Katheryn Winnick: Vikings Quest 'Put Me Through the Wringer, Emotionally, Which Was a Gift'

Vikings Spoilers -- Katheryn WinnickHistory’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.

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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. Vikings_Ragnar_Lagertha_DWThey’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.

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  1. Ana says:

    It’s funny that she says that Christians portrayed Vikings as these savages that come and pillage when the shows portrays them exactly the same way. They are still human and they have their own struggles and the challenges of wanting a better life but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they robbed and pillaged. So, its not exactly a Christian representation as much as it is a historical representation. Anywho, I’m enjoying the series although every time the modern vernacular comes out I chuckle.

    • Rune says:

      Did you know that almost any tribe and nation did exactly the same? The Franks for example exterminated the European mainland Saxons years prior to this.
      It is Christian propaganda that Vikings were any worse.

    • taliesin says:

      I believe what she was inferring is that the majority of writings we have about the Vikings are from Christian countries, and all from the victim aspect talking about their brutality. There’s not much writing about Vikings’ lives when they’re not out raiding. Vikings weren’t writing books about themselves sitting around milking goats. :)

      • Fjóla says:

        I don’t get it… there are plenty of sagas about the vikings that are not written by the christians. I don’t know if all of them exist in English translations, but the Old Norse is pretty easy to read

  2. Isabelle says:

    I’m loving the show and my favorite parts are the scenes with her and Ragnar, great dynamic there and with the children.

    • M3rc Nate says:

      I absolutely agree. I actually started watching the show because of her in many things but the big one being Bones, in which i looked her up & read interviews and thought she was a gorgeous badass. Black belt and all that…very cool. –

      I like the kid a lot too, i usually hate kid actors cause they are almost always sh*t, but so far hes great.

      Im very glad to read that about the 3sum scene. I get that for other cultures in the past (and even now) its totally within the norm so i wouldnt want the show to edit itself from histories truth, but im glad to hear it was a tease, not a real invitation. Last thing i want to think about is Katheryn in a devils 3 some.

      Something i would have liked to be asked in the interview was how in ep. 1 she said to her husband “dont rape too many women when you raid” or something to that effect. He then said something like shes all he needs or something. It would have been cool if the interviewer asked if that was the historical norm for husbands to do and the wives were totally fine with it. Or if there was some sense of monogamy and it was the unmarried men that did the raping.

  3. dude says:

    I’ll watch for her. I’ve loved her since she was Holly on Student Bodies. LOVED that show in the 90s!

  4. Luke says:

    Katheryn is so damn gorgeous!!! And she knows how to sell her show!!!

  5. Truefan says:

    Katheryn and Travis are so attractive and have such great chemistry together,it makes them a pleasure to watch. The whole production is enjoyable because they did their research and made the series authentic . Hope the History Channel keeps making shows like this.

  6. mondosalvo says:

    “History’s first scripted series”

    I love that you’re pretending Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Ax Mex, et al aren’t scripted as all hell.

    • Mo says:

      Just because the actors – oops, I mean the cast – are told what to say doesn’t mean they are given scripts.

  7. Michael Hirst’s VIKINGS is really an interesting study of 793(AD)-794(AD) Vikings. The one thing to remember about the show is that the great British monk, Alcuin of York, was already in Aachen (the capital of Charlemagne’s empire) at the time of the raid on Lindisfarne Priory. Alcuin, as we recall from 7th grade World History Class, was asked by the Frank King to run the Palace School in Aachen. Therefore, without doubt, these Norse Vikings that conducted the raid, already knew of the lands west of them, i.e. Jarvic, York, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, etc. It is important to note that Lindisfarne Priory was very important to Alcuin, and it was home to several of Alcuin’s friends. Alcuin actually wanted to return to Lindisfarne prior to the Viking Raids, but was prevented
    from doing so by Charlemagne. The Frank King wanted Alcuin to stay in Aachen and administer the Palace School.

    These facts were well understood by the Vikings. At this 793-794 (AD) period, the Dane and Norse Vikings under the rule of Godfred of Hedeby, were upset with Charlemagne’s Iron Embargo against them, his ban on Viking ships from entering Frank ports, and on his expulsion of Viking Mercenaries from Frank lands. Mercenaries had aided Charlemagne in his fight against the Saxons, a common enemy. Additionally, The Dane Vikings feared that Charlemagne was about to invade Hedeby and other parts of the then Viking territory.

    This topic is covered in Amazon’s e-book, “To Kindle A Fire,” (c) 1999, a Viking novel by Richard Yarus.

    • Lovinthashow says:

      What on earth kind of 7th grade history class did you have? And talking down to us like we’re dumb is hardly the way to make anyone want to read your book.

      • World History in Kaiserslautern, Germany in 1963. I do not talk down to the reader in the blog, and I do not think the reader is dumb. I do assume that the reader has an understanding of the subject, or would not take the time to read the blog. I regret that you feel as you do about my blog because I did not intend to offend you.

  8. Michael Hirst’s VIKINGS depicted an execution by decapitation in the first episode. It is interesting to note that Jarl asked the convicted man for his preferred manner of execution. The condemed chose punishment by decapitation.
    A convicted Viking would most likely request to be executed by the most honored named sword in the warrior community. If death was not rendered by sword, then death was to be by arrow. These two execution forms assured the Viking of his all-important entry into Valhalla. There he would join Odin’s celestial Army for the battle at Ragnarok, the end-times war, against the Giants.
    A true Viking of that time would never select decapitation and the reasons are found in my Amazon e-book, “To Kindle A Fire,” © 1999, by Richard Yarus.

  9. Boat building description from “To Kindle A Fire,” (c) 1999: “Good work.” Ragnar patted the boy on his shoulders, realizing again that there was no meat on his bones and no muscle in his arms.
    “I will not make that mistake again.”
    “That’s right. You will not. You are learning. What was I saying? Oh yes, pine tar is disagreeable. And is expensive because it is hard to produce. There is a lot of ship building in Denmark. Tar is a necessity.”
    “The demand exceeds the supply,” Hakon said from behind the tiller. Hakon – remembering why Ari went to the woods for his honey – understood what made things expensive.
    “Sure.” Ragnar thought for a moment and addressed Rolf. “Tar is difficult to obtain. Pine tar is a good trade item.”
    “Sap and wool in the joints are better than moss,” Rolf said.
    “Besides, pine tar keeps a ship flexible on turbulent seas.”
    “Keeps it flexible?” Hakon asked.
    “Yes,” Ragnar said. “Not only is the ship flexible because of the tar, but the planks below the waterline are not nailed to the ship’s knees and ribs. The knees and ribs are lashed to the hull. Therefore, the ship has added flexibility.”
    Hakon was curious. “Is flexibility important? I think a ship should be watertight and strong; a ship should be rigid like a log on a lake.” As an afterthought Hakon added, “And a ship should be stable, I would imagine.”
    “Without the lashing of ribs, a ship will have little flexibility. In rough seas the movement at the ends of the strakes can be as much as six inches out of true. The give-and-take of the sea would twist us apart if we were not flexible. A ship cannot be like a log! Do not think such foolishness,” Ragnar said to the boy and then addressed the father.
    “Have you seen tar traded at the market, Rolf? What does a keg bring in Ulf?”
    Rolf shook his head in disagreement. He had not seen pine tar in Ulf. He had not seen tar at the market in Voxen. Rolf looked at the ship’s oak strakes. The wood was dry but lines of whitish tar were visible. Rolf had dabs of it on his hands and clothing. He was certain that tar would be all over his belongings when they reached Ribe.

  10. Lovinthashow says:

    Loving this show so far! But to Mr. Yarus, you readily admit your work is a novel, a work of fiction. And like your novel, this show is a fictional account of real events. Creative license has been taken to make it more appealing to viewers, just like you have done to attract readers. The comments section of this page, I believe, is meant to discuss this show (positive or negative reviews alike), NOT push your own product.

    100% accurate? No, but what is? Our records of that time are conflicting at best and downright confusing on average. Have the writers given it one HECK of an awesome effort to make it as historically accurate as possible? You bet your biscuits! And they have made an amazing show that does not disappoint! Looking forward to seeing more!

    • I think Hirst’s Vikings is a great show. It is too bad that it is not as historically accurate as it could have been. I take nothing away from the adventure and the excitement. But I do see in the program an opportunity to promote something.>>>Michael Hirst’s VIKINGS depicted an execution by decapitation in the first episode. It is interesting to note that Jarl asked the convicted man for his preferred manner of execution. The condemned chose punishment by decapitation.
      A convicted Viking would most likely request to be executed by the most honored named sword in the warrior community. If death was not rendered by sword, then death was to be by arrow. These two execution forms assured the Viking of his all-important entry into Valhalla. There he would join Odin’s celestial Army for the battle at Ragnarok, the end-times war, against the Giants.
      A true Viking of that time would never select decapitation and the reasons are found in my Amazon e-book, “To Kindle A Fire,” © 1999, by Richard Yarus.

    • Kenny Ames says:

      Thank you for posting lovingthashow….my feelings exactly!