advanced and stronger, the Vikings had that strategy — as well as the indomitable spirit — that gave them fearlessness.
TVLINE | Talking about things steeped in history: What about the threesome scene coming up? Does that just speak to the Vikings’ overall appetite for things?
You know, when I read that scene, I saw it more as me taunting [the third party]. A lot of people are responding to that scene saying that I invited him in, but how it was written, [Ragnar and I] were laughing ahead of time, whispering…. It’s not just all the sudden a sexual scene, like Spartacus, that you just have to throw in there. It showed [the other guy] is very into his faith, that he wouldn’t betray his God.
TVLINE | There had to be a tremendous amount of trust between you and Travis, shooting all these kinds of scenes.
Oh, definitely. Travis is really great to work — very present and in the moment, intense and hard-working. He really inspired all of u to work hard, as well. It’s funny, I was one of the last people cast, actually. Travis, they were trying to convince him to stay an extra day, just to screentest with me, and I think that really helped, to meet him beforehand and to see if we had chemistry. Because it was really important for Lagertha and Ragnar to have that spark.
TVLINE | Are we going to see, at any point, that Lagertha is a woman of ideas as well as strength?
Great question. You’ll see, definitely, a journey with Lagertha. When Ragnar goes off to different raids, Lagertha has a lot more responsibilities within the community, and she has to struggle. Her core of her personality is tested. I don’t want to give too much away but… they put me through the wringer, emotionally, shooting this, which was such a gift but also very hard.