News

Vikings Star Katheryn Winnick Says Goodbye to TV's Most Brutal Series

From farmer and shield maiden to queen to madwoman, Lagertha's evolution has been epic.

by | November 26, 2019 | Comments

Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha in Vikings (1, 3 & 5 Jonathan Hession; 2 & 4 Bernard Walsh/©History Channel / Photo 1 Courtesy Everett Collection)

(Photo by Jonathan Hession, 1, 3 & 5; Bernard Walsh, 2 & 4 / ©History Channel / Photo 1 Courtesy Everett Collection)

Katheryn Winnick has worn many faces over Vikings’ six seasons, and as the History network drama reaches its conclusion, the actress is clearly grateful for the luck she’s had in playing such an epic role.

“Lagertha’s journey throughout the years has been a huge evolution where she was a farmer, wife, shield maiden, queen,” Winnick told Rotten Tomatoes. “She ended up struggling, losing everything, went mad. At the end of season 5, she’s in a place where she’s reevaluating her purpose in life and trying to get back to what made her most happy, and that was really the early stage of her life of being a farmer — when she was a stay-at-home mom with kids on the farm with Ragnar — so that part of it, she’s going to be re-exploring this year.”

When Vikings began in 2013, Travis Fimmel led the ensemble cast as Lagertha’s husband Ragnar, who started the series as a farmer and rose to become King of Denmark. Fimmel left in season 4, and following Ragnar’s death in the show, the character’s surviving family members — including second wife Aslaug, first wife Lagertha, and sons by both — began a lengthy and bloody contest for the throne, which Lagertha took and again lost.

Season 6 of the series, which was created and written by Michael Hirst, sees Lagertha older, fed up with the cycle of violence, and eager to return to a more peaceful existence. Her son Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) is on the throne with the support of his half-brothers Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) and Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) after defeating their tyrannical brother Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen).

Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Winnick about Lagertha’s evolution, her directing debut this season on episode 608 (airing in 2020), and the “old Lagertha” makeup.


Vikings -s6 Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha (Lagertha -Katheryn Winnick-Vikings_PHOTO CREDIT Bernard Walsh and History)

(Photo by Bernard Walsh and History)

Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: I wanted to talk about how Vikings has changed for you over the seasons.

Katheryn Winnick: I’m one of the only cast members that was there from day one to going into the final season … so it’s been a huge honor to be part of everyone’s journey as the evolution of the show changed from the first season. We only had one or two sound stages, and at the end we had five or six different ones. It’s crazy how much it’s just expanded, not just in terms of space, but production value. And we had more of a budget to do more of the effects and more costumes. Vikings just traveled to different countries, and that’s evident in this year’s story line, as well as the years prior. We went to Iceland, we went to Morocco, we went into — I believe this year you’ll see a new cast in Russia. So it’s been an exciting journey, not only just in terms of story lines, but also visually appealing to be able to tap into different cultures.

It seems very much like Lagertha is beginning a new journey this season. How would you characterize that?

Winnick: She’s been around the block. At the end, I think we were laughing: I’m like, “How old is Lagertha now in this season?” And we played around with different ways of aging her, added a little bit with clothes more of a weight gain. We did a limp. I ended up doing scars on her face to show the passage of time. So she wears her scars physically, and her emotional scars as well. And the gray wig, obviously, is a big part of it. And we played around also this year with prosthetics and aging her eyes and neck and hands. So hopefully that’s evident in the viewers. When we have six seasons to tell a life story, it’s important to be able to have that contrast, especially in the final season and the final chapter for Lagertha.


It does come across that you’re trying to show that aging, but to be honest, you still look really youthful in the show. I’m sure a lot happens in a short time span in a Viking’s life —

Winnick (laughs): Oh, come on! I wasted two and a half hours, three hours everyday [in makeup] … The real-life Vikings actually really only lived — I think the average age was 39.

The fans, being so loyal, literally [sent] Michael Hirst death threats if they kill Lagertha, so in the end, we needed to come up with creative ways of still keeping her storyline alive. Chronologically she’s a grandmother at this stage, with Bjorn’s children and everyone else. So it was an interesting journey as an actor to go through that final stage. You can see in the trailers that she buries her sword, that she kind of gives up being the shield maiden now. Especially since it defined who she is for so long, I struggled with how to be able to define her sense of strength and strong will even without the sword. But you will see Lagertha is definitely a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think she regrets anything. She doesn’t give up easy, and that’s definitely evident in this season.

She’s not going to go full Floki on us, is she? She does seem to have a spirituality, but —

Winnick: I’ve had many conversations with Michael Hirst about this: Out of all the other characters, Lagertha’s had a very strong sense of faith and really believed in the pagan gods, and her moral character, it doesn’t necessarily sway too much compared to the other ones, compared to Ivar or anyone else. So she’s determined to keep that faith going. This is her time to now redefine herself and give herself to the fate of the gods. She won’t go all Floki on you, if that’s what you’re asking.


Katheryn Winnick directing on the set of HISTORY's VIKINGS_Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Hession and History

(Photo by Jonathan Hession and History)

Fans are going to have to wait a little while to see how it unfolds. Are you happy with this final season?

Winnick: I am very happy with the final season in many different ways. You get to explore Lagertha in a different light. There was one, or a couple episodes, depending on how they edit it together, that Lagertha — I know I was rehearsing this scene for weeks, and hopefully you’ll see and know what I’m talking about, but it was definitely very momentous for her, and hopefully it came across to the viewers, because this is really labor intensive and emotionally intense this one particular scene. I’m also extremely happy with this because I got a chance to go behind the camera for the first time.

I was going to ask about that next. 

Winnick: My directorial debut was 608. It was such an honor to be asked, and being the only actor on the series after seven years to be asked to direct and go behind the cameras and work with my fellow co-stars and friends and crew members and tell a story that I’m so proud of, that was an incredible experience.

Are you in that episode?

Winnick (whispers): I can’t tell you that.

OK —

Winnick: But I will tell you this: It was definitely my highlight of working on it. I asked Michael Hirst, “I want three things out of my directorial debut: Give me a big event. Give me something epic and amazing.” You will see that is actually in the trailers right now. So there is a big event. I wanted character-driven material that I can push the actors, my fellow costars, to new levels that the audience hasn’t seen them do before. And I’m happy to say that I definitely put Alexander Ludwig through the ringer. And even Marco and Jordan — Hvitserk and Ubbe. The third thing is just coming from a martial art background and doing my own stunts and being passionate about the fight choreography, I asked him for a big fight, a big epic battle, and you will see that as well.


Lagertha_Katheryn Winnick_Vikings_PHOTO CREDIT Jonathan Hession and History

(Photo by Jonathan Hession and History)

Now that you’re facing the the tail end of your series, what will you miss most about your time on the show?

Winnick: I don’t miss getting into the costume hair and makeup, because that was always a process. We tried to get it down at the end. That wig was a challenge because we were shooting in high definition and you only get X amount of space to glue it on. Or even the prosthetics with the latex around the eyes — I have very sensitive skin, so the process was definitely a process.
What I won’t miss: The coffee in Ireland’s not the best. I’ll tell you that. They made instant coffee. Our craft table was pretty always kind of scarce, but it kept us lean. But yeah, the instant coffee I’m not a huge fan of.

What’s coming up next for you?

Winnick: I’ve had a really busy year. Really excited to say that I’ve done three projects, three different independent movies. There’s an incredible script called Flag Day, written by Jez Butterworth (who just won the Tony for Ferryman), and Sean Penn directed and starred in. I play his wife, and our daughter is played by his real daughter, Dylan Penn. We’ve got Regina King in this, you’ve got Miles Teller, we have Josh Brolin. It was really an amazing experience on set to work with Sean, and especially becoming now a director myself — I just did a show on Netflix; I directed, Wu Assassins — but it’s nice just to see him [work]. He’s so accomplished and brilliant as a director and knows what it takes to get the performance out of you, but also aesthetically knows what is pleasing and what he wants. I wanted to really see him work and spend time with him on set and create something that hopefully people will realize how special it is, because I have a place in my heart for that as well. And to go through like three decades, we went through ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and to have that physical change of — there’s prosthetics, there’s hair changes — It was a very interesting movie, and I’m really passionate about that one. Great experience.

I did a movie with Liam Neeson I just finished called Minuteman. I’ve been a fan of his since back in the day, obviously, Taken and Schindler’s List. He’s also from Ireland. I played his daughter. That’s coming out. And did a movie this summer also with Tommy Lee Jones and Aaron Eckhart, more of a conspiracy theory, written and directed by a female director, April Mullen, so it’s nice to be able to support a female storyteller.


Bjorn_Alexander Ludwig_ Lagertha_Katheryn Winnick_Vikings_PHOTO CREDIT Jonathan Hession and HISTORY

(Photo by Jonathan Hession and History)

Speaking of women in power, Lagertha has been such a huge influence on women because she’s such a strong character. She’s one of the most powerful women on television. How do you feel about portraying a character like that? What are some of the responses you’ve gotten about being her from women?

Winnick: I am still blown away when I meet fans that are diehard fans, and such loyal fans of Lagertha, just because it’s — not just women and girls, it’s men too that really look up to her, respect her, like her. So it’s nice that it’s reached both genders. But more importantly, it’s also around the world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel for the last few years. I was in India, I was in Brazil, I’ve been in Argentina, Canada, and all over Europe, really, and all around in different cultures people from all around the world, not only recognize her and me, I guess, but they also really feel the same way, and then really feel that there’s a part of them in Lagertha, or they look up to her, and that’s been remarkable to see.

Even in India, you can go to different villages and people, they live on their Netflix. And Philippines, people don’t even have running water, but they all have cell phones and they watch Vikings on their cellphones. It was just amazing just to see how it can inspire people everywhere.

It’s a little strange when you see somebody, when they have your face tattooed on their bodies. That’s a little surreal because I feel kind of uncomfortable with it just because it’s like, “Hey, you’re stuck with me for life.” No, but on one hand you can’t ask for a bigger compliment than to have such loyal fans.

On the flip side it’s also made it hard to find projects that I’m also as inspired, and work with writers that can write such a complex, strong, yet vulnerable character. It’s been a challenge. I’ve read a lot of scripts that I’m not wanting to sign on to because I feel that the characters aren’t — or the woman character is underwritten or their voice isn’t as multi-dimensional as I would want it to be. And I think we still have a long way to go, and hopefully we encourage more female writers, female directors, and female producers to be able to tell those stories. Have the men do the same as well.


Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha in Vikings season 6 (Bernard Walsh and History)

(Photo by Bernard Walsh and History)

Are you saying that Michael Hirst has ruined you for life?

Winnick: I’m just going to have be in a Michael Hirst movie for the rest of my life. How about that? Not really. Yeah. He set the bar really high, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Especially in TV when you’re signing up for multiple months, if not years, of your life, you want to make sure there’s a character you can really sink your teeth into and be inspired.

I learned a lot from Lagertha. I really, truly did. And the truth of the matter is, if I was 100-percent honest with you, I’ve yet to really say goodbye. I actually have a hard time watching it. I haven’t been able to watch the episodes in this season. I prepared, obviously, as a director to watch certain ones, but as a whole, it’s just so close to my heart still. And now that everybody knows that this season’s finished, I think maybe next year I’ll finally get a chance to sit down and binge-watch all of them, but it’s still too fresh for me. It feels like you’re saying goodbye to a big part of yourself and life. It’s hard to say. You go through a mourning process a little bit because, as you know, the show ended.

The fans are there mourning with you, but, you know, “Valhalla.”

Winnick: To end on an up note, this season’s been amazing. It’s going to be surprising. It’s definitely going to be a bunch of shockers, and the fans will not be disappointed. They’re going to be ecstatic when they see this season.

Vikings returns for its final season on Wednesday, December 4 at 9/8C on History.


Tag Cloud

science fiction 45 universal monsters diversity Elton John live event streaming movies Travel Channel USA Network cults The Academy Western ABC TBS italian foreign Music sopranos cartoon Cosplay 72 Emmy Awards New York Comic Con nature debate A24 godzilla IFC Films BET 73rd Emmy Awards art house blaxploitation Fargo Lionsgate ghosts worst 93rd Oscars cancelled television Fall TV Certified Fresh satire MCU 2020 Cartoon Network deadpool MTV renewed TV shows cancelled TV series movie YA war HBO Go The Purge Ghostbusters name the review Alien dreamworks dogs concert Oscars CBS All Access robots 90s Shudder 4/20 Paramount Plus vampires game of thrones sag awards Emmy Nominations APB black comedy Disney+ Disney Plus 71st Emmy Awards Writers Guild of America binge Pacific Islander king kong video on demand boxing USA Country supernatural black Opinion Rom-Com dexter Stephen King Logo HBO Max VH1 IMDb TV new york Countdown comic books rt labs critics edition toronto Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt basketball genre mission: impossible Biopics Baby Yoda GoT biopic cancelled TV shows Amazon Prime indiana jones franchise leaderboard hidden camera telelvision stoner Discovery Channel new star wars movies Binge Guide golden globe awards Superheroes worst movies cinemax stand-up comedy fast and furious DC streaming service scorecard VOD emmy awards sequel Netflix Christmas movies Grammys directors composers Hulu asian-american AMC spanish language classics Sony Pictures El Rey 20th Century Fox kids Creative Arts Emmys finale TLC based on movie talk show south america E! SundanceTV Horror Acorn TV psycho Spike anthology political drama FXX TV 007 Ellie Kemper award winner FX Lifetime Mudbound Arrowverse Mary Tyler Moore movies biography TV renewals chucky Cannes docuseries E3 Video Games reviews Amazon Studios VICE aliens Amazon SXSW NBC young adult miniseries Apple Comic-Con@Home 2021 halloween razzies hispanic laika Kids & Family book adaptation Pop CW Seed TIFF Extras casting CMT Vudu versus australia Reality Competition comic crime documentaries Spring TV Rock green book archives lord of the rings TCA Awards canceled TV shows Mary poppins Thanksgiving Sundance Now Lifetime Christmas movies japanese Instagram Live facebook a nightmare on elm street Year in Review Awards screenings SDCC CNN The Walt Disney Company toy story criterion adaptation Adult Swim stop motion Infographic 2015 disaster posters docudrama dramedy Trivia wonder woman Star Wars rt archives The Walking Dead Valentine's Day BAFTA feel good anime Tumblr dragons zero dark thirty trailers Red Carpet Podcast dc christmas movies Sundance child's play unscripted BBC America Hallmark Christmas movies harry potter television japan Freeform Lucasfilm Nickelodeon heist movie live action See It Skip It TCA 2017 Netflix superhero zombie President Disney streaming service Dark Horse Comics LGBT Martial Arts RT History 2017 Tubi trophy rotten Walt Disney Pictures kong theme song Comics on TV monster movies international french halloween tv twilight tv talk Winter TV Watching Series spy thriller ratings target Election Tokyo Olympics free movies royal family witnail Fantasy Film venice ViacomCBS festival TruTV First Look screen actors guild Endgame 2019 Peacock Starz Turner Classic Movies Comedy Central transformers period drama mob rom-coms book Paramount Network comic book movie travel ABC Family GIFs rotten movies we love BBC One Sundance TV The Witch YouTube Premium TV movies blockbusters Britbox cancelled BET Awards game show DC Comics Family Shondaland Trophy Talk discovery Chilling Adventures of Sabrina blockbuster Crunchyroll Tarantino richard e. Grant all-time Pet Sematary mcc adenture Apple TV Plus ITV reboot spain 2016 Fox News revenge A&E Winners slasher IFC historical drama technology animated adventure TNT Apple TV+ children's TV Action rt labs Fox Searchlight Universal Esquire space documentary Ovation 21st Century Fox breaking bad Comic Book Rocky American Society of Cinematographers gangster Anna Paquin series Comedy Musicals news true crime Hallmark Television Critics Association The Arrangement Star Trek TCA jamie lee curtis dark streaming Box Office Superheroe comiccon Pop TV legend Animation BBC Image Comics hispanic heritage month slashers nbcuniversal Best and Worst aapi Hear Us Out Calendar Nominations Neflix X-Men action-comedy YouTube Red kaiju TCM golden globes MSNBC Holiday Mystery 99% spider-verse OneApp films batman Exclusive Video Marathons hollywood scary movies independent Syfy know your critic Holidays remakes king arthur TV Land Warner Bros. spider-man Masterpiece teaser superman Schedule Song of Ice and Fire serial killer Disney Disney Plus Academy Awards AMC Plus Food Network marvel comics CBS elevated horror ID scary joker Quiz festivals Set visit quibi Sci-Fi new zealand NYCC Polls and Games boxoffice San Diego Comic-Con medical drama Photos crime thriller spinoff Amazon Prime Video football cats crossover Crackle werewolf obituary spanish Reality Columbia Pictures OWN FOX cops Drama 1990s Heroines comic book movies Wes Anderson The CW politics Funimation scene in color Toys crime drama Pirates cooking Super Bowl mutant Sneak Peek Awards Tour fresh romantic comedy Film Festival YouTube popular social media james bond Avengers saw dceu Chernobyl justice league RT21 Television Academy sequels latino Interview HBO DC Universe Rocketman DGA hist singing competition 2021 DirecTV Epix sports parents ABC Signature Classic Film Trailer nfl women GLAAD Bravo LGBTQ Tomatazos sitcom Summer NBA Emmys WGN psychological thriller video thriller police drama Mindy Kaling Paramount marvel cinematic universe doctor who First Reviews suspense indie ESPN comedies 2018 PaleyFest Pride Month Marvel Television mockumentary Turner Showtime Universal Pictures 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nat Geo prank National Geographic zombies canceled olympics Marvel Studios best comics Black History Month die hard TV One WarnerMedia PBS critics FX on Hulu 24 frames PlayStation Disney Channel Legendary romance Marvel what to watch Spectrum Originals Musical Black Mirror Character Guide critic resources strong female leads Mary Poppins Returns Premiere Dates Brie Larson TCA Winter 2020 jurassic park Broadway high school Captain marvel Teen Pixar Christmas cars natural history History Women's History Month vs. pirates of the caribbean