[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of Vikings, "Death and the Serpent." Read at your own risk!]
We all knew this was coming. We just didn't think it'd be so soon. In Wednesday's episode of Vikings, "Death and the Serpent," Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) was killed by one of Ragnar's (Travis Fimmel) sons.
After barely surviving the battle with White Hair (Kieran O'Reilly) and his bandits at her farm settlement, an injured Lagertha insisted on riding to Kattegatt alone despite Gunnhild's (Ragga Ragnars) protests. Lagertha wanted to go back to Kattegatt in the hopes that Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) had returned so that she could tell him not only about White Hair's attack on the settlement but also the death of his son Hali.
However, when Lagertha arrived at Kattegatt, her fate finally caught up to her. Viewers have already seen how Hvitserk's (Marco Ilsø) fears that Ivar (Alex Høgh) is destined to kill him have driven him into deep drug and alcohol addiction, and it's while under the influence of these substances that a half-mad Hvitserk began to have visions of Ivar as a human-snake hybrid hunting him through the streets of Kattegatt just as Lagertha arrived. Hvitserk went after Ivar and stabbed him to death, only to realize when it was already too late that he wasn't killing Ivar, but Lagertha.
Seeing what he had done, Hvitserk held a dying Lagertha in his arms as she explained that neither of them could escape this fate and that she has lived a full life and wasn't afraid of what came next. But while Lagertha seemingly forgave Hvitserk for killing her, we doubt Bjorn will feel similarly inclined when he returns to Kattegatt and discovers what his brother did.
Although Vikings fans have known that Lagertha was destined to be killed by one of Ragnar's sons since she first heard the Seer's prophecy in Season 4, we never could have expected it would happen like this — or so early into the show's final season. TV Guide spoke with Katheryn Winnick about what it was like to say goodbye to Lagertha, her thoughts on how the death went down, and what it was like returning to the show to direct Episode 8.
You've obviously known Lagertha was destined to die for a while, but what was your reaction like when you finally found out when and how it would happen this season?
Katheryn Winnick: Well, it's been a long time coming. It was always part of the conversation, about [how] Lagertha can't live on forever. I think originally [I was] supposed to stay on just for the first couple of years and now, really six seasons later, Lagertha is now a granny and still living. So we needed to find a good way to end her storyline, and I couldn't be happier than to have the kind of death that she had. I asked [creator] Michael Hirst one thing, is to make sure it's going to be something epic and some big event and something that makes it worthwhile to die. And I couldn't be happier in how it all went down.
Why do you think this was the right time for Lagertha's story to end?
Winnick: Timing has always been a big part of when a character should go, especially because it is called Vikings and it is history, so we've lost a lot of lead actors throughout the years. And in Season 6, now that Lagertha is older and retired and she's gone back to her simple ways of trying to be a farmer again where she was most happy, I feel that there wasn't really much else to do. I feel like she's been such an iconic character. And I couldn't feel more blessed than to have a character for so many years and got a chance to be put through the wringer and under different circumstances, but it definitely felt the timing was right to finish off her storyline. And I wanted to direct and it's much easier to direct when you're not in it than you having to direct yourself.
We always knew Lagertha would be killed by a son of Ragnar. What did you think of the reveal that it was not only Hvitserk, but Hvitserk thinking he was killing Ivar?
Winnick: I love that twist to it, simply because it was unexpected. And I think everybody, and when I read it originally, I thought I was gonna die in battle with White Hair. And then we find out that she's not and she's gone back to see her son and it's Hvitserk that actually killed her. It was a really hard shoot to shoot that was really beautiful as well. Just to be able to shoot that — that was actually my last day of shooting as Lagertha. ... It was a really emotional day because we're shooting in the freezing cold rain and the rain machine and we're on the cold ground and getting soaked and to have it so emotional, it was definitely one of the hardest shooting days I've ever had to play emotionally. And it was great that Hvitserk got a chance to actually be the one that said goodbye because I don't think he meant it maliciously. He did it because of his own demons really affecting him. And one of the most cherished moments is the song "Lagertha" that was made for her. And I don't know if you remember, but there was an actual song that was created called "Lagertha" [that played in the episode] and when I heard that song, Michael Hirst played it for me before I was shooting that scene and I was just in tears. It's one of the most beautiful songs ever and to be able to have a soundtrack dedicated to your character after so long is just such an honor. What a great way to go.
Lagertha's final words to Hvitserk were really moving and she seems to absolve him for her murder by saying neither one of them could escape this fate. But will Bjorn, Ubbe, and the others be as forgiving toward Hvitserk once they discover what he's done?
Winnick: I'm not sure if they would just because Lagertha has always been the character that is most moral and even though she killed their mother she's definitely a character that other characters look up to. So I know Bjorn will have a hard time in dealing with his mother's death and his responsibility as a king. And that's definitely evident and the episode I directed, [Episode 8], when you really see the downfall of Bjorn and what's gonna happen with his character.
Lagertha had just survived this epic, impressive fight with White Hair and was then killed just trying to make it back to her family on the streets of Kattegatt. Do you find this more tragic than if she had died in battle?
Winnick: More tragic? It was definitely an event. I think it's a heroic way to go for Lagertha. She doesn't go down easy and she doesn't die from — some other [characters] died from a bee sting or in battle without having much of a storyline. But Lagertha definitely had her last moment and her last breath and left going out on top. Like you heard her say, her last words were she couldn't escape her fate. And she truly believes in the fate and the gods. So I couldn't ask for a better way to go. And after seeing also the funeral [in Episode 7], which I'm sure you'll see — I ended up going to set and coming to prepare my directing debut and I came to my own funeral. And to see a prosthetic me lying there on the boat and all these hundreds of actors who are mourning over Lagertha, it was just so surreal. I felt like I was watching my own funeral. I actually had to leave. It was too emotionally hard for me to stay for that. So it was definitely something that I'll always remember and cherish.
There has been so much discussion the past few seasons about what Ragnar's legacy is. What do you think Lagertha's legacy is?
Winnick: Lagertha has been an iconic character for so many young women and girls from all around the world. And I think that there hasn't been a character like her on TV yet, that is not only strong but also vulnerable, and a warrior but also a mother, and a shieldmaiden and now a grandmother. She's one that a lot of people look up to around the world and I think her legacy is really leaving the world a better place. And she's one of the first early members, I guess, of the Time's Up movement and really believes in feminism and equality and sticking up for women's rights. And I hope her legacy lives on for years to come.
What was your favorite part about getting to play Lagertha?
Winnick: It is very rare an actor has an opportunity to play one character for six seasons, and to be thrown in the deep end and so many different circumstances, and really emotionally being challenged as an actor for really decades on television for a character. I couldn't ask for a better role and for something like this. If anything, it's only left me more hungry to find the next project as eventful and as meaningful, and a character that speaks to me as much as Lagertha did. I feel so blessed to be able to leave Vikings and leave a legacy behind of Lagertha, and hopefully people will watch it for years to come and definitely binge-watch around the world. So I feel blessed, definitely. You don't get that often. You work for so many years and [try] to get that one role that speaks to you and you can shine [in] and that is as complex as it is. Definitely Lagertha has been, for me, the highlight of my career so far and I feel so grateful to have that opportunity.
Can you talk a bit more about what your last days on set were like and what it was like to film your final scenes with some of these co-stars you've been working alongside for years?
Winnick: Well, for me, the last scene was so cold, like I said. ... We had a medic on set and he was checking us [to see] if we would go into shock because your body would literally be frozen. And we'd get into this little hot box to warm up and then go back out and shoot because it was a very, very intense shoot in below zero temperature. And it was hard on the on the body, definitely. So I don't really know if I said goodbye until I got a chance to go back and direct Episode . It was the biggest reward to be able to finally get a chance to get behind the camera and work with my fellow actors. I've read every single script, I've been probably the only actor that's been there since day one, and the only actor that had the opportunity to direct Vikings. And it was, for me, a way of really saying goodbye to the show — is to leave something behind for my fellow actors and to direct an episode I'm really proud of. And it hit me when I went on the plane after, when I actually left Ireland and leaving a home after seven years. You build a community there and I remember getting on that plane and I just broke down in tears. And I think that's when it hit me, when I actually left Ireland for good because who knows when I'll be back.
What can fans expect of the upcoming episode you directed?
Winnick: I think they will be blown away by some of the actors' performances. I loved working with Alexander and Marco and Jordan, all the Ragnar sons. Also there are some epic fight sequences and a major event. Coming from an actor's point of view and getting behind the camera and to work with other actors, it gives me an advantage to be able to have a certain language with them from an actor's point of view and knowing their characters so well. I felt that was my way of really contributing to the show. And having a support system from the crew members that I consider family after seven years, six seasons and seven years of shooting, and to have their back and support .... I couldn't have asked for a better platform as my directorial debut.
There have been some great fight sequences in this show, but I think the battle at Lagertha's farm settlement may be one of my favorite Vikings battles ever. What was it like to film?
Winnick: It was an intense shoot, truthfully. I rehearsed that scene with White Hair probably for weeks on end. We treated it as a story and added dialogue within that, major moments that were — if you didn't have dialogue, how would you create it in physicality and have the audience kind of go through a journey of with it with you on such a long sequence? It was an intense shoot, especially off of the physicality of White Hair being so much bigger than me. I definitely had a lot of bruises. We shot that in five different sequences because we worked on one section to get it right and the next one and I really wanted to show the exhaustion and the non-prettiness of the fight. You know, when you're fighting you're out of breath, and you're rolling on the ground, and it's not as glorified as some of the other fight sequences that I've done in the past. And I wanted to really make a point of to show the rawness and the vulnerability of someone who may not be as physically fit as she used to be and, and is definitely up against a different match than she's ever had. And I think that that came across. And also the fight sequences beforehand in the farmhouse, Lagertha has definitely been a more strategic leader than her male counterparts, and even the other sons of Ragnar and even Ragnar himself. And I wanted to show the intelligence of someone who didn't have necessarily the manpower to be able to defend herself up against the men but really showed wit over the top of it and I think that was clear.
Vikings may be ending this season but there is a spin-off coming up. Would you be open to appearing on or directing an episode of Vikings: Valhalla?
Winnick: I buried Lagertha's sword and took off the armor and I promised myself I'll never put it on again. And I think they asked me to do it a couple of times in Comic-Con and I just feel done with Lagertha's character, in the sense where you won't see myself putting on another Vikings outfit. But directing, of course I'd be open to any reason to go back to Ireland even if it's just [to spend] time with my co-workers, it's always a great one, and say hello to everybody because they are my family over there.
Vikings airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on History.
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