Lagertha Lothbrok

If Northmen are bloodthirsty, intrepid raiders — and they are — then Lagertha is about as North as you can go. But she has more direction than that. Played by an intense Katheryn Winnick, Lagertha becomes one of the most interesting heroes of historical TV series ‘Vikings’, but only after awesomeing her way through other peoples’ stories: one in particular.

Spoiler Alert
The first and biggest story Lagertha fights through is very nearly a love story. It’s the tale of Ragnar, her ambitious husband and the legendary figure at the head of the show. In this story, Lagertha is introduced as Ragnar’s shieldmaiden wife, and is labelled a “warrior mother” by reviewers. It’s a stupid term, really: TV writers are too quick to treat fighting prowess as some kind of twist on a female character. But in this case, the writers in question are skilful enough to use the “warrior mother” cliché as a springboard for more unique traits to come.

But the clichés aren’t over yet. Lagertha’s role in Ragnar’s story is one we’ve all yawned at many times before: she’s a wife desperate to give her husband more sons. For one weird moment she's almost Anne Boleyn. If only these poor sods weren't so quick to blame themselves for the gender and mortality of their fetuses.

The reason why a plot about Lagertha’s infertility is more Ragnar’s story than her own is that the historic character of Ragnar is fated to have many sons, and who will bear them if not his wife? This question is directly related to Ragnar’s beardy legacy, and he knows it: he would rather risk his marriage than his Wikipedia page.

In insulting her, Ragnar writes Lagertha from his story. First he insults her with his protectiveness, then doubly so with his infidelity. When he proposes bigamy (good job, Ragnar!), she packs up her mighty shield and heads for the open road. It’s a scene made particularly compelling by the choice of their twelve-year-old son, Bjorn, who dutifully admires his father but decides to leave with Lagertha. He would rather be part of her story than Ragnar’s. So would I, to be honest. At least she doesn’t have a Monk fetish.

Anyway, it’s this choice from Bjorn that casts a stark Scandinavian light on why Lagertha is so deserving of her own story. Bjorn – and later his own wife Þórunn – reveres Lagertha for her unswerving integrity and power. While she has the flaws common to someone so proud and ambitious, and enjoys her sins like any other “pagan”, she also has something the others seem to lack – you could call it virtue, maybe.

But Lagertha takes a less than virtuous approach to surviving other stories in ‘Vikings’. The gritty tale of Earl Sigvard, for instance, who she marries after leaving Ragnar. In the abusive Sigvard’s story she toys with the role of victim, but this doesn’t last long before she stabs him in the eye (to riotous applause), and in doing so claims his title of Earl. Instead of simply abandoning Sigvard’s story as she did Ragnar’s, she ends it — and God Odin it's a good move.

Now known as Earl Ingstad, Lagertha travels to Wessex and into the tale of flouncy King Ecbert, which by the end of season three is not yet over. Lagertha’s role in his story is that of the intriguing foreigner with enough virtue for him to exploit. Indeed, after being betrayed by Ecbert and later her own deputy, Lagertha would do well to set up a shield-wall of mistrust if she wants to survive.

And hopefully she will. Survive, I mean. Her own story has been given the depth to float outwards like a fishing net, free to ensnare more characters and grapple with others. Sometimes even Ragnar is outshone by Lagertha’s potential as an abiding legend.
You couldn't kill me if you tried for a hundred years.
Our whole lives are just stories.
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Published on 7 May 2015
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