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Exclusive Interview: Katheryn Winnick reflects on playing the iconic Lagertha

Lagertha close up of the end
Katheryn Winnick in her final moments as Lagertha. Pic credit: History

The following is an interview and recap of last night’s episode of HISTORY’s Vikings, “Death and the Serpent.”

**Beware of major spoilers for the episode if you’re not caught up.**

After escaping death on many fronts, including taking the best that Ivar and King Harald could throw at her, the future that the Seer (John Kavanaugh) told Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) finally came true. A son of Ragnar Lothbrok took her life.

While most assume it would eventually be Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen), in retribution for killing Aslaug, instead, it was Hvitserk (Marco Ilso), who did the deed.

Under the influence of drugs and massive hysteria (he was also haunted by many personal demons), the troubled son of Ragnar Lothbrok stabbed an already wounded Lagertha multiple times as she attempted to make it to the great hall in Kattegat.

It was a shocking, but poetic end to a magnificent character and sets up a major send-off for the greatest shield maiden in the next episode – and wait until Bjorn finds out!

All of this came after Lagertha, and her village successfully stood their ground and defended their community in a thrilling stand against White Hair (Kieran O’Reilly) and the other bandits, with the help of Gunnhild (Ragga Ragnars) and her shield maidens.

Meanwhile, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) lost the election of Norway to King Harald Finehair (Peter Franzen), who falsely promised to help the other Earls and Kings for their votes.

After nearly getting killed by Harald’s men, Bjorn and Flatnose Kjetell (Adam Copeland) barely escaped with the help of Erik “The Red” Thorvaldsson (Eric Johnson), who made his first appearance.

Monsters and Critics has an exclusive interview with Katheryn Winnick about the last episode, where we will see Lagertha alive. 

M&C: Katheryn, for fans of Vikings everywhere, let me first thank you for the last eight years for your memorable portrayal and journey of Lagertha. Please take me through the battle scene with Kieran O’Reilly, “White Hair.” It was an intense scene of thrilling choreography and raw physicality. 

Katheryn Winnick: Aw, thank you for saying that, that means a lot. That battle was extremely important to me because it was her last battle.

Coming from a martial arts background and doing my own stunts, and knowing that it was her last battle, I just wanted to make it meaningful, raw, heart-wrenching, undone, not pretty, and as real and authentic as I could possibly make it.

That was a very big rehearsal process where I worked with Lee McDermott, who is one of my stunt coordinators, for weeks and weeks. 

White Hair (Kieran O'Reilly) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick)
White Hair (Kieran O’Reilly) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) in a duel to the death. Pic credit: History.

M&C: There had to be so much emotion involved as well, knowing this was her last battle she would fight.  

Winnick: Once you’re shooting things, your emotions are into it, and things are always heightened so you need to get these moves in your body, and to be able to act it out. I wanted to be able to be in the moment of that, and that took an extensive rehearsal process.

There was a huge size difference too. Kieran was over six foot tall, and my real height is 5’5″ and a half,  so I’m not very tall. But I had to use agility and strategy than brutal force and make the moves authentic and real.

That helps get people on the edge of their seats, thinking it might be Lagertha’s last moment. So it was important to tell that story right. 

M&C: Looking back though, there’s plenty to be proud about, a lot of mileage and spaces that most women have never been able to explore. 

Winnick: If you look at the entire seven years, she’s been through so much and it’s been sprinkled throughout the seasons.

She has been put through the wringer, she’s been challenged in a lot of different ways, I think that as a female shield maiden, and as a female actor, I felt a little under-estimated in the beginning.

I think my character was supposed to be on the show for a few years, maybe two, but I became the only cast member from the first day to last as long as I did.

M&C: You wound up appearing in 70 of what will be 90 episodes, the most of any cast member, thus far. Lagertha came into this golden age of television at a time when audiences were starving for a character like her.

Winnick: You have to constantly fight to continue your storylines, getting a chance for the writer to write for you and see you in a certain way when it’s been known to be a male-dominated show and fan base.

I’m pleasantly happy to say that now History channel and some of the demographics have proven that [Vikings] viewership is up to 50 percent females watching it. Girls, women, and wives are watching with their husbands or boyfriends. 

Hopefully, this is just the start of the beginning of more strong women on television and hopefully, I lead by example to help other women to do the transition from actor to director [on Vikings episode 608 “Valhalla can wait”] as well because we need more women getting behind the camera to share their creative insight and be different filmmakers.

I think it’s important to be able to support women on that side as well. 

Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) dying in Hvitserk’s (Marco Ilso) arms. Pic credit: History.

M&C: What’s always impressed me with Lagertha are the subtle details you’ve worked on with Michael, like coming to peace with both Bjorn’s and Ragnar’s flaws and devoting her later years to live out his dreams and carrying on his honor.

She also embraced a family structure that audience members could identify with, even if they found it difficult to see their hero make these decisions. What will you always love about her?

Winnick: [Long pause] That she’s a strong, yet flawed character. She’s not perfect. Her life isn’t all mapped out for her. Yes, she believes in destiny and fate, But her husband cheated on her, she divorced him, she was in a battered relationship in Season 2 and was a victim of domestic violence.

She’s been usurped by other men, been betrayed on. She has definitely had to overcome so many different challenges throughout her lifespan, yet I couldn’t be more grateful and blessed to have the opportunity to play such an iconic character, to be put through that ringer.

Most [actors] in their entire lives don’t get to have one role or one job that allows you to have such a complex set of circumstances to really dive in and sink your teeth in as an actor. 

M&C: What are you hoping is Lagertha’s legacy in both television and beyond?

Winnick: I’ve been able to play such an iconic character for seven years and that’s the biggest gift. I just look at myself at how I was when I first told, “In five days, you start shooting. Get on a plane to Ireland!”

And now coming home seven years later, I’m a woman and I’ve learned so much about myself. It’s been a personal journey, not only as an actor but as a director, and as a human being and that is so invaluable.

It’s definitely been a highlight of my career. Hopefully, she lives on and is an inspiration to young girls and women for years and years to come.  

We’ll have more of our discussion with Katheryn over the next two weeks about the upcoming funeral and her directorial debut, but let’s hear your immediate reactions to Lagertha’s death on Vikings.

What you think will happen on the show as a result and any other thoughts on the famous shield maiden? 

Ernie Estrella is a TV and film critic. He is also a contributing editor at SyfyWire (formerly Blastr) and has also written for USA Today.
Ernie Estrella

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