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Katheryn Winnick lifts the lid on Vikings

STUFF – The first time I visited, they had to drag her off set to be interviewed.


She came stalking into the press-room in full shieldmaiden kit, drawing audible gasps from journalists and causing one post-pubescent blogger to make a face like he’d just shut his Thinkpad on his privates.


On my second visit to Vikings HQ – a sprawling production complex hidden in the Irish countryside – the halls are empty, most of the crew are off shooting on location, so it takes me a few seconds to realise that the unassuming woman I’m holding a door open for is not an intern, or someone from the art department.


Today, she’s dressed in a slouchy sweatshirt and clutching a paper coffee cup. The Viking gods have thrown me an unexpected hallway exclusive with Lagertha. I need to play it cool, not say anything dumb.


“They didn’t make you come in on your day off, did they?”


“No, I had stunt rehearsal this morning. They keep us busy.”


“What’s downtime like for you here? Celtic dancing? Brewing your own Guinness?”


She laughs. “They make enough Guinness around here without my help.”


I express surprise at how much the show has expanded. “Yeah, it’s crazy. We have so many characters now.”


And Winnick is happy with how her character has expanded. “First season was nerve-wracking, especially as I got cast so quickly. Going into season four, I definitely think I know her. But the great thing about working with [writer] Michael Hurst is that you can never get comfortable. Just when you do you get a new script and you’re like, ‘Woah! Ok!”‘


As this season began, everyone’s position seemed precarious. Rollo (Clive Standen) had a new flat in Paris. His friend, Floki, (Gustaf Skarsgård) had managed to get on the bad side of Ragnar’s eldest son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig). Lagertha, meanwhile, was forced to share her title of Earl with Kalf (Ben Robson), an advisor who betrayed her while she was in Wessex with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel).


Winnick confirms that there will be blood this season. “Oh yeah. There’s going to be some pretty huge changes. I can’t say too much, but yes, some people are going to die.”


She can’t be sweet-talked into revealing specific spoilers, though. “I’ve got a list. ‘Do NOT say this! Do NOT say that!'”


She literally has a list. She clutches the sheet of paper like it’s a map to buried treasure. So I’m left to sleuth around for stray clues. A map showing a fleet of ships sailing towards a certain well-know country has been carelessly left out on a table. I take a mental Instagram snap as I pass. When I look back, just seconds later, someone has quickly folded the map over and placed a fake dagger on it. Secrets here are fiercely guarded.


Winnick is from Ukranian stock. She didn’t even start speaking English till she was eight. She started martial arts training at seven, got her first black belt at 13. Her background has made it easy to hold her own on set. “I grew up with brothers, and with having to fight off boys in school during my Taekwando years.”


But the fighting she learned as a kid is very different from the kind they do in the show. “My training gave me a strong will, and that’s what I take mostly from it. I have a lot of say in what I want to do, but it’s also very practical. I’m not here to show off with roundhouse kicks.”


With such a strong will, how is she going to deal with being betrayed by [SPOILER WITHHELD] this season? “Great question. That’s on my ‘To Do List of What Not to Talk About’. This season, she’s definitely going to deal with many betrayals, put it that way.”


Along with the make-believe fighting on the show, Winnick still finds herself battling to defend the very idea of female warriors to male journalists. “I think when the show started, people weren’t used to seeing a woman who could be a warrior and a mother. But at that time that’s what women did.”


Historians have long argued about the existence of shieldmaidens, but now the evidence is mounting. “I’m working on a documentary with the History Channel. Archaeologists have dug up remains from grave sites, and they’ve discovered skeletons of women in full battle dress, so we know it was normal for women to be warriors.”


The real Lagertha, according to Danish historian Saxo, was imprisoned in a brothel by a conquering Swedish king. When Ragnar Lothbrok came to avenge the dead Norwegian king, many of the women who’d been locked up dressed as men and fought at his side. Lagertha was one of them. “There are some facts from history that add validity to my character. But then there are a lot of missing links you have to fill in.”


She hopes her performance will help keep the historical character’s legacy alive. “When I got the part and I tried reading up on the Internet about Lagertha, there was nothing. I think I found one tiny poem in the Sagas. Now, when you look her up, there’s pictures, there’s a Wikipedia page, there’s dogs and cats named Lagertha. It’s crazy how the success of the show has gone viral. Now people know about Lagertha.”


And if she could choose how her character leaves the show? “Well, it is Vikings, so any of us can go any second. I hope she has a very monumental death. If she’s gonna go, I want her to go strong.”


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